The cafeteria uprising is a small but iconic part of the anti-government unrest that has swept Iran for nearly two months and is now the longest-running demonstration against the Islamic Republic’s leader. As street protests come and go, college students have kept the momentum going.
Four students from universities across Iran told The Washington Post about their role in the protests. Constant surveillance and threats of arrest. They spoke on the condition that they be identified by their first names for fear of reprisal from the state.
“They are not only protesting sexism, they are denying it,” said Mohammad Ali Qadivar, an assistant professor at Boston University who attended college in Iran. “Students don’t just want to eat together, they eat together. Or they try to.”
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Security forces repeatedly raided campuses and confronted student protesters. Last month, the military raided Tehran’s Sharif Institute of Technology, known as the MIT of Iran, has arrested hundreds of students.
The head of Iran’s most feared security force, the Revolutionary Guard, warned on Saturday that it would be the “last day of riots” and foretold further crackdowns.
But that didn’t stop the protests. On Tuesday, several university students went on strike, organizing a sit-in with placards bearing the names and faces of detained classmates and professors.
Nearly 400 college students were arrested as of Wednesday, with more than 130 colleges participating in nationwide protests, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA). Human rights groups say thousands were detained and hundreds were killed overall, though reporting restrictions make it difficult to ascertain exact figures.
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Hamed, a 25-year-old student at Gilan University in the northern city of Rasht on the Caspian Sea, said rules on gender segregation had been enforced sporadically in the past. separated them.
He said that now everyone is nervous because he and his classmates are violating the rules against mixing men and women in the cafeteria.
“As the protests continued, more and more university guards were sent, and later plainclothes troops were sent to camouflage among us,” he said. “They take pictures and videos, find certain students who appear more active, and arrest them outside the university.”
Hamed, who, like others, spoke on the condition that he use only his first name, shared that he received text messages warning students not to join the protest.
At the Raj University in Kermanshah, a predominantly Kurdish city in the west, Nastaran, 20, told The Post that the protest had not yet spread to the cafeteria. [students] still scared. ”
“If the protests continue with this volume, we will do so immediately,” she added.
He said the protests continued because Iranians share a “common pain” of loving their country, while being “deprived of the most basic right to live and hoping for a brighter future.” she said. Their only recourse is oppression. ”
Nastaran said he saw children under college age walking around campus and taking pictures of students. An unmarked ambulance that rights groups claim was used to transport detainees is parked outside the campus, she said.
The Post, which is not licensed to report inside Iran, could not independently verify the student’s account.
Iran has what students called the “Sterling System” for suspecting bad behavior.
College students have long been the “torch bearers” of Iran’s pro-democracy movement, said Pholo Farhang, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. While studying as an undergraduate in Iran, she was suspended from her university in the aftermath of her 2009 pro-democracy protests.
According to Farhang, the university is considered relatively progressive, but it also attracts students from diverse backgrounds.
She said the university represents the “multi-faceted nature of Iranian society.”
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Iranian students take standardized tests at the end of high school. This test determines where and what you study. The process aims to provide equal access to higher education, but there are constraints on what women can study and how they can participate in campus life.
Many of these restrictions were introduced after the 1979 revolution when Shiite revolutionaries ousted Iran’s western-backed king and established a theocratic security state.
Tehran further consolidated its grip after the 2009 Green Movement, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest fraudulent elections and demand political reform. Manije Moradian, a professor at Barnard University, said college students were the main leaders of these protests and many were arrested, tortured, permanently exiled and forced into exile.
In response, the government has imposed new limits on the number of women who can study certain topics at universities, closed student organizations, and expanded the presence of pro-government groups on campuses.
Iran’s ultra-conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, stepped up the crackdown even further this spring, tightening the hijab and dress code for women.
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Moradian said the contradiction of widely accessible higher education, along with deep political, social and economic discontent, made universities at the center of the rebellion.
“There is this vast expansion of education, free public education, all these young people with hopes and hopes of being able to have a job. I will,” she said.
Students rose to demand democracy and fair elections in 2009, but this time students “are rejecting the Islamic Republic as a failed experiment,” Moradian said. She added that this generation is witnessing a “declining standard of living” due to “a combination of inadequate management and sanctions with extreme pressure.” [and] All efforts at reform have ceased. ”
So students like 21-year-old Saber, a science student at the University of Tehran, are at a crossroads.
“What I want to see is a bright future for Iran,” he said. “But if you want to be realistic, I must say that there is also a deep crisis of hope among people. … Friends of mine left for Europe and North America.”
All efforts in the cafeteria and beyond are part of the broader struggle for freedom.
“This separation is more of an attempt by the regime to show power than having nothing to do with religion or belief,” he said.