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Confederation of Iranian Students


the most active organized opposition to the shah's regime during the two decades prior to the 197879 revolution.

Following the August 1953 coup, all activities against the Iranian government were brought to a halt. When opposition reemerged in the early 1960s, students in Iran and abroad were its leading force. Linking activists in France, Germany, and England, the Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS) was formed in April 1960. In the same year, the Iranian Students' Association in the United States (ISAUS), originally set up as a pro-government organization, was taken over by the opposition. The leaders of this new student movement were young National Front and Tudeh Party members and sympathizers.

Between 1960 and 1962, the National Front became the leading force in Iran and in the student movement abroad. In January 1962, the CIS and the ISAUS joined together and founded the Confederation of Iranian Students, National Union (CISNU), opposing Premier Ali Amini and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The latter tried to combine unconstitutional rule with a reform project, the White Revolution, which included female enfranchisement and the formation of a literacy corps, demands previously articulated by the CISNU.

When legal opposition in Iran was once again crushed in 1963, the CISNU survived and intensified its activities abroad. Its young National Front leaders moved leftward in cooperation with a splinter faction of the Tudeh Party. During the second half of the 1960s, while Marxist and Islamist revolutionaries in Iran clandestinely prepared for guerrilla armed struggle, the CISNU remained the country's only aboveground opposition organization. In 1965, some former CISNU leaders were arrested and tried in response to a failed attempt on the shah's life. This led to a direct confrontation with the government, pushing the CISNU toward further radicalization.

The CISNU also played an important role in the international youth and student protests of the 1960s and 1970s. The June 1967 demonstrations by Iranian and German students against the shah's visit to West Germany triggered militant student upheavals across that country and were in the forefront of the European-wide student protests of 1968 and 1969. The CISNU's U.S. branch became an active participant in the U.S. antiwar and radical student movement of the 1960s and 1970s. About half of Iran's university population was studying abroad, which made possible the CISNU's extraordinary growth and impact.

The second decade of CISNU activities saw its further radicalization and support for urban guerrilla operations in Iran. Already in 1971, the Iranian government had declared the CISNU illegal. By 1975, the CISNU had split into a number of independent, mainly Maoist and pro-guerrilla student organizations. However, both the effectiveness and numerical strength of the student opposition abroad continued to grow as these rival groups cooperated in a united front.

During the 1970s, in addition to being active in France, England, Germany, and the United States, the CISNU had spread its activities to Austria, Italy, Sweden, Holland, Turkey, Canada, and India. International attention to the shah's dictatorship and repression in Iran had increased considerably. Two decades of relentless activities by the CISNU may have been the most important factor in bringing about criticism of the shah's regime by international human rights groups, news media, political circles, and governments.

During the late 1970s, as a pre-revolutionary situation emerged in Iran, splinter CISNU factions gained even more publicity via events such as militant protests during the shah's 1977 official visit to the United States. By 1978, most student leaders and activists were returning home to join the revolution directly. A key chapter in the history of twentieth-century Iranian opposition had come to an end.

see also amini, ali; pahlavi, mohammad reza; tudeh party; white revolution (19611963).


Matin-asgari, Afshin. Iranian Student Opposition to the Shah. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2002.

Afshin Matin-asgari

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