Conference: Dialogues on Iran's Transition to Secular Democracy

Sat March 25th - Sun March 26th 2023, All day
Experience Type
Azadi Monument in Iran

Event media

Co-organized by the, an independent expert collective, KAI, and the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies at Stanford, this conference will explore challenges and pathways of transitioning from the Islamic Republic regime in Iran to a secular democracy. Inspired by the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, the Conference will convene a diverse set of thought-leaders, experts, and civil society activists to support dialogue and discourse around the establishment of a new democratic system of governance in Iran.

The people of Iran continue to participate in mass civil disobedience, nation-wide protests and industry-wide labor strikes. Following the killing of Zhina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old Kurdish woman, by the “morality police,” thousands upon thousands of protestors, led by young women and girls, have joined the rallying call “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) that originated with Kurdish feminists 43+ years ago. Over 500 protestors have been killed by the police, countless others have disappeared, over 20,000 students, activists, journalists, workers, artists, lawyers and other protesting members of civil society have been imprisoned, and several have been executed on bogus charges. It is evident that the Islamic Republic cannot reform, and the great majority of people of Iran demand a regime change and a secular democracy. ََ

With more than 30+ panel talks, 24 roundtables, 50+ speakers, and more than 100+ experts and civil society activists, the conference held at Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is a two- day event aiming to foster dialogue and debate on what is needed to transition to a secular democracy in Iran.

View conference program

View speakers and moderators

Dr. Abbas Milani, the Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford, and one of the co-organizers of the conference: "Times of transition are full of peril and promise. This conference, in this pivotal moment, is the largest joint effort by an academic institution and two nascent but powerful Iranian civil society diaspora organizations to study and understand, through the prism of scholarship and praxis, failed and successful transitions to democracy and map out a road to realizing the 150 years old dream of a secular democratic Iran." 

Dr. Maryam Saeedi, the spokesperson for the collective: “The conference features some of the most prominent Iranian diaspora academics, activists, and experts from various domains, including human rights, political science, law, economics, sociology, technology and civil society, who will offer their unique perspectives and insights into the intricate issues facing Iran today. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage in thought-provoking discussions, explore innovative solutions, and network with other experts and activists”.

Faraj Alaei, the Co-Founder of KAI: “The future of any democratic movement is intrinsically tied to the availability of untethered exchange of fact based information and the ability of citizens to freely communicate with each other and the world. Unconstrained Information access is a national treasure which does not belong to the rulers. It is the humanistic and national duty of technology leaders to protect this critical imperative.”

Given the expertise driven nature of the conference and due to limited space, attendance is by invitation only. Participants come from a wide range of political and social perspectives and their attendance at the conference does not signal their agreements on a single approach to a democratic transition. Rather the goal of this conference is to identify points of agreement as well as disagreement in an open and respectful dialogue that is the basis of an inclusive and democratic society. All panel sessions, which are primarily in Persian, at the conference will be recorded and published on YouTube for the Iranian public to access shortly after the conference to allow for maximum exposure and transparency into the discussions.

Conference Program

Day 1

Session 1 - 08:00-8:45 am                

  • Welcome to Stanford (5 min)
  • Welcome to the Conference (15 min)
  • Collective Expert Perspectives on Transition to Democracy in Iran (25 min)


Session 2 – 8:45-9:30 am

 Plenary– Leading the Charge in the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement

Language: Persian

  • Organizing the Women’s Movement
  • Organizing the Labor Movement
  • Organizing Minority Movement


Session 3 – 10:00-11:15

Track 1 - Transfer of Power Mechanisms and Scenarios

  • Mechanisms for Peaceful Transitions
  • Leveraging Iran’s Power Factions and Feasibility of Change
  • Engaging armed forces before and after transition
  • Role of Economic Factors in Transitions
  • Transitional authority

Track 2 - Seminar – Voices from Iran: Views on the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement (Recordings from Iran; 45 min)

Seminar – Visions for a Future Iran (45 min)

  • Community Governance
  • Expert-driven Visions of a Future Iran
  • Environment and Resource Management
  • Foreign Policy


Session 4 – 11:30-12:45

Track 1 - Legal Foundations and Justice During Transition

  • Justice seeking
  • Key legal issues for transition management
  • Transitional Law
  • The Constitution Drafting Process
  • Prosecution of Serious Human Rights Offenders
  • Truth and Reconciliation Committee  

Track 2-  Technology for Transition

  • Internet access
  • Technology for organizing


Session 5 - 13:45-15:15

Track 1

Panel- Political Platforms for Democratic Transition (13:45-14:45)

  • Representatives from 4 political groups

 Seminar- Global Experiences in Democratic Transition (14:45-15:15)

Track 2

Seminar 1-  Human Rights Data Collection for Judicial Processes (13:45-14:15)

Seminar 2- Pacted Transitions and Applications to Iran (14:15-14:45)

Seminar 3- Voices from Iran: Views on Transition: The Gamaan Survey (14:45-15:15)


Session 6 - 15:30-16:15

Track 1 -  The Role of the Iranian Diaspora (45 minutes)

  • Mobilizing Global Public Opinion
  • Mobilizing prominent diaspora resources
  • Online Media and Inclusiveness

Track 2-  Challenges of Transition in Comparative Perspective (45 min)


Session 6 - 16:30-17:30

Track 1-  Roundtables

Language: Persian and English; Discussion Tables of 5 Each, Table Facilitators from Invitees

Group A: Transitional Justice and Amnesty

  • Topic 1 - Justice for grieving families: The minimal demands charter
  • Topic 2 - Dealing with regime actors: How far should amnesty go?
  • Topic 3 - Leveraging international law to prosecute serious human rights offenses in Iran

Group B:  Realistic Visions for Transfer of Power

  • Topic 1 - Realistic scenarios for power transfer: What are they?
  • Topic 2 - Should the opposition negotiate with the regime or some of its elements?
  • Topic 3 - Impact of different opposition actions on security and military support for transition

Group C: Legal and Cultural Foundations of Transition

  • Topic 1 - Seizure of Regime Assets: Ethics, legal foundations, and practice
  • Topic 2 - National reconciliation: how to rebuilt social cohesion after transition
  • Topic 3 - Democracy as practice: cultural transformation through education

Group D:  Pragmatics and Tactics

  • Topic 1 - Non violence vs. fighting back: Where is the line?
  • Topic 2 - Tactics for Women’s and Group Self Defense in Protests
  • Topic 3 - Tactics for incentivizing defections in security forces

Group E: Organizing for the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement

  • Topic 1 - The Iranian labor movement: Needs, Demands, and Potentials for the Movement
  • Topic 2 - Woman, Life, Freedom: Women’s Leadership in a Patriarchal Society
  • Topic 3 - Building bridges across generations: Bringing together the 1979 Generation and GenZ

Group F:  Scenarios and Pathways for a Democratic Transition

  • Topic 1 - International pressure and the Iranian regime: What helps? what hurts the movement?
  • Topic 2 - Role of strikes in facilitating transition
  • Topic 3 - Tactics for peaceful resistance

Group G: Ethnic Minorities and Future of Iran

  • Topic 1 - Perspectives of minorities missing from mainstream conversations
  • Topic 2 - Inclusive future government structures
  • Topic 3 - Coordination across different ethnic and religious groups

Group H: Building Trust and Inclusiveness

  • Topic 1 - Inclusive Discourse: Overcoming mis-information, cyber-armies, and trolls
  • Topic 2 - Defining the boundaries: who is in, and who is out of the movement?
  • Topic 3 - Understanding the others’ perspective: how to build an inclusive narrative for change

Track 2-From Esther to Persepolis: Harbingers of Woman, Life, Freedom


Day 2

Session 1 - 8:00-8:45

Plenary - Ensuring Inclusion of Minority Demands and Rights in the Movement


Session 2 - 9:00-10:30

Plenary - Key Challenges and Pathways for Transition


Session 3 - 10:45-11:30

Plenary- Woman, Life, Freedom as a Diverse Global Movement


Session 4 - 11:45-12:30

Closing: Next Steps and the Launch of


Conference Speakers & Moderators

This list is alphabetically sorted.


  • Faraj Aalaei
    • Founding General Partner at Candou Ventures
  • Mahnaz Afkhami
    • Women’s Rights Activist
  • Ali Afshari, PhD
    • Researcher & Iranian Activist
  • Nazanin Afshin Jam
    • Human Rights Activist
  • Shahriar Ahi, PhD
    • Chairman Of The Board, New Media Productions
  • Susan Akbarpour
    • Investor, Entrepreneur & Board Member
  • Kazem Alamdari, PhD
    • Retired faculty of sociology, California State University
  • Hicham Alaoui, PhD
    • Director of the Hicham Alaoui Foundation 
  • Reza  Alijani
    • Journalist, Writer and Political Activist
  • Masih Alinejad
    • Journalist & Women’s Rights Activist
  • Asieh  Amini
    • Writer and Multicultural Communicator
  • Mandy Ansari
    • Founding Member of the Iranian Diaspora Collective, CEO of Modern Girl Media
  • Bahar Ansari, JD
    • Founder & Attorney at
  • Haifa  Asadi
    • Ahwazi Women’s Rights Activist
  • Kamal Azari, PhD
    • Scholar in Community-based Democracy
  • Robert Babayi, JD
    • Principal, Vector IP Law Group
  • Fariba Balouch
    • Women’s Rights Activist
  • Nazanin Bonyadi
    • Actress and Human Rights Activist
  • Roya Boroumand, PhD
    • Cofounder of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
  • Nadereh Chamlou
    • Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
  • Saeid Dehghan
    • Human Rights Lawyer
  • Larry Diamond, PhD
    • American Political Sociologist
  • Hamoun Dolatshahi
    • Director and Writer
  • Shirin Ebadi, JD
    • Political activist and Nobel Laureate
  • Hamed Esmailioun
    • Social Activist & Author
  • Maryam Farboodi, PhD
    • Assistant Professor of Finance, MIT
  • Mehdi  Fatapour
    • Representative of Organization of Iranian People's Fedai Guerrillas
  • Iman  Foroutan, PhD
    • CEO & Chief Promotion Strategist at Contest Factory
  • Hadi Ghaemi, PhD
    • Executive Director at the Center for Human Rights in Iran
  • Fatemeh  Haghighatjoo, PhD
    • CEO, Nonviolent Initiative for Democracy
  • Homa  Hoodfar, PhD
    • Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University
  • Marjan  Keypour
    • Founder and Director, Alliance for Rights of All Minorities
  • Behruz Khaligh
    • Represenative of Iran's Left Party
  • Ahmad Kiarostami
    • Entrepreneur
  • Kaveh  Madani, PhD
    • UN Think Tank Director; CUNY-CREST Faculty
  • Faraz Maghami, JD
    • Barrister at Law
  • Ammar Maleki, PhD
    • Faculty at Tilburg University; Director at GAMAAN
  • Michael  McFaul, PhD
    • American Academic and Diplomat
  • Abbas Milani, PhD
    • Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies Program and Professor at Stanford
  • Matin Mirramezani
    • Co-Founder and COO at Generation Lab
  • Abdullah Mohtadi
    • Leader & Secretary of Komala Party
  • Ali  Mostashari, PhD
    • CEO of LifeNome and Complexity Scientist
  • Mani  Mostofi, JD
    • Director of Miaan Group
  • Aliakbar Mousavi, PhD
    • Human Rights Activist, Peace Technology Fellow
  • Firouz  Naderi, PhD
    • Consultant, Coach, Strategist, Public Speaker
  • Sharon Nepstad, PhD
    • Sociologist
  • Hazhir Rahmandad, PhD
    • Associate Professor of Management, MIT
  • Satar  Rahmani
    • Instructor and Labor Activist
  • Ali Rahnama, JD
    • Civil Rights Attorney and Advocate
  • Roya  Rastegar, PhD
    • Writer, Curator and Scholar
  • Moniro  Ravanipour
    • Writer
  • Erfan  Sabeti
    • Social Scientist
  • Bashir Sadjad, PhD
    • Software Engineer at Google
  • Karim Sadjadpour
    • Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Maryam Saeedi, PhD
    • Assistant Professor of Economics, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Homa Sarshar
    • Journalist, Writer & Human Rights Activist
  • Marjane Satrapi
    • Iranian Artist, Director, Writer
  • Fatemeh  Shams, PhD
    • Persian Poet and Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania
  • Yazdan Shohadayi
    • Secretariat of The Iran Transition Council
  • Ali Shourideh, PhD
    • Associate Professor of Economics, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Behnam Tabrizi, PhD
    • Teaching faculty and director of executive education, Stanford University
  • Mona Tajalli, PhD
    • Author and Associate Professor
  • Nayereh Tohidi, PhD
    • Professor Emerita CalState Northridge
  • Bailey  Ulbricht, JD
    • Director of Stanford Humanitarian Program
  • Allen  Weiner, JD
    • Senior Lecturer in Law, Stanford
  • Mehdi Yahyanejad, PhD
    • Internet Freedom Activist and Co-Founder Peachscore
  • Majid Zamani
    • Entrepreneur and Political Activist
  • Mandana Zandian, MD
    • Poet, Literary Critic, Social Activist