Hope for reform in Iran rests on social media

Repressive official forces in Iran, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei put a stop to wide-spread protests of disputed official results of the country’s presidential election. It appears a 10-day cooling off period is being enforced, after which reform-minded protesters may have sufficiently lost momentum to prevent substantial opposition being voiced to the clerical regime.

In the meantime, officials in Iran have shut down Facebook use and cell phone texting transmission, and confiscated cell phones protesters have used to capture and post video of the protests and police brutality in suppressing them.

Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has long used social media himself, as noted in my post here in 2007. Ahmadinejad came to power as a populist who at the same time made it clear to the ruling clerics that he was their man. For a time, Ahmadinejad breathed new life into the clerical regime’s sagging popularity. But his hardline ways have been rejected by increasing numbers of citizens, particularly women and young people.

For his part, opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi has quite limited credentials as a reformer. A hard-liner himself, Moussavi was included among the four candidates the ruling clerics allowed to be placed on the ballot from 200 initial candidates. But only when he began to modify his rhetoric to express some support for reform did his “green” campaign catch on, with women and students his most vocal supporters.

 

Photo: AFP

It seems unlikely that the entrenched powers in Iran will allow any real scrutiny of the highly suspect election, The bigger question is whether large numbers of reform-minded citizens will continue to openly push for truly Democratic change in Iran. Hopes rests firmly on the power of social media to connect Iran’s citizenry to each other and to supporters around the world. Call them citizen journalists or the Facebook generation — they are the best hope for lasting change in a repressive nation.

Are we about to witness a historic moment in Iran, similar to the popular unrest in Eastern Europe in 1989 that led to fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Bloc? Or, more likely, is Tehran similar to Tiananmen Square the same year, where student protests captured the world’s attention but did little to erode the repressive hold of the Chinese government?

- Jon Harmon

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