News ID: 319343
Published: 0358 GMT January 11, 2022

Expression of dissent needs to be purposeful, nonviolent, and free from harsh sloganeering

Expression of dissent needs to be purposeful, nonviolent, and free from harsh sloganeering

By Ali Abootalebi*

Despite all its shortcomings, the state in Iran has achieved a great deal in the promotion of national development. Iran can blossom as a burgeoning state and with potentials to become a major player in West Asia. What is lacking are needed internal legal and institutional reforms and a continued confident and pragmatic foreign policy with a smarter, organized tone.

For this to occur, the state needs to embrace, and not punish, the well-meaning domestic voices of opposition. The social and economic grievances of Iranians are true and legitimate and are not unreasonable. And a confident and secure state would welcome opposition leaders to explore solutions to national problems. The point is that ‘opposition’, in its political scientific sense, should not be interpreted literally. It can, and in many cases is, a call for betterment of the society.

Reconciliation with the opposition can, for example, expand the popular voice through the creation of private media outlets, professional associations and labor unions, and nonreligious political parties that can vie for national development; but within its broader understanding of the Islamic foundation of the state.

The Islamic Republic needs to learn the lesson that, in the ultimate analysis, accommodation is the answer to widespread legitimate discontent among the populace. In fact, the state can consolidate its legitimate power through an appreciation of what can be handled through application of conventional wisdom.

The historical development in the West demonstrates that the path to democracy is not an easy one, and freedom is not free. The evolution of the modern state and its legal and institutional foundation took at least two centuries. Similarly, western vibrant civil societies are a product of centuries of evolution. The opposition in Iran, in turn, must accept its responsibilities and propose real and concrete solutions to many of Iran’s problems. Iranian social media and opposition leaders often complain about the situation and quickly point a finger at the ones they deem blamable.

Purposeful, nonviolent demonstrations, free from harsh sloganeering and with clear demands, may prove effective in building bridges between the state authorities and the populace. The Iranian public opinionmakers and influencers, and intellectuals can lead the way in instilling a culture of peaceful demonstration and tolerance.

The experiences of widespread antiwar movements and civil rights demonstrations in the United States, though at times turning violent, can offer some insights. Civil protests must remain peaceful, organized, persistent, targeted, and nonthreatening to the state, especially when security concerns, real or not, are overriding. It is only through persistent, planned, and organized peaceful demonstrations that public space can expand since the state by its virtue and practice tends to monopolize political power. It is a lesson from the West and, I believe, can be applied in the East though it takes time to develop the necessary civil infrastructure for it, the key to which is patience and tolerance.


*Ali Abootalebi is a professor of political sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.


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