Challenges on the road to Democracy in the Middle East

SAIH Trondheim in collaboration with Amnesty arranged a debate meeting with Café Nord-Sør about the situation and the ongoing happenings in the Middle East.

Three speakers were invited to tell more about the Arabic spring and the role of religion in the geopolitics of the region:

1. Ulrika Mårtensson: She is a professor at the Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies, NTNU, Trondheim, and an expert on Islam. She talked about the challenges of drafting new constitutions, with special focus on the Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis). She focused on two cases within the Arab Spring, Egypt and Tunisia, which have so far been successful to overthrow their previous dictators.

2. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam: He is a Norwegian-Iranian neuroscientist and human rights advocate and an international prize winner in both fields. As a spokesman of IHR (Iran Human Rights), he talked about the dilemmatic choice between the secular dictatorship and theocratic democracy, in the region. He gave a history of contemporary Iran and the process by which the Islamists, despite their promises, took over the 1979 revolution in Iran after removing the King.

3. Souhail Mahdi: He is a Syrian-Norwegian political economy student at NTNU. He gave a brief summary of the problems faced in three current democracies of the region: Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza Strip and he finished by updating the people with the situation in Syria and the potential prospects, from a “ground”-perspective.

The three speakers presented different cases linked together with the Arab spring and the Iranian winter (referring to what eventually came out after the Iranian Spring in 1979) which is much less discussed.

After the meeting it was time for questions and answers. The questions that were asked at the end of the meeting created an interesting debate about how much religion can be trusted not to interfere with politics in the newly changed governments of the Arab spring. The debate were between the speakers and also between the audiences. A well-established debate meeting that gave new information to the situation in the Middle East. Approximately 60 people showed up during the event and as usual cake and cofee was served for the hungry and thirsty audience, Hungry for information and thirsty for learning.

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Reposted from SAIH, Trondheim.

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, the Egyptian girl who – together with his boy friend – posed fully naked on the internet, is beaten up by some protesters and taken out from Al-tahrir square’s recent protests, while being protected by some others. And this is happening at the eve of the international day for the elimination of violence against women.

Her boy friend, Kareem Amer, spent four years in prison for blog posting deemed insulting to Islam and for calling Mubarak a symbol of tyranny. Now under the new regime some Islamists demand sharia punishment for this couple.

Not only what they did would be perceived as hurtful by the conservative sectors of the Middle Eastern society, but also many seculars criticized their action to be “too early”. Their argument was that the act was not mature enough and did not convey a comprehensible message for the society, considering its expensive cost of  giving threatening messages to the fundamental Islamists.

It is true that it may give enough reason to the conservatives to be scared of the secular sectors of the revolution and it may make them keener on hijacking the revolution from the other rivals. But, sooner or later the Middle East would need such radical actions done not only in the sexual realm but also in other areas, simply to make the society numb to such “pain”. Bringing sexual taboos to the public sphere is an inevitable step to proceed. Let’s hope this specific act won’t cost more than it achieved.

Traitor to the country!

A controversial poster:
This year, SAIH ‘s annual campaign was fronted by a poster spread around all the Norwegian academic cities. Their controversial poster entitled “Beware! They are educated!” shows a group of dictators escaping from protesting students. The illustrated dictators are Hitler, Gaddafi, Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, Stalin, and Ayatollah Khomeini. On October 14 SAIH wrote under “Khomeini in a bad company” that they have received a letter from the Iranian embassy in Oslo. The letter asks them to remove the posters since it illustrates Ayatollah Khomeini among 5 brutal dictators:

[…] “The Embassy of The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly protests against this action and wants your organization to remove this picture as soon as possible”; it is further stated in the email from the embassy. […]

For half a century SAIH has defended student’s right for free speech and this time the organization itself is entitled to the same right: In a press release, they referred to their main objective: “We defend students’ free speech” and announced that they will not comply with the request from the embassy. This press release led to a coverage by many Norwegian newspapers, first and foremost by Aftenposten which cited the embassy’s claim in their article: “You have offended the feelings of a great nation”.

My reaction: Here comes my featured chronicle in Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten entitled “They suppress all the critics” pointing out that in an under any authoritarian regime an embassy represents a government, not a nation:

The Iranian embassy’s intolerant reaction to SAIH’s campaign stands as a symbol of how Iranian authorities suppress all criticism from students in Iran.

This chronicle was followed by an interview with Adresseavisen (The main regional newspaper): “Iranian student supports the student campaign”. I cliamed in the interview that I know of many Iranian students at NTNU who would support the campaign but they do not dare to side with the campaign and its poster, due to the potential risk when they visit their homeland.

Government’s reaction to my article/interview: Some Iranian governmental websites covered the story supporting the action by the Iranian embassy and condemning the poster together with my article. Teribon, an Iranian governmental news portal wrote with a very tense and ideological tone in their article “Iranian embassy in Norway reacted to a blaspheming poster of Imam Khomeini“:

[…] But this was not the end of the story. Nima Darabi one of the Iranian students in Trondheim had an article in Aftenposten. In that text which was fully traitorous to the country [Iran], he supported SAIH’s action. He said that Iranian embassies are not representing the Iranian people and if Europeans are willing to listen to the voice of the Iranian people, they should instead hear it among the angry Iranian crowds protesting outside the embassies. Bringing up the electoral fraud accusations in the recent presidency election [June 2009], he made his article even more betrayal.

Fardanews, another governmental website close to the head of the parliament, cited the same paragraph in  “[Iranian] Greens in Norway, allies with anti-Iranian groups against Imam Khomeini”.

Freedom of Expression in Iran, Transfering the Memes of Democracy

A Rising Hope – The People Have Spoken The human rights situation in Iran

  • Where: Samfundet, Klubben, Trondheim, Norway
  • When: Wednesday 13.10.2010, 19:00 – 21:00

Why is one of the most educated countries in the Middle East constantly troubled by Human Rights abuses and suffering? Can they change this? Can we change this? Amnesty International Student Network in Trondheim welcomes you to a theme meeting about the past, presence and future of Iran and democracy development. Speakers:

  • Ulrika Mårtensson (PhD) – Assistant Professor in religious studies at NTNU. Spesializing in Islam.
  • Nima Darabi (PhD student, NTNU) – Student activist and blogger from Iran.
  • Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam (PhD) – is an Iranian human rights activist, University of Oslo, Norway. He was awarded the Norwegian Amnesty International’s Human Rights Prize in 2007.

[nggallery id=6] I just had a talk at the event “A Rising Hope – The People Have Spoken” held by amnesty international in Trondheim. You can download my presentation entitled “Freedom of Expression in Iran, Transfering the Memes of Democracy” here:

Watch, it’s a trap!

Akbar Ganji dreams of a Free Iran:

The misfortune of the people who live in the Middle East, the region from which I come, is that the international conditions have never been conducive to achieving democracy. Quite to the contrary, these conditions have always been to the benefit of the enemies of freedom.


People of the Middle East had been living under the tyranny of secular and corrupt governments, which were all supported by the United States and other Western countries. This context left them recourse to only one political alternative: religious fundamentalism. The United States and the Western world reaped the first fruit of their own deeds with the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and today they face fully grown and powerful trees of violent fundamentalism.

What comes is something in agreement with Ganji that I’d written while ago – before I got to read this article – with few corrections in the terminology:

Here is the warning: As a reaction to secular dictatorship, I think we Iranians were the first nation in the contemporary middle east who actually went into a trap called religious fundamentalism as a political system. We’ve experienced it now for more than three decades and now as the counter-reaction we are about to survive. Sooner or later we’ll overcome a totalitarian religious form of a regime. What concerns me the most is actually about our neighbors: a possible dark future for some other middle eastern states. Pakistanis, Arabs, Turks, other potential nations should not remake our mistakes; democracy is still the only way to resolve. Or else, the failures of the Bush administration will remain in the middle east for a century.

Related @ Nim:

The Dictator’s Dish

The picture shows today’s huge pro-government protest during the rush hour around Azadi square, Tehran to mark the 31st of Anniversary of Iran’s Revolution.

The information that is not shown on the picture is the that most of the attendees around the Azadi square are opposition demonstrators who didn’t dare to carry green symbols because of the governmental high security control. I talked to two of them on the phone today and they regretted playing the role of two additional grains of rice on the supreme leader’s dish tonight!

As a result of new executions and having anticipated vast number of security forces and militia men, the green movement this time employed a highly compromising “Trojan Horse” strategy: the opposition supporters were to dress and act as pro-government demonstrators to safely join the crowd and then later on turn it into a protest; however, unlike the former clear hijacks they failed accomplishing it but adding more pixels to the image.

I wish the GeoEye service was launched/working or we were somehow aware of that on June 15, 2009 when the opposition took to the streets of Tehran (estimated between 2 to 3 million) and many of us pointed the need for a counting method, which could metaphorically be such a big pot of delicious food for the lovers of democracy and peace.

Let’s all be pixels

Introduction: December 7 is the student day in Iran, and like similar events after the disputed election, we expect riots and consequently brutal crackdowns of protesters in many campuses in Tehran as well as many other cities.

At the same date, we students at NTNU, want to make a global image in order to support the Iranian students’ peaceful movement. Many universities around the world will join this program to support non-violent GREEN movement and to show their solidarity with Iranian students and teachers who are in prison due to their peaceful democratic demonstration. We invite you all to join others to be a pixel in this global image!

Besides, there will be a brief discussion panel and live videos of crackdown will be shown.

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  • Time: Monday – December 7, 2009 (16:00 to 18:00)
  • Location: NTNU, Gløshaugen Campus, Central Building, Lecture hall S1 (confirmed)

Notes if you join:

  • Every piece of green that you wear (or bring) will sharpen our image!
  • Be creative! Wear GREEN in solidarity (shirts, wristbands, ribbons, balloons, …)
  • Hold signs such as : “WE SUPPORT YOU”, “WE ARE IRANIANS”, “WE ARE WITH YOU”, etc.
  • Norwegian flags, NTNU logo, etc, are more then welcome

The end result will be a video with all the photo shoots combined, which will be shared on Youtube and sent to Iranian students back home.

Although these global actions do not change anything overnight, but they do render an immeasurable service to the morale of those who are struggling for the democratic project within Iran.

Historical background:

Iranian government stole votes of its own people and announced the election results upside down. The people didn’t give up their right. They protested peacefully and as a result they were killed, imprisoned and raped. They stood by their rights. They exposed themselves to all these dangers and through that they presented their movement to the rest of the world. Now, Iranians not only do not have right to protest peacefully, but also after the supreme leader’s religious dictum on May 19 they might easily get shot by the government’s agents while taking part in any kind of riot, however they still take any opportunity, ceremony and event to express their movement and to eventually take their votes back. Dec 7 known as the student day in Iran is one of those events in a row.

The student day goes back to 55 years ago. During the Shah era, since Iranian police agents fired and killed three students (two marxists and one liberal) inside the campus of Tehran University, the day 7th of December has been recognized as an official day in Iranian calendar called the Student Day. Since then, before and after the revolution, Iranian students, both secular and religious, celebrate this anniversary, protesting against the dictatorship and policies of the government.

Liar, liar, burns on fire

Before the stolen election Mirhossein Mousavi, the Iranian president of elect warned the society:

We have now faced an incredibly bizarre new phenomenon able to look right into the camera and to say self confidently that up is down and black is white!

Some days after, the same phenomenon  (Ahmadinejad) claimed electoral victory while in absence of any other witness, his own men of the previous cabinet were the only persons in charge of counting the votes.

Now after his interviews in NYC the world may understand us better. No one (even Larry King) can avoid playing his game.

p.s. It’s not always that bad. Watch this one:

AN suddenly became surprised that westerns know about the second enrichment facilities and was not sure to make a lie or not! He roughly denied that and postponed the answer to see if Obama really knows or not…. Eventually the American real president happened to know. And just some hours later, Iran’s representative confessed this in a letter to IEAE to keep pretending that everything is clear.

Ahmadinejad is not Iran’s elected president!

Thanks to all of our contributors in the Green Scroll in Bodø, Trondheim, Hamar and Løten (Norway).

This is our famous Green Scroll exhibited in Paris. 1700 meters, hundreds of thousands of signatures gathered in a couple of weeks from the Iranians living in 200 cities all across the world. Seconds 0:43 to 0:52 belong to us! 🙂

And the same Scroll in NYC more than a month later. Our part comes around 1:58′ to 2:05′, The only part cut off from the sticks:

Roozbeh Pournader‘s comment on this:

Lots of pieces came out, including every holder in my group except mine. The wind was very strong. I like to believe I kept it intact by thinking about the physics of it, applying the force where it would minimize the pressure on attachment points.