The world press on a democratic Iran

Iranian students warn their clerics to wake up "or disappear, as other promised lands, thrones, kings, caliphs and emirs did."

Published May 30, 2003 10:18PM (EDT)

Iran, Safa Haeri in the Iran Press Service

In a blunt warning to the clerical leaders of the Islamic Republic, leaders of 24 student associations have advised them to "learn" from the fate of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and "revise" their present line of policies before they are forced to do it by foreign powers.

The "Analytical Statement", published on several Iranian internet websites on Monday, comes exactly one week after 127 members of the Iranian parliament called on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to "drink his own cup of poison" by choosing between the continuation of the present authoritarian rule, "one which would inevitably lead to the collapse of the regime," or to adhere "sincerely" to democratic principles.

In their analysis of the current situation of Iran and the region in the aftermath of the downfall of Baghdad's former Baathist regime and the behaviour of Iranian officials, the authors observe that "the spectacle of burned buildings in Baghdad and the statues of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein being pulled down must be a lesson for all other tyrants that if they refuse to come down from their imagined ivory towers, they would "also disappear, as other promised lands, thrones, kings, caliphs and emirs did in the past and would in the future."

"Was there any other way -- faster, more practical, less costly in human lives and materials -- to put an end to the rule of a blood thirsty, dangerous man like Saddam and his oppressive rule in the past 30 years than to attack him, as the Americans did?" the 24 signatories asked, observing that the number of the people killed in the Coalition military operation against Iraq was "much less" then those Saddam had killed in the two weeks prior to the start of the conflict.

"Now that everyone has seen...contrary to all predictions by leaders of the Islamic the United States overcame so easily...the so-called mighty Iraqi forces, the time has come for [Iranian officials] to make use of this occasion and wake up. Stop closing newspapers, imprisoning dissidents, attacking students, journalists, political activists and the elite, and ruining a young generation's hopes... Let this nation become again the people's land," the statement ended.

Hong Kong, Hooman Peimani in Asia Times

Over a one-week period, two groups of influential Iranians have criticized the unelected but powerful institutions undermining efforts towards their country's liberalization. They have both expressed concerns about the status quo, and demanded a change. As the American administration is clearly shifting towards destabilizing the Iranian government, these realities of Iranian society suggest that an inevitable fundamental change in its political system will not be an American determined outcome, but one arising from a deep-rooted indigenous movement for democracy.

Unlike what some hawkish policy makers in Washington might think, Iran is a totally different society from those of Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of history, social fabric and development, political aspirations and economic, industrial, scientific and military capabilities. As a result, the American experience in those countries on "regime change" is simply inapplicable to Iran. Despite the depth of social dissatisfaction with the status quo and a clear desire for a secular political system, as citizens of an ancient country now a regional power with claims to a higher international status, Iranians will not act according to any Washington-envisaged plan...

Although the majority of Iranians support normal relations with the United States, they do not desire to help build an American puppet regime. For those who are not convinced, the Iranians overthrew such a system in 1979. As a result, the desired ties as stated by the Iranians are those based on equality of the two sides and their recognition of each other's interests, like the ones they have with two other nuclear powers, Russia and France. The American hoped-for puppet regime, like that of the Shah, cannot be established in Iran -- with or without B-52s...

If the current trend continues, this will pave the way for a gradual replacement of the religious system with a secular one. Any American intervention in this process will simply hamper such process by making all Iranians unite in the face of a superpower seeking to restore its lost influence in their country, an unwanted scenario for the citizens of a regional power.

Saudi Arabia, Amir Taheri in the Arab News

Statism, nationalism, pan-ism, leftism, Islamism: All were ideas imported from the West and twisted beyond recognition. Each wrecked our lives, in its own way, before we realized it was dangerous for our well-being. So, what will be our next big import from the West? It is democracy. And there are attempts already at twisting it beyond recognition by reducing it to mere electoralism. There can be no democracy without elections. But there can be elections without democracy.

Suddenly, Iran, where all candidates are approved by non-elected mullas, who also ignore the decisions of the elected Parliament, is labelled a "democracy" in Washington. Some of the smaller Gulf states, where doctored elections are used to increase the powers of the ruling elite, are hailed in as "new Arab democracies".

Because of our mimetic tradition, electoralism of one form or another is likely to spread to most of the region within the decade. We will all become "democrats" just as, at different points, we had all become statists, nationalists, pan-ists, leftists and Islamists of one kind or another. Our democracy could prove to be as fake as our other imports.

Unless we learn the lessons of the past, the next great imported idea could also fail.

The reason? Once again we may be putting the cart before the horse. Democracy does not start with elections. It starts with freedom of thought and expression. It starts with grass-root movements, clubs, associations, unions, and, eventually, political parties.

Turkey, Ilnur Cevik in the Turkish Daily News

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul made a very important appeal in Tehran during the foreign ministers meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference where he called for the Muslim countries to put their houses in order and avoid facing the humiliation that Iraq has suffered recently.

It is sad that even with its semi-democratic system Turkey outshines all its other counterparts in the Islamic world.

In the Islamic world there are some embryonic actions that may be called experiments in democracy like in Bahrain and Qatar but the general picture is one of gloom.

It is time the Islamic world looked at its house with a more critical eye. Do we like what we see? A referendum is held in an Arab country where "100 percent" of the people approve the leader. Then a few months later a foreign power invades that country and most of those people who had a share in this vote go out into the streets bringing down the statues of the very same leader and publicly condemn him. This has happened in Iraq but it could happen in any part of the Islamic world where regimes are authoritarian and the way their leaders are elected is simply arbitrary and undemocratic.

Leaders in most parts of the Islamic world are not accountable to anyone and it is sad that even in "republics" leaders try to promote their sons as the next leader and prove that they actually head monarchies under the pretext of republics.

It is clear that gender equality cannot be mentioned in many parts of the Islamic world. Women are generally regarded as second class citizens and unfortunately this allows foreigners to claim this is because of Islam. Gul was polite to mention only Iraq as a country that has wasted its oil wealth using it for armaments and for political purposes instead of utilizing it for human development. Many oil rich Islamic countries have done the same and are still doing this.

The whims of dictators and other rulers in Islamic countries have only created claims that Islam is to be blamed. As Gul suggested it is time the leaders of the Muslim world realize this and start putting their houses in order. Or else they will continue to suffer such humiliations like they experienced in Iraq or in the Middle East conflicts.

United Kingdom, Article in BBC News

Iran's conservatives are cracking down on women's clothing ahead of the baking summer.

Clothing shops and factories have been given a written order to stop producing clothes that stray from the strict female dress codes, the head of a clothing trade union in Tehran told a local newspaper.

Long, shapeless black coats and head coverings have been mandatory women's wear -- regardless of religion -- since the country's Islamic revolution 24 years ago.

However, in recent times some Iranian women have been sporting shorter, paler coats that end at the knee and hug the body.

Some don colourful headscarves that allow their hair to spill out from underneath.

But now dress shops have been told they have a month to clear their shelves of items that do not conform to the code.

Some traders in various shopping districts in Tehran told news agency AFP they had already been raided by police.

Street patrols by the morals police have also been noticeably stepped up, and shops and restaurants have been told to bar women not deemed to be respecting the dress code. Such crackdowns occur periodically in Iran, usually after protests from conservatives that women are beginning to skimp on their clothing.

Many women have felt emboldened to push the boundaries of conservative strictures since the 1997 election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

But the tug of war between Mr Khatami's more liberal camp and conservative hardliners has heightened in recent months, amid tougher demands on Iran from the United States. Story from BBC NEWS:

India, Rashmee Ahmed in the Times of India

Imagine a man with sewn-up eyes, lips and ears. Imagine his silent -- but eloquent -- protest to the government of one of the richest countries in the world. That is the picture Iranian asylum-seeker Abas Amini presents to the world as he launches one of Britain's most psychologically-disturbing protests against its slow and inefficient process of processing asylum applications.

It is believed to be Britain's first case of physical mutilation to gain asylum. It comes within months of Australia's horrifying, much-reviled, multiple cases of sewn-lips asylum-detainees, protesting at their "inhuman" treatment in the bleak Woomera detention camp.

Amini, 33, who has lived in the UK for two years, sewed up his eyes, ears and mouth in protest at his treatment by the British Home Office. He has been on hunger strike for a week. Doctors have said he could die within days.

Amini's attention-seeking stunt to plead for British compassion comes within weeks of Prime Minister Tony Blair pledging to reduce the numbers of asylum-seekers by a third.

The Iranian Kurd, who is described as a left-wing poet-guerilla, is alleged to be at risk if he returns to Iran. He is protesting against the British government's decision to belatedly challenge a ruling that already grants him asylum.

In tortured, passionate prose, the Iranian poet-protestor has declared he prefers to die if he is removed from Britain after a lifetime of kickings and beatings in Iran: "I spent many years in prison being tortured; I was forced to flee here. Shouldn't a human being have a square foot of earth to live on to live in peace?"

United Kingdom, Miranda Eeles in BBC News

More than 100,000 students in Iran will be taking their final university exams in the next few weeks. But while they may be looking forward to finishing their studies, what comes afterwards is a different matter altogether.

A population boom in the 1980s means the country is now overwhelmingly young, with around 70% under the age of 30.

Faced with poor job prospects and restrictive social conditions, thousands are leaving every year, creating alarm among the country's leaders.

Ehsan Afshar is spending his last afternoon with his friends at a cafe in north Tehran.

For three years he has been trying to leave Iran. Finally his dream -- a chance to study abroad -- is about to come true.

After trying five different embassies, India came up trumps and he has a year at a university in Puna.

"Everyone wants to leave because of the economic problems, because of the social conditions facing young people," he said. "They don't understand what going on. In a way, young people just see walls in front of them, a kind of obstacle.

"It's really bad at the moment, really bad."

Iran's universities are full of students like Ehsan. Out of more than 1.5 million undergraduates, many face an uncertain future when they leave. The jobs are simply not there.

It is not only the prospect of unemployment that is forcing them to look overseas.

These are children born after the Islamic revolution. They want freedom that they feel the government is not prepared to give them.

Dr Hassan Hossein, a lecturer in sociology at Tehran University, said: "When someone goes to university, it means they have entered an intellectual environment; they read more, they notice things more.

"There's a direct correlation between how closed a society is and the likelihood of flight from that society."

Economist Pooya Alaidini says Iran is suffering from the loss of so much talent.

"The brain drain is a problem for the country because we are losing highly educated people and these people ... could be our entrepreneurs who create jobs for the next generation."

The Iranian Government does actively export mainly manual labour to other countries.

Now, with so much of the country's young potential leaving, it is likely to take a lot more work to convince the brains to stay.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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