University vs. Intelligence Ministry

2013 Presidency of The Islamic Republic of Iran, official photographer

Iran President Rouhani opens the academic year at Tehran University on October 14, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Tehran University is symbolically important to the Islamic Republic.

    Tweet This

  • While the Islamic Republic might be a dictatorship, it is far from autocratic.

    Tweet This

  • That Rouhani used his inaugural visit to the University of Tehran to reinforce academic freedom suggests a desire to make good on some of his campaign’s reformist promises.

    Tweet This

Tehran University is symbolically important to the Islamic Republic. The university became a major center of social agitation against the Shah in the run-up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s victory, the campus became a center for the regime’s new religious activism and the site of weekly public sermons by Khomeini or handpicked substitute prayer leaders. The University also became subject to a cultural revolution, as religious commissars purged many women faculty members and those teaching subjects—especially in the humanities—deemed corrupted by Western philosophy or liberalism. Because of its symbolic importance, authorities are especially sensitive to political activity at Tehran University, and not without reason: the 1999 civil unrest, which would remain the largest anti-government protest in the Islamic Republic’s history until the election protests a decade later, began with a press freedom rally outside a Tehran University dormitory.

While the Islamic Republic might be a dictatorship—the Supreme Leader, after all, is not subject to popular election and only those whom an unelected Guardian Council approves can run for president—it is far from autocratic. Over the years students have continued to test the limits of free political discourse at the University of Tehran, occasionally heckling senior regime officials who come to speak. In order to curtail politically embarrassing episodes of students ruining photo-ops with blunt or disrespectful questions, both the Intelligence Ministry (literally the Ministry of Information and National Security) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ paramilitary Basij have maintained a robust presence on campus.

That newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani used his inaugural visit to the University of Tehran to reinforce, at least theoretically, academic freedom suggests a desire to make good on some of his campaign’s reformist promises. That he spoke so directly regarding the Ministry of Intelligence presence on campus, however, reinforces Iran’s subtle police state. He may have called upon the Intelligence Ministry to give students space, but he did not demand that they depart the campus. Accordingly, Rouhani’s policy might be understood to be “report but do not interfere.” Nor did Rouhani condemn the Basij presence on campus, where they retain both faculty and student chapters. This might suggest that Rouhani either does not believe himself strong enough to take on the Basij, strong supporters of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or, conversely, he simply does not want to constrain the paramilitaries.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.