“Leave our country alone… Liar shame on you” were the cries reverberating through the streets of Tehran in the summer of 2009 as Iranians flocked to the streets to protest against four years of oppressive rule by President Ahmadinejad.
In his documentary, Director Ali Samadi Ahadi depicts the political activism and rage against the Iranian dictatorship that engulfed society in the movement known as Green Wave.Hope, desire and belief for change radiated through mass demonstrations firstly for change before the general elections of 2009 and after for justice when the rigged election result falsely declared that Ahmadinejad had won with 69.04% of the total vote. After four years of suffering new levels of oppression, control and unemployment, streams of people in Iran from grandparents to babies took to the streets emblazoned with the colour green; streaked through their hair, incorporated into their clothes and embellished in their head scarves to signal support for the opposition candidate Mouzani.
Rather than an indication of Mouzani’s popularity it was far more symbolic of the overwhelming desire to end Ahmadinejad’s corrupt and repressive reign over Iran. In light of the recent mass protests and revolutions sweeping through the Middle East, Director Ali Samadi Ahadi tells The Prisma he believes “The experience of the Iranians was the starting point for the people of the Middle East political activism that is happening throughout the region now.”
At the time of the Green Wave movement former UN war crimes prosecutor Payam Akhavan predicted the significance of the protests: “This is not just a rebellion, but a seismic shift a democratic tidal wave which will not just irreversibly change the future of Iran but the entire Middle East.” Two years on and who would have believed just how accurate Kharan’s words would prove to be. Protest, uprising and revolution have spread like wild fire through the region, already sealing the fate of the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt while the world is currently glued to the unfolding events in Libya.
However the struggle for regime change in Iran continues. Ahadi innovatively depicts the Iranian’s story through collating tweets, phone videos, blog entries and entwining the material with live interviews and animation to dramatise human stories that could not be brought to life otherwise. The regime’s oppression and water tight control over information drove the protesters to explore alternative modes of communication. This unleashed the most powerful mode of all; that of social media. Ahadi elaborates on how social media has facilitated political action in Iran:
“Iranians began to understand that they did not simply have the power to obtain and use information but they had the power to produce and disseminate their own information and to drive forward their own agenda. They now had a medium to communicate and discuss issues without fear and without fear this opened up a thousand possibilities and changed the whole behaviour of the people. They could now discuss and exchange their hopes, their desires and their grievances and this is what they showed the rest of the region. The new and powerful networks created through social media have acted as a powerful tool to overcome the monopoly of information.” The documentary follows the true stories of a young man and a young woman, who are transformed by the upcoming elections in Iran. Previously apathetic and disillusioned with the state of affairs in their country the prospect of change through the ballot box empowers and politicises them into action.
The young Ali describes how he joined in with the protesters as he “regained [his] faith in the people to bring about change”. Their stories reflect the central role that the youth played in the Green Wave movement. It was very much a movement led from the youngest generation of society who dared to believe that change was possible. Iran’s population is disproportionately under 30 and Lawyer and Nobel peace prize winner Dr Shrin Ebadi emphasises the severity of the economic problems faced by the young under Ahmadinejad, she brands four years with the Iranian president an “economic catastrophe”.
Although it was a movement driven by the young, the protests swept along those from all sections of civil society; students, doctors, workers, the militia, Hezbollah and even those who had never voted before. Director Ahadi reflects upon the significance of the politicization of society: “This is always the nature of revolution it doesn’t stop in front of social groups. It moves and politicises the whole society and even people who aren’t politically active become very involved. People become thrilled by the possibility to change something historical and the momentum and belief that change is possible sweeps up even the least politically active in society.”
The election in 2009 had injected hope in a people who previously appeared resigned to a corrupt and incompetent regime. Green Wave depicts how the infectious optimism at the beginning of Election Day slowly evaporates as the day draws to a close.
Rumours circulate that there was confusion over how to vote, polling stations had allegedly “run out of” ballot papers, election campaign offices were broken into and finally the government closed newspaper offices, filtered various websites and shutdown the SMS system and phone networks. Moreover it was subsequently revealed that cities and towns had more ballots cast than people that lived there. The following morning Ahmadinejad was declared the winner and one tweeter describes the “deathly silence, shock and despair” that clouded Tehran. What ensued in Iran was a tidal wave of protest and a blood bath of violence the government turned on the demonstrators and “The Green Wave” describes how “the city transformed into a military zone”.
The young Ali whom the documentary follows was imprisoned in a room with 200 wounded prisoners, left with no food,, no medical care and beaten up badly. Hoards of young and old Iranians were shot and beaten as they tried to exercise their right to peaceful protest. The documentary points to a blog that describes how “the military put truncheons in the hands of 13 and 14 year olds and commanded them to smash the faces of their own people”.
To add to the picture, Professor Payam Akhavan former UN prosecutor tells the story of a grieving mother who has the dead body of her 24 year old son delivered to her doorstep with missing finger nails, toe nails and a broken skull. Given the West’s poor track record in the Middle East, Ahadi comments on whether the West has a role to play in Iranian affairs; The people are not asking for ideological systems but they are instead asking for functioning human rights and democracy. This is not an image the West encourages. We should refrain from stereotyping the Middle East and Iran and only speaking about Nuclear power and oil reserves.
Human rights and civil society is almost never spoken of in connection to Iran. If we want to connect with the true image of Iran we need to keep contact with the people. We need to ask them how they want to be supported and what they want. Too often it is the other way around and we tell them what they want, we don’t think of listening to them. This is the way the West can play a positive role. Iran is still living under the rule of the same President and regime. However the President is not ruling over the same people. The election had proved to be a vehicle of empowerment. The previously politically impotent had discovered their voice, the power of protest and the importance of social media to network and organise their struggle while informing the world of their plight at a time when all other modes of communication had been shut down.
The desire and belief in change has been lit and continues to burn in the hearts and minds of Iranian society. This will not die easily and “The Green Wave” movement represents an important milestone in the people’s battle to re-gain autonomy over their land
Ahadi’s final words over what the future holds for Iran: “I believe that sooner or later Iranian society will get the democracy that they are after. The question however will be how high a price will the people have to pay. At the moment the government are trying to keep the price very high but I do not believe society will stop fighting. It is not a question of if, for me it’s a question of time until the people will reach their freedom”.
(Images for the press from Human Rights Watch Film Festival)