Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, September 08, 2014

Seeking signs of political change

Sometimes a student of comparative politics has to look in obscure places for clues about regimes and politics that are not transparent.

Tehran Unfetters Cellphones, and the Pictures Start Flowing
Some days ago, Mahdi Taghizadeh did something he never thought he would — at least, not in Iran. He took a screen shot and shared the image with his followers on Twitter…

Mr. Taghizadeh’s small triumph on the sidewalk of a Tehran street was among the first tangible results of a rare victory for Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, over the hard-liners who effectively rule this country. Last week, the government unexpectedly granted 3G and 4G licenses to the Islamic republic’s two principal mobile operators, which are rushing to roll out high-speed connections to their tens of millions of subscribers…

Since antigovernment protests rocked the streets of Tehran in 2009, the Iranian authorities have directed tireless efforts to ensure that activists cannot use the Internet to organize protests or distribute images and videos of demonstrations…

Throughout his first year in office, Mr. Rouhani has fought the hard-liners on multiple fronts, usually backing down. His adversaries, who control most of Iran’s levers of power, such as the judiciary and several important councils, want the president to fix the economy and cut a nuclear deal with the West on Iran’s terms, but have blocked all social changes…

Not surprisingly, in that atmosphere, the current changes met with stiff opposition in some quarters…

A leading ayatollah, Naser Makarem Shirazi, called on the government to revoke the mobile Internet licenses before young minds could be poisoned by “dirty pictures and clips,” a post on his website read…

Iran is notoriously inconsistent in its social policies, and there is no guarantee the new Internet speeds are here to stay. But there was one encouraging sign.

Ayatollah Shirazi on Sunday issued a statement saying his demand to revoke the 3G licenses had been distorted. “We are not against technology,” he said. “But we feel the new technology must be purified before it is given to the people.”…

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