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A Critical Moment for Mousavi

by MOHAMMAD D. in Tehran

13 Apr 2010 00:3915 Comments
moussavi-supporter.jpgNow is the time for action from the Green Movement's leader.

[ opinion ] Back when Mir Hossein Mousavi was a reformist presidential candidate, he lost his cool in a nationally televised debate with the incumbent. Heaping criticism on the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an unorganized, distasteful manner, his analysis of the regime's poor economic and foreign policy record came out looking like a personal attack on the man sitting in front of him. That was June 3, 2009.

Some ten months later, however, the passionate but humble scion of the revolution's founder has assumed the role of opposition leader along with Mehdi Karroubi, another unsuccessful challenger to Ahmadinejad. Mousavi now maintains his cool, but continues to struggle as the anti-government movement remains unorganized and frustrated by what appears to be a bleak future.

In a video message on the occasion of the Persian New Year, released on his website, Mousavi addressed the "great" Green Movement. He emphasized, without belaboring the point, that in order for the movement to survive, his supporters should spread the word about the regime's failures in handling the economy "to all classes, ethnicities, and provinces" around the country.

He recounted what has befallen the movement and all Iranians who want free elections and the preservation of their constitutional rights since Ahmadinejad's contentious reelection. He reiterated his rejection of the government and said retreat would be "treason" to both Islam and the nation, which "deserves much better." He lauded the scores of opposition supporters who braved the brutal crackdown and lost their lives since June 2009, and praised their families. He expressed gratitude toward the expatriates who back the movement and want a free Iran -- a stance likely to provide the rulers with an excuse to accuse him, once again, of sleeping with the "enemy."

He declared, "We face issues and problems in the year 89," referring to the Persian year of 1389 that began on March 21. "A part of our efforts, which will focus on demanding our legal rights, will continue in the new year: the 'year of perseverance.'" He vowed tenacity and, by assigning a name to the year, mounted a challenge to the authority of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, the holder of ultimate power in Iran: One of the few transparent responsibilities outlined in the country's opaque political system is that of naming years in an inspirational manner, and that task is part of the ayatollah's job description.

The challenge, as paltry as it was, should not go unnoticed.

Mousavi, who has gone out of his way to avoid direct confrontation with the Supreme Leader -- as such a move routinely spells the end of one's political career, and sometimes life -- may be up to something. Time will tell. For now, he is losing popular support as his Green Movement fails to make any significant progress. "He is one of them... one of their players," Naqi, a middle-aged man who voted for Mousavi, told me. In his youth, Naqi helped the ayatollahs overthrow the Pahlavi monarchy. He now opposes them. "He is a sham, like the election and the regime."

Considered a pillar of the regime before he transformed into its bitter critic, Mousavi knows very well that his political survival, and that of the reformist camp, depends on the fate of the Green Movement, once a beacon of hope for a better Iran. However, many of his supporters have already put the fraudulent election, and the daily street protests that followed, behind them. They are not holding their breaths in the hope that they may one day witness real reform in the regime.

Only eight months in, the movement has been forced to limit its activities to (unsuccessful) demonstrations on national and religious holidays. The regime's intimidation campaign -- highlighted by its vicious response to the silent gatherings, which
led to violent protests on the Day of Ashura; the crackdown on eminent opposition figures and journalists; and the show trials during which activists, as well as ordinary people arrested in the protests, received death sentences -- has taken its toll on the opposition.

The most recent demonstration plans, for February 11, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, were effectively repressed -- not due to the overwhelming number of security forces, but because the Greens were barely organized. The demoralizing setback, which marked the end of the opposition's limited but steady progress, prompted the regime to celebrate its "victory" over the "seditionists" whom it claims are mercenary tools of "the enemy."

Then came the last Wednesday of the year, when Iranians celebrate the ancient Persian festival of Chaharshanbeh Souri with bonfires and fireworks. Although the religious establishment, which feared the opposition would use the event to take to the streets, did not succeed in casting the 3,000-year-old tradition as heresy, the presence of thousands of security forces on the streets ensured that the fire festival did not go green.

Mousavi sees this. He understands that the opposition is failing and that it cannot succeed, or even survive, with its current strategy. He also realizes that his supporters, many of whom are educated, pro-Western, and of the upper class, are crumbling away. Even the regime loyalists who supported him because they could not bear a second four-year term for Ahmadinejad are beginning to turn their backs on Mousavi. And eventually, the words of the Supreme Leader, who despite his abysmal stewardship of the country since 1989 remains widely popular among the fundamentalist crowd and the lower
classes, will be heeded as the rule of God: that anyone who opposes the regime is either "very ignorant" or a "traitor."

With his Nowruz message, the former prime minister sought to prove that he finally has a grip on the situation -- that by spreading the word to the middle and working classes, the movement will return to its rightful path, revitalize its image as a civil, nonviolent campaign, and eventually revive the constitutional right to free elections. But the reception has been poor. Mousavi failed to strike a chord with those whom he would claim as supporters. "All he does is talk, talk, talk," Naqi said. "We want action. We need a man who can walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and barely at that."

A gesture that could help the struggling Mousavi, the defeated presidential candidate, transform into an inspiring leader capable of bringing about change is standing up to the ayatollah-in-charge. Only such a move can rejuvenate the waning opposition, garner the support needed for more effective acts of noviolent protest -- such as the nationwide strikes that crippled the Shah -- and prove to freedom-seeking Iranians that he means business.

It is time for Mousavi to realize that as long as he plays the game according to the rules set by the Islamic Republic, he cannot win. No one will.

Photo/Ben Curtis-AP

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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15 Comments

This is an unfair article because it places on the shoulders of Mousavi the success or failure of the Green Movement, which never was about Mousavi or what he envisioned.

The fundamental failure of the Green Movement was its inability to bring together the opposition into a coherent force that could make plans, arrive at democratic decisions, and create an organizational structure. And to do that it required the freedom to communicate, the freedom to assemble, and the freedom of expression, and it had none of those very basic rights.

For change to take place Iranians will have to be willing to give up their lives for these freedoms and we have not arrived at that point.

Mohammad Alireza / April 13, 2010 8:45 PM

"It is time for Mousavi to realize that as long as he plays the game according to the rules set by the Islamic Republic, he cannot win. No one will."

It is time for Mousavi and all of his supporters to realize their Barbaric Republic is already dead in the eyes of the Iranian people. A new beginning is a must for Iran and that is only possible on the day after through a FREE referendum by the people of Iran to pick the government of their choosing. The Iranian people are through with this nightmare.

The people of Iran will not accept any more political diversions i.e. Khatami, Karubi, Mousavi or any other supporters of the Barbaric Republic of any form in any color. No publicity stunts, foreign or domestic.

We have our own flag (not the flag of the Barbaric Republic) to rally around, a deep culture and a proud history to guide us through.

Stay focused Iran, victory is at hand.

Niloofar / April 13, 2010 10:03 PM

thank you for one of the absolutely best articles here so far.
Finally some one who sees the truth that people are tired of moussavi.

rostam / April 14, 2010 12:40 AM

only peacefull movement could happen in christin country not in middle east.everyone know that mr mousavi was not the reason people came out and he was not choosen by people to run for election and it is diffcult for him to talk about regime that never provided the basic freedom and he will not do so because he is part of the regime and if there isn't much of support for him because he keeps talking from his mentor khomeine and that is not what people want and young people want the real freedom and everyone talking about labour or the poor people and let's not forget in 1979 90% of people were not involved,only if some one is willing to tell the fact.you don't need 30 or 40 million or more you need only 5% of people to change the things in two days but you need leader and money and support of western and eastern powers and those who think revoultion could happen because people want it won't happen.every change in thirdworld countries happens because what superpowers want and if some think orherwise good luck to them and just takecare.

afshin / April 14, 2010 3:53 AM

The situation appears to be static at the moment - maybe it is - but with thousands imprisoned and a lack of foreign reporters, it is most likely a lull in the battle of the people with the regime. A website that I visit occasionally Rahana performs the simple service of listing victims of the ongoing repression in short, simple, apolitical articles. It has been messed up by IRI hackers, which indicates they still believe they can rehabilitate their image prior to a showdown with the world over the nuclear issue and would like to minimize reportage of judicial persecution in the IRI.If figures like Merkel in Europe, someone not known for anything but clear-eyed pragmatism have made up their minds about Khamenei and his president despite having badly needed economic ties to date. What does that tell you? Either they fear looming dangers or they view the regime as beyond the pale. Maybe both.China is too far away to play the role it plays in the case of North Korea and Burma.In Iran and outside, people are not awaiting the outcome of negogiations but the categorical failure of them. With the experience of South Koreas admirable 'Sunshine Policy' for a guide, few are confident of repeating that experiment in one-sided engagement. This leaves Iranians in the middle. The oil price has firmed recently but so too have perceptions of the IRI as being little different than other dictatorships, totally untrustworthy on any issue.Moussavi has staked his life, nothing beyond that is required. Kerroubi ,likewise. Observers who are anticipating the collapse of the regime have overlooked the fact that ,morally speaking, that has already happened.

pirooz / April 14, 2010 7:08 AM

Mousavi is weak and indecisive. On the first day of the demonstrations after the sham elections, approximatley 1-3 million people took to the streets of Tehran. If Mousavi had kept the people in the streets (seat in) the regime would have fallen within days.

Mousavi was only after the election and was caught by suprise how the poeple reacted. He wants changes in the system while the people want a new system.

The green movement chose Mousavi as their leader,as they had no one eles to turn to. However, Mousavi did not choose to be the green movements leader.

Now he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. Should he support the regime he helped to create? Or stand with the people?

AG / April 14, 2010 1:03 PM

Mousavi and Karroubi have done brilliantly considering the odds they have faced. Many of their stalwarts & organisers are in & out of detention. The spiritual leader, Ayatollah Montazeri (and his wife too) has passed away. What however he ought to have done is to form an opposition party but he may have decided strategically to seek to nurture a grassroots socio-political movement embracing all classes. At present most see this group as 'elitist' and some of its constituents would open all doors to US/Israel and its allies, to make IRI again subservient to their interests. Immense suffering & sacrifice has been done by mostly the traditional religious classes including those comprising the many Baseej families for them to give up this most important fruit of the Islamic Revolution. IRI today can be proud that it has an independent political class including the leaders of the 'greens/reformist' movement, that its decision making is independent of any 'superpower' and Iran itself has become a widely respected regional power. Remember the first seeds of the 1979 Revolution were laid in 1963, when the Ayatollah Khomeini gave his first wake up call. Mousavi may be taking his cue from there. The other problem is that the many of the young educated & professional from the middle class are unlikely to pour out in the streets(that is if their moneyed parents let them) to offer themselves as martyrs for the green cause. They are more likely to send their young off abroad to improve their personal chances of a fulfilled life than risking all in a political movement that may come to nothing or get bogged down in a quagmire. The unfortunate part of it all is that some in the diaspora, are willing to take any bedfellows in their desire to overthrow the IR system, including cuddling upto the butchers of Tel Aviv and calling for sanctions and even seeking to orchestrate an Iraq style invasion with their hardline neocon and zionist friends. This is not a very people friendly option and would potentially push Iran from the frying pan into the fire and who would benefit from that? Certainly not the bulk of Iranian people. Is a Tehran, relatively free of suicide bombing & terrorist offences better than an occupied one with little or no security and raging civil war. Mousavi is right in taking the path he has done which is the path of a true reformist. The peace & security of the country must always come first.

rezvan / April 14, 2010 1:46 PM

Once again, we see the depth of the need for a father figure as a deity.

Why do we need a figure? The resistance to the regime is not just the green movement of the last few months. It started long time ago. You can witness that in the death of thousands in 80's, were they not part of the resistance?

The current manifestation and energy of this resistance, the so called green movement, may go up and down, but the natural course is not under any one person's control. Movements will grow indigenously and underground, or just below the surface where you can see their bumps and lumps pushing against the surface. Eventually they will form an informal network which doesn't need a leader and will succeed. But, as long as people demand a leader, movements and revolutions get highjacked by opportunists.

The internet is the place to keep the movement alive. It can create strike and strife without a leader. Soon, when a few groups go on strike, others will learn and follow quickly. That would cripple the regime much faster than a single deity can manage.

A network based revolution is the only hope for humanity, and Iran at this period of history in particular. It can happen, and it can maybe get rid of this sick fixation for a singular leader.

No single leader has ever helped humanity in a sustainable manner. Civil disobedience is a network action and not a lead one.

Reflection on the US civil rights shows that it succeeded largely without a leader. When it became associated with a leader, then it was easy to bring it to a crawl by getting rid of the leader, which the system did quite effectively.

The people in the early civil rights movement in the US didn't have a single leader, they had the same goal and that was what made it a movement, and not a horde.

Hordes can be stopped, movements can't be. Hordes have leaders, movements are like rivers, they move on their own. If we push for a leader, we will be doomed.

Patience and perseverance are great words, which actually negates a leader. These are not words of a leader, but the echoes of a movement that with luck, will remain leaderless and can flow and grow.

Help people recognize their collective power and don't distill them into a uniform horde. Unity, not uniformity is the sign of a movement, the latter is the sign of a horde, dangerous and easy to highjack, like the diverse uprising of the late 70's was made into a uniform movement and then taken over.

nassim sabba / April 14, 2010 7:58 PM

Mousavi and Karroubi have done brilliantly considering the odds they have faced. Many of their stalwarts & organisers are in & out of detention. The spiritual leader, Ayatollah Montazeri (and his wife too) has passed away. What however he ought to have done is to form an opposition party but he may have decided strategically to seek to nurture a grassroots socio-political movement embracing all classes. At present most see this group as 'elitist' and some of its constituents would open all doors to US/Israel and its allies, to make IRI again subservient to their interests. Immense suffering & sacrifice has been done by mostly the traditional religious classes including those comprising the many Baseej families for them to give up this most important fruit of the Islamic Revolution. IRI today can be proud that it has an independent political class including the leaders of the 'greens/reformist' movement, that its decision making is independent of any 'superpower' and Iran itself has become a widely respected regional power. Remember the first seeds of the 1979 Revolution were laid in 1963, when the Ayatollah Khomeini gave his first wake up call. Mousavi may be taking his cue from there. The other problem is that the many of the young educated & professional from the middle class are unlikely to pour out in the streets(that is if their moneyed parents let them) to offer themselves as martyrs for the green cause. They are more likely to send their young off abroad to improve their personal chances of a fulfilled life than risking all in a political movement that may come to nothing or get bogged down in a quagmire. The unfortunate part of it all is that some in the diaspora, are willing to take any bedfellows in their desire to overthrow the IR system, including cuddling upto the butchers of Tel Aviv and calling for sanctions and even seeking to orchestrate an Iraq style invasion with their hardline neocon and zionist friends. This is not a very people friendly option and would potentially push Iran from the frying pan into the fire and who would benefit from that? Certainly not the bulk of Iranian people. Is a Tehran, relatively free of suicide bombing & terrorist offences better than an occupied one with little or no security and raging civil war. Mousavi is right in taking the path he has done which is the path of a true reformist. The peace & security of the country must always come first.

rezvan / April 14, 2010 9:39 PM

Rezvan,

I have a suggestion for you. Why don’t you invite Mousavi and the rest of the Islamists to your country Lebanon where you can live in peace with harmony to implement your brilliant Islamist ideas? You can have the entire Barbaric Republic to yourselves in South Lebanon where you can fight the oppressors head on. Please take my offer since Iranians are done with the Barbaric Republic. IT IS OVER.

Anonymous / April 14, 2010 10:33 PM

reference to: (Anonymous / April 14, 2010 10:33 PM)

I am sorry Rezvan, I forgot to type my name.

Niloofar / April 14, 2010 11:32 PM

We have two camps in Iran. The ones that believe in rule of people and those that believe in the rule of "Velayet-Faghih". I think the second group is in minority. Mr. Mousavi has repeatedly said that he believs in "Velayat-Faghih". THIS THE FUNDUMENTAL PROBLEM WITH MOUSAVI. We can dance around the issue and try ignoring it, but it doesn't go away. I personally use this yardstick to separate friend from enemy. Using this method, Mr. Mousavi doesn't land on the friends side.
THIS REGIME DOES NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY FOR REFORM.
I think this movement is maturing and Mr. Mousavi will be swept aside. It is time for those on the "friends" camp to join together. Keep their difference but stress what they have in common. They are fro rule of people and opposed to "Velayt-Faghih". They can come together and demand using referedum as the peaceful means to end rule of "Velay-Faghih". I am not naive enough to believe the Mullah's will agree to such referundum. However, this for the world to know that Iranian people are reasonable and peacful people. However, Mullahs have to go by any means necessary!

shahin / April 15, 2010 6:10 AM

rezvan said:

"and Iran itself has become a widely respected regional power"

LOL.

GeneralOreo / April 16, 2010 10:55 AM

I would like to suggest the readers to re-read Zahra Rahnavard's statements as a prominent member of the Green movement. In her powerful, strong and decisive statements she always addresses teachers, workers next to woman as the main addressees of her message.
I think it is absolutely unfair and problematic to claim that Green movement was lit up by upper-middle class Iranians. To me it seems that TB intends to misguide its readers and ignore the proletariat supporters of the Green movement. Economic demands were among the first demands of the uprising and Musavi promised economical changes (not social change) to his supporters.
To me it seems that TB is actively engaged to create the same picture of the Green movement as other mainstream global media (BBC, CNN, ...) which is to demonstrate middle class Iranian (even upper-middle class) as the active agent of the uprising and ignore the role of the working class. As such, there is no difference between TB and other mainstream media. Please stop pretending you are an alternative.

Didaar / April 16, 2010 10:56 PM

fully agree with rezvan!

shame on the diaspora who is doing all it can to discredit in order to step in as political actors. people of iran have not mandated any exile opposition group to step in. stay away of our country.

the criticism on mousavi, however, is due to the lack of patience which I can fully understand. he and karroubi are doing more than any other political figure dared in the past 31 years. we should respect that.

take care

AsdollahMirza / April 21, 2010 3:22 PM