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The Face behind Mousavi's Facebook

by TARA MAHTAFAR in Washington, D.C.

18 Nov 2009 03:5214 Comments
MohammadSadeghi.jpg[ dispatch ] On the night of Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony, a young graduate student in Aachen, Germany set up a Facebook support group for an Iranian politician rumored to run in Iran's forthcoming presidential race.

"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

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14 Comments

118,000 members is impressive. But I wonder how many of these are actually Iranians inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Pirouz / November 18, 2009 4:55 AM

I wonder what percentage of the 100,000 or so members are government spies!

Mohammad Reza / November 18, 2009 7:16 AM

This proves the spontaneous nature of green movement. The fact that Mohammad was first refused by Musavi campaign and also the way he works semi-autonomously demonstrate that the movement is driven by self-motivated and unplanned potentials . Greens are highly unpredictable but also creative.

didaar / November 18, 2009 3:16 PM

Very informative and interesting article. Keep up the good work!

Fariborzaziz / November 18, 2009 4:41 PM

Thanks for introducing Mohammad and letting people know his background and activities. knowing that such young, educated ,enthusiastic supporters work for green movement, is promising.

Oscar / November 18, 2009 4:57 PM

Pirouz, yes, actually the majority of the members are people living inside Iran. Quite a substantial amount are also Iranians who left Iran very recently either as immigrants or students in foreign universities.

Kourosh / November 18, 2009 9:55 PM

i always wanted to know who is the guy writing for this page, thank you for your work.

Misagh / November 18, 2009 10:50 PM

i'm posting the link to this article in the facebook newstream!

jigsawnovich / November 20, 2009 2:08 AM

The Internet is what differentiates the situation in Iran from parrellel episodes in history. When Pinochet bombed the Presidential palace and later claimed Allende had committed suicide there was very little information with which to make a judgement.Now if you are prepared to sift carefully you can come up with a fairly clear picture.Cameraphone footage of Basiji firing from rooftops combined with footage of the death of Neda Soltan Aghi allows a rational observer to say that probability becomes certainty.Witnesses can corroborate and propaganda machines be bypassed. Even something as recent as Tianneman square was murky. Thats why China has a great interest in limiting internet freedom to avoid embarrassments like events in Xianjing province.

Pirooz / November 20, 2009 7:51 AM

Mr. Mousavi is a thing of the past. The Iranian people will accept nothing short of Regime Change in Iran.How can we select one of the founders of the Islamic Republic as a candidate for future democracy?That is simply naive to put it mildly.Mousavi was an excuse.Our objective is the burial of the Islamic Republic in its entirety.Death to the Islamic Republic.

Nooria / November 21, 2009 1:18 AM

Those hateful and violent extremists who call for "regime change" in Iran are great supporters of the mortal enemy of Iran's independence from COLONIALISM, namely Israel, which (needs and) considers Ahmadinejad to be the "gift that keeps on giving." Shame of extremism! Long live GREEN MODERATION!

Moji Agha / November 21, 2009 3:54 AM

Green moderation?What green moderation?How can we deal with a bunch od murderers?How do expect us to keep on lying to ourselves?This regime is barbaric through and through.What are we going to reform within this establishment?Independence?How are we independent?We have no economy and no future in the Islamic Republic.How can we be independent?Who cares about Israel.I want to be free in my own country. I would like to have a future for my children.What do we have to look forward to?I am a woman, a human being.I am sick and tired of being treated as a sub_human.Open your eyes and see the misery in this prison you idiots call the Islamic Republic.I stand by Nooria. DEATH TO THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC. We want to live.Is that too much to ask?The people of Iran hate you.

Nooshin A. / November 22, 2009 10:18 PM

GREEN MODERATION is a joke. It is just another cheap attemp to save what Nooshin quite rightly calls the BARBARIC Republic.We the people and specially the women of Iran reject this regime.The Islamic Republic can go to hell for all we care.We need respect for individual rights and specially the right's of women who have been deprived in the last 30 years.We need a secular and democratic government in our country.We need human rights.Akhoond va Akhoond zadeh boro gomsho.

Parvin / November 23, 2009 6:01 AM

We, the people.

Are waking up.

From the lie.

Realizing, in massive numbers, that there can be no middleman to our Creator... that each individual needs to choose their own destiny... that spirituality is a matter of the private heart... that individual rights are the sacred ground of politics... that government is supposed to be a servant, not a master to bow down to... and all those who put themselves in the position of middleman or master over others, are the real blasphemers.

The chains that have been cast upon the minds of our people need to be removed, and this has nothing to do with "going against" the current regime. We cannot heal our nation and see a new dawn if we stay in the mindset of "going against" and thinking that conflict will solve the challenge at hand. "Death to" will only bolster the egos of those lost ones who are wasting their lives and soul energies on trying to control and use others.

Iran has potentially a very bright future.

But the challenge before us needs to be dealt with DIFFERENTLY from how it's been historically dealt with. We need to change our national habit of reaction and despair, to one of wisdom, patience, and understanding why "the enemy" is doing what it's doing. We need to avoid fear and avoid rushing... we need to avoid excess fantasy and mental daydreaming about "what could be" or "what should be". We need to first accept the situation at hand, exactly as it is, and come to peace in our own hearts. We need to treat the present state of Iran as if it was a challenge given to each individual to deal with, and avoid wasting energy complaining about it.

And we need to avoid getting into depression and despair, and not take this whole affair too seriously, so that we can continue ENJOYING LIFE and celebrate it, even though our people are going through a difficult potential metamorphosis.

The work before us as a people is hard and arduous... it will require much from our spiritual depths. Yet, it can be very rewarding and we are united in numbers and spirit. None of us is alone in the task. Success will not be about violent revolution because revolution causes chaos and out of chaos arises deceptive leadership. It will not be about immediate results, because we may not even see "final success" in our individual lifetimes.

The task before us is this: each single individual, clearing their own hearts, of the wicked mind that the current government is manifesting in the extreme version, and spreading truth and knowledge in a patient manner.

Within each of us, the roots of disrespect for another's will, and the wicked impulse to control others, needs to be removed...

... as each Iranian begins to purify their own heart, and heal their own soul (day after day), the new energy of our hearts and the new attitude in our minds will form a powerful field that has the power to wash away the obsolete model presented to us by the current state.

To exit the game, stop playing by its rules.

S.R. / December 5, 2009 9:01 PM