The Face behind Mousavi's Facebook
by TARA MAHTAFAR in Washington, D.C.
18 Nov 2009 03:52
"I liked Mir Hossein Mousavi from the start," says Mohammad Sadeghi, 27, a German-Iranian student of international economics. "He was an Islamic Republic statesman with a good track record. I also believed he represented the best chance for Reform, as a middle-path figure who would attract conservative and moderate voters alike."
Mohammad visited Iran in March, just when Mousavi formally announced his candidacy. He attended the presidential contender's first speech session in Tehran's working-class district of Nazi Abad, where he first heard the rallying motto "Every Iranian is a Campaign Manager."
"It was evident from the outset that public broadcasting would be at the service of Ahmadinejad," he recalls. "I knew we would have to use non-conventional methods to compete." Inspired by the successful use of social networking by the Obama campaign, Mohammad took his idea for centralizing online presence through an official Facebook page to the Mousavi campaign headquarters in Fatemi Square. But the editor of Ghalam News, the candidate's official website, politely rejected the offer.
Mohammad returned to Europe, and nonetheless continued to run the page as a support group and news stream.
In May, with less than a month to the election, he was contacted by the Executives Party, a group close to ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. They had noticed the page's growing profile, and wrote a letter to Mousavi proposing to brand the page his official mouthpiece. Once the page became official, its members surged upward of 50,000 (today, it is double that number).
During the campaign period, Mohammad posted promotional material -- brochures, posters, videos -- onto Facebook for supporters to share and distribute, and also announced dates for provincial rallies, televised debates, and grassroots events such as the 12-mile-long green-clad 'human chain' down Valiasr, the capital's longest avenue.
Amid the communications blackout in the initial days following the election, Mohammad was cut off from the Mousavi team. "I tried very hard to maintain a cautious tone during that time and to stay in line with Mousavi's doctrine of resolving the crisis through legal channels," Mohammad says. "It was crucial not to radicalize the situation, because everyone was looking to this page to decide how to react. I wanted especially to standardize slogans and to keep protests peaceful."
He shifted tactics as the summer wore on. "I began posting open entry calls to generate ideas from our support base and tap into their collective intelligence," the Mousavi Facebook page administrator says. For instance, slogans designed for protest dates like Qods Day and 13 Aban were proposed, debated, and approved through group consensus. Users connected to other Facebook networks affiliated with the page and suggested dozens of civil disobedience tactics, including boycotting products advertised on state television, synchronized plug-in of electrical appliances to force power blackouts, splattering green 'paint bombs' on road signs, and writing subversive messages on bank notes -- a few of which have proved to be quite successful in recent months, although the Mousavi Facebook page never officially sanctioned use of these methods.
"It's very much an interactive effort," Mohammad adds, saying that he consults with advisors close to Mousavi, but has autonomy to collaborate with other groups, such as news sites, bloggers, student activists, and expatriate activists. "The end goal is for a unified and moderate voice to emerge among us all."
Mohammad also points to Reformist strategist Saeed Hajjarian's famous coinage on how to battle for reform in the system: bartering from above, pressure from below. The formula is based on the notion of actions by two separate bodies, one inside and the other outside of the government, he explains. "We're responsible for the latter part -- the pressure from below." The first part, he adds, is up to Mousavi and other figures in the political elite.
He cites the July 17 Friday Prayers delivered by Hashemi-Rafsanjani as an example of such interaction. Aides close to Mousavi initially opposed the idea of staging demonstrations on that day, but Mohammad and his network of collaborators persisted by inviting Mousavi to take part in the event. Their invitation was published in the popular Etemad newspaper, and the next day, Mousavi issued a statement saying he would "join the ranks" of protestors at Friday Prayers.
The strength of the Green Movement is that its structure is "flat," rather than hierarchical, says the young dual-national, with Mousavi's Facebook page as a nexus through which any citizen can communicate openly and directly with the opposition leadership. "It adheres to the original campaign motto that 'every Iranian is a campaign manager.' Basically, everyone can participate and impact the course of the movement through their contribution."
Mohammad Sadeghi never imagined that the Facebook page he opened in January 2008 would skyrocket to the status it enjoys today. His primary goals for the 100,000-member-strong page nearly a year later? "First, to be a medium for Mir Hossein Mousavi, who I know to be the true leader of this movement, and to reflect his positions in the absence of access to public media."
"Second, to provide a central meeting point for Mousavi's supporters where they can reflect on news, organize events, pool ideas -- essentially, an online venue for a strong Green presence."
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau