International

In Iran: Raucous Campaign Signals That West's Message Is Getting Through

It sounds like Iran's government did not succeed in sealing off the country from Western political ideas.

Iran spent a lot of energy in recent years shutting down lines of communication with the outside. The government cracked down on human rights groups, and even arrested academics who had ties with the United States. These were the sort of groups that sometimes contribute to spreading democratic ideas; and it cannot have escaped the government's notice that such groups had been linked to revolutions in other nations.

Yet observers are reporting a change in Iranians' political vocabulary during this election.

M.H. Khani, a professor in Tehran, has witnessed some of this week's massive rallies and political discussions on the streets of Tehran. He told Morning Edition this week that people are describing their aspirations using words that are relatively new to public debate in Iran, such as "rule of law," "political openness," "transparency" in the way that government operates, "accountability," "human rights," "women's rights," and more.

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Sussan Tahmasebi, a women's rights advocate in Tehran, told us this morning of another subtle change. Politicians used to speak of "equity" for women — meaning that women and men have different roles, and therefore different rights (in the view of some, unequal rights). This year, some candidates speak of women's "equality," a concept more familiar in the West.

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These happen to be the same kinds of political ideas that are sometimes promoted by the non-governmental organizations that Iran has been shutting down.

Apparently the message is getting through anyway —- that, or Iranians are arriving at such ideas on their own.

(Steve is co-host of Morning Edition. Also today, he spoke with NPR's Mike Shuster about the huge demonstrations that have been held in Tehran's streets in recent days — expressions of political sentiment that haven't been seen there in years. Mike described some of the scenes he's witnessed:)

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Supporters of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi rallied last night in Tehran. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

For much more about the Iranian elections, go to this collection of NPR's recent reporting.

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