Iraj Omidvar

Iraj Omidvar

Kennesaw State professor’s views on revolutions in Iran and Tunisia get wide airing KENNESAW…

Georgia (Nov 5, 2015)Kennesaw State professor’s views on revolutions in Iran and Tunisia get wide airing

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KENNESAW, Ga. (Nov. 5, 2015) — Iraj Omidvar, a Kennesaw State associate professor of English and former Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Tunisia, was a teenager in 1979 when the Shah of Iran was deposed in the midst of a revolution. To escape the danger and uncertainties in Iran, his family sent him to Germany, and he eventually made his way to the U.S. to live with a sister who was already studying in Iowa.

Omidvar has spent a lot of time researching, reflecting on and writing about the powerful political movements that transformed the country of his birth and those sweeping the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade. His 2007 Fulbright in Tunisia at the University of Sfax and his research and travels throughout the country in 2012 provided a unique opportunity and vantage point, he says. It gave him a chance to delve deeper into the people and ideas that fueled the 2011 Tunisian revolution, which set off the “Arab Spring” that saw governments topple in Egypt, Libya and Yemen and led to continuing civil uprisings throughout the region.  

After four Tunisian civil sector organizations and their leaders who played pivotal roles in averting a civil war were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month, the Voice of America-Persian invited Omidvar to discuss Tunisia’s progress towards democracy and the state of affairs in post-revolution Iran. Joining him in the discussion were Shirin Ebadi, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, and Javad Talei, an Iranian journalist. The hourlong broadcast is part of VOA Persian’s efforts to reach listeners in Iran as well as some 3-5 million Iranians living around the world.

The Oct. 12 broadcast was Omidvar’s third appearance on VOA Persian — the first two occurring in spring and summer 2013 following a sweeping four-part series he wrote for Tehran Bureau, an independent source of news on Iran that at that time was affiliated with and hosted by PBS’s Frontline. The series, launched by an article titled “79/11, Tehran or Tunis: The Fork in the Revolutionary Road,” examined the similarities and differences in the two revolutions and why, in his view, Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country that has escaped civil war and transitioned peacefully to democracy. Click to read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of the series.

“Tunisia does not have the kind of natural resource (like oil) that can bring in lots of money through extraction and export, so the country has had to value and invest in its human resources,” said Omidvar. “The successful investments that the country has made in education and infrastructure have come at great cost to people, and Tunisians are not given to throwing away their precious achievements and human resources by, for example, executing and exiling their opponents as happened after the Iranian revolution in 1979.”

Omidvar also noted that about 10 percent of Tunisia’s population works abroad but still visits and maintains strong connections with the country, which has helped create a more cosmopolitan society that is aware of the world outside. The country's cosmopolitanism has been greatly helped during the last two decades by the prevalence of satellite TV channels and social and other media, which have been allowed to thrive, especially since the 2011 revolution.

“When oppression goes, millions of voices emerge,” said Omidvar, who earned his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Professional Communication from Iowa State University in 2004. “Tunisia is a new democracy where more than 30 political parties are collaborating. People have not had time to test all these new ideas and they can get very bewildered. As time passes, they will come to know which media are reliable and which parties provide the best map forward.”

Omidvar sees great promise in Tunisia’s future and he is hopeful about the region. “There is an undercurrent of thought that people in the Middle East cannot self-determine,” he said. “As the recent Nobel Peace award recognizes, if you let civil society develop, people will find a way forward. There is a great deal of interest in the country for Tunisia’s democracy to succeed.”

Omidvar’s scholarship also encompasses several publications, including two books he co-edited with his wife, Anne Richards, associate professor of English at Kennesaw State. The books — “Muslims and American Popular Culture” (Praeger) and “Historic Engagements with Occidental Cultures, Religions, Powers” (Palgrave Macmillan) — were published in February and October 2014, respectively.


─ Sabbaye McGriff



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