October 17th, 2013
Though the world is viewing the overtures made by Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, with cautious optimism, on Monday, October 14, 2014, he challenged the country’s hardline factions and called for the lifting of restrictions on academic freedoms and for granting Iranian scholars more opportunity to take part in international conferences. Speaking to students and professors at Tehran University, Mr. Rouhani said that his “administration will not tolerate factional pressures on universities,” and called on the importance of scholars from taking part in international conferences as “scientific diplomacy.”
“I urge all security apparatuses, including the intelligence ministry, to open the way for this diplomacy. Trust the universities,” said Rouhani.
In an earlier blog I wrote about how the government of Iran, under the former presidency of Ahmadinejad, had justified its decision to bar women from studying in 70 plus programs. Mr. Ahmadinejad and the hardliners in his government were concerned about the disparity between the increasing numbers of women versus men enrolling at universities. Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor’s government wasn’t only concerned about limiting women’s access to over 70 fields of study, but also barring scholars and professors from attending international conferences and engaging in research, and making it difficult for Iranian students to seek higher education outside the country.
Mr. Rouhani’s Monday call was broadcast on state television. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top policymaker, has endorsed Rouhani’s outreach to the U.S. However, this does not mean the hardliners are taking Mr. Rouhani’s calls for education freedom and his attempts to reach out to the U.S. lightly. In fact, they have vowed to organize a major anti-U.S. rally on November 4th to mark the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by militant students in 1980.
When Rouhani took office in August, he had called for lifting the restrictions on social media access and even urged police to be less vigilant toward women and the perceived violations of strict dress codes. I believe Iranian women had already taken matters into their own hands, even before Mr. Rouhani’s declaration. Street fashion in Iran, as seen in this series of photos, is alive and well and young women and some men are pushing the envelope expressing their individualism and unique sense of style even with dress code restrictions.
Perhaps change is underway in Iran and as far as academic freedom is concerned, the only way to gauge it is to see how students, professors and scholars are treated under Mr. Rouhani’s watch.
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI