Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Interview with Abdolkarim Soroush: The Goals of Iran's Green Movement

Global Viewpoint Media

By Robin Wright

Five major figures in Iran's reform movement issued a manifesto Sunday, Jan. 3, calling for the resignation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the abolition of clerical control of the voting system and candidate selection. Journalist Robin Wright interviewed one of the signatories, reform-movement founder and scholar Abdolkarim Soroush, about the manifesto, which calls for the recognition of law-abiding political, student, non-governmental and women’s groups; labor unions; freedom for all means of mass communication; and an independent judiciary, including popular election of the judicial chief.

The signatories, all Iranians living outside the country, also include dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar; former parliamentarian and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani; investigative journalist Akbar Ganji; and Abdolali Bazargan, an Islamic thinker and son of a former prime minister.

Q: Why did you decide to issue a manifesto now?

A: The Green Movement is into its seventh month now, and I and my friends have been following events very closely and have been in touch with some of our friends in Iran. After [the protests on] Ashura on Dec 27, we came to realize that it was a real turning point. It was at that time that the regime decided to crack down on the Green Movement. In one instance, the regime rolled over a protester and killed him. It was a very severe message to all the protesters and defenders and supporters of the Green Movement that it intends to crush the movement harshly.

On the other hand, we have also individually been frequently asked by our friends: What are the real demands of the Green Movement, because the Green Movement was something that jumped on the scene? There was no planning for it. The election was the beginning, and it just evolved and evolved. As it evolved, some demands had emerged, but there was nothing that showed what was in the minds of the leaders of the movement.

The five of us thought that because we are close enough to the leaders of the movement -- Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami -- and know their demands, we should start drafting a manifesto or statement about the Green Movement. So we started drafting, and then Mousavi’s statement [that he would die for the movement if necessary] was issued [on Jan 1]. Since we are living outside the country, don’t have to fear [the government] and know what is in the mind of the people, we decided to publish our own statement to make clear what Mousavi’s intentions and goals of the Green Movement are.

Q: Whose views does this manifesto reflect -- just the leadership or the wider range of followers?

A: This is a pluralistic movement, including believers and non-believers, socialists and liberals. There are all walks of life in the Green Movement. We tried to come up with the common points for all.

We know there are many more demands, many more than these. Maybe in the next stage, they may demand redrafting the constitution. But for now, they would like to work within the framework of the constitution, and we were careful not to trespass those limits.

One of the suggestions we made was on the border [of going beyond the basic demands], which was the suggestion that the head of the judiciary should be elected rather than appointed by the supreme leader. I suggested that point -- if we have changes in the constitution, we have to make the head of the judiciary elected. But the majority of the points reflect the mind of the leadership.

Q: What difference will this manifesto make?

A: It will make the goals and objectives clearer and better defined and articulated. At this stage, we need it. I’ve said for years that the revolution was theory-less. It was a revolt against the shah -- a negative rather than a positive theory. I insisted that if there is going to be another movement, it has to have a theory. People should know what they want, not just what they don’t want. So we are trying -- in a modest way -- to put forward a theory for this movement.

Goals and objectives are based on theories and foundations. And we do have theories about liberty. We have not brought those theories into these points, but they underlie the points. They are invisible to the armed eyes, meaning the regime.

Q: What’s next for the Green Movement?

A: Nobody knows. There are all sorts of cries that the leaders of the Green Movement should submit themselves to the supreme leader, but that won’t take place. Both sides have to be prepared for a serious negotiation. That could be the next stage. [Former President] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani might step in to start a negotiation for national reconciliation.

Q: Can the regime crack down to the point of eliminating the Green Movement?

A: I don’t think so. It is a product of the reform movement, which was suppressed. Ahmadinejad did his best to remove all sort of reform movements and to start a new era. But the regime could not put out the fire. And now we have the Green Movement, which is a culmination of the reform movement, a new stage.

I hope the government recognizes it has to have negotiations with the Green Movement and will have to sacrifice something for them to be productive. Heaven forbid that it turns into violence, which would be bad for the Green Movement and the country.

Q: Will compromise satisfy the new generation of reformers?

A: Compromise has a negative connotation. But if even one of these demands is fulfilled -- such as freedom of press -- that will be enough to change drastically the political scene and atmosphere of the country.

If they accept one of these 10 demands -- and not the rest -- it will revolutionize the whole country. Maybe release the prisoners; so many competent people are in prison. Any one of these would revolutionize the atmosphere.