Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, July 03, 2015

Silenced majority?

In one of his campaigns, Richard Nixon appealed for support from the "silent majority" that hadn't become politically active. In Iran, it may be that the majority has been silenced.

Thomas Erdbrink's analysis for The New York Times suggests that the major cleavage in Iran is not the one between the über wealthy kids of north Tehran and the rest of the population, but the divisions between the religious fundamentalists and the urban middle classes.

While Erdbrink is a respected and experienced journalist who has worked in Iran for over 15 years, he doesn't offer a lot of evidence for his generalizations about the "silenced majority."

Divide on Iran Nuclear Deal: Hard-Liners vs. ‘Invisible People’
In the little shade provided by Tehran’s Freedom Tower, a group of about 200 Iranian hard-liners... sat in the searing heat Tuesday on blue plastic chairs next to blaring loudspeakers.

Speakers railed against the devil, a.k.a. the United States, and its “oppressive” actions... They called for a “good nuclear deal” in the negotiations this week in Vienna, meaning one with few, or preferably no, Iranian compromises…

If the long discussion over Iran’s nuclear program and a potential lifting of sanctions illustrates anything in Iran, it is the growing divide between those seeking desperately to hold on to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and those with the desire to move on, at least a bit…

In the distance Ali, 35, revved his 250-cc Honda motorcycle, shaking his head. The reality of those demonstrating was completely different from the one he lived in, he said.

A factory worker, he said he had increasing trouble making ends meet, even working a double shift. “I do not care about nuclear energy. These people do not represent me,” he said, pointing at the rally far off across the square. “They are 200 out of 12 million.”

Ali, who asked that his last name be withheld to avoid retribution, said there were many more like him. “I want a normal life,” he said, driving off into the traffic.

Few Iranians are as outspoken. Yet, most urban Iranians, forbidden to organize or hold demonstrations, want no part of confrontational policies, at home or abroad, asking instead for a more relaxed atmosphere, socially and politically.

In the privacy of their own homes, they have kept up with changing times. Statistics show that they divorce more frequently, have fewer children, connect to the Internet, watch satellite television and sometimes even spend a vacation on the beaches of Turkey or Dubai.

They seem to vastly outnumber the hard-liners, though it is hard to know by how much. Since the uprising in 2009, after disputed elections, when millions took to the streets, state television has shown them only when they confirm their love for the country, or when they party on the streets to celebrate a volleyball or soccer victory.

“There is a sea of invisible people out there who seem voiceless, but they strongly yearn for a deal,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist and a political activist…

In Iran’s news media the debate is stilted, appearing only along the lines of political affiliations, with those in favor of a deal treading far more carefully than the critics.

On Tuesday, the mouthpiece of Iran’s hard-liners, the Kayhan newspaper, was blunt: There will be no nuclear deal, the editor in chief, Hussein Shariatmadari, wrote. “Like in the past 12 years of negotiations it will fail again in the final phase,” he predicted…

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