The aging brick campus of the Sharif University of Technology, Iran’s elite technical school, has long been a magnet for the nation’s brightest minds, with a record of elevating its students to the highest reaches of society.

Thousands of Sharif University alumni power Iran’s most sensitive industries, including nuclear energy and aerospace. One of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest advisors has taught there for decades.

But as demonstrations erupt across Iran — first sparked by the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police — the scientific powerhouse known as “Iran’s M.I.T.” has emerged as an unexpected hub for protest, fueling Iran’s biggest antigovernment movement in over a decade.

“We’ve become politically active because there is nothing to lose,” said an electrical engineering major and activist in Sharif University’s student association who spoke on condition of anonymity. Like others who insisted their identities be shielded, he feared reprisals. “The way things are now in Iran, you have to emigrate and leave your family and friends or stay and fight for your rights.”

Across the country and despite a violent crackdown, Iranians have taken to the streets, venting their outrage over social repression, economic despair and global isolation — crises that have clipped the ambitions of Iran’s young and educated generation. Over the last few weeks, university campuses have become a hotbed of opposition after years of dormancy, as students take up the mantle of activism they haven’t held in years.

“Students have come to the realization they will not achieve their rights in this framework,” said Mohammad Ali Kadivar, an Iran scholar at Boston College. “They are demanding the end of the Islamic Republic.”

Protests have flared nearly every day for the past month at Sharif University — and escalated after security forces cracked down violently on Oct. 2, resulting in an hourslong standoff between students and police that prompted an international outcry and shocked the country.

“Whether it’s true or not, people have this feeling that it’s safer to protest on campus,” said Moeen, a Sharif University alum who has observed the protests and spoke on condition that only his first name be used. “It’s easier than orchestrating something at a random square in Tehran. There are student syndicates. There’s leadership.”

University campuses have been pivotal to Iran’s opposition movements before. After the U.S.-backed 1953 coup, University of Tehran students revolted over then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit to the capital. The shah’s security forces stormed the campus and shot three students dead.

Sharif University, among other campuses, was wracked by protests two decades later, when Marxist and Islamist student groups lit the fuse of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ushered in the clerical establishment that still rules Iran.

Source » abqjournal