At the annual Iftar gathering, Sahar Mehrabi pulls no punches criticising the country and its institutions, including the Pasdaran who are under Khamenei’s direct control. However, she distanced herself from those who call for regime change. In his response, the supreme leader said that her address shows the vital role of universities.
Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) - With the courage and the cheekiness that characterise the young, a 28-year-old Iranian woman criticised the country's poor economic, political and social conditions during an annual meeting with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Speaking last Monday at the annual Iftar gathering that Khamenei holds to celebrate the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, Sahar Mehrabi noted that the agencies under his control are virtually untouchable. "The impossibility of conducting investigations into the work of some of the institutions under the supervision of Your Excellency, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the judiciary, the state broadcaster [. . .] is in itself problematic”.
The young woman’s speech comes at a troubled time in Iran, amid protests sparked by the country’s economic crisis and demands for more social rights (including the end of compulsory head covering). Demonstrations have taken place in at least 80 towns with 25 dead.
On top of this come international tensions, exacerbated by the decision of US President Donald Trump to cancel the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and introduce new sanctions against Tehran, the toughest in history cording to US officials.
Against this backdrop, Mehrabi’s speech takes on greater importance. The young woman, who sits on the committee overseeing university publications, criticised "the limits imposed on freedom" and the "illegal interference" of the security forces and the army in the "work of the people’s elected representatives”.
"We are worried,” she told Khamenei’, “of the heavy atmosphere that reigns in the universities. You know of the arrest of students and long prison sentences against some of them". The protests of workers and teachers "are dealt as a security matter [. . .] and this does not help to solve the problem."
At the end of her address, Mehrabi was careful to distance herself from "those who try, in vain, to overthrow the Islamic Republic" and its institutions. Because, for her, "the solution lies within" the state "and there is no need to add more to this. That’s all."
The supreme guide listened attentively to the young woman and did not fail to respond to her. What she said shows that "universities are quite alive", he said, but at the same time he challenged the views that describe "democracy in Iran as a dictatorship".
The supreme leader went on to say that it is necessary to include "active, religious, motivated" young people in the institutions and in the most important agencies of the State.
"I am aware of the affairs of the country and I read the documents. I believe we have made considerable progress regarding the ideals of the Islamic revolution", he said.
Sahar Mehrabi’s speech is not the first one by a young person to criticise the situation of the country in front of the highest religious authority.
In 2009 Mahmoud Vahidnia complained about police violence against demonstrators protesting in the streets against the re-election of right-wing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, deemed fraudulent by critics.
This time, the young woman posted her address online with mixed reactions. Some congratulated her for her audacity whilst partisans of the supreme leader said that the speech was proof of the existence of freedom of expression in the Islamic Republic.