TORONTO — While speaking to an Iranian Ph.D student at Ryerson University yesterday, I began to truly understand the magnitude of what is currently happening in Iran. These protests and demonstrations represent much more than a disapproval of election results, but also an uprising of a people historically oppressed by a power-hungry supreme leader.
It’s a revolution against an Islamic Republic that puts its own needs and wants in front of the people that it governs, or so the Ph.D student put it.
Saturday’s protests in Iran were full of violence. People were shot, beaten and tear gassed in the streets. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the public in his speech Friday that more demonstrations were prohibited. He said that if the people continued to revolt, Mousavi and the opposition would be responsible for what happened to them.
He also said these protests won’t force the ruling regime into a corner. He said, basically, these outbursts are useless.
The people are however challenging the very foundation of not only the supreme leadership, but the Islamic Republic as well.
Protests turn deadly
Some sources say a bomb went off outside a mosque and killed three or four people. Other say people were being shot dead in the streets. Some claim military tanks were deployed. Reports of helicopters landing at universities are coming through via Iranian twitter accounts. More twitter accounts claim Basiji are ntering homes and attacking civilians.
CNN reports hospital officials say 19 died today during the demonstrations. The death toll could be as high as 150.
According to this video, one woman was shot and killed by Basiji during the protests.
WARNING: THE VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES.
In terms of severity and risk, the situation may be getting out of hand. The woman killed is now being used as a rallying point for Iranians, an example of horrid government brutality. Her name was Neda, which, so fittingly, means “voice” in Farsi.
If Iran were to give in and approve a re-election, it could start a dangerous trend across the Middle-East. As Obama said, “the world is watching. An Islamic Republic that gives in to the demands of the people could set a precedent for the citizens of other Islamic countries.
Countries that are successfully oppressing their people. These protests could mean widespread unrest throughout the Middle-East.
Thoughts of an Iranian student
But what does all this mean for Iran? What are these people fighting for? When will these protests end? How far will the supreme leader go to ensure his republic maintains some degree of control?
Yesterday I spoke to an Iranian exchange student, Mahdi Takaffoli, about the protests, the election results and the behind-the-scenes power struggle between Ayatollah Khamenei and Assembly of Experts Chairman Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president.
Takaffoli could not comment on the specifics of some issues since his media access is like ours. Restricted. Living outside of Iran during a period of extreme internal turmoil summons feelings of guilt within him. He said on one hand he’s glad he’s not there. His life, in Canada, is not in danger.
“But then I thought about it and I think I would like to be in Iran so I can show I have the courage to speak out against Khamenei,” he says.
Even though he can’t be in Tehran, Takaffoli is showing his support. He attended a protest in Toronto last week, which drew a crowd of more than 1,000. He and I also attended a candlelight vigil on Friday night for those who died during the protests in Iran. He also plans to attend a rally in Toronto on Sunday.
Takaffoli even took a five-hour bus ride to Ottawa to vote at Canada’s only polling station. He voted for Mousavi, as did 85 per cent of the nearly 3,000 Iranian-Canadians who made the trip to the nation’s capital, he says.
After the interview Takaffoli expressed some regret over the harsh words he spoke against Khamenei. Not because he believed them to be untrue, but because his family still lives in Iran. “I am not afraid though,” he says.
Takaffoli spoke of his devotion to Iran and his allegiance to the reformist party and Mousavi. He admitted that when the election began he did not know much about Mousavi, but after watching the debates and reading about his policies, he decided Mousavi, as an artist, would be a good stepping stone to reform Iranian politics and help promote freedom of expression.
He says there’s been a reformist movement brewing for a while, especially among the educated youth. He’s happy that this movement now has a leader, though he did acknowledge that while Mousavi may not be everyone’s ideal candidate, he is a figure people can rally behind to look for real change. He criticized Ahmadinejad for acting like he works for the people.
He believed, along with his friends in Iran, that an election was the best way to have their oppressed voices heard. Now that may have been taken away from them, too.
Now, with a tainted, corrupt democracy, he doesn’t know what the future of his country will bring.
Takaffoli said there’s no way he could believe Ahmadinejad won so much of the public’s vote when so many citizens wanted reform.
He doesn’t believe in toppling the entire Islamic Republic though. He wants to achieve reform through the system because, as he put it, overthrowing the entire regime would result in the deaths of too many Iranians. Throughout our talk he made it clear he was against violent revolution of any kind, no matter what it could achieve.
Takaffoli doesn’t know what these protests will bring, but he is extremely proud and hopeful that his countrymen and women will force the republic to reform.
But that won’t happen if Khamenei has his way.