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Today marks 20 years since the 1999 Iranian student uprising. Known in #Iran by its “ground zero” as “The Disaster of the Ku-ye Daneshgah Dormitories”, the uprising - sometimes likened to 1989 #Tiananmen Square protests in China - carries great historical significance.
The background: on July 7, #Iran’s judiciary - using a new, tougher Press Bill - ordered the closing of daily Salâm, which had since 1991 criticized conservatives in power. Salâm was then considered one of numerous pro-reform #newspapers that since 97 election of Khatami … /2
… had exposed #corruption, #injustice, #inequality + demanded transparency, justice. The banning of Salâm + new law to curb #pressfreedom - marked beginning of hardliners’ campaign to crush the blossoming civil society and political mobilisation connected with #reformism. /3
On July 8, all #Iran's pro-reform papers' frontpages lambasted the closing. #Students protested; some spread out from #campus in illegal rallies clashing with #police. A stand-off developed between students and police in front of the student dormitories at Ku-ye Dâneshgâh. /4
Through the evening of July 8 and into morning of July 9, the dorms were raided by #Tehran Police forces and anti-riot units together with agents known collectively as “the pressure group”: mostly plain-clothed members of paramilitary and intelligence organs. /5
Students were beat up, their rooms torn apart, some even thrown off balconies. At least one, possibly four, died; dozens, possibly hundreds, were wounded. /6
Six days of #unrest followed. Students were joined by others, many unemployed, protesting and confronting the police. #Riots raged with significant damage to public buildings, busses and stores. /7
At least five people (possibly as many as 15) were killed and more than 200 injured. There was also unrest in other cities and thousands were arrested. It was the worst unrest since the #IranianRevolution twenty years earlier. /8
The events are disputed. Officials painted a portrait of a small group of extremists and hirelings in the service of foreign powers inciting gullible youth. Student activists claimed that they were infiltrated by hardliners disguised as students to discredit their cause. /9
At one point, it even seemed as if the students were set to win as the state caved in to some demands. Reformist politicians tried to persuade students to return to campus. Many saw that - and, on July 13, Khatami’s disowning of the demonstrators - as betrayal. /10
As demonstrations become radicalised, many protestors cover their faces. Reports that pictures of Supreme Leader is being burned. Rumours that students may even march on the Leader’s office. Looting and vandalism reported on July 12 and 13. /11
July 13, IRGC troops, anti-riot forces and “pressure groups” from across the country swarm Tehran. With tear gas and rubber bullets they crush the demonstrations while protesters try to occupy conservative newspapers’ offices. /12
July 14, as mobile phone services are cut off, 10s of 1000s Khamenei-supporters rallied. Hassan Rouhani - now considered #Iran's “moderate” president but then acting as hardline secretary of Supreme National Security Council - vows to punish the rioters during the rally. /13
The same day, a letter from 24 high-ranking IRGC commanders to Khatami had been published: “our patience has worn out”. It was a clear threat of coup d’etat. In the National Security Council, Rouhani had voted to deploy the IRGC on Tehran’s streets. /14
The regime reclaimed the city. Judiciary continued to clamp down on reformists, blaming journalists, politicians, intellectuals for inciting the students. /15
In the conservative base, there was real fear that the massive socio-political changes were connected to foreign conspiracies against Iran and Islam - indeed that reformism could lead to IRI’s disintegration like Glastnost had in the Soviet Union. /16
Hence, the dorm attackers saw their actions as a legitimate act sanctioned by official ideology and the conservative clergy. A key source to understand this perspective is a book by Tehran Police Commander Farhad Nazari, who was arrested after the raid, later acquitted. /17
In his book, Nazari presents himself as a hero warding off a major conspiracy against the nation - a natural extension of the Iran-Iraq War, but this time with domestic foes. The book has allegedly sold more than 150,000 copies. /18
I wrote my MA diss on student politics & the 99 uprising. I recently found the manuscript again (the original file was lost - never forget to do proper backup!) and now I’m thinking about turning it into a book. /19
But if I do, “Tehran 1999” will be about not just the student uprising but also the unique circumstances in that city during that time. /20
the story of a city undergoing fundamental socioeconomic transformations, demographic shifts, urban cultural change. The press, political circles, NGOs, sports clubs, parks, infrastructural expansion, urban development, youth subcultures, new pop music, satelite tv shows /21
That sweltering summer of 99 was a pressure cooker. So many ideas, demands, activities, dreams, fears boiling to the surface. It flagged an end to reformism as broad-based popular movement; but also gave inspiration to next gen. Let us never forget those who gave their lives.
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