right-to-protest-part-2
Nov 2009 23

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former Iranian vice-president and leading reformist in the administration of President Mohammed Khatami (1997 to 2005) was yesterday released on bail of $700,000 (£424,000) pending his appeal. Mr Abtahi has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for fomenting unrest after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June. The most senior of hundreds of dissidents to have been locked up in the past five months “confessed” to his alleged crimes during a state televised trial that has been internationally denounced in similar fashion to Mr Abtahi’s claims about the election, as ‘a swindle’.

The protests on the streets of Tehran were of an unprecedented scale and the reaction of the Iranian Government speaks for itself as the regime has gone as far as to state that the protests were illegal whilst nationally televising rallies that support the Government. The right to protest is a fundamental part of any society, especially a democracy but Iran is not a democratic state, indeed it is one that is deeply divided. The main split, between those who support the Government and those who do not, appears to centre around different and opposite understandings of Iran’s political evolution since the 1979 revolution. One side wants a gradual evolution of democratic institutions and a more democratic reading of Islamic institutions, whilst the other desires a more a populist and authoritarian reading of Islam. Both sides claim to represent the majority of the population which is difficult to prove either way although it can be argued that the split is also one between the younger, more globally-minded individuals who wish for Iran to have more connections to the outside world and those who feel that Iran has been bullied culturally and politically by the West and trust in Mr. Ahmadinejad to deliver the revolution’s promises of economic and social justice.

The battles and casualties for democracy are not confined to the Middle East, indeed it was announced today that twenty-one people are dead as a result of electoral violence in Maguindanao, part of the autonomous region in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines. Even though there is a history of violence at election time (especially in the South where clashes often occur between armed groups), the massacre of local politicians and journalists is unequalled in recent history. Both communist rebels and separatist Muslim insurgents are fighting government troops on Mindanao, and local politics is often dominated by strongmen backed up by private militias. It is clear that such incidents can be considered a setback on the path of democratic progress, especially when amongst the group abducted were relatives of a local mayor Ismael Mangudadatu, who were on their way to an election office to file his nomination papers to challenge local clan leader Datu Andal Ampatuan for the governor’s office.

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It would be easy to assume that that hopes for democracy, freedom of expression and the right to protest are under threat in many parts of the world but that would be to ignore the massive technological and social revolutions that have occurred in recent years. This technology proves challenging for authorities to control and whilst this has some dangers, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Indeed, word of the Iranian protests was communicated online via Facebook and many reports of the subsequent violence were picked up by the external media through the wonder that is Twitter, supplemented by a healthy supply of videos on YouTube. Moreover, depsite Twitter being blocked by the Chinese Government, the micro-blogging site received real-time reports and photographs of today’s environmental protest as members of the middle class joined more than 1,000 people on the streets of Guangzhou to protest against the building of a rubbish incinerator near their home. Although the demonstration ended peacefully after the government promised to complete an environmental assessment before the project goes ahead, it is clear that the Chinese Government is quite anxious about how the middle classes are using new forms of communication and networking to voice their protests and share their experiences with the rest of the world. The real power lies with the people…..

2 Comments

  1. roclafamilia says:

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

  2. […] PostsEclectics: Too Revolutionary for TV? – December 3rd, 2009Commentary: Right to Protest? Part 2 – November 23rd, 2009Aspecks Crew: Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009: Aspecks founders in Future […]

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