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Protests in Iran Take Center Stage at Korbel

Korbel dean and professor discuss Iranian protests in community exchange

Following the recent wave of protests in Iran, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies hosted a forum featuring Pardis Mahdavi, acting dean of the school, and Nader Hashemi, professor of Middle Eastern politics and director of Korbel’s Center for Middle East Studies. Last week’s forum discussed the events leading up to the demonstrations and offered analysis from Mahdavi and Hashemi in determining what may happen next.

The recent wave of protests, led largely by young people, began mostly outside of Tehran in late December. The protests gained more attention in the United States after President Donald Trump tweeted about them on Dec. 31.

“I hear more echoes of the Iranian revolution in these protests [compared to the 2009 Green Movement] because it is a moral outcry and it is multidimensional, and that is where it gets its power,” Mahdavi said. “On every level, the legitimacy [of the regime] is being questioned.”

Hashemi and Mahdavi noted that the protests differed greatly from their 2009 counterparts and were far more multifaceted than many outside observers have suggested. This could mean more trouble for the regime going forward. Mahdavi cautioned against U.S. involvement in Iran, warning that inflammatory remarks online could make things worse.

Both speakers stressed that the United States should be careful about making assumptions related to how regime change in Iran might affect its actions in the region.

“One of the myths when it comes to Iran’s foreign policy is that if the current regime falls and is replaced, [then] Iran will act in U.S. interests in the region,” Hashemi said.

Korbel faculty and students joined the conversation with comments and questions for the speakers.

“Our goal in organizing this event was to provide a space for the Korbel and surrounding community to engage with celebrated scholars of Iranian politics and social movements in order to make sense of what has been going on there,” said Gina Jannone, a Korbel alumna and program manager for the Center for Middle East Studies. “I think this forum allowed the audience to consider the diverse range of issues that triggered these protests and what they mean for Iran’s future.”

Besides educating people on regional politics, the event showcased Mahdavi as the first female of color to serve as dean in Korbel’s history. Mahdavi specializes in labor, migration, gender, sexuality, human rights, youth culture, transnational feminism and public health. Her doctoral research incorporated extensive fieldwork in Tehran and was featured in her first book, “Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution.”

In the aftermath of the civil rights protests, Mahdavi and Hashemi are both optimistic about the days ahead in the Islamic Republic.

“I am quite optimistic about the future of Iran following the protests,” Hashemi said.