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The Political Evolution of Mousavi

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

16 Feb 2010 20:2224 Comments
2ush3rq.jpg[ profile ] One of the most significant results of Iran's rigged presidential election of June 12, 2009, has been the political evolution of Mir Hossein Mousavi, recognized by many as the most important leader of the Green Movement. His actions, reactions to new developments, and positions regarding various issues, together with his calm, thoughtful and shrewd tactics, represent a new model of leadership that is vastly different from most of what Iran has been subjected to over the past three decades. In my view, Mousavi understands better than anyone else the deep crisis faced by the country.

But this is only half the story. The other half--perhaps the more important aspect of his leadership--is the fact that he does not try to move ahead of the Green Movement, nor does he lose his sense of realism and understanding of what is and is not possible, given the existing power structure. He gauges what people want, what their aspirations are, and how those desires are dynamically evolving. He also constantly evaluates the opposing camp, the hardliners, and the state of their affairs, and then adjusts his tactics with enormous courage and deep conviction, while remaining loyal to the pillars of his beliefs and the principles that he has adhered to in his career as a political leader.

Even a cursory glance at the events of the last ten months demonstrates the astonishingly swift political evolution of Mousavi as a national leader. Though much of the country, particularly the young generation, is only just discovering him, those old enough to vividly recall the Iran of the 1970s and 1980s know that this evolution rests upon a significant record.

The Islamic Leftist of the 1970s

Mir Hossein Mousavi was born on September 29, 1941, in Khameneh in Eastern Azerbaijan province, the main home to Iran's Azeri population. His father, Mir Esmail Mousavi, was a business man and tea trader in Tabriz, the provincial capital of East Azerbaijan. Mousavi's hometown is also the ancestral home of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose last name means "from Khameneh." In fact, the two men are said to be second cousins. The young Mousavi moved to Tehran after graduating from high school in Khameneh.

He obtained his Master's degree in architecture from the National University of Iran, now Shahid Beheshti University, in 1969. He became a lecturer there in 1974 and was then an assistant professor between 1975 and 1977. In addition to Persian, he is fluent in English, Arabic, and Turkish.

After graduation, Mousavi founded the Samarghand Company, an architectural design and construction firm. He used the name Hossein Rahjou in his art and design work. The Samarghand Company was also a venue for secret gatherings of Islamic opponents of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his dictatorial rule. Participants in the secret meetings at Samarghand included such notable figures as Abdolali Bazargan, Mehdi Bazargan's son and a noted Islamic scholar, and Hasan Aladpoush and his wife, Mahboobeh Mottahedin. The latter two, originally part of the Islamic movement against the Shah, later changed their ideology, became ardent Marxists, and were killed by the Shah's security forces.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mousavi was closely associated with religious-nationalist groups, such as the Freedom Movement of Mehdi Bazargan (1907-95). He participated actively in the sermons and lectures given by Dr. Ali Shariati (1933-77), the sociologist and distinguished Islamic leftist scholar, at Hosseiniyeh Ershad in Tehran.

Mousavi also worked with Dr. Habibollah Payman. Before the Revolution, Payman, a dentist, published political books and analyses under the pseudonym Habibollah Paydar. When the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) was taken over in 1975 by members who had switched from Islam to Marxism, Payman, together with younger members of the Freedom Movement and some members of Iran's Medical Association formed the Movement of Militant Muslims (MMM), a leftist Islamic group that is now part of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition headed by Ezatollah Sahabi. Mousavi was one of the founding members of the MMM. Payman describes him as an "Islamic leftist of the 1970s."

In 1976, Mousavi, Payman, Tahereh Saffarzadeh (1936-2008), the distinguished poet, writer, translator and university professor, Payman, and Dr. Mohammad Javad Bahonar (1933-81), later Iran's second prime minister after the Revolution, founded the Movement for Islamic Culture. After the Revolution, however, Mousavi distanced himself from the Movement.

In the 1970s, Mousavi worked on the architectural design for the Towhid Center, a locus of Islamic opposition to both the Shah and currently the Islamic Republic. It was at the Center that Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari (1920-79), a leading Islamic scholar who was assassinated shortly after the Revolution, lectured in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mousavi married Zahra Rahnavard Boroujerdi (b. 1945) in 1969. A student of sculpture design at the University of Tehran when the couple met, she was born Zohreh Kazemi. She has explained that after becoming familiar with the Islamic struggle against the Shah, she changed her first name from Zohreh to the Islamic name Zahra and her last name to Rahnavard, meaning someone who takes the (Islamic) path. She has a B.A. from the University of Tehran in sculpture design, an M.A. from the University of Tehran in Islamic research, and M.A. and Ph.D. from the Islamic Azad University of Tehran in political science. She was the president of Al-Zahra University, a woman's university in Tehran, but resigned after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005. In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked her number 3 among the top 100 global thinkers, describing her as "the brains behind Iran's Green Revolution and the campaign of her husband, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi."

Dr. Rahnavard is from a political family. Her father was a professor in the military college of Tehran who was forced into retirement after a confrontation with an American military advisor. Her mother, Ehteramossadat Navvab Safavi, is a close relative of Navvab Safavi (1924-55), a leading figure in the Islamic fundamentalist organization Fadayan-e Eslam, who was executed by the Shah's government. The couple has three daughters, Kowkab, Zarhra, and Narges.

Rahnavard was also an admirer of Ali Shariati's and active in the opposition to the Shah. It is well-known that before a speech at Ershad in the early 1970s, that Shariati invited the audience to visit the painting exhibition of a "young couple who will have a bright future." The paintings had the names Hossein Rahjou and Zahra Rahnavard on them. In fact, in addition to their political activities, art has always been a part of the couple's lives. Rahnavard is the first female full professor of arts at the University of Tehran, a distinction that she was awarded in 2008, and has received numerous awards for her research work.

Due to their political activities, Mousavi sent his wife and their first two daughters to the United States in 1976, where Rahnavard was active in the old Confederation of Iranian Students. Shortly before the Revolution, she and her two daughters returned to Iran.

Imam's Premier of the 1980s

Soon after the Shah's regime was toppled, Dr. Bahonar; ayatollahs Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti (1928-81) and Seyyed Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, a moderate cleric close to the reformists; and hojjatoleslams Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Khamenei founded the Islamic Republican Party (IRP), Iran's dominant political organization until May 1987, when it was dissolved. Mousavi was the IRP's first political director, holding the position from 1979 to 1981, and a member of its central committee until 1982. When Jomhouri-e Eslami, the mouthpiece of the IRP, was founded by Ayatollah Khamenei in 1979, Mousavi was its editor-in-chief as well as its director.

As the editor of Jomhouri-e Eslami, Mousavi wrote articles in defense of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was disliked by many IRP members, and in particular Dr. Hassan Ayat, a right-wing member who had been a protégé of Dr. Mozaffar Baghaei, a supporter of the Shah during the 1950s. Strangely, after the Revolution, Ayat, who was assassinated by the MKO in July 1981, became an important figure in the IRP. He played a leading role in including the doctrine of Velaayat-e Faghih -- political guardianship of the Iranian people by an Islamic jurist, specifically the Supreme Leader -- in the Islamic Republic's Constitution.

On January 25, 1980, Abolhassan Banisadr was elected Iran's first president in a highly competitive election against nine other candidates. The 11 million votes he received represented 79 percent of the total cast. The inaugural ceremony was held on February 4, in a hospital where Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was recovering from heart illness. Banisadr appointed Mohammad Ali Rajaei (1933-81) as prime minister, but opposed three of the names on Rajei's list of cabinet nominees: Mousavi as foreign minister, Dr. Mohsen Nourbakhsh (1948-2003) as economic minister, and Behzad Nabavi as minister for executive affairs. Mousavi was rejected because he was "stubborn" and Nabavi because he was a leftist and member of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization (IRMO), today a leading reformist group. After much negotiation, Nabavi was finally accepted, and Nourbakhsh was appointed as deputy economic minister.

Banisadr was impeached by the Majles, Iran's parliament, on June 21, 1981, and sacked. Mohammad Ali Rajaei was elected as the next president, Bahonar was appointed the new prime minister, and Mousavi the new foreign minister. Both Rajaei and Bahonar were assassinated on August 30, 1981, by the MKO. Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani was appointed interim prime minister, while Mousavi remained in his post.

In October 1981, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who then held the lower clerical rank of hojjatoleslam, was elected the republic's third president. As prime minister, he proposed Ali Akbar Velayati, a pediatrician close to the conservative Islamic Coalition Party (ICP) and currently the Supreme Leader's senior advisor on foreign affairs. But Velayati failed to attain a vote of confidence from the Majles.

Reluctantly, the president proposed Mousavi, who was supported by Ayatollah Khomeini. Khamenei was opposed to Mousavi's appointment because he was an Islamic leftist populist and supported a "leftist" economic program. The Majles quickly gave Mousavi its vote of confidence, as all the deputies were aware that he was the "Imam's prime minister." He was the seventy-ninth and, as it would turn out, last prime minister of Iran.

To placate the right wing, Mousavi appointed several ICP members to ministerial positions: Velayati as foreign minister; Ali Akbar Parvaresh, who has been accused of involvement in the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires as minister of education; Morteza Nabavi, currently editor of the wight-wing daily Resalat, as minister of telecommunications; Habibollah Asgar Oladi Mosalman, one-time leader of the ICP, as minister of commerce; Ahmad Tavakkoli, currently representing Tehran in the Majles and a cousin of the Larijani brothers as minister of labor; Hassan Ghafouri Fard, currently another Tehran Majles representative, as well as a professor at Amir Kabir University, as minister of energy; and Mohsen Rafighdoust as minister of the Sepaah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

But, Mousavi also appointed to his cabinet such leading Islamic leftists as Behzad Nabavi (no relation to Morteza Nabavi) and Mohammad Salamati, currently the leader of the IRMO. It is widely believed that Mousavi wished to resign several times during his premiership, but was ordered each time by Ayatollah Khomeini to stay on.

Right after the Revolution, the conservatives had tried to abolish the Organization for Budget and Planning (OBP). According to a friend of many decades who worked for the OBP and wants to remain anonymous, the conservatives professed shock at the discovery that the "views of American experts had been found among the documents of the OBP!" The right wing wanted to transform the large building of the OBP to a hospital. But, in his first speech to the Majles in 1981, Mousavi made it clear that he believed in centralized planning and wanted a strong OBP. He appointed Dr. Mohammad Banki as the institution's head.

Banki tried to bring back the pre-Revolution experts of the OBP, abolished the disruptive Islamic Association at the group, and developed the first five-year development plan in 1982. However, he was forced out. Some conservatives thought that planning was interference in God's work. Others, like the ICP's members, considered planning as tantamount to socialism. Banki was replaced by Masoud Roghani Zanjani who stayed in the post for several years. After Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, he effectively eliminated the OBP by transferring its control to the office of the president.

After Ayatollah Khamenei was re-elected president in 1985, he again opposed the appointment of Mousavi as prime minister. It got to the point that he went home and decided to quit politics, because Ayatollah Khomeini was strongly supportive of Mousavi. Ninety-nine right-wing deputies drafted a letter to Khomeini, expressing their disapproval of Mousavi as prime minister, and then voted against his appointment. When Khamenei heard about the letter, he reportedly said, "Why 99? Make it 100! Add my name." But Khomeini prevailed, and Mousavi ultimately won the confidence vote.

Who were the leaders of the Gang of 99? One was Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, currently deputy head of the Assembly of Experts, a constitutional body that appoints the Supreme Leader and supposedly monitors his performance. He is one of the most ardent supporters of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, and an arch foe of Rafsanjani. In the mid-1980s, Yazdi and other right-wingers were in the minority, outnumbered by the Islamic leftists, known at that time as the followers of Imam's line, who today make up the bulk of the reformist camp. As Khomeini was seemingly allied with the left, the right-wingers concluded that they do not have to obey the Supreme Leader, as his views were only "advisory."

But now that the same right-wingers control the power hierarchy in Iran, they view the issue differently. They now believe that the Supreme Leader is even above the Constitution; that his legitimacy is bestowed upon him by God, not by the people; that the task of the Assembly of Experts is not to appoint the Supreme Leader, but to discover him, as he is actually appointed by God; and that disobeying him is tantamount to disobeying God. Obviously, this shift in interpretation has nothing in fact to do with God, Islam, and Shiism, but with the concentration of power, wealth, and prestige.

Over the next four years, Ayatollah Khamenei repeatedly asked Ayatollah Khomeini to either withdraw his support for Mousavi, or issue a Hokm-e Hokoumati, an order of the Supreme Leader, as the basis for Mousavi's position. Khomeini refused to do so. He is reported to have said, "I do not issue such orders, but as a citizen I have the right to express my opinion." As Supreme Leader, Khamenei, by contrast, has repeatedly intervened in national affairs with such Hokm-e Hokoumati.

Mousavi's success in beating back Khamenei's challenge and staying on as the prime minister also increased the power of the Islamic leftists and relative moderates in his cabinet. He appointed a then obscure leftist cleric, Mohammad Khatami, the future president, as minister of culture and Islamic guidance; Abdollah Nouri, a progressive cleric and highly popular reformist, as minister of the interior; Behzad Nabavi as minister of heavy industry; Hassan Habibi, later Khatami's first vice president, as minister of justice; Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, later Khatami's oil minister, as minister of reconstruction jihad; and Abolghasem Sarhaddi Zadeh, repeatedly jailed as an anti-Shah activist, as minister of labor. That also helped the Islamic leftists to crush the conservatives in the elections for the third Majles in 1988, when Mehdi Karroubi was elected as the parliament's speaker.

It is widely believed that Mousavi was opposed to continuation of the Iran-Iraq war after 1982, when Iran's armed forces pushed Iraq out of most of the territory that it had occupied in the first two years. It has been reported widely that many times he had told Ayatollah Khomeini and others that his government was at the breaking point due to the high cost of the war. But the decision to continue the war was Khomeini's alone.

3-1-17.jpgAn exchange of correspondence in 1988 between Khomeini and Mohsen Rezaei, then the top commander of the IRGC and now secretary-general of the Expediency Council, sheds considerable light on the issue. The letter, which confirm that Mousavi had indicated that his government was no longer able to continue funding the war, was revealed by Rafsanjani who was commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 1988. It was temporarily posed on his website in 2006 and stirred much debate both within Iran and internationally.

In a letter written by Khomeini, Rezaei is quoted as telling the Ayatollah, "No victories are in sight for the next five years. If we can organize 350 infantry brigades, purchase 2,500 tanks, 3,000 cannons, 300 war planes, and manufacture laser and nuclear weapons that are nowadays among the necessities of modern warfare, then, God willing, we can think of offensive war activities." The Ayatollah responds that Mousavi's government has told him that it is impossible to continue the war and that, therefore, he has no choice but to end it and accept UN Security Council Resolution 598, which called for a ceasefire. The war ended in July 1988. That September, Mousavi resigned, but Khomeini angrily rejected his resignation.

In July 1989, a month after Khomeini's death, the conservative clerics succeeded in revising the Constitution and eliminating the post of prime minister. Mousavi thus stepped down and was appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei to the Expediency Council. He is still a member of the Council, although he longer attends its meetings.

Mousavi has been praised for his management of Iran's economy during the war with Iraq. Despite meager annual revenues of only $6 billion from oil exports, the immense expenditures for the war, a rapidly growing population, the great brain drain, and sanctions by the United States, there were neither shortages of essentials nor high inflation.

But, it was also during Mousavi's premiership that thousands of political prisoners were executed. In fact, the 1980s are perhaps the darkest and bloodiest decade in Iran's modern history. Mousavi has been attacked by many, notably the monarchists, the MKO, and some secular leftists, as responsible for the killings. There is, of course, no question that Iran's entire political leadership of that era bears responsibility for the execution of tens of thousands of political prisoners. Some of them bear executive responsibility, while all of them are to blame morally.

In attributing responsibility to Mousavi though, one must keep in mind that neither the Ministry of Intelligence, nor the Revolutionary Courts, nor the IRGC, nor the entire judiciary that were the instruments of the arrest, jailing, and execution of the political prisoners were controlled by Mousavi. In fact, since the Revolution, every minister of intelligence -- including Mousavi's, the cleric Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri -- has been picked by the Supreme Leader.

One can legitimately argue that Mousavi could have protested the executions, if he were truly opposed to them and knew about them ahead of time. Mousavi has said that he did not know about the executions of the summer of 1988 before they occurred. In his memoir about those executions, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri never mentions Mousavi either; in fact, after the rigged June election, he threw his full support behind him, which may go to strengthen Mousavi's statement. It must also be noted that, as detailed above, it is known that Mousavi wanted to resign several times and that opposition to the excesses of that period was conceivably the motivation. In addition, he was prime minister under the most difficult conditions, during the period when Iran was involved in its long, bloody war with Iraq. Therefore, it is conceivable that Mousavi may have thought that running the country efficiently was his highest patriotic duty. At some point, of course, if he knew about the executions, he must explain to the nation his true thoughts about the executions.

Back to Arts

After stepping down as Iran's last prime minister, Mousavi returned to art and cultural work. He began teaching at Tarbiyat Modarres University in Tehran. In 1999, Khatami appointed him head of the Iranian Academy of Art, a post he kept until two months ago, when Ahmadinejad removed him. During part of his time at the Academy, he was managing editor of its quarterly journal, Khiyal (Imagination).

Though no longer on the political front, he was never far removed from it. He was political advisor to Rafsanjani during the eight years of his presidency that began in 1989. In 1997, Mousavi was the leading choice of the reformists to run in the presidential elections, but he refused. His wife Dr. Rahnavard has explained that the reason he declined to run was the "discouraging messages that he received from higher officials," which was interpreted by many as meaning messages from Ayatollah Khamenei. He was nonetheless so popular that the reformists made huge joint posters of him and Khatami during the 1997 election campaign. After Khatami won the election in a landslide, he appointed Mousavi as his senior advisor.

In April 2000, after the reformists swept the elections for the sixth Majles, the hardliners began cracking down on the reformist newspapers. Over a two-day period, they banned sixteen newspapers and other publications. Mousavi famously referred to the crackdown as bastan-e fa'lei matboua't, which roughly means "blind mass closure of the press." The term failei stuck and is now part of Iran's political lexicon.

As Khatami's second term was coming to end in 2005, the reformists, in particular Khatami, Karroubi, and Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoiniha, a leading figure among the leftist clerics, asked him to run in the presidential elections, but he refused again. He had witnessed what had happened to the Khatami presidency, during which, in Khatami's description, the hardliners had tried to create a crisis for the country every nine days. He wanted guarantees that he would be given enough power to carry out his program, which Ayatollah Khamenei and the hardliners were not willing to provide.

The Candidate of the 2009 Election

As the 2009 presidential election approached, the great question was who would represent the reformists. All eyes were on Khatami, the popular reformist and seemingly the most viable candidate. After much behind-the-scenes discussion, Khatami announced on February 8 that he would run for the presidency. He then traveled to the south of Iran, where he was greeted by huge crowds.

But Khatami's candidacy angered the hardliners; it is widely believed that his announcement enraged Ayatollah Khamenei in particular. During the marches on the anniversary of the Revolution, Khatami was reportedly attacked by a group of Ahmadinejad supporters, who tried to beat him with a stick. Two days later, on February 12, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the hard-line newspaper Kayhan, threatened Khatami with assassination, "similar to what had happened to Binazir Bhutto in Pakistan."

Before announcing his candidacy, Khatami had consistently stated that either he or Mousavi would run. Although Mousavi had shown little inclination to join the campaign, he announced on March 13 that he would join the campaign. Three days later, Khatami withdrew and threw his full support behind Mousavi.

Given the realities of Iran's power structure, Khatami always believed that Mousavi was a better candidate than him. He has always considered himself as a cultural rather than a political leader. When he withdrew from the election, he said, referring to Mousavi and the challenge of the holding the presidency after being elected, "I know that I would get the vote if I ran, but the election is not just the voting on Friday. One also needs a candidate who on Saturday is strong enough to push his agenda. Mir Hossein is the man of Saturday." Khatami has proven to be prophetically correct.

Mousavi was endorsed by all the reformist groups and political parties, except the National Trust Party of Karroubi, who was a candidate himself. The fundamentalist faction known as the Principlists, which was critical of Ahmadinejad, also supported Mousavi quietly. Mousavi was feared most by the conservatives, due to his uncorrupted and simple life, his wife who accompanied him on many of his campaign appearances, and his plain style of speaking.

Mousavi declared that he has no interest in power, and was running only because he thought that the country was in grave danger. During the campaign, he harshly criticized the policies of Ahmadinejad, terming them "harmful to the Revolution, the country, and its good name." Khatami fully supported Mousavi, appearing with him in several campaign appearances and urging people to turn out in large numbers in order to defeat Ahmadinejad. After the nationally televised debate between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, Mousavi's support dramatically increased.

The election that took place on Friday, June 12, 2009, was, in view of a large majority of the people (including the author), rigged. Ahmadinejad was immediately declared the winner in a landslide, sending the stunned nation into a spiral of demonstrations and protests. The hardliners have responded with violence, killing at least 110 people -- including two formal executions and two assassinations; arresting thousands, including reformist leaders, journalists, university students, and human rights advocates; torturing, raping and sodomizing an unknown number; and closing newspapers. They have even taken hostage children, grandchildren, and relatives of the reformist leaders, in order to keep them quiet and under control. The assault on fundamental human rights continues unabated.

Mousavi and Rahnavard have also paid dearly for their courageous stands. Mousavi's nephew, Ali Mousavi, was assassinated. Rahnavard's brother, Shapour Kazemi, a distinguished inventor and engineer, was arrested, prosecuted in a Stalinist-style show trial, and given a one-year sentence with little justification beyond the fact of who his sister is. Her nephew, Saleh Noghrehkar, who was an adviser to Mousavi's presidential campaign, was summoned to the notorious Evin prison to supposedly answer some questions. Rahnavard herself has been physically assaulted.

The Election's Aftermath

It is the aftermath of the election that has established Mousavi as a true national leader with a lasting effect on Iran's history. All we need to do is look at his seventeen statements issued after the election, and his most recent interview. In Statement 5, Mousavi explained his decision to seek the presidency: "I decided to run because I wanted to show that the path to a life full of enlightenment is not too long.... To show that it is possible to live a moral life, even during this immoral era.... To declare that lawlessness leads to dictatorship; to remind everyone that respect for human rights does not weaken the system, but strengthens it. I decided to run to declare that people expect honesty and truthfulness of their servants in government, and that many of our problems have been created by their lies. I decided to run to declare that backwardness, poverty, corruption, and injustice are not our fate."

After the Friday prayers of July 17, during which Rafsanjani described some of the demands of the protestors in his sermon, Ayatollah Khamenei threatened the leaders of the Green Movement. Mousavi responded strongly and immediately, making it clear that he would not retreat from his positions. Meeting the families of some of the imprisoned political leaders on the occasion of the Mab'as, the anniversary of the beginning of Prophet Mohammad's prophecy, he said, "You are not alone. The entire nation represents the families of the political prisoners, because they have been imprisoned for defending the ideals and principles of the nation. This imprisonment is a national problem and will remain so."

Responding to the hardliners' charge that the reformists are working with foreign governments, Mousavi said in the same statement, "Many of the prisoners are well-known and have served the political system and the country for years. Who is going to believe that they collude with foreigners and sell out the country's national interests? Is this not an insult against the nation? Is this not an insult against the 40 million voters? Is this not an insult against university students, professors, [government] elite, and the hard-working leaders and managers of the nation?"

He then warned the hardliners that the protests would continue, and that the use of violence against them would prove ineffective: "Thirty years after the Revolution, our nation has matured to the extent that it cannot be silenced using the pre-Revolution methods. People must be able to express their opinion and protest freely. A free society in the country can protect it much better than any military force."

His prediction has turned out to be true. He refused to issue a special statement after Ali Mousavi was assassinated, declaring that his nephew was "no different from other martyrs."

In reaction to the Stalinist show trials, Mousavi issued Statement 10, which included this passage concerning the hardliners and the death of a young member of a prominent conservative family who was tortured and killed while under arrest at the Kahrizak detention center: "They say that in the trials that began yesterday, the Revolution's children confessed to having links with foreigners, and planning to overthrow the Islamic Republic. I carefully examined what they said, and could not find any truth to this, but what I did hear was the deep moaning of the arrested who were telling us about their painful fate over the past 50 days; I saw tortured, broken, humiliated people who would have confessed to anything at all. What else could they have said other than the story of their pains? The accused say that Mohsen Ruholamini was martyred because he was righteous. They say that if they had not resisted, these show trials would have happened weeks ago. They say that they repeated what they were told to say to their captors.... The torturers' and interrogators' teeth have reached people's bone, to the extent that their victims are now those who have greatly served the country and the political system; the torturers and interrogators are threatening those who had the most fundamental role in the establishment of this republic and its growth and development."

In his historic Statement 13, Mousavi described for the first time his vision for the Green Movement, and demonstrated that he had come a long way since the beginning of his campaign. First, he discussed Iranian citizens' newfound strength: "Over the past few months a powerful force has been liberated, which must be employed for the long-time good of the nation. Our people are well aware of what they want, and saw what they can achieve through what happened over the past few months. They know that they have the power and capabilities to achieve what they want, and that the [government] elites and the experts are also with them in this endeavor. Therefore, the question that we are all asking each other is, what should be done with this renewed hope and power?"

He talked for the first time about the need for revising the Constitution, a theme he has since revisited on numerous occasions: "Yes, the Constitution contains ways of managing some aspects of the country that perhaps are not appropriate for the present state of our society and the world, but the same Constitution also indicates ways of reforming them." He responded to the hardliners' claims about the present government's source of legitimacy, by addressing the nature of the group that vets the candidates for most elections and interprets the Constitution: "In our national consensus, the legitimacy of all the pillars of the political system is based on the vote and trust of the people, to the extent that even an organ like the Guardian Council that apparently cannot be monitored by the people can, in fact, be monitored by them."

He then took on the hardliners more directly and, without naming him, their leader, Ayatollah Khamenei: "More oppressed than the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic, and the Constitution is Islam itself, a religion they mention often but practice very little. They filter the religion so that whatever that does not suit their interests is forgotten, and their own views and expediency are introduced as the true Islam."

Reflecting on the first summer after the Revolution and then the war with Iraq, he said, "If there is one mission for a religious ruler, it is providing a better background for people's lives based on their religious beliefs. Why, then, has the gap between a moral life and our society been widening? The gap is not our revolutionary inheritance. In the hot summer of 1358 many people fasted during Ramadan for the first time in their lives and enjoyed the moral experience. This was our revolutionary inheritance. Our Revolution's inheritance was the morality in the society during the holy defense," the Iran-Iraq war.

Recognizing the diversity of opinion among the supporters of the Green Movement, Mousavi then outlined a list of nine demands as the "minimum that everybody can agree on," including unconditional release of all the political prisoners, free press, banning meddling of the IRGC in politics and the economy, and recognition of the people's fundamental right to assemble peacefully.

Mousavi's made perhaps his shrewdest on January 1, 2010, two days after pro-government demonstrations, when the nation was deeply worried that the hardliners would initiate a bloodbath. He issued his Statement 17 that widened the deep fissures among the conservatives, calmed the nation down, and -- building on the precepts outlined in Statement 13 -- proposed a way out of the nation's deep crisis. The statement was instrumental in thwarting those hardliners who sought a bloodbath.

In his latest interview posted on his website, Kalameh, Mousavi states, "In the first years of the Revolution, people were convinced that it had completely destroyed all of the structures through which despotism and dictatorship could be reinforced. And I was one of the people who believed this. But today, I no longer do." He continues, "Today we can identify those very structures that have lead to despotism in the past. We can also identify the resistance people have shown against a return to dictatorship. This is the invaluable inheritance of the Islamic Revolution, clearly demonstrated today with the people's intolerance for deception, lies, and corruption. Similarly, the tight control of newspapers and media, the overflowing prisons, and the brutal killing of innocent people who are peacefully requesting their rights all reveal the lingering roots of despotism."

Criticizing right-wing leaders of the Friday prayer, particularly Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the ultra-conservative, pro-Ahmadinejad cleric, he said, "The people are after justice and freedom. Moreover, they are aware that the arrests and executions are politically motivated and unconstitutional. They despise the monarchy but are also aware that people may be condemned to death based on frivolous accusations and without even being subject to a legal trial. The people know that these executions are carried out only so that a brutal, ruthless leader of the Friday prayers, one who has constantly defended corruption, violence and deception, can applaud them. It matters not to him that there are abundant forced confessions, and he doesn't care that those executed have had nothing to do with the election's aftermath. For him, what matters is the power of the executions to generate fear. He is ignorant of the power of innocent blood. He does not know that it was the blood of martyrs that caused the Pahlavi regime to collapse."

Mousavi then praised the Green Movement: "And now, in the courageous, defiant, and Green rows of people who demand their rights, we see a continuum of the very resistance we saw during the war with Iraq and the Revolution."

He made it clear that the ideals of the Revolution have been abandoned: "However, we can conclude that we were too optimistic at the beginning of the Revolution. We can see today that the government, its newspapers, and its national broadcasting network easily lie. Our people can see that in reality, the security and military forces control cases in the judiciary, that the judiciary itself has become an instrument of the security forces."

Referring to the arrest of Dr. Alireza Hosseini Beheshti, son of Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini Beheshti, the republic's first judiciary chief, assassinated in June 1981, he declared, "We have lost all hope in the judiciary. A system that imprisons an intellectual, freedom-loving and religious son of Martyr Beheshti, as well as others like him, sitting him under his father's photo in the hallways of the courtroom, has moved far away from the ideals defined during the Revolution.... Today, the prison cells are occupied with the most sincere and devoted sons of this nation: students, professors and others. They are prosecuted on charges of espionage or on charges related to financial or sexual misconduct...while the real criminals and thieves who steal public money are free. Instead of looking for the real spies, they accuse decent religious people."

When asked to give some examples of despotic mentality that are evident in the behavior of officials, Mousavi responded, "Perhaps the best example we can observe is the distortion of logical and legal relations between branches of the system. It is very obvious now that the Majles does not have enough sway over the government in matters that fall under its jurisdiction. This is not an argument made solely by those who oppose the government. Moderate conservatives who are aware also complain about these issues. Not responding to issues raised by the National Organization for Auditing, lack of transparency in oil sales and revenue spending, disregard for the fourth development program, destruction of the budget office to avoid audits and reviews, and so on: all are clear examples of a return to the Pahlavi time. There is no need to look too far."

Criticizing the parliament's lack of independence, and recalling the deaths of four young demonstrators last summer while under detention at Kahrizak he said, "While the Majles has discussed the unprecedented atrocities committed in Kahrizak, one official says that the issue has been blown out of proportion unnecessarily. Another example given these days is the relationship between the judiciary and its so-called forces. It is a question of whether the judges make the decisions, or the security forces. To what extent can the judiciary exercise its privileges when, in the Constitution, a great emphasis has been placed on its independence? In my opinion, one of the obvious cases that demonstrates the persistence of a despotic mentality is the injustice done to Constitutional roles of the judiciary and the Majles. The similarities between today's elections and those held immediately before the Revolution are another sign. Compare the voting process for parliamentary elections during the early years of the Revolution with that of today's to see if we have moved forward or backward."

Acknowledging that the Green Movement has not paid enough attention to the poor and those in the lower social classes, he said, "Before the Revolution, it was a principle that the revolutionary forces and the academic class defended the lower class. It was their honor to be the poor people's friend. In my opinion, the point that all of us should have in mind is that of supporting the hard-working class. Of course, this must not be for the purpose of using them as instruments, but with the intention that the Movement's destiny will be tied to the destiny of all the people, and particularly with the classes who are productive in economy and science: the workers, teachers, and academics. I regret that the intense political problems resulted in less attention to the lower class of the society, their problems, and their rights. When people's standard of living improves, the roots of freedom grow deeper in society and unity and growth flourish.... The underprivileged classes of the society who care for Islamic values potentially have the same demands as the Green Movement. Those who are after a national consensus for change should become more integrated with these classes, and pursue their concerns and demands."

Mousavi then emphasized that he is open to revising the Constitution. In response to the question that reliance on the present Constitution would restrict future options, he remarked, "I have said before that the Constitution is not something that cannot be changed. It has changed before in 1988, and it can change again. By considering what people think and demand and what their collective experience as a nation dictates, we can take steps to improve the Constitution. Nevertheless, we must be aware that a good Constitution by itself is not the solution. We must move toward a structure that imposes a high cost on those who attempt to disobey or ignore the laws."

Mousavi then emphasized the importance of nonviolence, and diversity of opinion in the Green Movement: "My advice to the Basij and security forces is to be calm and kind in their treatment of the people. My advice to followers of the Green Movement is to reduce their identifying features, whether they are used to help them stand out a little or a lot. This Movement has grown out of the people and it belongs to them. Everyone should be extremely mindful of beliefs, values, and traditions. But we should never forget our final goal -- to create a developed, independent, free, and united Iran."

Whatever one thinks of Mousavi and his past, one thing should be clear: He has emerged as the leader of the Green Movement. Though he has humbly and consistently emphasized that it is he who is following the people, not the other way around, he has led the Movement shrewdly, strongly, and with deep conviction.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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24 Comments

Without Mousavi, there is nothing left between the true opposition and the Islamic Republic. Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami and Rafsanjani are part of the so called Reformer faction of the regime. Their influence and therefore the economic privileges of their supporters are severely hindered by the Ahmadinejad and the IRGC.
The economic Mafia of the Rafsanjani's gang is responsible for the increased corruption in Iran. The competing Miltary(IRGC)-Industrial fascist clique currently in power in Iran have taken over.
22 Bahman was a major Failure for both the IRGC and its competition. It was a major Victory for the true opposition to the Islamic Republic and the Green Revolution.

Maziar Irani / February 17, 2010 4:12 AM

I hope history will not be only written by one person. I hope more historian join!

nasrin / February 17, 2010 6:13 AM

Thank you very much for this article -- the story of an exceptionally decent and undersung patriot.

AB Catson / February 17, 2010 6:16 AM

Great article. Hopefully this gives a new perspective to people who blindly hate Mousavi

GooGoo / February 17, 2010 6:23 AM

Dear Mr Sahimi what if 80% of Iranians DO NOT WANT ISLAMIC REGIME. I don't think you can ever be sure as how responsible Mr Mousavi has been in those mass murdering of our people.
What it amaze me is that even though by now almost every one knows how Islamic Regime was forced on Iranian people by East and West to bring down the power and prospect of Iran and make Iranians live like slave in their own country and if that was not enough they be murder, detained & tortured, raped and demoralized by taking away all their rights as well as destroying Iran and yet you are talking about how good is Mousavi when he is one of those responsible for all that. Is there any one who is not consume by power and care a little for Iran and its people? How did all Iranian suddenly lost the love of Iran and became traitors working for the East or West? this Regime has killed Islam from day one. In my time God and Islam was our faith and our life no matter how anyone dressed up or if they drank alcohol but they were true muslim in the way treated each other. look at them now what they did to people ever since!

Azar / February 17, 2010 7:08 AM

Excellent summary.

Pirooz / February 17, 2010 11:47 AM

All the political actors in Iran have been hand picked by the big powers. And I mean all of them.
US and UK have removed the Shah because he was not such a good servant. However something went very wrong the day of the hostage taking and from that day on at least the US but not UK has lost the grip on Iran's government and ever since they have been trying very hard to bring back those people to power again. Rest assure that the Iranian people were cheated the first time but won't be fooled again the second time. On the contrary the fool is the person who thinks the way! So listen up America we don't want Islam, reform, or anything short of complete regime change. So be wise and help the Iranian people where you would find no better partner than the people. US should be ashamed of having lost such a good ally 31 years ago! Who's fault is it? How did it go so wrong? Or may be it was the British who think that region belong to them and them alone!

Iran / February 17, 2010 11:55 AM

Dear Iran @ 11:55 AM,


There is a report circulating in Tehran these days that Cyrus the Great was actually an Athenian secret agent, who was given arms and cash to rebel against the nice king, Astyages.


Cyrus' mission was to take over Media and cause tension on the eastern flanks of both Nabonidas of Babylon and Croesus of Lydia, diverting their attention from the Mediterranean and Aegean trade routes, thereby allowing Athens to monopolize seaborne commerce along the Levantine and Egyptian coasts.


But then, just as you say in your post above, "something went very wrong". Cyrus took over both Lydia and Babylon with ease and started a 225 year nightmare for Athens, even though all the Persians and Medians loved the Greeks deep in their hearts and secretly collected pirated copies of the latest Greek plays.


Please get together with Azar (@ 7:08 AM above) and use your combined analytical talents to figure out whose side Cyrus was really on and how much money he received.

Ali from Tehran / February 17, 2010 6:40 PM

++++++++info

medi / February 17, 2010 8:34 PM

Azar, you are right on dear. Thank God for women of Iran and our sence of natinalism. It seems to me it is only the women of Iran that wear pants anymore. These guys are not interested in a Persian Iran, but a continuation of Islamic Republic with characters like Mousavi and Karubi, the moderate muslims. Now that is laugh.You also have some left over pinkos who live in imperialist countries with full benefits i.e. Cyrus the Great was actually an Athenian secret agent. Do I need to say anything more dear?
Don't expect too much from this crowd dear.

Niloofar / February 17, 2010 8:37 PM

@Iran

why are so many of us Iranians afflicted with conspiracy theories? We are obsessed with the "invisible man" behind the curtain pulling the strings. Our overactive imagination has given other countries superpowers that allow them to make things happen at will!!!

It is this sort of nonsense that has the world laughing at us. It is the same paranoia that has Khamanei convinced that green movement is a "British conspiracy".

WE CANT MOVE FORWARD UNLESS WE SEARCH DEEP INSIDE OUR SOUL AND FIGURE OUT WHAT ***WE IRANIANS*** DID WRONG IN THE LAST 150 YEARS TO GET HERE, INSTEAD OF BLAMING IT ALL ON SOME ONE ELSE.

(I do not mean disrespect. I have had the same conversation with my own father.)

Ahvaz / February 17, 2010 8:52 PM

"pirated copies of the latest Greek plays"

Too funny, Ali from Tehran. Your comment's gonna have me chuckling all day, I'm afraid.

Pirouz / February 17, 2010 9:17 PM

"Whatever one thinks of Mousavi and his past, one thing should be clear: He has emerged as the leader of the Green Movement. Though he has humbly and consistently emphasized that it is he who is following the people, not the other way around, he has led the Movement shrewdly, strongly, and with deep conviction."

That is simply a matter of opinion and nothing more. Islamic Republic is doomed to failure and all its components will disappear with it. In Germany we did not have lesser Nazis, just Nazis. There is too much blood on the hands of these people and they should all be tried after the inevitable downfall of this Barbaric Republic. You can not Green wash their crimes against humanity and Iranian people must not forget.
--------------------------------------------------
God bless America, my home. God Bless Persia the country these Barbarians took away from me.

Sohrab / February 17, 2010 9:30 PM

This is a great Summary.

Let us support Mousavi for the good he wants to do. And once we reach that place, which is better than the no place we are in now, we can shoot higher.

For now, I can't see a single thing that I disagree on with this great leader.

MashtAli / February 17, 2010 9:49 PM

Ali from Tehran, I hope the MPAA does not interfere with any Persians viewing "pirated plays". I appreciate your comparisons of ancient and current day Persia. I hope Cyrus is not on any other country's payroll. He seems to be the kind of leader that every country yearns for. A leader who stands in front of the people by standing behind the people. This last sentiment is paraphrased from the Tao Te Ching translated by Victor H. Mair.

Tim / February 19, 2010 12:36 AM

Dr. Sahimi, you mentioned in your article that a vast majority believe that the election was rigged. That's a claim on your part and it's a very reckless and amateur one at that.

Regardless of what any of us believe, you have no proof that the majority of people believe the election was rigged to give Ahmadinejad victory (11+ million votes).

On the contrary, professional polls by non-biased organizations prove the opposite. The world public opinion poll, which has been conveniently ignored on this website, states the exact opposite of what you claim is a fact. The difference is that it does so with proof.

I wont even get started on the number of greens that aren't exactly convinced that the vote was rigged to the level that is being advertised...

Tsubasa / February 19, 2010 3:18 AM

@ Tsubasa,

I read the World Public Opinion's paper as well. I was actually using it as an example of why we always need to keep an open mind and question our assumptions all the time, and had to vigorously debate everyone in the group. But at the same time, some of the polls seem very odd. For example, when you read that paper, you'll notice that it says Ahmadinejad's support went up and Mousavi's support went down after the debate. But from everything I've seen and heard and read so far, it looks like it was in fact the opposite way around.

So I don't know, I guess I'm just confused. And then people get mad at me for not making up my mind. How can I, when social and political reality is so complicated to understand?

A Canadian / February 19, 2010 11:19 AM

Tsubasa:

I analyzed the poll that you mention in a previous article. I did not ignore it (if that is the poll you mean). I showed why such polls are not reliable.

You want to believe that Ahmadinejad won? Be my guest. Have no problem with it.

Muhammad Sahimi / February 19, 2010 7:35 PM

Can anybody mention an independent and prosperous Muslim country Rpublic or Monarchy or any thing else.Islam by nature is backward though some directives make logical&even medical/scientific sense is enough for being correct foe 1400 years!So lets leave Iran and iranian free from this forced religion and begin to think life education health progress economy ....all these without taking an advice from some nomad that raped and killed even lied to their own people for their and Islams survival. Anybody that had anything to do with IRI mullah or anything else should betried and be casted aside and let these young and fresh wo/men with no blood on their hand start moving Iran forward peferbly withot any relious prejudice.

jahangir / February 19, 2010 10:23 PM

Tsubasa & A Canadian,

Guys, Polls aside, did you take the time factor into consideration? In the Islamic Republic, thanks to the ever advancing mullah technology, the contents of all ballot boxes are hand picked and manually counted. 1,2,3,4,5,6, ... 1,000,000 ... 10,000,000 ... 30,000,000 ... 40,000,000 ...
Now add a little time in-between each number to account for the time spent to read each vote and count it towards each candidate. Let's put our minds together. How long will it take to do the entire country? Take a look at how long it took for them to announce the winner to the country. Do you get it guys? Some even admitted they rushed it out of lack of planning and coordination which is very typical in the current mullahcracy. I rest my case. The guy is as phony as a three dollar bill.No matter how much these guys try to legitimize it and cover it up, the stench unbearable.These are a bunch of murdering, rapist barbarians that simply have got to go and to the garbage of history.

Niloofar / February 20, 2010 1:33 AM

There is a joke that goes as follows:
"The difference between a neurotic, a psychotic, and a psychiatrist. The neurotic builds castles in the sky, the psychotic lives in them and the psychiatrist collects the rent."

Was the election rigged/engineered? Highly likely! Did it make a difference in the results? Difficult to prove. Is the chaos being used to "collect rent"? You bet!

You are welcome to believe anything you wish and speak your mind. Election rigging happens on various levels and scales - including two recent US presidential elections. That said, it does not make it right - it makes it reality of life. Consequences may be catastrophic - evidence: hundreds of thousand innocent deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, it does not make it right - it makes it a reality of life. Should these realities be changed in order to yield to a more just and peaceful world? Absolutely.

In the meantime, build your castles in the sky and live in them. But be careful as to whom you pay the rent to?!


jay / February 21, 2010 8:16 PM

I've enjoyed reading this article about a great man in Iran and cant agree with him more. Let free speech, and the rule of law reign supreme. Not the religous right or a corrupt military. Only an idiot would think time won't win. The losers have already chosen sides. I ask the fools typing from Iran who choose the status quo, what do you think the consequences will be for choosing wrong. Read your history books and rethink your choice. Most of the planet earth is with the green movement and when there ready for our help and assistance we will respond. China wants your oil. It does not matter who is in charge they'll sell it.

Robert / February 22, 2010 11:45 AM

One important factor to keep in mind:
Democracy and religion do not go together. Iranians do not need another Islamic revolution.
Is Mousavi a pragmatic leader? maybe if he has realized that the Islamic government would not flourish Iran economically and Politically.
Iran has faced many challenges and Iranians need to look back to their history and figure out what went wrong within the last several decades., what is imminent Iranians cannot afford another failed government. Iranians should not follow their prospective leader emotionally whoever is going to be rather they should find a leader who revives and vitalizes their agendas and goals such as freedom. If they have experienced the Islamic government in the last three decades then they know freedom will not come with another Islamic government or any religious groups. This fact can be reassured by looking at the neighboring countries and Arab states or studying the history particularly Renaissance period. If Mousavi is promising another Islamic government perhaps he will not be the best leader for the great country such as Iran.
The Green Movement has to move slowly and wisely if Iranians are yearning for a better government.

Fahimeh / February 23, 2010 4:05 AM

This guy is the butcher of Tehran, with a brooks brothers shirt.

He was a Prime Minister '81-'89 during the most bloody internal purges: including prison massacres of 4,000+, exiles, '88 prison raping/murder of boys/girls.

He is a walking dead man and he knows it.

The gallows of the green revolution tribunal await him.

Googles members list of the Guardian Council, Expediency Council, IRGC High Command, and All Ministers is the best future funeral prediction list completed in modern times.

Trading in their Life Insurance policies is going to soon be quoted in structured life settlements trading worldwide.

Shah / March 1, 2010 12:22 AM