A Critical Moment for Mousavi
by MOHAMMAD D. in Tehran
13 Apr 2010 00:39
[ 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.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau