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Nowruz a time of resistance for many Iranians

Millions of Iranians, regardless of their religion, race, faith and ethnicity, will on Thursday celebrate the ancient and traditional Iranian festival of Nowruz, which means “new day” in Persian. Nowruz, which has been celebrated for nearly 4,000 years, also marks the first day of spring in Iran.

Nowruz is one of the most ancient celebrations in the world and the Islamic Republic has unsuccessfully attempted to suppress it for several reasons. In particular, the festival is considered to be a secular one, while the Iranian government attempts to only heavily invest, publicize and celebrate Shiite religious holidays. Nowruz is a pre- Islamic holiday and many Iranians travel to the Shiraz province in order to congregate at the tomb of Cyrus the Great.

Since coming to power in 1979, the Iranian leaders have de-emphasized non-Shiite holidays and traditions through various means, such as changing school curriculums or banning TV stations and newspapers from covering them. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once stated: “Iran’s advancements after Islam are incomparable to its past.”

The Iranian government generally prepares its forces to crush any potential protests and demonstrations. Last year, many people took to the streets in order to seek the opportunity to voice their opposition to the Iranian government on the occasion of the Persian New Year. The timing is very critical for the authorities due to the rising and unprecedented level of disaffectedness and discontent felt by an overwhelming majority of the Iranian people against the government.

In other words, many Iranians also celebrate Nowruz as a means of defiance and a form of nonviolent resistance against the authorities. Many people are also making their New Year wishes at a time when the country’s economic situation has been exponentially deteriorating. They hope that this year will bring about a fundamental change in the ruling theocratic establishment that will lead to social justice, the rule of law and an improved economy. Ziba, an Iranian mother from Tabriz, said: “This year, me and my family could not afford to buy Nowruz’s basic traditional treats such as pastries and Noghl (almonds coated with sugar). I pray that this government will not be around next year.”

Such people are not alone in embracing the promise of a free Iran. Many Iranians who live abroad also celebrate Nowruz. For example, in the US, there was a large event last week at the historic Kennedy Caucus Room in the US Senate, which I attended. The Iranian-American community was joined by many distinguished American officials, including sitting senators from both sides of the aisle, such as Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Boozman, as well as former senator Joe Lieberman. The event was sponsored by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC).

The Trump administration has been ramping up pressure on the Iranian government, and many high-level American figures — including John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Trump’s lawyer and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-National Security Adviser James Jones, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge — have called for support for the uprising of the Iranian people and the organized opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Iran’s leaders have frequently blamed outsiders, particularly the Iranian opposition, for widespread protests across the country. The leader of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, stated that: “Our goal is to establish a free and democratic republic, based on the separation of church and state, gender equality, and with emphasis on women’s equal participation in political leadership. We want a non-nuclear Iran. Our platform could be summed up in three words — freedom, equality, and the supremacy of the people’s vote.” And how powerful those words are today, when the Iranian people are rising up and asking for exactly that.

Trump’s message to the Iranian people on Nowruz has highlighted a significant shift from his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has enraged the Iranian leaders. He said: “I wish a beautiful and blessed Nowruz to the millions of people around the world who are celebrating the arrival of spring. The history of Nowruz is rooted in Iran, where for millennia a proud nation has overcome great challenges by the strength of its culture and the resilience of its people. Today, the Iranian people face another challenge: Rulers who serve themselves instead of serving the people. Twenty-five centuries ago, Darius the Great asked God to protect Iran from three dangers: Hostile armies, drought, and falsehood. Today, the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps represent all three.”

Nowruz is not only an ancient festival in Iran — for many Iranians it has also turned into a new form of nonviolent resistance against the ruling theocratic establishment. Many Iranians hope that the coming year will bring an end to the current corrupt political system. The international community must commit itself to holding the Tehran regime to account and helping the people of Iran in their struggle for a free and democratic future.