Sunday, August 06, 2006

An Alumni Gathering and Realties of a Policy

For Iranians Sharif University of Technology (SUTA) is Iran’s MIT. The university ranked first in many fields particularly communication, electronics, mathematics, physics and mechanics. It is the first choice of many but only a few can enroll. Out of a few hundred thousands high school graduates with mathematics and physics diplomas only 600 are qualified to enroll in its departments each year. The school annual advertisement in daily papers warns the new freshmen of the school high standards and advises them not to choose this school if they lack sufficient background in mathematics and physics. No wonder its students receive admissions from almost any school in the world, more than once they came first in the qualification exams at Stanford University.

Today school alumni in Iran include several thousands of professionals and businessmen who are the finest in their trade. Most run their own firms and constitute the core of Iran’s small hi-tech private sector. Its large alumni outside Iran include several academicians and researchers as well as highly skilled engineers. For last few years its alumni have been more active in organizing reunion and creating a bridge between Iran’s most renowned academic center and outside world. This year the fourth annual gathering of this sort took place in Santa Clara, CA.

Expecting a turn out from Iran, board of directors of SUTA Alumni went through hideous paperwork with State Department and its Consulates. They advised their members to apply for their visas ahead of time. All applicants went through security check and other necessary procedures. At the end 150 of the alumni and faculty members received visas to attend the gatherings. Many also came from Europe and other states to attend this reunion of so many friends and classmates. The generations who silently try to build a better Iran were coming together. But the outcome of all those careful preparations and paperwork came to nothing. Several of attendees denied entry upon their arrivals and informed that their visas were revoked. Some put in detention over night to board a later return flight. The bridge broke again. The authorities chose to be silent.

Despite their tight lip "no comments" policy, One couldn’t help remembering what they said in their interviews and comments before. It is an officially announced policy of this administration to expand cultural and academic ties with Iranians, with real people of Iran, with democracy lover people of Iran. It does not get more real than an engineer, who has worked, studied and started his/her own business in Iran. And in reality he or she is deported when he or she participates in exactly that cultural exchange announced by administration, but organized by some root grass NGO. The truth is no where else a larger discrepancy could be observed between announced policies and exercised ones than the treatment Iranians receive. So would it be too much to ask the officials to kindly stop telling American public that they support cultural ties, academic relationships and want to connect to real people of Iran? The reality couldn’t be more different.

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