Iranian Rebellion Grows on the Web

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In the August/September 2004 issue of reason, Marc C. Johnson described online expatriate opposition to the Iranian regime. Spread across the globe and connected by the Internet, Iranian students used chat rooms, anonymous email accounts, proxy servers, and websites to agitate for reform and to communicate with dissenters inside the Islamic Republic. Following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fraudulent re-election on June 13, 2009, Iranians at home showed the world they were just as capable of using the Net to fight for freedom, tweeting and blogging their discontent by the thousands.

The microblogging site Twitter, founded in 2006 and therefore young even by Internet standards, has become a forum for protesters who have few other means of safe communication with the outside world and each other. CNN and other news organizations relied heavily on Twitter for information about what was going on inside the closed country as protests against the regime turned into violent clashes between police and protesters.

In 2004 Johnson depicted Iran's expat dissenters as a "fractious electronic vanguard" with organizational troubles. "The only times in recent memory that the expatriate opposition has even gathered around the same table," he wrote, "have been during periods of major crisis for those still in Iran—when the regime has cracked down on dissent." June's election was just such a crisis. Overseas sites like those run by the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran (daneshjoo.org) and the secularist Marze Por Gohar Party (marzeporgohar.org) have become clearinghouses for information, pictures, and videos about the protests and the regime's bloody suppression of political opposition and public assembly.

Some overseas dissidents were actively engaged in the uprising: Marze Por Gohar's Roozbeh Farahanipour, who was interviewed by Johnson, snuck into Iran in early July to participate in the protests. "I am proud of our people," he told the conservative webzine FrontPage. "They have reached their boiling point and will not be kept down any longer." Rather than fomenting revolution from without, expatriates like Farahanipour have found themselves supporting and chronicling an indigenous wave of political discontent—an uprising aided by 21st-century tools, against a regime with a medieval disdain for self-government and liberty.

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