Iranian students vote for reform

David Anderson

Although not the main actors in the push for change, Iranian students are at the heart of the current events in their country.
A police attack on a Tehran University dormitory in mid-July launched a week-long series of demonstrations and clashes between moderate and hard-line supporters throughout Iran.
A week and a half ago, the Iranian youth clearly spoke out its democratic hopes through the ballots in the nationwide legislative elections.
In the final results released Saturday of the Feb. 18 vote, the moderate reformers, led by President Mohammad Khatami, severely defeated the opposition, winning 170 of the 290 parliament seats, including 29 of the 30 seats for the Tehran district.
Hard-liners and conservatives won 45 seats, and the independents earned 10. Runoff in April elections will decide the remaining seats.
“Right now, (Iran) is going forward, especially with so many people voting,” said Meysam Kebriaei, a University chemical engineering sophomore and vice president of the University’s Persian Student Organization. “Even the uprising (in July) showed that people still care.”
Biology sophomore and Persian Student Organization President Farid Farzanehkia said the results of the elections are encouraging.
“I think overall it’s a good start toward the good direction,” he said. “I could see why the young people want to make these changes.”
The Persian Student Organization is “a group of Persian students trying to raise cultural awareness and diversity throughout the University,” according to its online description.
Seventy percent of the Iranian population is below 30 years of age, and most protesters last July were too young to remember the 1979 Islamic revolution. But their dedication to bringing change to the fundamentalist Muslim state can be paralleled to that of Iran’s political reformers.
Elected in 1997, Khatami is pushing for democratic reforms and a progressive opening up of Iran to the outside world.
“Just the fact that we have free elections is pretty good change in Iran,” Kebriaei said, “even if I don’t think the reformers are much different from the hard-liners.”
Kebriaei said Khatami’s greatest barrier to reform is the conservative opposition headed by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He said the president has to fight this internal war before he can open up Iran to the rest of the world.
The supreme leader is given extensive political and religious authority by the Iranian constitution. The supreme leader is chosen by his peers, and he controls the country’s foreign policy and its military.
Despite preliminary electoral estimates, the U.S. government announced Thursday that it would not take Iran off its list of countries ineligible for World Bank loans. The U.S. State Department accuses the Middle Eastern state of endorsing terrorism.
“I think the U.S. should support the movement,” Farzanehkia said. “I think they should maintain relations with the U.S.”
Both countries have severed relations since the 1979 revolution, when students — many of whom are now among the reformers — took over the U.S. embassy and held American diplomats hostage.
“I think (the situation in Iran) will only get better,” Kebriaei said. “(But) some things have been so messed up that you can’t really change them.”
— Wire reports contributed to this story.