The Iranian Reform Movement and the Iranian Student Movement

  • Majid Mohammadi


This chapter forms a trilogy on the Iranian student movement. The first episode of this trilogy traces the development of the Iranian university student movement in post-charisma Iran. It explore the changes this movement has experienced and the mechanisms it has been subject to, which have transformed it from a justice-oriented movement to a democracy-oriented one. The main forces influencing this movement are intellectuals and women. These were crucial elements of a movement that was mostly characterized as dedicated to reform in contemporary Iran.

Three hypotheses are formulated with respect to the determinants of student support for the reform movement in Iranian universities in the 1990s: student reformism appears to flourish particularly among students who (1) receive government assistance; (2) attend larger universities; and (3) do not belong to the traditionally religious groups based in mosques. Based upon this analysis, some generalizations are formulated concerning (1) the psychology and behavior patterns peculiar to students due to their status in society; and (2) some social conditions favorable to student movements. Conversely, two hypotheses are formulated with regard to the determinants of the student withdrawal of support for the reform movement after 2000: (1) the failure of elected bodies to fulfill the goals of the reform movement; and (2) the insistence of Islamist reformers on ideological and behavioral principles that have been the core of the Islamist ideology in Iran.

The second episode relates to the transition process from party politics and civil society activism to passivism and civil disobedience as the main strategies of the Iranian student movement in its struggle against despotism and authoritarianism in contemporary Iran. After a short review of the history of this movement, I will explain its foundations, contexts and implications.

Based on discourse analysis of statements by university student organizations between 1996 and 2006, the third episode will address the pros and cons of five approaches to politics in the reform movement era based on five discourses among university students in the past two decades of Iranian politics and their consequences for reshaping the Iranian polity. This section first discusses five socio-political processes: Islamicization; social differentiation; limited political competition; transformation of Shi’i authority; and personalization of power. These processes would subsequently lead to three social and political schisms in Iranian society: inequality, political, social and cultural discrimination, and secular–Islamist tension. These developments are crucial for shaping not only schisms and gaps among different political factions and student groups, but also at some stages, links and bridges among them.

Referring to these schisms, political discourses shape the ideologies and actions of Iranian student movements. These discourses are social justice, tradition, totalitarianism, pluralism and Islamic democracy. Even if these discourses were no more than intellectual pronouncements by university students, they were powerful enough to extend to Iranian political society. Studying these discourses may help us to better analyze and understand the interactions among different Iranian student groups and clarify how they reacted to political events external to the student movements. My approach to understanding the social-political processes, social schisms and discourses is analytical and interpretive.


  1. Bāghi, Emaduddin. 2000. Jonbesh-e Dāneshjoo’i Iran az Aghaz tā Eqelāb-e Eslāmi (Iranian Student Movement: From the Beginning to the Islamic Revolution). Tehran: Jāme`eh-ye Irāniān.Google Scholar
  2. Behbahāni, Farhād, and Habibollāh Dāvaran. 2003. Dar Mehmāni-ye Hāj Āqā va Dāstān-e Yek `Eterāf (In Hāj Āqā’s Party and a Confession Story). Tehran: Bahār-e Fardā.Google Scholar
  3. Ghaffāri, R. 1998. An Eye Witness Report of Islamic Republic Prisons. Koln: Mehr.Google Scholar
  4. Hajjāriān, Sa`id. 1999. The Only Beating Heart during Political Impasse. In Dirooz, Emrooz va Fardā-ye Jonbesh-e Dāneshjou’i-e Iran (Past, Present, and Future of the Iranian Student Movement), ed. Mas`oud Safiri. Tehran: Nai.Google Scholar
  5. Karimian, Alireza. 2002. Jonbesh-e Dāneshjoo’i Iran, az Ta’sis-e Dāneshgāh tā Piroozi-ye Eqelāb-e Eslāmi (Iranian Student Movement, from the Establishment of Universities to the Victory of the Islamic Revolution). Tehran: Entāshārāt-e Markaz-e Asnād-e Enqelāb-e Eslāmi.Google Scholar
  6. Kāzemiān, Mortezā. 2004. Asrār-e Tārikhkānehā (The Secrets of Dark Houses). Tehran: Qasideh Sarā.Google Scholar
  7. Matin-Asgari, Afshin. 2002. Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Mohammadi, Majid. 1999. Darāmadi bar Raftār-e Siāsi-ye Dāneshjooyān-e Irani (An Introduction to Political Behavior of Iranian Students: 1979–99). Tehran: Kavir.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Majid Mohammadi
    • 1
  1. 1.Radio Free EuropeStony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations