... If the reform process is finished, you're either going to have the
status quo or you're going to have a revolution.
... This result is not [an] acceptable result, that you either should accept
the status quo or go toward the revolution. ... I think the reformism
leadership should go to ... some independent reformist groups. This time, it's
the last chance for the reformism in Iran. ... The status quo cannot ... answer
the ... social, political, economic problem[s] of Iran. Otherwise, some kind of
... a revolt, some kind of difficulties will arise. But because we have no
party, we have no strategy about the future.
I cannot say, or I cannot anticipate what will happen in that case. But I think
that the best way is to give the leadership of reformism to the hand of
independent reformists coming from people, particularly educators, and
The clergy, the Supreme Leader, are answerable only to the divine, to God.
How do you reform that aspect of the Iranian system?
... Many of them believe [in] God. But our difficulty is not because people
believe [in] God. ... The problem[s] arise because some minority [group] that
believes that they are real representatives of God and Islam are in power, and
they do not accept the participation of people, democracy, social justice, and
society. They do not accept it. ... Many of them do not accept it because they
believe that they are not in favor of the future of the people. Many of them
believe that the people are not adult enough. ... I don't want to say all are
like that. But many of them in power think in this case and this manner. They
don't allow for a democratic, policy-making participation of the people.
In my opinion, only through a democra[tic] society can we find the remedies ...
the solution for our economy, political and social difficulties.
How much of the Iranian economic dilemma is caused by corruption, caused by
the abuse of power by the political elite?
... We have enough resources -- gas fields, oil, and education. Now [1.7
million] university students are starting university. ... But the problem is
that the structure of power does not allow these resources and possibilities to
go toward production, economic development, and overall economic growth. I
think many difficulties stem from the misuse of power in this country.
So where are the benefits from these great resources going? ... People who
are in positions of power?
Yes, yes. ... Many of them.
They divert it into their own pocket?
They divert it into the underground economy or into some investment stuff
[that] is not in favor of the economy's development. For example ... they
invest in these big buildings and ... import of commodities. ... They get money
for themselves, and they increase their power. ... They can influence the
economy, and they lead the economy toward inflationary transactions,
speculative transactions. These are the way that they manage.
But in many fields, we have competitive advantage -- for example, petrochemical
industries, in textile, in spare parts -- and we need money, we need capital.
... But [this capital is] in the hand[s] of those people who do not allow [it
to] come to the industry, because they think that industrialization means the
power of the middle class, the power of the working class, the power of the
So the money goes into their personal bank accounts? The money goes into
their monument to themselves?
... Some part goes to Central Bank, and through Central Bank goes to ...
importers or some industries that import technology or import raw materials and
produce some commodities and sell it in higher prices. This is one way. ...
This internal currency goes through the banking system to ... [a privileged]
minority. For example, if I want a credit [line from my bank] after 25 years
... and I have been a good customer for my bank, I cannot get any penny. But
many people who have relationship[s] with influential people, they can get huge
amount[s] of money and transfer it to the urban land and make big buildings.
But these buildings [never] come to the market as houses then. Despite the fact
that you have big buildings in the country, you face [a] big shortage of
houses. Many young people cannot marry, because they cannot afford to pay for
rent or buy a house.
So are you suggesting that a minority of powerful people are deliberately
trying to keep the majority of the people backward and poor?
... Yes, you can find some people that still want to keep people backward,
particularly in cultural aspects. ... [But] I don't want to say that the[y]
directly have decided to keep people backward. ... What I want to say [is] that
the economy and the structure of [this system] ... cause the unemployment;
these cause the idleness of the resources, cause the inflation. ...
And when I talk to Iranians, the name of the former president, Mr.
Rafsanjani, keeps coming up as kind of a symbol of the failure of the system
and a symbol of the corruption of the system. How real is that
... Yes, I believe that ... his government has been responsible for
backwardness, because he has accepted the structural adjustment policy, and
that structural adjustment policy was not proper for Iran. ... They [didn't]
use it in a proper way in Iran, [and] it caused the bad income distribution. It
caused, not privatization, but transferring of public or government-owed
industries to the hand of a minority. It caused the chronic inflation, it
caused unemployment and social pathologies and many difficulties. Yes, I
believe that his policy was responsible for many difficulties.
Mr. Rafsanjani has done well for himself, corrupt or not. He's become very
wealthy as a result of these.
I don't know about his wealth, but ... he announced, and many followers
announced, that already he had that wealth.
But I prefer to talk about the social system as a whole. During the last 12
years, the income distribution has worsened. Now [a] minority of people are
very wealthy, but the masses are unemployed and living in poverty. Before
Rafsanjani, only 35 percent or 40 percent of the families were below average.
Now 70 percent of the urban families are below average. And even after
Rafsanjani, [with] Khatami, he continued his economic policy. ...
If you look to the social balance sheet, you find that [the] majority [of] poor
people become more poor. But the powerful people now are quite wealthy, and
have political and economic power and many monies in their hand, many
factories, urban land, and good relationship, import-export, like that. ...
The possibilities for change seem to me to be very narrow because of the
fact that there is this powerful, repressive apparatus in Iranian society. How
serious a problem is that? You have police, you have military, you have
neighborhood committees, you have supervision. You have sort of a repressive
Yes, we have many difficulties to change [in order to turn] this situation in
favor of overall economic development and the better income distribution. ...
We have three armies, not one -- big armies. [A] huge amount of [the]
government budget goes to our particular foundations. We have ... sovereignty
of the minority. ... We have many difficulties with our neighbors, with Iraq
... now with Afghanistan, with Pakistan potentially, with Turkey potentially.
But I'm not disappointed. We have to solve these difficulties, and we believe
[in] economic development. If we believe [in] social justice and democracy, and
if we believe that the country is capable ... and the people want it ... we
should solve these problems. But I think these problems [are] better solved in
a peaceful manner by the help of people, not through ... the bloody ways.
Mr. Bush and a lot of people on the right in the United States have recently
been pointing fingers at Iran, rattling their sabers at Iran. What is the
effect of that in this country?
The effect ... was some kind of [a] disturbance in [the] political scene. ...
But I think that the general understanding of the government is now that [it]
is not for Iran; it is for internal use.
["Internal" meaning inside] the United States?
Yes, in the United States. ...
In my opinion, we should consider American international policy as a danger,
because now they are in a situation that they are in economic crisis. They are
expanding their military influence and presence in the world, and they want to
continue. ... They cannot solve the problem of Middle East by these ways. And
they are going to stay in Afghanistan because of Russia, India, China. ... For
this reason, in my opinion, the American international policy, particularly
during the conservative government, is a danger.
But in this particular case, I don't think that they want to [take] action
against Iran. ...
You suggest to me that there's this reform movement building, that change
will come one way or the other. What is the effect on this process of an
external factor, like the United States?
If [the] United States [intervenes] in Iran directly, I think it is in favor of
[the] conservative[s]. It cause[s] the government [to] unite and to be more
powerful, and it's against reformists, the official reformists. ... Independent
reformers, they dislike this kind of intervention. It's obvious they have
difficulties with the [Iranian] government themselves, but this does not cause
them to be glad by intervention in our country.
So the one thing that would set reform back would be an intervention by the
Yes, the intervention by United States [would] cause centrists and [the] right
to unite. ... Some intellectuals and some political activists ... say that the
democracy that the United States want[s] for less developed countries is not a
real democracy, [it] is a democracy of elites. ... What I want to say is that
the American intervention is not in favor of the freedom lovers, in favor of
the people, in favor of the poor people, but in favor of the government,
particularly [the] extremist right.
You mentioned the foundations. How significant are these charitable
foundations in the economic life of Iran?
They are very important. They have grown. They were established after [the]
revolution. ... The Revolutionary Council decided to establish some foundations
in order to control and to manage ... the factories and the land of the people
who left the country after revolution. But now they started to grow and grow
and grow. They devote a lot of resources to themselves for themselves. ...
According to some [estimates], nearly 30 percent, 35 percent of Iran belongs to
the foundations. ... They don't give any accounts to the people. They don't pay
any penny of taxes. ...
And nobody knows where [the money] goes?
No, nobody knows. ... [No one is] allowed to go for auditing. ... They have
their own laws; they have their own regulation. ... Even newspapers cannot go
deeply inside of those foundations. ...
They are controlled by ayatollahs.
Yes, usually they are controlled by Great Ayatollah. ...
How dangerous is it for people like you to speak like this in Iran today?
There's obviously a high risk.
It is little bit dangerous. Not [just a] little bit, more than [a] little bit
dangerous, because you are walking on a sword. But anyway, some people have
accepted the responsibility, and they are ready to accept the danger and the
Why has it become more dangerous to speak out in the last couple of years?
I'm told that it's worse now than it was since Ayatollah Khomeini died.
Well, I don't want to say it's worse than that. But during the last two years,
the situation has changed. And now we have more difficulties for newspapers,
for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, for organizing non-government
institutions or parties . ... Just at the beginning of the year 2000, when they
attempt[ed] or tried to kill ... one of the more important adviser[s] [to] Mr.
Khatami, then many thing[s] changed. ... Mr. Khatami as a leader of the
reformism. He didn't continue his job. He didn't continue. He didn't fight for
freedom of expression for newspapers. ...
In democratic systems -- and Iran is half-democratic -- you have the
democratic political system. The solution is for people like you to run and get
elected and change things. So what happened when you tried to run for election?
Oh well, I was rejected. ... We had a coalition called National Religious
Coalition. Many leaders are in jail now. ...
This is the reason that I say that according to this constitution ... we cannot
be hopeful about democracy. And I think we have to continue to criticize the
constitution. The criticism [of the] constitution does not mean that you are
going to overthrow the government, or you're a revolutionary. You have the
right to criticize the constitution. Inside of the Iranian constitution, we
have one principle that says, "How you can change me?" This means that this
constitution is not coming from the God, is not Koran; is something which is
made by people. And we can criticize it and change it. I think this is the best
Real reformism, anyway, means economic distribution. If they want to consider
it as a revolutionary action, OK -- up to them. ... But real reformism ...
should be done by the help of people, not just by the government. ...
It's not going to change unless people are prepared to pick up weapons and
go to the streets. And I just don't sense that they're anywhere near that yet.
The level of unhappiness and anger doesn't seem to be so high now that there is
a high risk that people will go to the streets. ... It is high risk?
Now, now it's very high risk. But remember that, many times, people came to
[the] street. For example, recently, [there was] a teachers' demonstration ...
in front of the Parliament. Or many times, workers strike. ... I'm sure that
now it's very dangerous to ask people to come to [the] street. ...
In Iran, the situation is something like algebra. It's calculation. ... You
have to be clever now, when to solve the problem. These are different aspects
of a lot of equations. ... You have to find a way, and start one by one.
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