The Green Movement and the Iranian Election

How Iran’s protests transformed into a national uprising

Determined, determined, determined…

There are many ways in which the Iranian election in June 2014 could have turned out differently.

The protests that began on the streets of Tehran and spread across the country could have been stopped from happening in the first place. For starters, the government of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely seen as a dictatorship. But the government is also notoriously corrupt – the recent revelations about the suspiciously large sums paid to officials by the Iranian oil industry, including by the government itself, have highlighted the problem.

The protests, moreover, did not start out as an effort to express dissatisfaction with the government. Many of the demonstrators and their supporters were members of the Green Movement, the first major opposition group in Iranian history. Their goal, they say, was to get rid of the current regime and institute a more democratic system in place of it. But as that movement grew, its members came to take more and more of an anti-regime, anti-corruption stance. Before the election, they had sought to distance themselves from those views, but once the protests began in earnest, that line between the movement and its participants was erased.

The movement, says Hamid Farahani, an anthropologist based in Iran, is a part of a vast, much wider social and intellectual reform movement that started in the 1990s, when several major revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East began to move away from authoritarian systems toward more open, liberal democracies.

Iranians, he says, began to question the role of the clerics in Iran’s government, which they saw as a force that protects the wealthy and powerful. The idea of giving more autonomy to the poor was also popular, he says, as Iran witnessed an unprecedented wave of protests and strikes, which often began peacefully, only to be met with violence from the government, which responded with violence of its own.

The movement’s members, he says, had no illusions about how long their protests would last – they were just trying to push for fundamental changes. Farahani says that when the protesters first entered Tehran’s Azadi Square on Thursday, they were trying to get

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