Like so many from the Middle East, I’ve followed recent events in Tunisia and Egypt with intense interest. Witnessing the Tunisian and Egyptian people topple long-standing, brutal dictators within weeks has filled me with joy and awe. But it has also filled me with another, less tender emotion: envy. Granted, as a rule, envy tends to be both unconstructive and unbecoming. But every rule has an exception, and this may be it.
So many Iranians, including myself, watched the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia and longed for the Summer of 2009, when the streets of Tehran were filled with demonstrators demanding that their votes be counted following a fraudulent presidential election after which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed victory in the polls. But while we miss the sense of excitement and possibility that those demonstrations represented, we don’t miss the bloodshed, the torture or the false arrests and detentions. In so many ways, the summer of 2009 in Iran was nothing like the winter of 2011 in Egypt. For one, security forces were significantly more brutal and arrests and disappearances were much more widespread in Iran. As a result, the Iranian regime was largely successful in pushing the pro-democracy Green Movement underground. It was not, however, successful in quashing it.
There is still widespread discontent throughout Iran, and the record rate of executions, as well as the ridiculous prison sentences doled out to opposition activists who still sit in prison today have only further fueled this discontent. In the end, the Iranian people have two options in response to the regime’s intimidation tactics: rise up and continue rising up in defiance of the regime, or succumb to despair.
Admittedly, there is no dearth of despair in Iran, especially among the youth, who comprise over 70% of the population and who have spent the vast majority of their lives under the suffocating, sexist and immoral criminal, family and “morality” laws of the so-called Islamic Republic. Suicide and drug addiction (despite the government’s highly publicized executions of many drug users) are both growing problems in Iran, and their victims are most often young people who would otherwise lead and support the pro-democracy movement.
But all is not lost. Thanks to Ayatollah Khomeini’s restrictions on birth control during the early stages of the purportedly Islamic Republic and the baby boomer generation that resulted, there are a hell of a lot more young people who have notsuccumbed to the traps of despair than those who have. Today the current regime is up against these baby boomers, ironically the products of its own myopic public health policies imposed at the inception of the Republic.
These young people cannot be silenced forever. As the children of the revolution they are eager to inherit their country, and having learned great lessons from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, they are poised to stage their counter-revolution one day soon. They will rise up again, and Monday’s planned protests to show solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia represent yet another step in the direction of democracy for Iran.
Opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi (who has since been subject to house arrest) and Mir Hossein Mousavi have both called for the February 14th demonstrations despite government warnings against them. While the regime has deluded itself into believing that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are re-enactments of Iran’s 1979 revolution, the opposition has seen them for what they really are: pro-democracy uprisings in the vein of Iran’s Green Movement, which took root in the summer of 2009.
These Valentine’s Day protests are more than a show of solidarity with Egyptians and Tunisians. They are the healthiest outlet for our incredible envy and they are a sign of things to come in Iran.