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Report on National Student Day protests in Iran

A developing situation: National Student Day protests in Iran

14 December 2009. A World to Win News Service. The protests on 7 December, National Student Day, revealed a developing situation in the upsurge in Iran. They included some of the most tactically combative street actions since the current movement arose in the wake of last June's presidential elections, and involved schools and universities throughout the country, including Iranian Kurdistan. Moreover, they showed a decreased, although still powerful, influence of the "green movement" led by presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who consider themselves an Islamic loyal opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and many people's heightened determination to topple the whole Islamic Republic.

A video posted on YouTube shows students at Sharif University chanting, "Death to the oppressor, whether shah or supreme leader!" This is a reference to Ali Khamenei, whose position as both the ultimate religious and political authority is considered the essence of the regime's Islamic character, and the U.S-backed regime of the Shah that the Islamic Republic replaced.

Marchers in central Tehran burned portraits of Khamenei and carried Iranian flags with the word "Allah" removed.

At some schools green flags and armbands and chants of "God is great!" predominated. At others anti-Islamic regime banners and slogans and even some red flags were more prominent. This situation varied widely from school to school.

Protests took place at nearly all of the country's universities and many secondary schools, including girls' schools. Internet media reported rallies in and around universities in Tehran, Kerman, Mashad, Isfahan, Kamedan and Sanandaj, a Kurdish city where the regime's repression is especially severe.

Security forces sealed off the main entrance to Tehran University. In streets and squares around the city huge pitched battles broke out between rock-throwing youth and baton-wielding plainclothes police and Basij militia members. Gunfire could be heard, although no shooting deaths were reported. Fighting continued through the next day.

Mousavi in particular was said to be upset by the youths' confrontational attitude. Pro-Western and imperialist-linked forces in Iran who want to pull the people's movement towards the U.S.. imperialists were not happy.

Many young people expressed their radical sentiments openly in front of their schools and even within the school grounds in front of officials and snitches, unafraid of being recognized and punished. It was common to hear secondary school girls and boys defiantly proclaim that they could not be intimidated because they no longer cared what happened to them. All sorts of threats by various officials and Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) commanders and roundups of students in the days preceding 7 December failed to prevent these actions, the first in more than a month, although they were not as massive as some previous, less dangerous mass demonstrations involving a million or more people in the capital.

National Student Day has a 56-year history. In 1953, only three months after the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the government of nationalist Prime Minster Dr Mohammad Mossadeq and brought the Shah back to power, Richard Nixon, then the U.S. vice president, was supposed to visit Iran. Iranian students were determined to protest this visit and the U.S. imperialist coup-makers. However, on 7 December the Shah's army opened fire on a student demonstration. Hundreds were injured and three students were murdered. Since then the student struggle has been an important pillar of the Iranian's people movement. The Iranian student movement, both in the country and abroad, played an important role before, during and after the 1979 revolution that brought down the Shah.

This year Student Day had particular resonance. Many people believe that Ahmadinejad along with Khamenei and the Pasdaran imposed another coup on the country. This year again Student Day could not be confined behind the walls surrounding university campuses but spread to the streets and was widely joined by many people of all ages.

Following are excerpts from three reports received by the Iranian student newspaper Bazr a week before, two days before and on 7 December itself.

A week before 7 December (16 Azar)

The government has decided to close the universities before Student Day. Everyone says they have done so out of fear. They sent the students who are not from Tehran back home in order to be able to control that day. We heard that the dormitories were evacuated, of course by force. Those who had to stay or wanted to stay were made to leave. Engineering faculty students who had to do their projects were sent to Asalouye (a construction site in southern Iran) to get them out of Tehran.

I got on the bus. It was very crowded – everybody was pushing everyone else. It was really hot inside the bus. Finally a woman said, "How long should we tolerate being so despised… forced to wear so much clothing and a scarf on our head? When will we be free? " A young girl immediately responded, "We’ll teach them a lesson on 16Azar (7December)." Another one said, "They’ve announced that these days are a holiday, so that everyone leaves the city." Another young girl said, "People who want to protest won't go anywhere…"

Two days before 16 Azar

Today everything is half closed. The government has announced today is a holiday. I go to the city but it is very crowded. No one has left town. It's not like other holidays. Maybe people are waiting for 16Azar.

And now 16 Azar

The security forces are everywhere and on all corners starting from Azadi Street. People are anxiously watching them and whispering to each other. People understand that there are plainclothes police and informers in the crowd, so they take that into account when they talk.

A middle-aged woman talking to a young girl asks her, "Why do you think that when Mousavi comes to power all our problems will be solved? Now that the people are in the streets and they want to change things, they must question everything. Mousavi is one of them (the regime) and is just like them. He will make no difference... I was young when he was prime minister. He founded the Saroallah patrols who beat women and hauled them off to jail." (The Sarollah are a notorious group whose mission was to make trouble for the people and especially women, wherever they might be. They would stop people who were driving or walking, or even go into their homes, and ask them about their relationship to any men present, and warn them or beat them or take them away if the women were not "properly" covered according to the rules, or if they were playing music or having a party, etc.)

We reach Enghelab Square. There is a huge security force controlling everything everywhere.. All the shops are closed. But a huge crowd is moving on the sidewalks and in the streets. The sidewalk that goes toward Tehran University is closed between 16 Azar Street up to Quds Street where the university ends. There are temporary extra fences all along the length of the university, much higher than the normal university fences, so that people can't see what's happening on campus. The area in front of the temporary fences is full of security forces. A plainclothesman with his face covered is standing on top of a telephone box and filming the crowd. Police with batons are continuously threatening people and ordering them to keep moving.

I go to Vesal Street. The whole street is occupied by the security forces. The city is tense and feels strange. There is full-scale martial law… People have to pass through a very strict checking process before they can go to the university. It is 11:30 in the morning. Suddenly we can hear the students start chanting the slogan "Death to the dictator!" We can see from outside that there is a big crowd of students.

We were forced to take to the side roads. I was going along with a few young girls. One of them had voted for Mousavi. She said, "I'm sorry that I voted for him. I'm glad he isn't president now. Mousavi revealed his real face after the protests. He keeps saying, 'The Islamic Republic, not a word less and not a word more.' People are saying that religion must be separated from politics. But he keeps saying that our religion is good, it is different from the religion of those who are ruling. He keeps saying, 'I follow Khomeini,' but who was Khomeini. Wasn't he the person who ordered the execution of the political prisoners in 1988? Didn't he close the universities for three years? I am really happy to hear people say these things. They have become so conscious." Then she says, "Many people I talk to don't care anymore about Mousavi. Since two or three months after the election, people's demands have changed. " She is right but I wish they were showing this more in their actions, slogans and their symbols. However if there is a strong alternative in front of them, that might happen. That is why we should be thinking of the ways to present the correct alternatives and to show them to the people…

I get off the bus at Vali-e Asr and go toward the square. The entrance to the Polytechnical University is crowded. Students are trying to leave the university grounds but the security forces in front of the campus don't let them. Someone says they will not allow any student to leave before 4 pm, so everyone is waiting for 4 pm.

As it turned out, people were not able to assemble for a mass rally. Instead there were scattered actions all around the city. But it was a really a People's 16 Azar.

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