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The power behind the scene: Khoeiniha

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

30 Oct 2009 16:2617 Comments

khoeiniha.jpgThe power behind the scene: Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha

[ profile ] Divisions between Shia clerics existed from the beginning of the 1978-79 Revolution. But as a result of the rigged June 12 presidential election, those fissures have widened and grown too glaringly obvious to ignore. In addition to the long existing gulf between leftists and right-wing clerics, fissures now exist in the ranks of the conservative clerics. In fact, four years ago, the day after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected Iran's president, I predicted this in a widely distributed e-mail, as well as in a radio interview.

After this year's rigged election, such notable conservative ayatollahs as Ebrahim Amini, Mohammad Ostadi, Naser Makarem Shirazi, Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, and Abdollah Javadi Amoli, quietly parted their ways from the ultra-right reactionary ayatollahs who support Ahmadinejad: Mohammad Yazdi, Ahmad Jannati, Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former president Mohammad Khatami), Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.

The fissures between the right wing and leftist clerics first became apparent in the first two years after the 1979 Revolution. Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani (1911-1979), a progressive cleric immensely popular among both revolutionaries and ordinary people, together with Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti (1928-1981), Iran's first judiciary chief after the Revolution, and their followers had already made their differences with the right-wing ayatollahs clear. Unfortunately, both left the scene too early. Ayatollah Taleghani passed away on September 9, 1979 after a brief illness, and Ayatollah Beheshti died in a bomb blast on June 28, 1981; the explosion also killed more than 100 of his lieutenants and aides.

The fissures between the right-wing and leftist clerics became official in May 1988, when the leftists quit the Society of Militant Clergy (SMC), known in Iran as the Rouhaniyat, and formed their own organization, the Association of Combatant Clerics (ACC), known as the Rouhaniyoun. When that happened, the SMC accused the ACC of acting like the Khavaarej, zealot and rigid Muslims who rebelled against the revered Imam Ali, the first Shia Imam, and eventually even waged a war against him and his rule.

SMC was trying to portray Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Ali of the era, and the ACC as the Khavaarej. But the label did not stick. The ACC had Ayatollah Khomeini's blessing. In fact, if we review all the appointments made by Ayatollah Khomeini during the decade he ruled as the Supreme Leader, we see that the vast majority of them were from the ranks of the leftist clerics.

The reasons were twofold. One was that Ayatollah Khomeini always tried to keep a balance between the right and left, and the powerful Guardian Council (a Constitutional body that vets candidates for most elections and interprets the Constitution) was (and still is) controlled by conservative ayatollahs. (Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani was its first head.) The second reason, in my opinion, was that Ayatollah Khomeini was himself a leftist cleric.

Although the best known members of the ACC are former president Khatami, who leads the ACC's central committee; his former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who has been jailed since the election; and Mehdi Karroubi, who led the ACC from its founding until 2005, when he left to form his own National Trust Party, the most important leftist cleric is Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha who heads the ACC. We do not hear much about him, but he is the power behind the scene.

Right-wing pressure

Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini passed away in June1989, Khoeiniha has been a target of the right wing in Iran. They have tried to restrict him, cutoff his links with society, and by preventing the media from writing or talking about him, to make people forget him. I will come back to this shortly.

Since the June 12 rigged election, however, the pressure on Mousavi Khoeiniha has increased dramatically. First, the hardliners forced Abtahi to speak against Mousavi Khoeiniha in the Stalinist show trials they staged. He "confessed" that Mousavi Khoeiniha had said that, "We need to bring down Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei."

Next, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the head of the political directorate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), openly called for Mousavi Khoeiniha to be put on trial.

Then, on September 2, the IRGC's top commander, Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, invoked Abtahi's "confessions" to accuse Mousavi Khoeiniha of planning to weaken velaayat-e faghih [guardianship of Islamic jurist, as embodied in the Supreme Leader]. Other IRGC hard-line commanders have also said the same.

Last week, Hamid Reza Taraqi, a leading member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, said "If we take a look at Mousavi Khoeiniha's background, we will find that Goudarzi, the man who assassinated martyr Motahhari and a member of Forqan group, was one of his [Mousavi Khoeiniha's] students. I believe that Mohammad Khatami, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Mehdi Karroubi are led by Mousavi Khoeiniha."

Taraqi was referring to the assassination of Ayatollah Seyyed Morteza Motahhari (1920-1979), a leading progressive Islamic scholar, father-in-law of Ali Larijani (the Majles Speaker), and a student and close aide of Ayatollah Khomeini. Ayatollah Motahhari was assassinated on May 1, 1979, by Akbar Goudarzi who had founded an Islamic leftist group four years earlier called the Forqan (shortly after a communist split in the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK) Organization). Members of Forqan were heavily influenced by the writings of Dr. Ali Shariati (1933-1977), the distinguished sociologist and Islamic scholar. Its members had novel interpretation of Islamic teachings. For example, they viewed God as absolute evolution, as opposed to the usual teachings of Islam where God is absolute perfection.

In the 1970s, Forqan considered three groups -- the ruling Pahlavi family, the clergy, and the communists -- as Iran's main enemies that had to be defeated and eliminated. In June 1977, Ayatollah Motahhari published an article called "Materialism in Iran," in which he criticized both the MEK and Forqan. He referred to Forqan's ideology as gullible materialism, which angered Forqan members. The anger eventually led to Ayatollah Motahhari's assassination.

Forqan was also responsible for the assassinations of Lieutenant General Mohammad Vali Qarani, Iran's first armed forces chief after the 1979 Revolution, on April 23, 1979; Haj Mehdi Araqi, a key aide to Ayatollah Khomeini (and a member of the Islamic Coalition Party), on August 26, 1979; Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Ali Qazi Tabatabaei, Tabriz's Friday prayer leader, on November 1, 1979; and another aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, and Ayatollah Dr. Mohammad Mofatteh, on December 18, 1979. They also tried unsuccessfully to assassinate former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on May 22, 1979.

Taraqi also said that, "Mousavi Khoeiniha's background indicates that, behind the scene, he has always wanted to create chaos and riots in the Islamic nation of Iran. Although at the beginning of the Revolution Mousavi Khoeiniha led the students to take over the United States embassy [on November 4, 1979] and appeared as an anti-American man, by participating in the "riots" [the demonstrations after the rigged election] he has made the Americans happy."

Taraqi's attacks were followed by those of Jafar Shajouni, a member of the SMC central committee and one of its most reactionary members. He claimed that Mousavi Khoeiniha had said in one of the classes that he teaches at the Islamic Azad University that, "Even during the Imam's [Ayatollah Khomeini's] era, we did not believe in velaayat-e faghih." The accusation was repeated by some hardliners in the Majles, who claimed that he was not loyal to the political system of the Islamic Republic.

The website of the Center for Islamic Revolution Documents quoted Shajouni as saying that, "In this Revolution, two people are the enemy, Mousavi Khoeiniha and Behzad Nabavi [who has been jailed since the election]. The political system should put them on trial."

Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, Ahmadinejad's first Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, who was fired and has gone back to active duty in the IRGC as a Brigadier General, also called Mousavi Khoeiniha "anti-velaayat-e faghih." In a speech two weeks ago, he said, "Mousavi Khoeiniha has said that, 'even during the Imam's [Ayatollah Khomeini's] era we did not accept velaayat-e motlagheh faghih [absolute rule of the Supreme Leader], but because the Imam was extremely charismatic and we were his students, we could not oppose it. But the situation has changed, and I say that I was always opposed to this.'"

The weekly online magazine Panjareh [window], which is close to Ahmadinejad, called Mousavi Khoeiniha the "under-the-ash man of recent developments," meaning that he has been quietly leading the reformists and democratic groups' efforts over the past several months to oppose the hardliners.

In its editorial last Wednesday, Resaalat [mission], the daily mouthpiece of the Islamic Coalition Party, attributed the recent attacks on Mousavi Khoeiniha and Khatami to "the role of the ACC in the recent protests and the possible participation of the supporters of the Green Movement in next week's demonstrations on November 4th [the 30th anniversary of the take over of the American embassy]."

Mohammad Kazem Anbarlouei, the author of Resaalat's editorial and the head of the political directorate of the Islamic Coalition Party, emphasized that, "either the ACC knows about the provocations of these people [supporters of the Green Movement] and is aware of their [planned] slogans for November 4th [demonstrations], or it does not. If it does, why does the ACC not take a position against them, and if not, what kind of a strong clerical group is the ACC that cannot detect the enemy's provocations?"

Indeed, the ACC has issued some of the strongest statements in the aftermath of the rigged election, and has harshly criticized the violent crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations. This has put the hardliners in a very difficult position, because most of the leading members of the ACC were close aides and confidantes of Ayatollah Khomeini and occupied important positions in the 1980s.

Therefore, it is nearly impossible to successfully accuse the ACC members of being "agents of foreign governments." This is particularly true about Mousavi Khoeiniha, since he was the spiritual advisor to the leftist university students who took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran 30 years ago, and one of the closest people to Ayatollah Khomeini. And, of course, Mousavi Khoeiniha has played a leading role in directing the ACC's harsh criticism of the election and its aftermath.

20081206130932t300-48-1.jpgThe Red Mullah and Father of the Left

Who is Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha? Why is he the target of the hardliners' wrath, even though the public hardly ever hears anything about him, except when he is accused of wrongdoings by the hardliners?

Mousavi Khoeiniha was born in 1938 in Qazvin, a major city about 140 km west of Tehran. His father, Seyyed Hossein, and his ancestors had lived there for generations. After finishing high school, he decided to study theology. He moved to Qom in 1961 and studied with such notable Shiite figures as Ayatollah Seyyed Mostafa Mohaqiq Damad, Grand Ayatollahs Mohammad Ali Araki (1894-1994) and Hossein Ali Montazeri, and Ayatollah Soltani.

He was, however, a political activist. He once said that he learned about politics for the first time when he was 15, after the CIA overthrew the popular government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and restored Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to power. In 1966 he moved to Najaf, Iraq, to study with the Shah's nemesis, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been sent into exile on November 4, 1964, by the Shah. But after only one year, he was deported from Iraq back to Iran.

When Mousavi Khoeiniha returned to Iran, he was active against the Shah's government. The liaison between him and Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ayatollah's son, Ahmad (1945-1995). He was also part of a circle of the Ayatollah's disciples, which included Ayatollahs Beheshti, Motahhari, Taleghani, and Montazeri, as well as Rafsanjani. The SMC had been founded at that time and was politically active; Mousavi Khoeiniha was a central figure.

The Shah's secret service, the SAVAK, monitored Mousavi Khoeiniha's activities. When Ayatollah Khomeini's elder son, Mostafa Khomeini (1930-1977) passed away under suspicious circumstances, the SAVAK reported that, "[Ayatollah] Khomeini's son [Ahmad] called Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha and then [Ayatollah Seyyed Mehdi] Emam Jamarani to inform them of the death of Mostafa Khomeini. [Ayatollah] Khomeini always gives his instructions to these two persons."

The SAVAK finally arrested Mousavi Khoeiniha in 1977. While in jail, the SAVAK tried to understand the relation between him and the rest of the SMC; but cleverly, Mousavi Khoeiniha gave the SAVAK misleading information about them. He was given a 15-year sentence, but was released in the fall of 1978 as the Revolution was gathering steam.

After the Revolution toppled the Shah's regime in February 1979, Mousavi Khoeiniha turned out to be one of the most important aides and closest advisors to Ayatollah Khomeini. The Ayatollah appointed Mousavi Khoeiniha as his representative to Seda o Sima, the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic [the national network of radio and television]. Khoeiniha was so close to Ayatollah Khomeini and had so much authority that he effectively ran the Voice and Visage by himself.

Mousavi Khoeiniha was known as a certified leftist, even to the left of Ayatollah Taleghani. He was sometimes referred to as the Akhound-e Sorkh [red mullah]. During the hostage crisis there was even a baseless rumor spread by the U.S. media that he had spent a year in Moscow! In any event, Mousavi Khoeiniha is considered the father of the Islamic leftists after the 1979 Revolution.

The Hostage Crisis

deport.jpgIn 1979, the first year after the Revolution, Iranian university campuses were dominated by secular leftists and supporters of the MEK. At the same time, Mehdi Bazargan, a liberal but not revolutionary Muslim and the leader of Freedom Movement [a group he had founded in the early 1960s with Ayatollah Taleghani, Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, and others], was the Prime Minister. Young supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini around the campuses were worried that the country, under Bazargan's leadership, would drift back into the Western camp, and that the universities would be controlled by the secular left. The Ayatollah's supporters did have their own university organization, the Muslim Students Associations (MSAs), but they were relatively weak compared with the secular organizations and the Society of Muslim Students, the pro-MEK organization. Thus, in September 1979, an umbrella group was founded to coordinate the activities of all the MSAs. The organization was called Office for Consolidation of Unity (OCU).

On October 22, 1979, the Carter Administration allowed the Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment. But the revolutionaries in Iran did not view it that way. They saw it as the first step toward another coup, similar to the 1953 coup that had overthrew Iran's national hero, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh.

On November 1, 1979, Bazargan, his Foreign Minister Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, and Defense Minister Dr. Mostafa Chamran (1932-1981), met in Algiers, Algeria, with Zbigniew Brezezinski, President Carter's national security advisor. On the same day there were huge demonstrations in Iran protesting the Shah's admission to the United States.

As far as the Islamic leftist students were concerned, the Algiers meeting was the last straw. They decided that they needed to do something to force the closure of the American embassy in Tehran, which would hopefully prompt the fall of Bazargan's government as well. Both goals were achieved, but at a great cost to Iran, as the events over the past 30 years have shown.

In a forthcoming article, I will describe the hostage crisis in detail. For now, suffice it to say that the OCU's leaders decided to consult with a few people about the wisdom of occupying the U.S. embassy. The OCU leaders were all engineering students: Mohsen Mirdamadi from Tehran Polytechnique [now known as Amir Kabir University]; Habibollah Bitaraf of Faculty of Engineering of Tehran University [a friend of the author's at Tehran University before the Revolution]; and Ebrahim Asgharzadeh of Sharif [Aryamehr] University. Mirdamadi is now secretary general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front [the largest reformist group] and has been in jail since the day after the rigged election of June 12. Bitaraf was Minister of Power in the Khatami administration and is now in the private sector, while Asgharzadeh is the leader of the Solidarity of Islamic Iran Party.

The two people that the OCU leaders wanted to consult with were Ayatollahs Khamenei and Mousavi Khoeiniha. But the former had gone to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. Thus, they asked Mousavi Khoeiniha whether it was wise to ask Ayatollah Khomeini's opinion. He opposed the idea, on the ground that if Ayatollah Khomeini is asked before the takeover, he may not express his true views openly. He did, however, support the takeover of the embassy and told the students to "go ahead and occupy the Nest of Spies [the name given to the U.S. embassy in Tehran at that time]." He also told them that he believed that once the embassy was seized, Ayatollah Khomeini would support the action.

There were two right-wing students in the OCU leadership council that opposed the takeover of the U.S. embassy, and instead advocated occupying the embassy of the Soviet Union. They were Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ezatollah Zarghami, presently the head of the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic. [A third right-wing student in the council, Fereydoun Verdinejad, later joined the reformists and was the director of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, during the Khatami administration.]

In a speech to university and theological students just a few days before the embassy takeover, Ayatollah Khomeini urged them to confront the U.S. The OCU leadership thought that Mousavi Khoeiniha had told the Ayatollah about their plans, and that the speech was his way of giving them the green light. That was not true, but the decision had been made.

At 6:30 a.m. on the morning of November 4, 1979, on the 25th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini's forced exile, the students, calling themselves Students Followers of Imam's Line, stormed the U.S. embassy. Ayatollah Khomeini sent his son Ahmad to the embassy to show his support. Mousavi Khoeiniha also went to the embassy. Huge demonstrations in support of the take over took place all over Iran. Mehdi Bazargan promptly resigned. It took 444 days to end the hostage crisis, but its consequences are still felt today. This act made Mousavi Khoeiniha known all over the world.

Khoeiniha has remained a strong defender of the hostage taking. He still keeps a four-drawer metal filing cabinet with a plate that says, "Property of the General Services Administration" of the United States in his office, which he took as memorabilia from the embassy. He has said that the episode was part of the process of reforming Iran, and a necessary response to the 1953 CIA coup.

Today, the OCU is the most important university student organization in Iran, and the most vociferous opponent of the hardliners. The hostage crisis created a bond between Mousavi Khoeiniha and Islamic leftist students that has persisted until the present, even encompassing second and third generation university students since the Revolution. Mousavi Khoeiniha remains a highly influential figure among the students, which is one reason why the hardliners despise him so much.

Impeachment of the President

When Iran's first presidential election was to be held in February 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini appointed Mousavi Khoeiniha in charge of supervising the election. 106 people wanted to run in the election. Khoeiniha interpreted that as a conspiracy against the Islamic Republic. In a speech during Friday prayers at Tehran University in January 1980, Mousavi Khoeiniha declared that,

We have witnessed various plots against the Islamic Revolution, one of which is the candidacy of more than 100 people for the presidential election. Where in the world can you find this many candidates? [Allowing] such a large number of candidates [to run] will not be a sign of democracy and freedom in Iran. But, to the contrary, it will mean chaos, anarchy, and disorder and, as the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said, this is the first conspiracy against the presidential election in Iran.

Eventually, eight candidates ran. They were Abolhassan Banisadr [a close aide to Ayatollah Khomeini]; Admiral Ahmad Madani [1928-2006, former commander of Iranian navy]; Dr. Hassan Habibi [First Vice President to Khatami during his first term]; Sadegh Tabatabaei [a close relative of Ayatollah Khomeini]; Dariush Forouhar [1928-1998, who was murdered by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence]; Sadegh Ghotbzadeh [1936-1982, one of Ayatollah Khomeini's closest aides who was later executed by him]; Dr. Kazem Sami [who was murdered in 1989 by an unknown assailant, presumably agents of the Ministry of Intelligence]; Mohammad Makri; Hassan Ghafourifard [currently a professor at Amir Kabir University]; and Hassan Ayat [a right-wing politician who was assassinated by the MEK in 1981]. Banisadr was elected on January 25, 1980, receiving 11 million votes, representing 79% of the total vote. Mousavi Khoeiniha was, however, opposed to Banisadr and eventually brought his downfall the following year.

With the support of the OCU and the Islamic Republican Party [the dominant political organization of that era], Mousavi Khoeiniha was elected to the first Majles established after the Revolution. He received 1,248,391 votes, one of the largest number of votes ever in the 100-year history of Majles. He was then elected as the deputy to the Speaker, Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was the leader of the radical Islamic leftist faction of the Majles that included Mir Hossein Mousavi, Behzad Nabavi, Mohammad Gharazi [who served in the administrations of both Mousavi and Rafsanjani], and others. The leftists were, however, in the minority.

The right-wing faction, led by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and members of the Islamic Coalition Party, fiercely attacked Mousavi Khoeiniha for his leftist political and economical views, as well as his religious ones. When, for example, he led the prayer of the students on the ground of the U.S. embassy, he was attacked by the right-wing clerics who claimed that the prayers could not be said on a ground that has been taken by force. But, Ayatollah Khomeini continued to support Mousavi Khoeiniha, which protected him.

At the same time, the confrontation between the clerics and Banisadr began to heat up. In the spring of 1981, a petition was circulated in the Majles demanding that Banisadr be impeached for incompetence. The reality was different. It was simply a power struggle between Banisadr, supported by the MEK, and the clerics. The Majles finally impeached him on June 21, 1981. During the impeachment debate, Mousavi Khoeiniha delivered a fiery speech against the beleaguered president, which sealed his fate.

Prominence in the 1980s


With Ayatollah Khomeini's support, Mousavi Khoeiniha continued to rise. He was appointed as the supervisor and personal representative of Ayatollah Khomeini for Hajj affairs [the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia]. But, given the radical that he was, Mousavi Khoeiniha used his trip to Saudi Arabia to denounce the conservative and pro-U.S. sheikhdom, so much so that he and several aides were first detailed and then expelled from the country in September 1982. Karroubi was appointed as his deputy, but he too acted in a radical fashion and was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1987.

Mousavi Khoeiniha was then appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to be Iran's Prosecutor General, replacing Ayatollah Yousef Sanei [who is now an ardent supporter of the Green Movement]. This was in the middle of the internal strife in Iran. There were thousands of political prisoners. Thousands more had been executed in the early 1980s. By the time Mousavi Khoeiniha was appointed the Prosecutor General, those executions had more or less ended.

However, as I explained in a previous article, in the summer of 1988, up to 4,500 political prisoners were executed. Most, if not all, had not committed any serious offense; if they had, they would had been executed much earlier. Most of them had also finished serving their sentences [regardless of whether the sentences were fair]. During that period, Mousavi Khoeiniha was a member of the Supreme Judicial Council, and bears, at a minimum, moral responsibility for those murders. In fact, many believe that the Council played an important role in the executions, because Ayatollah Seyyed Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, who was the judiciary chief and a member of the Council, was the one who asked Ayatollah Khomeini [through his son Ahmad] what to do with the political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, which helped trigger the executions.

This is why Mousavi Khoeiniha is loathed by many political activists of the 1980s. He has never spoken about his role in the executions, if any. In fact, the Islamic left has largely kept silent on this important historical issue.

In 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the establishment of the Expediency Council. Many of the legislations approved by the left-leaning Majles had been blocked by the conservative Guardian Council, which had paralyzed the legislative branch. Thus, the Expediency Council's task was to arbitrate over disputes between the Majles and the Guardian Council. Ayatollah Khomeini appointed six members of the Expediency Council, one of whom was Mousavi Khoeiniha [the other five were Mir Hossein Mousavi, Rafsanjani, and Ayatollahs Khamenei, Mousavi Ardabili, and Mohammad Reza Tavassoli [1931-2008], who was Ayatollah Khomeini's chief of staff].

On April 24, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the formation of a constutional assembly to revise the Constitution. He appointed Mousavi Khoeiniha as his own personal representative to the assembly. Several changes were made that have created severe problems for the country ever since, including Article 110 that gives most of the real power to the Supreme Leader; and Articles 5, 107, and 109, which made it possible for a cleric who is not a true grand ayatollah and marja' taghlid [source of emulation] to be appointed the Supreme Leader [which paved the way for Ayatollah Khamenei, who was only a mid-rank cleric]. It also eliminated the post of the prime minister, which hastened the departure of Mir Hossein Mousavi from politics for 20 years.

Salaam Newspaper and the Reform Movement

salaamnewspaper.jpgAfter Ayatollah Khomeini passed away on June 3, 1989, and the right wing gradually took control of most government organs, Mousavi Khoeiniha left the political scene and founded a newspaper. Salaam (hello), was established in 1991 as a platform for the Islamic leftists, and in particular the ACC. The name was selected by Ahmad Khomeini. Its editor-in-chief was Abbas Abdi, one of the 11 members of the student council that took over the hostage affairs after the U.S. embassy was seized in 1979.

Salaam soon became a home for non-clerical Islamic leftists as well, such as Mohsen Mirdamadi, Alireza Alavitabar, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, and Rajabali Mazruei [who was a deputy to the 6th Majles, controlled by the reformists]. They all had worked with Mousavi Khoeiniha at the Center for Strategic Studies, which he was directing at the time. More generally, Salaam was read by those who were concerned about where the country was headed. I say with pride that I read practically every issue of Salaam from its birth to demise, in July 1999. I had my family buy it everyday in Tehran and mail them to me every two weeks.

An editorial in the second issue of Salaam, in February 1991, essentially set out the paper's mission statement, and marked its place on the political spectrum -- on the far left:


We hope that God Almighty will prompt you to help us, so that we can stage a war together on the enemies of the nation, as demanded by the people; launch an attack on the White House, which is blackened with tyranny and crimes; as favored by God, on the capitalists, the indifferent well-to-do, the reactionaries, stupid people disguised as religious ones, those who sleep in their luxurious villas without caring for the sufferings and pains of the deprived and, in short, assault the pro-America elements with the weapons that we have in our hands [our pens], as recommended by our Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini].


For most of its existence, its daily circulation was only 100,000. It did not carry any advertisements. It soon began to clash with the administration of Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticizing strongly his "reconstruction" policy after the end of Iran-Iraq war, which had resulted in wasteful spending and vast corruption. It was even temporarily banned in March 1996 for criticizing Rafsanjani too harshly.

Salaam's most important contribution was to the birth of the reform movement through its in-depth analyses on politics, and to the election of Mohammad Khatami as the president in 1997. It was Mousavi Khoeiniha who first suggested to Khatami to run, after Mir Hossein Mousavi had turned down the invitation. According to Mousavi Khoeiniha, Khatami was first angry and even furious at the suggestion; but after calming down and thinking about it, he accepted the idea. Salaam then began to act as the mouthpiece of the Khatami campaign. Suddenly its daily circulation shot up to 500,000, a remarkable number. All that time, it became clear who the real power behind the scene was: Mousavi Khoeiniha.

After Khatami was elected in May 1997, his administration began loosening restrictions on the press. There was a brief "Tehran Spring" of about two years, during which many new newspapers, weeklies and other publications hit the news stands. The Spring abruptly ended in March 2000, after the reformists swept into the 6th Majlis with an overwhelming majority, prompting Ayatollah Khamenei to angrily denounce the reformists newspapers. In the next two days following his speech, 16 newspapers were closed by the judiciary.

Salaam's last major contribution was made in July 1999. The conservative-dominated 5th Majles was considering a new draconian press law that would restict press freedoms associated with the policies of Khatami. The day before voting on the legislation, Salaam published a letter written a few years earlier by Saeed Emami, the notorious agent of the Ministry of Intelligence who had led a gang of other agents to murder many intellectuals and dissidents. The letter indicated that the legislation was Emami's idea.

On Thursday, July 8, 1999, the judiciary closed Salaam. That provoked large-scale demonstrations the next day in the dormitories of Tehran University, which quickly spread to other campuses. The hardliners never permanently repressed the backlash, as the crisis of the last few months has demonstrated. It has been the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic.

Mousavi Khoeiniha was put on trial by the Special Court for the Clergy, an extrajudicial and constitutionally illegal organ that is essentially a tool for controlling dissident clerics. He was accused of printing classified information, defamation, publishing insulting language, and misleading people. Hamid Reza Taraqi, the same man who now accuses Mousavi Khoeiniha of not being loyal to velaayat-e faghih, said at that time, "Salaam is trying to create turmoil and instability in the basic pillars of the system and the Revolution." In fact he and Ahmadinejad, together with Kamran Daneshjou [Minister of Science and Research who was recently caught plagiarizing other scienctists' works] had also took Mousavi Khoeiniha to court because of Salaam.

Mousavi Khoeiniha spoke only briefly in his trial, and ignored the attacks on himself. It was a foregone conclusion that he would be convicted, and that Salaam would be closed for a long time. He said in the court,

I say from the bottom of my heart and soul that our Islamic Republic system can only carry on if it guarantees the maximum legitimate freedom within the framework of the Constitution.

Salaam was ordered closed for five years. He was given a suspended jail sentence and heavily fined. When Salaam could restart publishing in 2005, Mousavi Khoeiniha refused to do so again. He had gone into seclusion and kept silent until 2006, when he accepted to lead the ACC, after Karroubi left to form his own party.

In an interview in 2000, Mousavi Khoeiniha said,

The conservatives advocate a political system that has no compatibility with democracy. [In their system] God selects a man, whom the people must obey, who is not accountable to the people, or any institution, or, more generally, to anyone.

Last year, several months before the presidential election, Mousavi Khoeiniha said,

Only people can decide their own fate. Intervening in people's affairs, even if done with good intentions, is against religion [Islam]. One can never start from a corrupt beginning [intervention] to arrive at a good result. Many of those who oppose the reformists believe that they are incompetent and dishonest and must be dismissed. This thinking has actually been implemented by the Guardian Council and the 9th [Ahmadinejad's] government. I repeat one more time: The only demand that we [the reformists] have is for the opposition to truly accept what Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said, namely, the measure [of acceptance] is people's vote.

Panjareh, the weekly online magazine close to Ahmadinejad, confessed that,

Mousavi Khoeiniha is the most influential political figure of the left. Despite not participating in any social function and gathering and avoiding the media, his charisma and influence on the reformists are undeniable. At the same time, he is the elder statesman of the left by being the leader of the ACC.

Now with less than a week before the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the event that led to the eventual rise of the hardliners, their wrath is focused on the very man responsible for it. Such is the crisis facing Iran.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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17 Comments

Dr.Sahimi,

I loved this "I say with pride that I read practically every issue of Salaam from its birth to demise, in July 1999. I had my family buy it everyday in Tehran and mail them to me every two weeks. "

I was like 16 when it was "Tehran Spring" in Iran and used to pay 20 tomans extra to the news stand guy to keep the Sobh-e Emrooz for me so when school ends at 3:00 PM I could get one. Sobh-e Emrooz would just be gone in half an hour when it was ofered in any news stand in Tehran and I wanted it so badly!

What good newspaper we had!

Cheers Prof. ;)

Amin / October 31, 2009 12:03 AM

Dr. Sahimi, I learn so much by your articles. Thanks again.

That American protester's sign brings back some bad memories. It was a difficult time period to endure, here as well as back in Tehran for my cousins, uncles, aunt and grandmother.

Pirouz / October 31, 2009 4:01 AM

Dear Dr. Sahimi,

Thank you for another great article. I especially enjoyed the last paragraph. However, it is also the last paragraph that frightens me. I get the impression that you are subliminally legitimising Khoeiniha, in spite of his vile words and actions. It is a tragic shame that the people we are putting our hopes into at the moment have hands that are drenched with blood. From what perspective does Khoeiniha have legitimacy from our people, considering he is at a minimum "morally" responsible for the execution of thousands of young people? Is Iran really in such a mess that a man with mass murder on his conscience is our best hope as an opposition figure!?

Sam / October 31, 2009 5:11 AM

Dear Sam:

The article is about what Mousavi Khoeiniha has done. I have tried to be as objective as possible. I did not hide his possible role in the executions of the 1980s, which is the stain on his record.

The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, if we want deep and lasting changes in Iran, done in Iran, by Iranians, and without outside interference, then, people like Khoeiniha have to be part of the equation. Otherwise, given the 30 years history of the IRI, if we reject everybody, then we will be left with no one. That may be depressing, but it is also the reality.

Muhammad Sahimi / October 31, 2009 7:23 AM

Dr. Sahimi, has certainly displayed a vast knowledge of the internal dynamics of Iranian clerics. For one thing, it is proof, that unlike the Catholic Hierarchy headed by the Pope, Shi'a clergy do not speak with once voice. While velayateh faghih does try to create such a structure, it has no traction in the Islamic world and is challenged within Iran as well. Consequently, the opposition too does not take the form of a singular reform figure, such as a Martin Luther. That's why the reform camp too contains a plethora of theological tendencies, from liberal Soroush to leftist followers of Ali Shariati. So long as theology has a grip on the movement for political freedom, it is hard to see a way out.

ALI JAVAHERIAN / October 31, 2009 9:22 AM

Thank you Dr. Sahimi for your informative article.

I have somewhat studied the French revolution, and the similarities to ours are staggering. Revolutions devour themselves.

It is very interesting that the same people responsible for executions, plunder and many political fiasco of the 80s are now pushed aside by even more extreme elements of the regime. Finaly, only now that they themselves feel the rath of the Islamic republic, they advocate free press, power of the people and human rights. When they were in power, they abused it daily.

Mousavi, karoubi and Khoeniha are partners in crime against humanity. But I do believe in human evolution, and who knows , may be after being on the other end of the cruelty and injustices of their beloved regime, they become the best warriors against it.

Keivan / October 31, 2009 8:19 PM

Dear Dr. Sahimi,

I have learned and continue to learn from your articles just like your other readers. It has truly opened my eyes to the politics of Iran and the outside world. I hope now that Tehran Bureau is part of the Frontline PBS, we will see you in one of the Frontlines pieces. I also think Charlie Rose should interview you and other contributors of this site. It is one of best. I follow the news of Iran
mainly from this site.

Thank you.

MM

MM / October 31, 2009 10:20 PM

Dr. Sahimi:
I've noticed in a number of your pieces, you refer to the June election as "rigged", rather than disputed. I've reviewed the three presidential candidates' charges, studied the accusations from the previous election, as well as read up on many an opinion piece. But I have yet to find anything conclusive to actually confirm that the election was actually rigged. Do you have any conclusive physical evidence to put forward? Or is a circumstantial rendering compelling enough for you to render such a judgement?

Also, in many ways, the recent WorldPublicOpinion poll statistically confirms the June election results. Do you feel like Professor Farhi that fear was the primary reason for the poll's results, which just happened to mirror the election results? Or do you see any possible merit to the poll results?

If you have already addressed these subjects in previous articles, please, if you could be so kind to provide the URLs where this may be found.

You know, a Tehran Bureau link specifically devoted to your archived material wouldn't be such a bad idea. I know I'd make use of it.

Pirouz / November 1, 2009 5:10 AM

Pirouz:

I believe that the election was rigged. There is just so much evidence for it. I'll continue using the words "rigged elections" so long as I believe in it.

I do not believe that polls taken by a foreign entity are reliable.

Another poll taken 6 weeks before the election showed AN 34% to 14% ahead. But, when the same poll asked many questions about the state of economy and foreign policy, the overwhelming majority always supported policies advocated by reformists not AN. So, how reliable 34% to 14% could be? I explained that in an article on TB, "Why Ahmadinejad did not win."

Muhammad Sahimi / November 1, 2009 5:34 PM

Dr. Sahimi,

Can you please explain to us how you have come to know so much about Iran and its after-the-revolution events? You write in such great detail about all the ayatollahs and the various political figures, different activist groups, the crimes they committed, and so on and so forth? By now, I have learned from your articles that you have crossed paths with some of the important players you wrtie about however you must have spent a great deal of time in Iran after the revolution to have been able to gain this vast and thorough knowledge.

Since I and others read your articles regularly, it would be great to know a little bit about your background if you don't mind sharing.

Thanks you.

MM / November 2, 2009 8:03 AM

Thanks for the reply, Dr. Sahimi.

Actually, I was referring to the WPO poll taken between August and September, after the election (not the one taken before). Is your only objection to the data obtained: the fact that it was obtained by an organization outside Iran? Frankly sir, I find this position incredible.

Thank you for the name of the article you wrote regarding your views on the election dispute. I successfully googled it. Unfortunately, I found nothing new there. Your conclusion that the evidence is overwhelming would certainly not stand up in a court, where a verdict is rendered in terms of reasonable doubt. Which, unfortunately, could be interpreted as bias. Of course, given your family history, I can hardly blame you.

Respectfully, Pirouz.

Pirouz / November 2, 2009 8:09 AM

Dear MM:

Thank you for your kind comment. I do not mind to give some details, and here they are:

I was born into a totally political family. My father was very well informed, a history buff, and when young very active. Two cousins were very active and went to jail during the Shah. I wrote my first political article in 1969 when I was in high school (I was beaten up badly for it by the principal!).

I attended Faculty of Engineering of Tehran University in the 1970s. FoE was the center of anti-Shah activities. Many leaders of anti-Shah movement, both before and after the Revolution came from there, including several of my own classmates, college contemporaries, etc. I was politically active, took part in all strikes and demonstrations, summoned by the SAVAK, etc. My entire family (except my father who was against the clerics, even though he was a pious Muslim; he had understood the danger of mixing politics and religion and warned us against it) supported the Revolution.

After the revolution my family and I continued the political activities. My sisters married the same type of persons (the in-laws have been jailed in the past). My younger brother was active and executed, as I explained in an article, as were my counsins. I go to Iran very often (although not very recently for the obvious reason), and have a very extensive network of old friends, former students, colleagues that I do research with, etc. I have doctoral students in Iran that informed me of what is going on, etc., etc., etc. And I spend a great amount of time (that I usually am pressed hard to find!) to read, analyze, etc.

Muhammad Sahimi / November 2, 2009 6:01 PM

@Pirouz. Thank you. I find it extremely important not to talk about a rigged election but rather a 'possibly rigged election.' There is no proof that the June 12 election was fraudulent, sad to say. And Dr. Sahimi, as a scientist, should know. There is simply no much evidence for it. Wishful thinking. I would rather argue that this whole discussion puts any opposition movement in Iran, definitely a dictatorship and presently a police state, at further risk. The polls before and after the election, almost replicating the election results, have not been conducted for political reason. If Dr. Sahimi had been in Iran (not in northern Tehran or southern Esfahan!) before June 12 he might have got a different impression about the people and the probable election result.
What is highly questionable is the preselection of figures by the Guardian Council. Mousavi was not even well-known among the youngsters, the supposed majority of voters.

Freelance

Fahad / November 2, 2009 10:02 PM

Dear Dr. Sahimi,

Thank you for response and sharing part of your background with us. I was initially reluctant to ask you because I did not want you to think that I was being overly curious. I always wondered how you knew so much about the hardliners or the reform movement in Iran and everything that has taken place ever since the revolution.

As for your background, I can relate to it to some extent because I grew up in a family that had a lot of interest in politics and my dad was also a history buff, well-informed, and grew up in the Mosadagh years and was a hard-core follower of him. My brother was also involved in one the leftist groups and my family had many warnings from the SAVAK regarding him in the pre-revolution years and the rest is history.

I look forward to reading more of your articles. I hope this time around that the faith of our beloved Iran will be much different.

MM

MM / November 3, 2009 5:21 AM

please note that Morteza Motahari was not a Syyed.

babak / November 3, 2009 10:52 AM

Babak:

I stand corrected. You are right. Thank you for pointing it out.

Muhammad Sahimi / November 3, 2009 4:24 PM

Very informative and interesting. I have always had a great interest in your part of the world, the politics, people and history. I am so very happy to find you on the pbs sight and will continue to follow your dispatches. Thank you

Shawnie / November 6, 2009 1:34 AM