ANALYSIS: Iran’s leadership feels the wrath of its youth

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Recent unrest in Iran shows that the country’s present leadership is completely out of touch with the aspirations of the younger generation. With over two-thirds of the population being under the age of thirty, the regime is now under attack mainly from this section of the population.

Due to its lack of understanding of the younger generation’s aspirations, the regime of elderly politicians seems impervious to the growing number of the country’s unemployed youth.

In the heady days following the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini managed to keep the youth on his side by brainwashing them with radical revolutionary religious values. By doing so, he set out a program to instil into the minds of all Iranian schoolchildren, the need for self-sacrifice and martyrdom in order to protect the regime from its enemies.

However, the youth of the day have several issues against the regime. One is the lack of free speech, as all the country’s media outlets have been purged of every form of anti-regime influence, leaving the younger generation voiceless in stating or determining the direction of their country.

Unemployment also remains a major issue, with students having top grades finding it difficult to get jobs. This issue is the cause of much resentment across university campuses within Iran.

Many owners of publishing houses, editors and reporters of newspapers, magazines or online websites, who refused to toe the government line, have found themselves been thrown into prison, tortured or hung, and it is only this brutal oppression that has kept the lid on mass dissent for many years.

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Over the decades, the country’s youth have been force fed by the regime’s distorted revolutionary ideology. With media outlets having been a government-only voice, Iran’s youth have had no way of rebutting official policy that they do not agree with. But in recent years, with an increase in the number of internet users Iran from four to seven million, the younger generation seems to have finally found their voice.

Many youngsters are using blogs to connect with the outside world, and the once totally isolated voice of disgruntled Iranians has now taken to cyber space. Having joined forces with many Iranians living in exile, who were forced into becoming outcasts by a government that hunts them down, for the crime of exercising their right to free speech, bloggers from within Iran have come to realise the extent to which the mullah regime has lied to them about the threat of the outside world.

Iranian youth use their mobile phones as they rest at a park in Tehran on May 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Iranian youth use their mobile phones as they rest at a park in Tehran on May 16, 2017. (Reuters)

The reformist jinx

The younger generation can no longer trust its leadership, as was shown during times when so-called candidates with a reformist agenda were “elected” by the people to bring about a more liberal agenda.

As all contenders for the presidency need to get approval from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, before they could stand as a candidate, Khameini ensured that the regime’s hardliners were always well entrenched in the establishment, ensuring that no reforms they didn’t approve of could be put into place by a serving president. This resulted in there being no reform in the ways of the government, and continued oppression of the people.

This totally undemocratic procedure was exposed in the lead up to the election of MohammadKhatami for president in 1997, who at the time promised the people a more democratic and tolerant society, with rule of law for the benefit of all and an improvement in social rights.

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But with the administration’s hardliners despising all of the principles laid out by Khatami, those handing out leaflets or canvassing on his behalf, found themselves being beaten up by the regime’s Basij militias. Even though Khatami was eventually elected, serving eight years as the country’s president, his promised reforms came to naught.

During the early days of the formation of the Iranian Islamic Republic, it was easy for the regime to brainwash semi-literate youngsters into joining the martyr brigades, and by carrying out acts of self-sacrifice they dutifully died in their thousands to protect Iran against aggressors. At the time of the Iran-Iraq War, many joined the Basij martyr battalions, as a vast army of subservient youths became cannon-fodder, marching across minefields to clear a path for the elite IRGC brigades, to ensue they safely reached the front lines.

But since that time, a total of 25 percent of Iranian youth now study at universities, and the more educated younger generation becomes, it seems less vulnerable to the radical indoctrination of the government. It no longer accepts the way in which the leadership tries to create a cult of personality throughout Iran, where the entire population is moulded to obey the radical Shia ideology laid down by Khomeini, where all Iranians adhere to their leader’s whim without a whimper.

The Internet revolution

But in a vastly more educated society, a once isolated Iran – in which its citizens had no solid communication network or free access to the outside world – have now found a way to communicate on its own terms through the power of the Internet. Able to reach out to every corner of the earth, hooking up with newfound friends in foreign lands, without the interference of their oppressive government’s rigid rules on censorship, a technologically savvier generation of youngsters have not only found a new voice, but also an entire global network to aid them in their bid for a free and democratic Iran.

However, as the government began to crackdown – with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube blocked by the authorities – dissident young Iranians became savvier, and through the use of assumed online monikers, a myriad of bloggers made use of Telegram and the Facebook app Instagram to set up their own online communities.

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As far as dissent is concerned, Iran’s universities have long been an area where the country’s most militant youth tend to stand up against the authorities. Due to this, many of the country’s most serious protests have started in university campuses, and so with the student’s contention ranging against their government’s handling of the youth’s issues, plus the ever-increasing purge on free speech and those concerning worker’s rights, and the ill-treatment of the poor, such demonstrations have been numerous, and will continue to be.

All the while, Iranian youth have witnessed bold social reforms that have taken place in Arab nations, and through this, it highlights their own government’s past intransigence towards any true reform, leaving them feeling that they will never see any real freedom from repression, unless they take to the streets.

With no end in sight to the Iranian government cracking down on even the slightest call for change, the regime has continued to trample on the aspirations of its younger generation, and as far as future demonstrations are concerned, they can only become much larger, more violent, until the regime is eventually toppled.

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