IRAN: Flirting with Change

October 17th, 2013

Students at Tehran University source:

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


Filed under Education, History, Human Interest, Politics

3 responses to “IRAN: Flirting with Change

  1. Deborah Pennington

    Capitalization is better than rejection. Assuming a personal perspective, to alleviate academic freedom or international exchange in any country will only place an ever stronger emphasize on the fight to overcome inequality. I think this is sad. Yet, it is good to hear of the new government movement to challenge certain aspects of education. We as humans need to respect the well-being of others especially government leaders. Hassan Rouhani and his administration I feel is going in the right direction to not tolerate factional pressures on universities; call action to lift academic restrictions; and grant the scholars of Iran to take part in international conferences. To emphasize inequality with regard to access to literate cultures is to be considered. Does anyone know at this point if there is a way to know if the new government under Mr. Rouhani has a chance for being considered? I do not know much on the issue/ or topic thus far.

  2. Thank you, Deborah for your comment to this post. While Iran, under the new President’s watch may be moving toward releasing its tight grip on academic and social freedoms, countries like China and Turkey, have recently been clamping down on their university professors. Where there is no academic freedom, there is only suppression and dogma. It’s too soon to determine Mr. Rouhani’s chances for success or whether he’s simply giving lip service to the west (and to his people) for reasons beyond my expertise, but I’d take a guess that the economic sanctions and the hardship it has placed on his country’s peoples may be the reason for this softening of tone. Let’s wait and see.

  3. Thanks for sharing your perspective…The ironic thing about Iran is that it was once a thriving democracy in the Middle East until a CIA led coup d’état in the 1950s overthrew its government and exiled their democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh and replaced him with the Shah who was by many accounts a true dictator and tyrant…The coup was led by Pres. Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., and was called Operation Ajax…One of the causes of the coup was due to Iran’s insistence on nationalizing its oil resources, something that a powerful multinational corporation, BP or British Petroleum, did not approve of…One can reason that much of the U.S.’s problems with Iran and Iran’s mistrust of the U.S. can be traced back to that August in 1953…This is documented fact and can be found online…The following links is where you can get another perspective on the story I just shared with you:

    With that said I can understand how some of these countries and their governments could be hesitant of outside or foreign entities infiltrating their respective sovereignty with the perception of bearing gifts and goodwill…We have history to show us many times over that these gifts were usually distractions or Trojan horses for more sinister purposes…Yes there are very corrupt governments but it is only human nature to feel comfortable being corrupted or exploited by the devil that you know rather than the devil that you don’t…

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