Feminist Political Scientist Analyzes Transformations in Iranian Society Today

Fatemeh Sadeghi has a PhD in political science and has taught at the Islamic Azad University of Karaj near Tehran. Soon after the publication of her controversial article, “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” in May 2008 ( see translation available on this blog at http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/07/fatemeh-sadghi-is-assistant-professor.html ), she was suspended from her teaching post at the University of Karaj. In the article below, she takes a strong stand against the fraudulent June 2009 presidential election and presents a brief sociological analysis of changes in Iranian society during the past 30 years. Excerpts follow.

Why Don’t They Believe It?

By Fatemeh Sadeghi

Source: http://www.alborznet.ir/Fa/ViewDetail.aspx?T=2&ID=189

Translated by Frieda Afary

. . . Many have tried to present minor or major documents to prove that a great fraud has taken place in this election, and that the results have been rigged in one way or another in favor of a particular candidate. In the following notes, my goal is not to present these documents which are quite considerable. My goal is to present a brief sociological analysis to demonstrate that given the social developments of the past few years, it is highly unlikely that the majority of voters would have voted for Ahmadinejad. Based on many predictions, Iranian society is heading toward a different choice. These developments could be detected even during the June 2005 election which was boycotted or treated with indifference by many who were called the silent majority.

Below, I will demonstrate why part of the voters, whether those who had boycotted the previous presidential election or the silent majority who account for the high rate of voter participation in this election, demanded change. This fact will give credence to the doubts about the announced results of this election. First I will examine some general development in Iran during the past few decades. Then, I will examine Ahmadinejad’s cultural and social resume and its effect on people’s participation in the recent election. The arguments below are by no means new. I am only emphasizing them as a reminder. Considering these arguments will allow us to better comprehend Iranian society’s protests against the recent events and its concerns about the latest trends.

Political disillusionment in post-revolutionary Iran has increased in all the years after the revolution. This phenomenon can be explained by many factors. The most important factor is the inability of the Islamic system to satisfy many of the demands of the middle and lower classes and realize their dreams. I am referring to freedom and social justice in particular. Prominent signs of this political disillusionment can be found in the daily increase in open and hidden forms of opposition. These forms of opposition have continuously increased during the past several years. Two phenomena in the past few years can be considered symbols of this opposition.

One is the increasing use of internet sites as sources for obtaining news and analysis. The other is the increasing use of satellite news and information stations as the most important source of news and analysis inside the country. There has been a turn away from the government’s “Voice and Face of Iran.” [The name of the Iranian government’s television and radio network — tr.]

The number of internet users in Iran exceeds 25 million [Iran’s total population as of 2008 was 72.2 million — tr.] Despite extreme forms of media censorship, the internet became an important medium for transmitting news, especially during the ninth government [2005-2009 – tr.]. Even many of those who sympathized with the ruling current turned to the internet to obtain news and analysis. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 Persian language weblogs and news and analysis websites. Most are in one way or another critical of the status quo or opposed to it. . . .

Most remember that up until a few years ago, it was not easy to speak of satellite [television –tr.]. I was very surprised to see that intensely religious people in remote areas and in religious cities such as Qom were turning more and more to satellite [television—tr.]. Their earlier reluctance has almost disappeared. The increasing use of the internet and virtual space to obtain information and news reveals that the official ideology cannot satisfy searching and critical minds. During all these years, the government’s “Voice and Face of Iran” has emphatically adopted an approach which resists change and underestimates its audience’s ability to reason. This approach has resulted in people’s disillusionment and their turn to other sources and media for news and analysis.

Political disillusionment revealed itself openly in the voters’ behavior. Many voters refused to participate in the June 2005 election because they were not satisfied with the pace of the reforms in Iranian society and expected the reformists and Mohammad Khatami to be more decisive and to take more action in creating changes. However, the rates of disillusionment were even higher in the post-reformist period.

Many reasons can be given for this disillusionment. Here I will only point to reasons which seem to be significant in explaining the general trend toward disillusionment in the years after the revolution and especially in the past four years. The more time elapsed after the Islamic revolution, the more people disembarked the ship of the revolution. However, disillusionment increased at an accelerated rate during the term of the ninth government [2005-2009 tr.] because of the many criticisms of its record, particularly in the realms of culture and the economy. Naturally, this disillusionment reveals itself in the actions of the voters and their choice of a candidate or candidates who call for change, even if the candidate or candidates are not able to satisfy all of the voters’ political and social demands.

The increase in literacy and consciousness among Iranians is most important in explaining all the markers of development and especially the disillusionment with the status quo. The literacy rate has increased during all the past few years. University entrance rates have increased considerably in comparison to the past.

Women’s increased consciousness is very significant. During the past few years, the majority of university entrants have been women. We have often heard slogans about how women are the educators of humanity. Regardless of the intentions of those who created these slogans, it seems that this statement is undeniably true in Iran. If Iranian women of [the generation — tr.] prior to the revolution were the educators of the ideological generation which opposed the Shah’s regime and engaged in a ceaseless struggle against it, women in post-revolutionary Iran are to be given credit for much of the sociological developments, the rise in consciousness, and the development in methods of educating the young generation. Once faced with barriers to or limitations in their choices for advancement, these women turned to the universities and became determined to raise their consciousness and increase their knowledge.

I cannot say what percentage of the votes for Mousavi or Karroubi were cast by women. What I can say based on my own observations is that women and especially young women constituted the majority of those who voted for reformist candidates and especially Mousavi. Furthermore, their strong presence in the electoral campaigns of both candidates [Mousavi and Karroubi — tr.] was completely new. Based on my personal observations I can even say that in many cases, the number of women activists at the campaign headquarters of both candidates outweighed that of men. . .

I don’t mean to say that women did not vote for Ahmadinejad. However in the last part of this essay I will argue that Ahmadinejad was unable to draw the votes of the majority of women in this election. Even based on my own personal observations in many parts of Iran, it can be said that those who did vote for Ahmadinejad in 2005 did so not for the sake of nuclear energy or other ideological slogans.

They voted for him because of economic problems and because of his electoral slogans about social justice and combating corruption. In all the interviews that I have conducted with women who have voted for Ahmadinejad, not one has referred to his foreign policy and nuclear energy. All unanimously said that they voted for Ahmadinejad because his platform was against corruption and for social justice. Of course many complained that the government had not taken serious steps in this direction, and all complained about the rising prices and other problems, especially drug addiction. They regretted having voted for him.

It seems highly unlikely that the majority of the rural and suburban [poor — tr.] population would have voted for Ahmadinejad during the last election. Such a vote would be even more questionable in areas populated by ethnic and religious minorities. . .

During these years [2005-2009 tr.] the number of publishers declined. The government has practically set barriers against the publication of useful books. Many books did not receive a publication permit or faced difficulties in receiving republication permits. Many internet sites were blocked. Censorship increased massively in all areas.

The “cultural revolution” that has taken place during the past few years has led to the expulsion of many university students and professors. At all the universities, the government attempted to replace critical professors and students with its own handpicked students and professors. Many students received stars [reference to students who were suspended for being political activists — tr.]. Some received warnings from national security agencies or were expelled. Many Islamic student councils or other university student councils were closed and many students were arrested or harassed. Another measure taken by the government was to censor textbooks.

The gender quota system for university students was imposed [to limit the number of female students — tr.] There has been a campaign to limit female university students’ choice of campuses to those in their home province. The government’s ideological machine was backed by institutions such as the Center for Women and Family Affairs which had proposed plans such as the Family Bill [Reference to bill introduced in the Summer of 2007 which made it more convenient for men to take a second wife. This bill also imposed taxes on a woman’s alimony. In September 2008, after much protest by Iranian women’s rights activists, the most controversial aspects of this bill were removed –tr.], the Mercy Plan [introduced in 2006 to teach housewives to be more obedient — tr.] as well as plans to ban women from work outside the home, and to promote polygamy. Their goal was to force women to stay at home and take care of their husbands for fear that the husband would take another wife.

Furthermore, the government set out to enforce the “Plan to Elevate Public Chastity” which forced all institutions to strictly enforce women’s dress codes and the rule against the mixing of women and men in the workplace. The government reduced women’s working hours [outside the home — tr.] to allow them to have more time for family chores. Most important was the “social security plan,” the enforcement of which led to harassment and police searches of thousands of women by the Ministry of Culture. Many men were arrested as hooligans and saboteurs, and were taken to unknown places. There are even reports that some were murdered.

The ninth government came to power with the slogans “social justice” and “combating corruption.” It did not even elevate social justice and the battle against corruption. The slogan “social justice” was in many cases limited to distributing money and consumer goods among people, without making them economically self-sufficient.

Workers’ economic status worsened in all these years. Many workers’ organizations were suppressed. Their activists were arrested. The civil rights demands and protests of teachers also faced suppression.

The ninth government set out to dismantle all civil rights organizations by accusing them of getting money from abroad and aiming to create a “soft revolution.” Many non-governmental organizations were closed. Their activities were put under severe limitations. Many civil rights activists landed in prison. Newspapers critical [of the regime — tr.] were banned one after the other. Many journalists lost their jobs or were subjected to harassment by governmental and judicial institutions in one way or another.

Much evidence attests to the increasing level of social dislocation during the past few years. In many urban areas, drug addiction and unemployment are rampant. Analysts attribute this to the government’s inept efforts to reduce economic problems. The rates of suicide, homicide, and assaults have increased during the past few years. The roots of most of these phenomena can be traced to economic inequality and to social and gender prejudices.

The ninth government has not left any class or social group unharmed. As a result, all social classes blame the ninth government more than any other government. While it is true that some groups such as women or youth have been subjected to a much greater degree of oppression and prejudice, no class, social or minority group has been left untouched by this government. It is not only the middle class that has suffered. Upper and lower classes, the rural population, bazaris [traditional merchants who have tended to support the clergy — tr.], and ethnic and religious minorities have all suffered in various ways, and many of them are critical of the government.

Many within the ruling establishment have also criticized the [ninth — tr.] government during its term in office. It seems that the only ones left unharmed by this government are the minority that the government has enriched as security officials, guards for the existing order, or passive voters. However, the dissatisfied and injured majority protests the results of this election. Perhaps [this majority — tr.] has by now understood why the ninth government acted confidently and without any concern for people’s protests.

June 19, 2009

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