Hardliners Seek Peace with the Green Movement
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
24 Aug 2010 16:27
Strains on and within regime prompt gestures at reconciliation.[ analysis ] The first several months after Iran's rigged presidential election in June 2009 saw a climate of oppression exceptional even by the standards of the Islamic Republic. Peaceful demonstrations of millions of people were confronted by violence, resulting in the death of at least 110. Four were killed in the macabre Kahrizak detention center on the southern edge of Tehran, where narcotic traffickers are usually held. At least two prominent supporters of the Green Movement were assassinated. One was Professor Masoud Ali-Mohammadi of the University of Tehran, who was murdered not only for his support of the movement, but probably also due to his knowledge of Iran's nuclear program.
The second victim was Ali Mousavi, Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew. In addition, Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, 26, a staff physician at Kahrizak, mysteriously passed away. It is widely believed that he was murdered due to his knowledge of what had been going on in the center. At least eight people, including four Kurdish activists, were executed.
Thousands were detained, and at least 800 of them are still in jail. Those arrested include university students and professors, journalists, human rights defenders, attorneys for the detainees, and ordinary people. Practically every important Reformist figure was arrested, served with warrants dated several days before the election. After Stalinist-style show trials, most were given long jail sentences. Some were released on bail, the sum of which came to millions of dollars. The condition for remaining out of jail was total silence; when they refused to stop criticizing the election coup and its perpetrators, they were reimprisoned. At least 40 journalists have been forced to leave Iran and go into exile.
The leaders of the Green Movement -- Mousavi and his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and others -- were accused of being foreign agents, and of receiving huge sums of money to spend against the Islamic Republic. There were repeated threats that they would be arrested, given long jail sentences, even killed. The movement was labeled fetneh (sedition) by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Those not supporting the Supreme Leader -- a majority even within the conservative camp -- were tagged khavaas-e bibasirat (useless, unwise elite). The hardliners declared that they would not be satisfied if the movement's leaders "repented." They called on the judiciary to put them on trial, and some even declared them mohareb (enemies of God), for whom the only proper punishment is death.
These are just some of the many dark events that occurred in the aftermath of the rigged election. Khamenei declared that what occurred had tarnished the reputation of the country. What had really happened was that what remained of his own reputation had been ruined, due to his unequivocal support of what the hardliners had done to the nation. In fact, Iran's reputation as a nation of young, educated, dynamic people who are struggling for a better, more open society has been restored.
Nothing that the hardliners have done has worked. The opposition leaders have stood firm. Each accusation and threat by Khamenei and his supporters has received a quick, balanced response from the leaders of the Green Movement. They have insisted that the election was rigged and the rights of the citizens violated. They have declared that they will not retreat from their demands. They have repeatedly asserted that they are ready to lose their lives for their cause. The fact that they were part of the political elite, that they broke ranks with Khamenei and his supporters to side with the people, has only deepened the crisis that the nation has faced since June 2009. The movement has had too many achievements to go away, or be ignored.
At the same time, the hardliners are under tremendous international pressure. In addition to their loss of any legitimacy in light of the election and its aftermath, other developments have ratcheted up the stresses on them. First, the construction of a secret facility for uranium enrichment in Fordow near Qom was revealed. Although Iran probably did not violate its obligations under the Safeguards Agreement it signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the revelation added to the international community's suspicions about the nature of the Iranian nuclear program. Next, on October 1, 2009, an agreement was reached in Vienna whereby Iran was supposed to send a little over half of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France in return for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, a medical nuclear facility that provides isotopes for 850,000 Iranian patients. When the agreement was taken to Tehran, however, it met with fierce opposition, even from the leaders of the Green Movement. The Ahmadinejad administration was forced to backtrack, which played into the hands of the United States and its allies and helped them to push through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, imposing a new round of sanctions.
Just before the resolution was approved, Iran, Brazil, and Turkey agreed to a deal arranging for a swap of some of Iran's LEU for fuel for the research reactor. But the United States was determined to pass a new sanction resolution and thus brushed aside, even criticized, a deal that amounted to capitulation by Ahmadinejad and his supporters.
Despite repeated claims by the Tehran hardliners that the sanctions are not important and "cannot do a thing," they are deeply worried. The hardliners are keenly aware that, more anything else, the sanctions hurt the common people, exacerbating popular anger. The hardliners' own financial empire is under increasing stress, as well. Khatam ol-Anbiya, the engineering arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently canceled its contract to develop phases 15 and 16 of the giant South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, specifically citing the sanctions as the cause.
Israel and its neoconservative allies meanwhile beat the drum of war with Iran ever louder. The Atlantic recently published an article by Jeffrey Goldberg on how the military and political elite of Israel think that an attack on Iran may become inevitable. The piece contributed to a new round of heated discussions on the wisdom of engaging in yet another war in the Middle East. Experts ranging from Trita Parsi to Glenn Greenwald of Salon and many others have weighed in. The Atlantic itself held a panel discussion on Goldberg's article that included several pundits.
So "suddenly," the hardliners are discovering that they want peace with the Green Movement and its leaders. The phenomenon is not totally new. Several months ago, Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president), a leading hardline cleric and one of the four leaders of Tehran's Friday Prayers, fairly pleaded with the movement. Referring to the next presidential election, he said, "At least do not keep protesting for the next four years." Leading the capital's Friday Prayers on July 17, 2009, the last time he has done so, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called in his sermon for national reconciliation. Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a moderate conservative, also said that ways should be found to achieve national reconciliation.
Former prime minister and highly influential conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani attempted last year to reach out to the clerics that support the Green Movement, asking the hardliners to follow what Emam Hassan -- the Shiites' Second Imam and a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad -- did when he agreed to peace with his enemies. The hardliners reacted very negatively, perhaps because they still could not understand the depth of the crisis. Kayhan, the hardliners' mouthpiece, warned, "When the sword of justice is approaching the pillar of the tent of the enemies and seditious, we should not do anything to have the righteous word of union be on the bayonet." Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, has always opposed any rapprochement with the Green Movement.
Given the current state of the nation, the idea of a rapprochement with the Greens has been revived. Meeting last week with high officials, Khamenei said, "Putting out the fire that has been set in the society, and bringing back those who for whatever reason have left the pious brothers [his supporters], is one of our most important duties. The criterion for doing so is values and principles. We should recognize that the degree of belief is different in the people, and we should try, through guidance and advice, to bring back those who were part of the system, but due to their mistakes have been set aside." A few days later, on August 18, meeting with academics who are members of the Basij militia, he emphasized, "It is essential for the nation to be unified."
Following the ayatollah's speeches, 249 Majles deputies -- almost all of the parliament aside from its Reformist wing -- issued a statement supporting him, and asking for vahdat-e ommat (union of the masses). The most important aspect of the statement was the recognition of the effect of the sanctions and the threat of war. For example, Mohammad Hossein Farhangi, a member of the Majles leadership, said, "Given that the enemies of the people and the nezaam [political system] will do their best to harm them, it is imperative that a united front becomes the top priority of the officials, and those who committed mistakes correct them and come back."
On Saturday, August 21, Reza Akrami, a spokesman for the Society of Combatant Clerics (SCC) of Tehran, the leading right-wing clerical group, said that that the SCC wants mediation between the ruling establishment and the opposition. He said that he had made the same suggestion last year to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, Mahdavi Kani, and former Majles Speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, a relatively moderate cleric, but that they had turned him down. Another leading member of the SCC, Majles deputy Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, said that the mediation should not be done by the officials, but by those "whose words are influential." The opposition "must become convinced" that the reconciliation gesture is sincere, he said, "otherwise they will not return" to the ruling elite. Jafar Shajooni, a radical SCC member, attacked Akrami for speaking of mediation between the hardliners and the Green leaders. He declared that Akrami does not speak on behalf of the SCC and misunderstands what Khamenei has said.
More moderate conservatives have begun blaming the hardliners for the nation's lack of unity. Ali Motahhari, a brother-in-law of Ali Larijani, said, "This is a fault of some of the supporters of the government that want to eliminate some of the important [opposition] figures.... They should compensate for the injustice that they have done, and not interpret any criticism as enmity and insult...." There are signs that the hardliners are willing to make some concessions to the opposition leaders for the sake of appeasement.
In the first sign of concessions, the judiciary has suspended three hardline judges who were apparently responsible for the crimes that happened at the Kahrizak detention center last year. The most well-known of the three is Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious former Tehran prosecutor who earned his nickname "Butcher of the Press" for shutting down dozens of newspapers and periodicals. He is widely believed to be responsible for the death of photojournalist Dr. Zahra Kazemi, who was murdered in July 2003 while in detention. Mortazavi has also been closely linked to the torture of bloggers and young journalists. The other two suspended judges are Hassan Zare' Dehnavi, known as Haddad, a deputy to Mortazavi who has been involved in violent crackdowns on university students, their imprisonment, and torture; and Ali Akbar Heydarifar, a close associate of Haddad's who has been implicated in many crimes.
In a meeting with Basij university students on Sunday, August 22, Khamenei emphasized once again the urgency of uniting the nation. He added that the union must be "based on principles," which apparently means the principle of following and obeying him.
Some of the hardliners, by contrast, still insist on blaming every problem on the leaders of the Green Movement. They want to scuttle any possibility of reconciliation, even though there is actually no evidence that the Green Movement is prepared to back down from its demands. Morteza Nabavi, the managing editor of Resalat, the leading conservative daily and mouthpiece of the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party, said in an interview that the Green leaders could not accept their defeat in last year's election and had planned in advance for what happened after the vote. He said, "Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami must admit that they were wrong." But even if they do, he believes, "They are not qualified to lead any group of the people." Davood Ahmadinejad, brother of the president and a former Revolutionary Guard commander, said that the Guards are waiting for the right moment to arrest the leaders of the Green Movement.
Another split within the leadership was exposed over the matter of Hossein Mousavian, a senior member of Iran's nuclear negotiation team during the Khatami administration, whom Ahmadinejad has accused of espionage. Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, recently stated that Mousavian had committed no crime. Haydar Moslehi, the hardline minister of intelligence, responded that Salehi had erred and that his ministry considers Hossein Mousavian, who now lives in the United States, a spy.
For their part, the opposition and the Reformists appear to be more united than ever. Mousavi dismissed as superficial the apparent differences between the hardliners and conservatives over whether they should represent Islam or Iran to the rest of the world. He observed that regardless of what they represent, it is neither the true Islam nor the true Iran. Soon after, the progressive cleric Abdollah Nouri, interior minister during the Khatami administration, invited all the important figures of the opposition to his home. They all answered the call and participated in the gathering. That truly angered the hardliners, who have been claiming that there are deep fissures in the opposition.
There can be no reconciliation with the hardliners. First and foremost, the minimum demands of the movement must be achieved: (1) unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners; (2) punishment of those who have committed horrendous crimes against the people, particularly over the last year; (3) a completely free press; (4) complete freedom for all political groups to operate and advocate their views; (5) complete freedom for peaceful gathering and peace protests; (6) impeachment and sacking of Ahmadinejad; (7) complete elimination of the Guardian Council's vetting power that allows it to disqualify candidates from any election; and (8) free and fair elections for both the Majles and a new president.
Once these goals are achieved, a national debate through the free press, the political parties, and the democratically elected Majles will start on how to revise the Constitution and eliminate its undemocratic articles. Fortunately, the leaders of the Green Movement have stood firm. There is no evidence that they will back down. The best defense for Iran against any external enemy is a political system that is accepted by a majority of the people. That will not come about unless and until the transition to democracy begins.
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