Several days ago, on May 14, I heard a really fascinating roundtable interview on (French) Radio Canada's Dimanche magazine, a weekly current events show. They had a show on the Iranian nuclear program and organized a roundtable with three Iranians, two professors and one student and interviewed them.
It is often said that Iran has a vibrant civil society and that is certainly the impression I've had since the beginning of the Khatami era. All three of the people who spoke indeed had very diverse opinions. For me, what was most remarkable, was hearing the student, who spoke excellent French, declare that most students believe that, in his words, "le gouvernment iranien doit regagner la confiance internationale [et] doit arrêter de menacer Israel" [the Iranian government must regain international confident and must stop threatening Israel]. The interview was actually held in Teheran, in a hotel cafeteria! The reporter also mentioned that a group of students had called on President Ahmadinajad to stop the uranium enrichment program.
The program again illustrated to me that Iran is one of the few places in the Muslim world where large segments of the population don't buy their regime's anti-Israel rhetoric. In fact, the years of living under Khomeini and the disillusionment of the people with the government of the Ayatollahs seems to have fed, especially among the students, a complete cynicism about the regime's rhetoric and propaganda. Unlike in parts of the Arab world, many Iranians don't seem to take their regime's conspiracy theories about Israel and America seriously. Constrast that with places like Egypt where the "intellectuals" and students thrive on anti-American rhetoric and anti-Semitism (here I'm not just repeating what I heard in the news: I didn't even have to look hard to find the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Cairo - they were being sold right on the street on book carts). My impression is that in certain circumstances, when crazy Islamists take power, as happened in Iran, they actually do the West a service, because they begin to really alienate people. In Egypt, people still see the Muslim Brotherhood as a solution - in my opinion, they only reason why they did not win the last parliamentary elections was because of widescale repression. In certain areas, the Egyptian regime let loose thugs who beat up anyone going to the polls. In Iran, a lot of the young people are way past being excited about Islam - that's way '79 for them.
The two professors represented different views. One was quite defensive about the nuclear program and also downplayed the significance of Ahmadinajad's remarks. To her credit, the reporter (Delphine Minou of Le Figaro) really pressed him on that issue and cited Ahmadinajad's declarations about "wiping Israel off the map." The other academic talked quite a lot about Iran's civil society and its desire for change.
The whole interview can be heard at: