My first awareness of political dissent in Iran came some time in mid 70s when I was still at primary school.
My father lectured at Tehran’s Aryamehr University (now Sharif University of Technology) which meant we had access to the university’s swimming pool.
The pool was our little heaven away from Tehran’s hellishly hot summer afternoons.
It was during one of our outings to the pool that I came across a slogan handwritten on the interior wall of one of the changing rooms: DEATH TO THE SHAH!
The words shocked me to my core.
Before then, I thought all Iranians revered the Shah the way children loved and worshiped their parents.
Shah’s picture was on the first page of every textbook we ever studied at school. I adored him and his third wife, Farah Diba, an educated architect and the star of the Pahlavi family.
I ran out of the changing room straight to my mother. Exacerbated and still in shock, I shared my terrifying findings with her.
My mother’s blasé reaction was a clue that this daring defiance of the Shah was not unique – that there was a secret group of others for whom the Shah was not the subject of adoration but the cause of deep-rooted resentment and hatred.
It would take many years and the1979 revolution before I understood the source of their anger.
It is true that Shah modernized Iran and emancipated its urban women but it is also true that Shah’s rapid Westernisation program left many people in rural parts of Iran feeling alienated and left-behind.
People who spoke out against the lack of human rights, democracy and squandering of Iran’s natural oil and gas resources received the harshest of penalties in Savak’s (Shah’s secret service) torture chambers.
And no Iranian will ever forget, nor forgive the British-planned, American-orchestrated coupe of 1953 that removed from power the only democratically elected and highly popular Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, who dared to nationalize Iran’s oil.
After the 1953 coup, the Americans and the Brits reinstated the dictatorial Shah to protect their interests in Iran which included 40% profit share in Iran’s oil.
It was these grievances and people’s yearning for change that united many opposition factions in Iran and led to the success of the 1979 revolution.
I was in middle school when the uprising was gathering momentum.
It is hard to describe the incredible, all-encompassing, energy and excitement of a revolution in the making.
We skipped classes and instead gathered in the schoolyard to shout: “ya marg, ya azadi” (either death or freedom).
It didn’t take long before the Shah’s soldiers turned up at our school with tear gas and water cannons.
Attacking children is never a bright idea- it angered my monarchist mother and redirected her sympathy toward the revolutionaries.
My father, who was neither on Shah nor Khomeini’s camp, disallowed us to join any protest without understanding who the real organizers were and what it was that they were demanding. That was not an easy thing to do so we sneaked out to join the protests without telling Dad.
Like me, many other Iranians participated in the 1979 revolution without fully understanding the endgame or the nature of the forces that propelled it forward.
The result of that blind participation was that people’s dream of a secular democracy turned into an oppressive theological nightmare.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the recent reports of widespread protests in Iran.
Who are the organisers and what are their demands? In truth, no one knows.
Reza Sayah, a freelance journalist working inside Iran, said he was “very sceptical” of reporters and analysts who were “unequivocal and certain” about what was happening in Iran.
As professor of Iranian Studies at Colombia University, Hamid Dabashi, said, there was no better way of discrediting an uprising in Iran than expressions of sympathy and support from the likes of Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Ask any ordinary Iranian if foreign meddling in Iran has ever come to any good and the universal answer will be: “No, never!”.
If Netanyahu wants to support people who are yearning for democracy and freedom maybe he should look closer at home and stop quashing the Palestinian’s struggle for justice and freedom.
22 people were reported killed in the recent Iranian uprising, less than half the numbers killed during the 1992 LA riots caused by the court decision on Rodney King. Nevertheless, the President Trump wanted to call for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss Iran- the very Council that he berated for their opposition over his Jerusalem decision.
This is also the same President that implemented the Muslim-ban in the US that has affected a huge number of Iranians.
Concerned for the human rights of Iranians? I don’t think so.
The lessons learnt in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan are not lost on- as Netanyahu put it- “smart” and “sophisticated” Iranians.
If the protests in Iran, although widespread, remain small in numbers, it is because Iranians know, as bad as things are in Iran, they are lucky to have a stable country that is not ravaged by civil war and foreign invasion- not yet anyway.