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October 24, 2003

The Role of Student Groups
Yaser Kerachian  [info|posts]

Store_Door.jpg I was wandering around the internet a few days ago. Then I came across the website of Sharif University of Technology, a University where many of the authors of this weblog have got their undergraduate degree from. In the right corner of this website, there are a few links to some of the university student groups. I started to check their websites. The website of the Islamic Association of Students, the main pro-democracy student association in the university, hasn't been updated since the year 2000. However, the website of the Political Studies Office, a pro-conservative student group updates on a daily basis. Looking at other student groups, I observed that those groups that advocate conservative and religious values seem to be more active than others whose activities are actully closer to what the majority of students would want to see.

There are two main reasons for why students should try to be involved in the student groups. In the first place, they participate in the running of their own university. Those student groups that organize social events as well as others that solve student problems by discussing them with the university officials simply improve the student life in the university. On the other hand, it is a great opportunity for the members of these groups to learn how to work in a group. Even on the low level of a small group, students can practice democracy among themselves. When they graduate from the university, they can use these experiences in their new career. We could hope that those who may decide to become politicians one day have already learned some of the necessary expertise and will not start from scratch. The student groups could also be a very good initiative for the NGOs, which currently our country desparately needs. Having said that, it was quite dissapointing for me to see that my favourite student groups are no longer very active as they used to be.

Quite often, when we, as Iranians, get into a discussion about the current situation of our country, we talk about what the reformists (in particular, Khatami) should or should not do. We usually forget what we ourselves ought to do as if our duty is only casting a ballot every one or two years. At the same time as the reformists are trying to move the reform ahead on the government level, people should leave their houses and actively participate in running the society. On the university level, this responsibility is over the shoulder of students.

In future, whatever happens in Iran to break the current political deadlock, in its best possible scenario would be only a temporary solution and cannot bring a long-standing democracy. Democracy has to take root in Iran and this will not happen unless all the people participate in it.

Elnaz at October 24, 2003 04:01 PM [permalink]:

I agree with the essence of your post but I think it's not people who don't want to participate. It's the fear and despair that is standing in their way.When you fear jail, unless you're extremely motivated, you wouldn't act. And when even those who are extremely motivated, think that even with their personal sacrifices they are not able to change anything important, they sit in their homes or classes and get either depressed or try to focus on other things.
But these are all on political groups. Did you find at least any social/cultural groups active(I didn't find one)?

A Reader at October 24, 2003 05:00 PM [permalink]:


Kheily bahale

Senior Grad at October 24, 2003 06:10 PM [permalink]:

I'm still not quite justified in the role NGOs can play in helping democracy take root in Iran (or other countries), not to mention that I'm not so sure what an NGO is and how they can be funded in Iran. So maybe somebody can write an article about that.

Speaking of funding, and this may be kinda irrelevant, the American styles of funding (some people walk or run, for instance, and a lot of money is collected, or there is a party and the tickets are $100 or more, and other forms that I'm not aware of) do not seem to work in Iran. What are we to do about *this* issue?!

As for the role of students, I guess nurturing the democratic mentality should *start* there, but by no means should *end* there, that is, among the elites. I am against a class, be it the class of mullahs, or any other sort of elites, to have access to an unfair share of power, and of course I have an ideal setting in mind.

However, in a recent article (in Persian, again) an original Iranian thinker (a rare commodity, I should confess) points out 4 conditions that elites of a society should possess for the process of democratization to be successful in that society. (No references are given, as is usual among Iranian writers.) Read the section titled "Elites of the society and forming of democracy":

Vahid at October 26, 2003 01:14 PM [permalink]:

I think what we are missing in our universities, is a student society. Instead we have few organizations that they have political names and aimes. We need to have an organization in each university that is run by students (practicing democracy), and for students. Primerily they should test the quality of education and student life and challenge university. Then they could also have political agenda which reflects the position of most of students.
I have seen here the example of this, and I think it is very successful.

yahya at October 26, 2003 03:05 PM [permalink]:

In Iran, people who come from religious background have been more successful in organizing than other groups. This because they practice this by participating in activities in Mosques when they are child. This is not the case for others, and this is partly why many groups in universities that do not have religious members are so inactive.

Pouria at October 28, 2003 04:08 PM [permalink]:

Here are a few possible (and more plausable than the last one) reasons why most students don't participate:
1) Other than the minority mosque going individuals, students probably don't feel comfortable working in official institutions. Especially in the "insider"/"outsider" political society of Iran.
2) Plain and but not so simple disillusionment.