Cablegate: Iranians Unchanged by Ashura Protest


DE RUEHAK #1847/01 3641514
P 301514Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958:N/A
SUBJECT: Iranians Unchanged By Ashura Protest

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: CONOFFs surveyed Iranian non-immigrant visa (NIV)
and immigrant visa (IV) applicants following the Sunday, December
27, 2009 Ashura protests in Iran. None of the applicants
participated in the protests nor did any have contact with protest
participants. Most applicants were skeptical that the protest
movement in Iran would have any effect, citing the lack of
opposition leadership and a lack of will among the overall
population in support of the opposition. Most applicants, though
upset about the June elections, prefer to continue with their daily

2. (SBU) Although the images seen in recent reporting of the Ashura
protest were dramatic, the level and scope of participation appears
to remain limited to a segment of the student population. None of
the applicants, who included students, reported participation in the
Ashura activities despite being present in Tehran that Sunday. An
Amir Kabir University professor reported that his campus was one of
the centers of the protest activity, but noted protest efforts are
of little effect especially as the opposition is leaderless and
loosely organized. He added that unspecified satellite broadcasts
from outside the country urged Iranians to protest on Ashura.

3 (SBU) A Shahid Beheshti University professor said that the
protesters were limited to students. He hesitantly said that,
instead of offering students opportunities, the government "beats
them down." Although he was unsure of any effective result of the
protest movement, he fears the situation will get worse for the
protesters. He added that older Iranians and even students such as
his daughter continue to live their lives without any interference
by focusing on their regular work, and daily routines. The son of a
wealthy Tehrani iron manufacturer going to study in the U.S. noted
that many young people such as he just want to live their lives and
are not interested in putting themselves at risk. A Tehrani
robotics PHD candidate and her husband said they avoided the streets
on Sunday to avoid the violence. A dental surgeon from Karaj said,
despite unhappiness with the June presidential elections, for
professionals such as himself who have families and successful
careers, there is too much at risk to join the opposition. He said
it is the single, and unemployed, those that have nothing to lose
who fuel the protest movement.

4. (SBU) A Tehrani Volvo representative in his thirties noted that
the protest in Tehran was large because the student-age population
is large. He explained that after the revolution the Islamic
leadership urged Iranians to have more children to increase "Islam's
population." He added that as a result of this policy, there is a
large population of young and single highly-educated, but underpaid
or unemployed Iranians. Some provide support for the opposition.
His wife added that the problem is that the students and the
government do not know how to communicate with each other. Both
hoped that the two sides will soon resolve their issues, and added
that most Iranians disdain violence, and want a return to calm.

5. (SBU) A wealthy structural materials producer and his wife, a
part-time professor at Islamic Azad University in Tehran, believe
the situation will ultimately calm down. They noted that if people
do not bother themselves with politics they can live good lives in
Iran. He added that within the government itself, there are
differences about how to move forward. They both agreed that
improved relations with the U.S. would ease tensions, and help open
up the country politically. A retired teacher from Tehran and her
husband said that they believe the government will have to listen to
the problems of the students, and only through talks may a solution
be worked out.

6. (SBU) A Kashani woman with a daughter in college noted that
although there was unrest especially in Tehran and Isfahan, there
was nothing significant in other cities and towns such as Kashan.
Applicants from Iranian Kurdistan also reported no unrest this past
Sunday and added that the political environment in their province
has been generally calm. The Kashani woman added that the youth of
Iran now choose between two paths. She said that as the youth did
not experience the 1979 revolution some choose the path of protest
(much like her generation did) to seek something new with the
assumption that it will be better. The other path many youth choose
is to join the military or Basij as it offers stability and
security. She added that overall Iranians prefer to continue their
lives as they are rather than support a movement with unknown

7. (SBU) Only two applicants believed the protest movement
significant. One was a young computer programmer from Tehran who
said that her brother and cousin witnessed a man shot in front of
them. She said the "people" are upset with the government for
"stealing their oil money" and want real democracy. She noted that
the internet was the only organizing tool the protesters use. She
was hopeful that Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami, and Mehdi
Karoubi would soon adjust their positions to better support the
protest movement. A Tehrani insurance business owner said that
people want a new system of government, and that lack of leadership
was unimportant as the "people are the leaders."

8. (SBU) Despite government crackdowns on the opposition, Embassy
Ankara has had no recent contact with Iranian political asylum
seekers. Since the June 2009 post-election protests, Embassy Ankara
has had contact with a total of three Iranians seeking political
asylum as a result of the recent unrest.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Although the images from the December 27 Ashura
protest appear dramatic, based on the overall indifferent and often
hesitant reaction during the past few months from the general
Iranian population including many students, it appears that support
for the opposition continues to remain limited to a mostly
self-driven movement composed of the most enthusiastic student
supporters. Despite general discontent with the June 2009
elections, abandoning the current secure albeit imperfect but
familiar system seems unlikely even if opposition leaders were to
emerge. END COMMENT.


© Scoop Media

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