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.

An opposition manifesto in Iran

Los Angeles Times

Groups protesting against the current regime reveal what they want a new Iranian government to look like.

By Robin Wright

January 6, 2010

Iran's so-called green movement is not yet a counterrevolution, but recent developments make clear it is heading in that direction. Seven months after the uprising began, an opposition manifesto is finally taking shape, and its sweeping demands would change the face of Iran.

Three bold statements calling for reform have been issued since Friday, one by opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one by a group of exiled religious intellectuals and the third by university professors. Taken together, they suggest that the movement will not settle for anything short of radical change.

The statements set tough preconditions for a political truce: resignation of the current leadership, introduction of broad democratic freedoms, prosecution of security forces engaged in violence against the opposition and an end to politics in the military, universities and the clergy.

The proposed reforms would amount to a total overhaul of the system. But they also reflect a common desire to prevent an all-out confrontation by engaging the regime in compromise and ending the escalating violence. The three sets of demands all accept that Iran will remain an Islamic republic, if largely in name only.

The three statements offer the outside world the first concrete indication of what the opposition wants and what Iran might look like if the opposition prevails. Just as striking is the fact that several branches of the opposition are developing a voice despite the increasingly brutal crackdown by an increasingly militarized regime.

The boldest statement was issued Sunday by five exiled religious intellectuals who founded diverse parts of the reform movement in the 1990s. Many of today's opposition activists are their progeny as students, colleagues, political allies and friends.

Their 10-point manifesto begins by calling for the resignation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose reelection in June sparked an outpouring of public rage over alleged fraud. It calls for the abolishment of clerical control of the voting system and candidate selection, replacing it with an independent voting commission that includes the opposition and protesters. The authors also demand the release of all political prisoners and recognition of law-abiding political, student, nongovernmental and women's groups as well as labor unions. They call for an independent judiciary, including popular election of the judicial chief, and freedom for all means of mass communication. They even demand term limits for elected officials.

The five authors include philosopher Abdulkarim Soroush, the father of the reform movement; dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar; former parliamentarian and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani; investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, who was imprisoned for six years for reporting on regime corruption; and Abdolali Bazargan, an Islamic thinker and son of a former prime minister.

They issued the manifesto on a website run by Kadivar and Mohajerani to mark the green movement's growing maturity, Soroush explained in an interview Monday. "The green movement is known only for its demonstrations and protests, not its ideas, so it was time to explain its political demands," he said.

The manifesto also carries a message to the green movement's widely diverse followers. "Some people expected the green movement to do miracles, to do the impossible. We wanted to make it clear that it's a democratic movement, and if it has a godfather, it is Gandhi," Soroush said. "We are insisting adamantly that democratic, nonviolent change is at the heart of this movement. That will minimize the violence from the other side, which is ready to engage in any kind of violence."

All five of the manifesto's exiled authors, most of them titans of Iran's 1979 revolution and major figures in earlier governments, remain connected to the opposition at home.

In a separate statement, opposition leader Mousavi, whose defeat by Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election sparked the current uprising, made some of the same demands in more general terms. "What we want is a government and system that is honest and supportive, and is based on votes of people, one that looks at variety in the votes and ideas of people as an opportunity instead of a threat," he wrote Friday in a long statement on his website.

In Iran, Mousavi called for the government both to be held accountable "for the troubles it has caused" and to establish wide freedoms of press, speech, assembly, protest and independent political activity. Acknowledging new calls for his arrest and execution, he added that he was willing to die for the cause.

In another statement Monday, 88 professors at Tehran University -- the country's largest and most prestigious education center -- called on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to end violence against the opposition, which they described as a sign of the regime's weakness. They also daringly demanded that the supreme leader order the release of detained students and called for the prosecution of those who harassed, beat, detained or tortured in prison the protesters.

All three statements reflected an increase in defiance on the part of the opposition. "The hatred and resentment that has built up against the regime in the past three decades has deep roots," warned the manifesto from the five exiled leaders, who claim to speak for the opposition and have written the most extensive and combative of the statements. "The discontent has a great destructive power and can unleash a vast wave of violence throughout society."

In blunt terms, they also warned Iran's supreme leader -- who has the powers of an infallible political pope -- that ignoring the escalating demands of the opposition will only "deepen the crisis with painful consequences" for which he would ultimately be accountable.

Robin Wright, the author of four books on Iran, is a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington. A former Times diplomatic correspondent, she has been covering Iran since 1973.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Iran's Regime and Opposition Brace for the Next Round

Monday, Jan. 04, 2010

Faced with escalating turmoil, Iran's newly militarized regime now appears to be turning to the Tiananmen model to ensure its survival. The theocracy has signaled over the past week that it will exercise extraordinary military and judicial powers against opposition leaders, dissidents, street protesters and even sympathizers to end the growing turmoil. The regime's most urgent goal is to prevent opposition activists from turning next month's 11-day celebration marking the Shah's ouster in 1979 into a counterrevolution against his successors.

But the Chinese model of using all-out force against a budding opposition movement, as used in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, may not be as effective in the Islamic Republic of 2010. The two country's systems and societies have more differences than similarities. Yet the regime nonetheless appears intent on employing tactics normally reserved for foreign threats. On Dec. 28, the security forces for the first time fired directly into crowds of protesters as the Shi'ite Ashura religious commemoration turned into the biggest nationwide demonstration since unrest erupted after the disputed June 12 election. Hundreds of activists, students, intellectuals and relatives of top opposition officials have since been detained. Judicial officials and members of parliament are now calling for opposition leaders to be prosecuted for crimes against the state including treason. (See the long shadow of Ayatullah Khomeini in Iran.)

On Dec. 30, participants at a government-orchestrated rally chanted slogans calling for the death of former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi. Both ran against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and charged that his re-election was fraudulent. The government gave civil servants the day off to attend the rally, and thousands were bused to Tehran for the event.

The regime also recently took delivery of new Chinese armored antiriot vehicles equipped with cannons that can spray water, tear gas and chemical irritants against crowds, according to pictures on opposition websites.

China's 1989 democracy movement and the current Iranian uprising share some common threads. Both were youth-driven popular movements demanding change, led by loose coalitions of disparate factions that lacked strong leadership. And in both cases, the protesters' demands grew as the regimes clamped down. (See pictures of the Tiananmen Square protests.)

But there are important differences between the two that may result in different outcomes. In Iran, the catalyst was the charge that the authorities had stolen an election that the opposition believes Mousavi won; the Chinese protestors had no history of voting in competitive elections and were mobilized by the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist member of the communist leadership. China used maximum force relatively early; it contained the challenge within seven weeks. Iran's regime is losing momentum after seven months; demonstrations late last month spread to at least 10 major cities. China banned the foreign press and tightly controlled state media; Iran has been unable to prevent eyewitness accounts of citizen journalists from reaching the Internet, Facebook and Twitter.

The biggest difference may be that Iran is historically more democratic than China, where public participation in politics has been restricted for centuries. Iranians have had a growing role in politics since the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution produced Asia's first parliament; they've voted for decades under both a monarchy and a theocracy. Also, China has long been a closed society; Iran's Indo-European population has long had exposure to Western ideas and education.

Rather than Tiananmen, Iran's opposition is hoping to repeat a different event from 1989 — the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Eastern Europe's communist regimes. Despite the regime's growing threats, opposition leaders remain defiant. Mousavi warned over the weekend that the crackdown will not succeed. "I say openly that orders to execute, kill or imprison Karroubi and Mousavi will not solve the problem," said a statement on his website. Mousavi's nephew was among those killed during the Ashura protests; opposition accounts claim he was assassinated.

Iran's uprising appears to have entered a new phase after the Dec. 19 death of dissident cleric Grand Ayatullah Hossein Ali Montazeri, and the Ashura protests a week later. The so-called Green Movement has proven both resolute and resilient, and appears to be gaining wider support from traditional and religious sectors of society once loyal to the regime.

The next key test for both sides will be the so-called 11 Days of Dawn commemoration of the 1979 revolution that begins on Feb. 1, marking the day revolutionary leader Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from 14 years in exile. The public celebrations, the most important political holiday of the year, end on the anniversary of the fall of the government installed by the monarchy, which paved the way for creation of the world's only modern theocracy.

Understanding Iran's Protest Movement

Interview with Council on Foreign Relations

December 28, 2009