July 9, 2013 marked the 14th anniversary of the uprising of Iranian university students that began in the dormitories of the University of Tehran and spread to several campuses around the nation. It shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic and demonstrated that, despite the vast purges of progressive faculty that took place in the 1980s under the guise of “Cultural Revolution” and the hard-liners’ tremendous efforts to control students’ political activities and very thoughts, the universities’ grand, decades-old tradition as centers of resistance to oppression, had survived.
After the purges of the 1980s, as well as the execution of thousands of political prisoners, Iran’s universities were relatively quiet for a few years. All the secular leftist and nationalist university organizations, as well as the Muslim Students Society — aligned with the Mojahedin Khalgh Organization — had been banned and their leaders jailed, executed, or, at the very least, expelled from universities. The Muslim Student Association (MSA), and their umbrella organization, Daftar-e Tahkim Vahdat (Office for Consolidation Unity, or OCU), founded in September 1979, were strongly supportive of the political establishment during the 1980s. Many of their members are currently in the ranks of the Reformists.
I remember very well a visit I made to my alma mater, the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) of the University of Tehran in summer 1989, only a month after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I conversed with a professor under whom I had studied before the 1979 Revolution. I remarked to him that the FOE no longer seemed to be a hotbed of political activity and opposition to the ruling establishment. He responded, “They broke the students’ backs, and we also had a bloody war with Iraq. It will take a few years to recover. But they will come back.” They did, and with a vengeance. In fact, 1991, just two years after my visit, turned out to mark a pivotal point in Iran’s political evolution.
A leading cleric, the leftist Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, spiritual advisor of the students who took American diplomats hostage in November 1979 and a close associate of Khomeini’s who was Iran’s chief prosecutor for eight years during the 1980s, founded the first Reformist newspaper, Salaam, in 1991. The reason for founding of Salaam was the events that led to elections for Majles Khobregan [Assembly of Experts, a Constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader, and can theoretically supervise his rule and even fire him] in October 1990. The Guardian Council rejected the qualifications of most of the leftist clerics.
Three leading figures among them who had not been disqualified, withdrew from the elections to protest the massive purge. The three were Khoeiniha, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Tavassoli Mahallati (1930-2008), Ayatollah Khomeini’s chief of staff, and Ayatollah Mohammad Abaei Khorasani (1939-2004), the Friday prayer Imam of Mashhad. The three were also members of the leftist clerical group, the Association of Combatant Clerics (ACC), known in Iran as the Rouhanioun.
With Ayatollah Khomeini’s blessing, the ACC, that consisted mostly of the younger clerics, had split up from the conservative Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran (SMCT) in May 1988, and is referred to in Iran as Rouhaniyat. When the split occurred, the SMCT accused the ACC of acting like the Khawarij, the rigid, zealous Muslims who rebelled against Imam Ali, the Shiites’ first Imam and a most revered figure in Shiite world, implying that Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ali of the present day. But the label of Khawarij did not stick. The ACC had Khomeini’s blessing.
Thus, the ACC decided to publish its own mouthpiece, Salaam. The paper’s name was chosen by Ahmad Khomeini (1945-1995), the ayatollah’s son. Salaam’s first issue was published on 9 February 1991. Its editor was Abbas Abdi [see also here], a leading figure among the Islamic leftist students who had overrun the U.S. Embassy in November 1979, and later an outspoken Reformist who was jailed for his views (although he has become somewhat more conservative lately).
Its editorial board consisted of cleric Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari (Minister of Interior during much of the Khatami administration), Ebrahim Asgharzadeh (another top leader of the students who overran the U.S. Embassy), and Abdi. Abdi was arrested in 1994, and spent nearly a year in jail. The hardliners tried to close Salaam, but were prevent by Khatami, a leading member of the ACC and the then Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
In November 1991, Kian, a monthly magazine, was launched by Mostafa Rokh-Sefat who was the publisher, with Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (also known as Mahmoud Shams) as the editor, and Reza Tehrani who was the managing editor. The founders were influenced by the political philosophy of Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush (born Hossein Haaj Farajollah Dabbagh), a chemist by training and one of the most influential Islamic thinkers and reformers in the world. Before founding Kian, they were mostly writing for the newspaper Kayhan and its cultural magazine, Kayhan-e Farhangi. Khatami was the publisher of Kayhan at that time, a post to which he had been appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980.
But, Soroush’s views and those of his students provoked strong negative reactions by the conservative clerics. When Khatami resigned from Kayhan in 1990, it forced Soroush’s group to leave Kayhan and begin their own magazine. Rokh-Sefat himself has said that Kian was essentially the same as Kayhan-e Farhangi, but independent. Many leading Islamic intellectuals of that era, such as Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, Dr. Alireza Alavi Tabar, Arash Naraghi (a pharmacologist by training, and now an Islamic philosopher residing in the United States) who used to write under the pen name Ahmad Naraghi, Soroush himself, investigative journalist Akbar Ganji and others published their works in Kian. They were known as the halgheh Kian [Kian’s circle], and ever since have been despised by the conservatives and hardliners.
Many of the Reformist journalists who emerged amid the “Tehran Spring” of 1997-2000, during Khatami’s first term in office, worked with Salaam, Kian, or both. The hardliners shut down Kian in 1998 and Salaam in 1999. The closure of the latter played a pivotal role in the student uprising, as I will describe shortly. Even now the hardliners hold the journalists who worked with Salaam and Kian partly responsible for the birth of the Reform and Green Movements.
In 1991, as well, the Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM), a leftist Islamic group, re-emerged after being dormant since 1985. The OIRM had played a pivotal role in the formation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] on 5 April 1979. It was a coalition of seven Islamic groups that had opposed the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. But, an internal struggle between the group’s left and right wings had led the rightists to split off in 1982, with most of them joining the IRGC, and the leftist faction falling silent. The leftist faction included some of the current leading reformists, including Behzad Nabavi, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Hajjarian, and others, many of whom were imprisoned in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election of 2009, and are still incarcerated.
With its 1991 revival, OIRM began publishing Asr-e Maa (Our Era), a biweekly devoted to political and ideological matters. There were other publications in which Reformists and democrats were also active. One, for example, was Iran-e Farda, published by the leader of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition [see here and here] Ezzatollah Sahabi (1930-2011). Its editor was Reza Alijani [who now lives in exile]. It began publishing in June 1992, as a bimonthly magazine, then monthly, and finally weekly. It was shut down in May 2000 during the crackdown on reformist and dissident publications. Such publications marked the first significant signs of popular discontent with the ruling establishment after the end of Iraq-Iraq war and, naturally, the university campuses were not immune.
While these were positive developments for those interested in democracy, there were countervailing developments as well. Because of the controversial nature of the elections for the Assembly of Experts, members of the Guardian Council tried to give their vetting power a legal basis. Thus, on 2 April 1991 cleric Gholamreza Rezvani, a member of the Guardian Council, the constitutional body that supervises most elections in Iran, sent a letter to the Council asking it to interpret its constitutional power for supervising the elections.
Another cleric, Mohammad Mohammadi Gilani who was Secretary-General of the Council, responded that the power is estesvabi [roughly, active monitoring and supervision], hence bestowing upon the Council the power to vet all candidates, whereas the constitution of the Islamic Republic does not mention the word estesvabi. The Council then disqualified en masse almost all the leftist candidates for the 4th Majles in 1992, allowing the right wing to take complete control of the body. This contributed to the rising concerns, even among many ardent devotees of the Revolution. The 5th Majles approved a law in 1995 and officially granted the Council the vetting power.
During the early 1990s, weekly sessions known as the Ashaab-e Chehaarshanbeh (roughly Wednesday’s comrades) brought together many now well-known Reformists, journalists, and political activists, such as human rights advocate Emad Baghi; Hajjarian; Alavi Tabar; Shamsolvaezin, Tehrani, Feyzollah Arab Sorkhi (a leading member of the OIRM who is currently in jail), Ganji, and Dr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, deputy foreign minister in the Khatami administration who has been imprisoned since a short time after the 2009 rigged presidential election.
The meetings, which took place in a Tehran restaurant and moderated by Ganji, were devoted to discussion of the political issues faced by Iran and how to help the country address them. The activists were concerned about how the conservatives had taken absolute control of the Majles and seemed intent on establishing a complete dictatorship and a single-voiced society. Two smaller such meetings also took place at the Kian central office. One was the editorial board meeting, while the second one was devoted to discussions of religion in modern society. These discussions bore fruit in the form of Reformist policy ideas. Indeed, it is widely believed that it was members of the Ashaab-e Chehaarshanbeh that developed the Reformist platform on which Khatami ran for office in 1997.
Salaam soon gave a voice to non-clerical Islamic leftists as well, activists such as Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, Secretary-General of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (the leading Reformist group that was outlawed after the 2009 presidential elections), who is now in jail; as well as Alavi Tabar, an important Islamic leftist intellectual; Asgharzadeh, and Rajabali Mazruei, a deputy in the Reformist-controlled 6th Majles (2000-2004) and a member of the OIRM, who now lives in exile in Belgium. They all had worked with Khoeiniha at the Center for Strategic Studies, which he then headed. Salaam had a broad readership, comprising those of many different outlooks who shared a common concern about the nation’s direction.
I say with pride that I read practically every issue of Salaam from its birth to its demise in July 1999. I had my family buy it every day in Tehran and mail the issues to me every two weeks. I also distributed my copies to anyone who wanted to read them.
An editorial in Salaam‘s second issue, on 10 February 1991, made clear what type of newspaper it would be and where on the political spectrum it would stand:
We hope that God Almighty will prompt you to help us, so that we can stage a war together on the enemies of the nation — as demanded by the people — launch on attack on the White House that is blackened with tyranny and crimes — as favored by God — on the capitalists, the indifferent well-to-do, the reactionaries, stupid people disguised as religious ones, those who sleep in their luxurious villas without caring for the sufferings and pains of the deprived and, in short, assault the pro-America elements with the weapons that we have in our hands [pens], as recommended by our Imam [Khomeini].
This brand of unabashed leftism was attractive to many. It also indicated the level of discontent that was surfacing against the right wing.
For most of its existence, Salaam‘s circulation was only 100,000. Accepting no advertisements, it was always full of analytical articles, criticisms of the establishment, historical reviews, and discussion of important international events. Soon it began to clash with the administration of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticizing his “reconstruction” policy after the end of the Iran-Iraq War that had resulted in wasteful spending and vast corruption. In March 1996, after Khatami had been forced to resign from his post of Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Salaam was even temporarily banned for criticizing Rafsanjani too harshly.
Meanwhile, the OCU, the student activists’ umbrella organization, was beginning to distance itself from the ruling elite. Its original leaders — Mirdamadi, Asgharzadeh, Habibollah Bitaraf of the FOE, and others in the 11-member leadership council that they had formed after the U.S. Embassy takeover — were now in their thirties. They had weathered the war-torn 1980s and wanted a more open society. The OCU began criticizing Rafsanjani as well. The campuses were making a comeback.
Through its in-depth analyses, Salaam made important contributions to the birth of the Reformist movement, both on the campuses and in the broader society, and to the election of Khatami in May 1997. It was Khoeiniha who first suggested that he run, after former Prime Minister and current leader of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had turned down the invitation. No one knows for sure why Mousavi turned down the invitation. According to Khoeiniha, Khatami was at first angry, even furious, at the invitation but, after calming down and thinking about it, he accepted the idea.
Salaam then began to act as the mouthpiece of the Khatami campaign. Its daily circulation shot up to 500,000, a remarkable number. All that time, it was clear who the true behind-the-scenes power was: none other than Khoeiniha. Ganji told the author that he put together a 40-page pamphlet in which he described the positions of the Reformists and the Khatami campaign regarding various issues that the nation was facing, which was printed in 4 million copies by Salaam and Khoeiniha and distributed. The OCU also played a crucial role in Khatami’s victory.
Under the Khatami administration, press restrictions were loosened. Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ata’ollah Mohajerani (who now lives in exile in London) instituted a policy of tassahol and tasaamoh (roughly, leniency) toward cultural activities in general. Many new newspapers, weeklies, and other publications were launched during the ensuing “Tehran Spring.” Practically no day passed without some revelation about past crimes and political corruption. The press played a particularly important role in shedding light on the infamous Chain Murders. The universities were also full of political activities. Reformists and intellectuals gave speeches to student groups, and all sorts of open debates were taking place on the campuses.
The Uprising: Closing Salaam and Attacking the Dormitories
Recognizing the potency and popularity of both the Reformist press and the OCU, the hardliners attempted to break, or at least rein in, both. First, the conservative-dominated 5th Majles began considering a new draconian press law. On Monday, July 5, 1999, the day before the vote on the legislation was scheduled, Salaam published a letter written a few years earlier by Saeed Emami (his true name was Danyal Ghavami, and he also used aliases Mojtaba Ghavami, Saeed Eslami, Saeed Emami, and Saeed Shamshiri), the notorious leader of the gang of ministry of intelligence agents who committed the Chain Murders.
The letter, written on 7 October 1998 (shortly before murder of four intellectuals and dissidents, as part of the Chain Murders), indicating that the legislation was Emami’s idea, ignited a storm of protest. The hardliners, not knowing how to react, were on the defensive. The ministry of intelligence filed a lawsuit against Salaam, but withdrew it almost immediately, presumably on Khatami’s order.
The next day, the Special Court for Clergy, an illegal, extra-constitutional court that has been used since the early days of the Revolution for controlling dissident clerics, ordered Salaam closed. On Thursday, July 8, students in the dormitories of the University of Tehran responded with a demonstration, and put in motion an uprising that shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic. Detailed accounts of what happened on that day and the next few days are given here and here.
The call to protest had apparently been issued by a student, Farrokh Shafiei, who was later arrested and jailed for 30 months. Shafiei had called on the students to gather out on street (Amir Abad-e Shomali) at 9:00 pm. The gathering began with about 20 students, but quickly ballooned to 2000. While the students were shouting, the police arrived in force, as did right-wing vigilante groups also showed up, and began attacking the students. After the demonstration, the students returned to their dormitories.
That the students protested the closure of Salaam was not unprecedented, of course. What was new was that police forces, the vigilante group Ansaar-e Hezbollah, and plainclothes agents attacked students in the dormitories at 11:00 p.m. that night, ransacking everything and throwing several students out of windows. Even the dormitories of the foreign students were attacked. The violence continued until 4:30 am on July 9. At least 300 students, and possibly as many as 1,400, were arrested. Word of the assault on the dormitories quickly spread, prompting even larger demonstrations, both in Tehran and elsewhere, particularly Tabriz. Suddenly, the nation was in deep crisis.
The Special Court of Clergy that ordered Salaam‘s closure is under the direct supervision of Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei. The commander of the national police, Brigadier General Hedayatollah Lotfian (also an officer of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps [IRGC] ), and the commander of the Tehran police, Farhad Nazari, also reported to Khamenei. The students thus turned their anger toward the ayatollah who, though he condemned the attacks, refused to sack the two commanders responsible.
On the morning of Friday, July 9, students began protesting in Vali-Asr Square, about two miles from the University of Tehran dormitories. They moved south down Vali-Asr Street toward the office and home of Khamenei, also a distance of about two miles. The IRGC forces went on high alert. Hajjarian, then deputy chair of the Tehran City Council, said that he was in Khatami’s office when a phone call came in from the IRGC chief, Brigadier General Yahya Rahimi Safavi, to cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami’s chief of staff. Safavi warned that if the students crossed Jomhouri Eslami Street, halfway between Vali-Asr Square and Khamenei’s headquarters, the Guards would begin shooting and would not hesitate to kill. Abtahi and Hajjarian rushed to the scene and, after much negotiation and pleading, convinced the students to turn back toward their campus.
On the invitation of the OCU, Sahabi, the head of the Council of Nationalist-Religious political activists, also spoke to the students. In an interview later on, Sahabi said,
At nights the area around the University [of Tehran] was crowded. Finally, the OCU leaders asked me to speak to the students, with the hope that they would listen to me. I spoke to them for 45 minutes. During my speech I compared what had happened to the events of 16 Azar 1332 [7 December 1953, the day three students of FOE were murdered by the security forces after demonstrations against the visit of then U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon, in the aftermath of the CIA-MI6 coup of 19 August 1953], and told them what had happened to them was more brutal than what had occurred in 1953. I emphasized that there was a plot [by the hardliners] to bring the students out onto the streets, so that they could be put down violently. The student movement was highly active at that time, and they [the state] wanted to tame it. At the end I told them that it is not in their interest to come out on streets. It is better for them to stage a sit-in in the campus and demand the prosecution of the commanders [of the security forces] that had directed the attacks on them.
The Reformists committed a grave mistake by not supporting the protesting students as strongly as they could. Minister of Interior Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari and his principal deputy, Mostafa Tajzadeh, both members of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), as well as another of Mousavi Lari’s deputies, Mohammad Javad Hagh Shenas, rushed to the scene, sympathized with the students, and condemned the attacks. But, when Mousavi Lari tried to calm the students, they shouted, “Lari, resign, resign.” The students asked him to call the police to help expel the plainclothes agents from the university. Lari calls the police, but then tell the students, “Unfortunately, they do not listen to me.”
Fatemeh Karroubi, wife of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, Faezeh Hashemi, a daughter of Rafsanjani, and Dr. Sedigheh Vasmeghi, the poet and religious scholar, joined the students and expressed support, although the students did not allow Faezeh Hashemi to speak. Khatami also condemned the attacks. But, the students had rightly expected much firmer backing. Khatami suggested that the attacks were the price that the people and his government were paying for pursuing the Chain Murders. The weak support offered by the Reformists created a rift with the OCU, which eventually led to the student group splitting from the Reformist coalition.
There was credible evidence that the attacks on the students had been organized in advance, as part of a plan to topple the Khatami government. Khatami himself said as much in a speech in Hamadan about a month later, declaring that the violence had been perpetrated by those who wanted to get rid of the Reformist movement. In particular, three hardline IRGC commanders had played central roles in the dormitory assault: Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, then deputy IRGC commander, now an advisor to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani; Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a notorious officer (born in Iraq) implicated in many crimes, now commander of the Basij militia; and Brigadier General Hossein Nejat, then in the IRGC’s intelligence unit, now deputy Secretary-General of the SNSC for domestic security.
Once it became clear that the Reformists would not go all out to defend the students, nor did they control the judiciary to prosecute the main culprits in the attack, the protests gradually faded, dying out after five days. But every year, anniversary commemorations of the event are held at campuses around the nation, sometimes leading to protests and violence.
There were large demonstrations in Tehran on the 4th anniversary of the uprising in 2003, which lasted 20 days. In July 2009 on the uprising’s tenth anniversary the dormitories of the University of Tehran and Amir Kabir University (also in Tehran), as well as those in Isfahan and Shiraz were attacked, with damage more severe than that in 1999. On 15 June 2009, just three days after the rigged presidential election of that year, the University of Tehran dormitories were savagely attacked once again. At least five students were confirmed dead. After a video of the attacks surfaced, even the hardliners were embarrassed.
In the wake of the student uprising, Mousavi Khoeiniha was put on trial. In addition to the prosecutor’s own charges, he had been sued by four people: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Hamid Reza Taraghi, a leading member of the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party; Kamran Daneshjoo, the current outgoing minister of science, research, and technology who has been accused of plagiarism; and Mehdi Darvish-Zadeh, a conservative deputy to the 5th Majles from the city of Dezfool, and an IRGC officer who teaches economics at the University of Tehran. Khoeiniha was “convicted,” fined, and given a suspended sentence. He refused to attend the trial, describing it as illegitimate. Salaam was banned for five years. After the ban’s expiration, Khoeiniha refused to begin publishing it again.
Farhad Nazari, many policemen, and several members of the Ansaar-e Hezbollah were put on trial, but found not guilty. One enlisted soldier, Orooj-Ali Birzadeh, was convicted of stealing an electric razor from a dormitory room.
Casualties and Imprisonment of the Students
It is known that at least 300 students, and possibly as many as 1400, were arrested. Many of the arrested students were given long prison terms. Ahmad Batebi, for example, was first sentenced to death, reportedly after the Economist published a picture on its cover that showed him holding the bloody shirt of a fellow student. His sentence was then reduced to 15 years. After nine years in jail, he was released for medical reasons. He left Iran secretly. He now works for the Persian program of Voice of America television, and is also active in human rights organizations. At least a few students remain in jail.
14 years after the uprising, it is still unclear how many people were killed. At least three people were killed in Tehran, but the number of students killed has been reported as high as seven.
Of the three confirmed murdered, one was Ezatollah Ebrahimnejad, a graduate of Ahwaz University’s law school, who had been drafted by the IRGC to serve his mandatory military service and was visiting friends at the dormitory when the attacks occurred. His murderer was never identified. His family was represented by Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, and Mohsen Rohami. They were told that there is actually a criminal case against Ebrahimnejad for having thrown rocks at the security forces, but could not be pursued, because he had passed away.
It is believed that Masoud Dah Namaki, a hardliner and member of vigilante groups, and Mehdi Safari-Tabar, a son of Hossein Safari-Tabar, who was Friday prayer of Eslamshahr (a town n ear Tehran) and held various high security positions (he passed away last April), were directly involved in Ebrahimnejad’s murder. See here for a hymn for him.
Fereshteh Alizadeh, an activist at Tehran’s all-female Al-Zahra University disappeared in the clash between the protestors and the attackers, and was never seen again. There are credible reports that she was arrested by the security forces, killed, and buried in Khavaran Cemetery, east of Tehran, where many of the political prisoners executed in 1988 are interred. Her mother suffered a heart attack and also passed away. Four years after she disappeared, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, a former student activist and Majles deputy from 2000-2004, said that Alizadeh had been kidnapped by the security forces, but no organ of the state is willing to take responsibility for it. Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of Ansaar-e Hezbollah who now lives in exile in Europe, said that Alizadeh was killed under torture.
Another student, Saeed Zinali, was arrested at home and was never heard from again. His family was told that he had been arrested by the IRGC’s intelligence unit, which refused to confirm or deny the report. His mother has repeatedly pleaded with the security forces to at least tell her where he was buried, if in fact he was killed in jail.
A high school student, Tami Hamifar, is presumed to have been killed during the clashes between the police and protestors. Akbar Mohammadi, a student arrested along with his brother, Manouchehr, passed away on July 30, 2006. Akbar was first given a death sentence, which was later reduced to 15 years. Eventually released, he was rearrested. He went on a hunger strike, and ultimately died in jail.
It was also widely reported that at least one student was killed during the demonstrations by university students in Tabriz on Sunday July 11, and as many as 70 wounded. At least 50 students were arrested in Tabriz.
The IRGC Reaction and the Fate of “Tehran Spring”
The Reformists’ failure to stand up to the hardliners had a devastating effect for them and Khatami’s program of reform, the student movement, and the cause of democracy in general. Twenty four IRGC commanders, including then Brigadier General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, now a Major General and the IRGC chief, wrote a letter to Khatami, threatening that if he did not end the pursuit of his Reformist policies, they would be forced to take strong action. It read in part,
Your Excellency, Mr. Khatami, look at the international media and radio broadcasts. Does the sound of their merriment not reach your ear? Dear Mr. President, if you do not make a revolutionary decision today, and fail to fulfill your Islamic and national duty, tomorrow will be too late and the damage will be more irreversible than can be imagined…. With all due respect, we inform you that our patience is at an end, and we do not think it is possible to tolerate any more if [the issue is] not addressed.
Along with General Jafari, other signatories include Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, now Tehran’s mayor and a presidential candidate in the just concluded elections; then Brigadier General (now Major General) Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds forces, IRGC’s special forces that operate outside of Iran’s borders; and Brigadier General Ali Fazli, commander of the Guards’ Sayyed ol-Shohada division when the protests erupted after the 2009 elections, now deputy commander of the Basij. This letter was crucial in establishing the IRGC as a force to be reckoned with in Iran’s political scene. The violent crackdown on the students, and the Reformists failure to stop it effectively put a temporary stop on the reform movement, and slowed it down greatly.
Right before the first anniversary of the uprising, police chiefs Lotfian and Nazari were removed from their respective commands. Nothing ever happened to Naghdi. He was quiet for some time, but reemerged with his appointment as Basij commander, which he still commands.
The Tehran Spring ended several months later in April 2000 after the Reformists won an overwhelming majority in the 6th Majles, and Khamenei angrily denounced the Reformist newspapers. In the two days following his speech, 16 newspapers were closed by the judiciary.
The OCU, which had been strongly supportive of the Reformists, began distancing itself from them after the uprising. While the Reformists swept the elections for the 6th Majles in March 2000, the OCU had its own parliamentary faction, including such notable figures as Dr. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo (now living in exile in the United States), Dr. Ali Tajernia (a dentist by education who was imprisoned after the rigged elections of 2009), Dr. Davood Soleimani (an academic, currently in jail), Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini (currently living in exile in the U.S.), and Elyas Hazrati (editor of the newspaper E’temad). By 2003, the OCU was strongly criticizing the Reformists and Khatami. It boycotted the presidential elections of 2005, after which it even called for a national referendum to decide whether the people still supported the Islamic Republic system. But in 2009, after much deliberation, it supported Mehdi Karroubi for the presidency.
During the nationally-televised debates between the presidential candidates for the 14 June 2013 elections, Hassan Rouhani who was Secretary-General of the SNSC in 1999, and Ghalibaf, clashed with each other, accusing one another of being harsher to the protesting students.
On 8 July 2010, on the 11th anniversary of the uprising, Mir Hossein Mousavi said that if the culprits behind the attacks on the dormitories in 1999 had been tried in open court and properly punished, the vicious dormitory attacks of 15 June 2009, would not have occurred. In hindsight, he himself may not have been put under house arrest on 15 February 2011, and perhaps would have been elected Iran’s president in 2009, changing Iran’s direction and history.
Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has been analyzing Iran’s political developments and nuclear program for nearly two decades. His is a co-founder and editor of the website Iran News & Middle East Reports where this article first appeared.