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Iran: Dissidents See Dark Legacy Of 'Glorious Revolution'

President Ahmadinejad addresses a Tehran crowd on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution (epa) Thousands of Iranians have turned out for rallies to mark the day 29 years ago when the U.S.-backed shah of Iran was toppled. It's called the "Glorious Victory of the Islamic Revolution."

But not everyone looks back on it as a glorious time for Iran.

Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident, tells Radio Farda that the unity in the public squares belies a much more complicated legacy for the guardians of Iran's revolution.

"One of the achievements of the Iranian revolution, perhaps an unwanted one, was the politicization of the Iranian society," Ganji says. "This society, compared with that of the prerevolution era, is very politicized to the extent that one cannot find a similar society in the [world]."

Ganji says that while "this politicized society is very disappointed, it has many political and social demands."

The anniversary is celebrated each year on February 11, when the Iranian Army in 1979 refused to continue fighting the antigovernment uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had left Iran three weeks earlier. But the army's decision effectively handed control to Khomeini and spelled the end for the shah's prime minister, Shapur Bakhtiar. The rupture with Washington was completed nine months later, when students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 hostages captive for 444 days.

Iranian officials this year called on people to turn out in large numbers to show their unity in the face of Western pressure. State television broadcast live footage of major rallies held in Tehran and other cities.

While President Mahmud Ahmadinejad used to occasion to tout the revolution’s alleged success at a rally in Tehran's Azadi Square, dissidents pointed to the failings of the 1979 Islamic uprising.

Author Azar Nafisi tells Radio Farda that the revolution's ideology failed because it never took into consideration the practical needs of the Iranian people.

"One of the achievements of the revolution is the [political] awareness of the people," Nafisi says, echoing Ganji's view but adding what she regards as lessons learned from the experience. "It has become clear that a unitary approach does not work in the country. Without the people's participation and in the absence of meeting their demands, any ideology would fail, and using religion as an ideology would not work either."

Abbas Milani, an Iranian-born professor at Stanford University in the United States, takes the example further. He says that to get a sense of just how badly the revolution has failed the Iranian people, Iran's performance since 1979 should be compared to that of other countries in the ensuing decades.

"Iran missed an historic opportunity for leaping forward and becoming a developed country of the 21st century. This was the main consequence of the revolution," Milani says. "In order to assess the consequences of the revolution, we ought to compare Iran with similar countries in 1975."

Milani noted that Iran's economy and compared favorably with those of Taiwan, South Korea, and Turkey. "Now, the state of our economy cannot be compared with the economies of those states," he says, despite huge revenues from the sale of crude oil. He argued that "the same applies to the political situation of Iran."

For his part, Ahmadinejad did not use his February 11 speech to address rising unemployment, inflation, or a wave of arrests of political dissidents, journalists, and students who do not agree with hard-line clerical rule.

Instead, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not back down in its dispute with the West over its nuclear program, and that Tehran did not fear the possibility of another round of United Nations sanctions.

The West "should know that the Iranian nation will not retreat one iota from its nuclear rights," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahead of parliamentary elections on March 14, Ahmadinejad also lashed out at his critics at home. He accused them of betrayal over the nuclear issue.

The president did not mention authorities' disqualification in recent days of thousands of reformist candidates from running in the March polls, mostly on the grounds that they are of "unproven loyalty" to the revolution.

(with additional agency reports)

The Iranian Revolution

The Iranian Revolution
Iranians demonstrate in Tehran on February 10, 1979, shortly after the return to Iran of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (epa)

THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC: Iran's 1979 revolution ended 2,500 years of monarchy and established the world's first modern theocracy. In February 2004, on the 25th anniversary of that event, RFE/RL produced a special report on how the ensuing years have measured up to the expectations of those times.

"I had been freed from jail in those days, and I hoped that the [revolutionary] forces would bring democracy and progress for the country, despite the religious leadership that caused some doubts, I hoped that the press would be free, the books would be published without censorship, [political] parties, associations and civil society organizations would be formed, and I hoped that I would be able to write freely. In fact, in these 25 years, I have not seen anything but the death and silencing of those beautiful hopes and dreams," Faraj Sarkouhi, an exiled writer and journalist, told RFE/RL....(more)


RFE/RL's reporting on Iran.

A tank bearing a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini takes up a position in Tehran on February 12, 1979 (epa)