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Private Sector Web, Mobile Festival Brings Iranian Community Together

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Although divided along political lines, 28 business owners, entrepreneurs, media experts and programmers sat down amicably to debate the merits of IWMF contestants over two days
Private Sector Web, Mobile Festival Brings Iranian Community Together
Private Sector Web, Mobile Festival Brings Iranian Community Together

A panel of experts convened in Qazvin, 143 kilometers west of Tehran, late January to shortlist candidates for Iran Web and Mobile Festival awards, the winners of which will be determined by popular vote.
The 12th IWMF, a nationwide contest for local online businesses, will announce the winners on Feb. 13-14.
Although divided along political lines, 28 business owners, entrepreneurs, media experts and programmers sat down amicably to debate the merits of contestants for two days.
The nonhomogeneous batch was brought together by IWMF founders and directors, Shayan Shalileh and Milad Ehrampoush. The panelists, who came from divergent sociopolitical backgrounds, are traditionally at odds with each other. But with the atmosphere of professionalism dominating the gathering, they put aside their political differences and worked in sync with each other.
Iranians, already hard-pressed by US sanctions, have been going through adverse economic times over the past three months. 
In November, the government’s decision to triple fuel prices was followed by violent unrest and a nationwide internet shutdown that rocked the nation.
On Jan. 3, IRGC Quds Force Major General Qasem Soleimani was assassinated in Iraq on the order of US President Donald Trump. On Jan. 8, the Islamic Republic retaliated by striking Ain al-Asad Airbase with a barrage of missiles. 
On the same day, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which was on heightened alert, mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. The tragedy, made worse by the state authorities’ protracted denial of responsibility, shook the nation to its core.
Burdened with national tragedies and bleak economic prospects, tensions simmered and the shadow of war loomed large on the horizon. Inevitably, social media platforms frequented by Iranians turned into battlegrounds. 
Twitter and Instagram users clashed over politics with intensity unseen before. And many found themselves amid ruins of friendships forged over years and even decades.
Despite the turbulent conditions, Shalileh, Ehrampoush and their team mustered true grit to hold aloft the flag of hope. Their efforts culminated in the Qazvin edition of IWMF.
I interviewed six panelists: Farzad Najarian, Nikoo Niknam, Jalal Samiee, Hamed Bidi, Seyedali Pourtabatabaei and Mehdi Salehi.


Farzad Najarian

On the first day of the gathering, Jan. 23, the panelists visited Sa'd al-Saltaneh Caravanserai. 
Walking through the historic setting, one of the judges, Farzad Najarian, said, “Look at this place. People from different walks of life have gathered here. They share a meal and rest under one roof. The setting has provided them with an opportunity to converse and interact. That’s exactly what IWMF has been doing for 12 years.”
Najarian admitted that most of these people wouldn’t even sit down with each other for a cup of tea, if it was up to themselves. 
“There’s too much bad blood between them. But this gathering gives them an opportunity to perceive that they are part of a whole. That they need to put aside their personal and political grievances, and fight for the common good,” he said.


 Nikoo Niknam
Later, I sat down with Nikoo Niknam, one of the other judges. A truly conscientious global citizen, she is an eco-conscious lady fired by human rights issues.
Asked about the gathering’s ambience, Niknam joked, “If we were talking politics, we’d be at each other’s throats.” 
She, however, went on to make a more serious observation, “Life must precede all divisions. That’s been missing at most gatherings these days.”
Niknam noted that diversity invigorates societies. 
“Inclusion enhances the decision-making process. For years, Iranians have been able to put aside their political leanings, sit together, break bread and share lighthearted reflections. But we haven’t learned to stay civil while debating politics. We haven’t learned to listen to our opponents and interact with them. That’s exactly what we as a nation need right now,” she said.


Jalal Samiee
Jalal Samiee called the gathering “an opportunity to practice tolerance”. 
The well-known media consultant said, “Such gatherings bring together professionals from diverse backgrounds. In the face of all the prevailing tensions, we need to work together and try to perceive phenomena from new standpoints.”
Encapsulating the festival’s common goal, Samiee said, “We are responsible toward participants in the competition and our community as a whole. I think that the event unites and enables us to put aside our differences.”


Hamed Bidi
Designer and artist Hamed Bidi told me, “By taking part in gatherings like IWMF, we are practicing civic participation in the form of active citizenship. Through this process, we learn to adhere to collective wisdom.”
Bidi believes that regardless of their outcome, such events in themselves benefit the Iranian society.



Seyedali Pourtabatabaei is better knew by his social media nickname, Kheyzaran, and for his work at the news service, Qom News. 
Asked whether he would consider himself a hardliner, he laughed and said, “That’s too harsh a term for me. Conservative would be fine.”
“If diversity is eroded in a community, it would be doomed. That’s why I think IWMF has tried to stay inclusive. People from different backgrounds and ideological leanings provide input from varying standpoints.” 
According to Pourtabatabaei, being inclusive has given IWMF’s audience and participants a voice throughout the judging process.


Mehdi Salehi
Mehdi Salehi, a member of the Guild of Editors, said, “All of us can perceive that numerous mistakes have been made. All of us can perceive that things might have gone off the track. But all these are in the past. We need to focus on the future.”
Salehi stressed that this festival is about the future. 
“By adhering to a common goal, in an environment of tolerance, we have learned to collaborate and preserve the spark of hope,” he said.
“Certainly, future departs from the path of the past, but every society and every community can endeavor to reshape its future.”

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