TEHRAN (Reuters) - Whether cowed by crackdowns, pacified by an increase in social freedoms or simply resigned, Iran's students are no longer the
force that once spearheaded a revolution or agitated for liberal reform.
With just over a week to go before a presidential election in which the Islamic state's clerical leaders have said it is a national and religious
duty to vote, student leader Abdollah Momeni is calling -- quietly -- for a boycott.
It appears the last resort of a group whose hopes for reform through the ballot box have all but vanished, at least for now.
"Voting in this situation would be an approval of the current system," said Momeni, 28, the secretary of the largest pro-reform student movement,
the Office to Consolidate Unity.
"With the current international situation, the Islamic Republic more than ever needs people's votes to demonstrate its legitimacy. By boycotting the
vote, we want to show that there is a legitimacy problem."
Unfortunately for Momeni, other reformists have not rallied to his call.
Leading reformist candidate Mostafa Moin, former higher education minister in outgoing president Mohammad Khatami's pro-reform government, said
on Tuesday that a boycott could lead to the creation of a totalitarian regime.
But students, who backed Khatami in droves in his 1997 and 2001 election wins, have lost hope that reformists can deliver their promises of greater
freedom and democracy against the opposition of the unelected hard-liners who wield ultimate power.
"Khatami was unable to carry out his promises and now students can't trust or support anyone else," said Neda Sabouri, 20, who, like most of the
students interviewed, says she won't be voting on June 17.
Political analysts cite various reasons why university students, who spearheaded the 1979 Islamic revolution and have staged large pro-democracy
protests at various times in the last six years, are now so indifferent to the election.
Merciless security crackdowns in which scores of student activists were jailed and pressured to write contrite confessions have undoubtedly taken
The toughness of the job market and a more relaxed social atmosphere have also encouraged many to concentrate on finishing their degrees or enjoying
"It's true that students are less politically active now," said Maryam Ansari, a 22-year-old student. "They're now more concerned with economic
issues: they want jobs, they want money.
"You can't even compare today's society with that of eight years ago. Young people are rarely arrested for listening to pop or rock music and they
dress so freely compared to seven or eight years ago."
"PROJECT HAS FAILED"
But Momeni insists that a strong undercurrent of activism remains, this time channelled into a rejection of the political system.
"One thing Khatami achieved was to prove that this system cannot be democratised from within. We believe that chapter is closed. This project has
"This election is a turning point for either stabilising the current situation or accepting some changes in the system," said Momeni, who hopes a
low turnout might boost currently timid calls for a referendum on the constitution.
Several other leading reform activists, such as outspoken journalist Akbar Ganji, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and dissident history
lecturer Hashem Aghajari, have also said they will not vote next Friday.
Actively promoting a boycott, however, is considered treasonable.
Momeni, who spent 45 days in solitary confinement in 2003 after being bundled into a car at gunpoint by plainclothes security agents, nervously eyed
the other coffee drinkers in the smoky cafe where the interview was conducted to make sure his conversation was not being overheard.
"We're not expecting results after one election. This is just a starting point," he said
never give up Persians, never give up, we have seen other revolutions goin on in other parts of Central Asia so never give up, just take yer time