Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Tuesday for a purge of liberal and secular teachers from the country’s universities, urging students to return to 1980s-style radicalism.
“Today, students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a meeting with a group of students.
Ahmadinejad complained that reforms in the country’s universities were difficult to accomplish and that the educational system had been affected by secularism for the last 150 years. But, he added: “Such a change has begun.”
The president, in his role as head of the country’s Council of Cultural Revolution, does have the authority to make such changes. But his comments Tuesday seemed designed more to encourage hard-line students to begin a pressure campaign on their own, thus forcing universities to oust the teachers.
Iran retired dozens of liberal university professors and teachers earlier this year. And last November, Ahmadinejad’s administration for the first time named a cleric to head the country’s oldest institution of higher education, Tehran University, despite protests by students.
Ahmadinejad is widely believed to need to jockey between various interest groups in Iran, at a time when hard-liners increasingly control more of the top rungs of government but still encounter resistance from parts of the public at large. Moderates also still remain in the government.
But Tuesday’s comments seemed to follow a campaign promise by Ahmadinejad to develop a more Islamic-oriented country. Since taking office last August, he has also replaced pragmatic veterans in the government with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.
Ahmadinejad’s aim appears to be installing a new generation of rulers who will revive the fundamentalist goals pursued in the 1980s under the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Shortly after the revolution, Iran fired hundreds of liberal and leftist university teachers and expelled numerous students.