What Has the Green Movement Achieved?
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
16 Aug 2010 23:57
[ analysis ] The Green Movement is over one year old. The large street demonstrations and gatherings, both before and after the rigged presidential election of June 2009, that gave birth to the movement, have largely ended. The world has shifted its attention back to Iran's nuclear program and away from the struggle by a large majority of the Iranian people for a better society. Disappointment and even hopelessness permeate a small, but significant, segment of Iranian society, both at home and in the diaspora. We must ask, Is the Green Movement still alive or is it dead? If it is still alive, what has it achieved, given the heavy price that Iranians have paid over the last 15 months?
Posing these questions to members of various groups yields different answers. It is necessary to first understand how Iranians -- at least those actively participating in movement-related activities or who follow developments closely -- view the present state of affairs.
Three Groups of Iranians
In my opinion, the active Iranians may be divided into three groups:
One group consists of those who believe that the movement has had many achievements, is gradually broadening its appeal, and has succeeded in cornering the ruling establishment. This group is of the view that the quest for a democratic Iran is not a sprint but a marathon. It is opposed to any foreign intervention in the struggle between the hardliners and the rest of Iran. It is opposed to almost any type of sanctions and, most importantly, to any military attack on the country.
In the second group are those who take a dimmer view of the situation. This group believes that, while the movement has had some achievements and is still a viable force, it is still too weak and needs the assistance of the outside world. This group thus supports the imposition of certain types of sanctions to weaken the ruling establishment and its hardline supporters.
In the third group are those who believe that the movement is dead. This group never truly believed in the movement, although it seemingly supported it for a while when it appeared to be on the verge of overthrowing the Islamic Republic. Most Iranians in this group actually believe in the violent overthrow of the current government which cannot be accomplished without the intervention of foreign military forces. In short, most people in this group are those who have been advocating regime change, in a manner similar to that which deposed Saddam Hussein. People in this group totally reject the leadership of Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife. This group largely consists of supporters of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization, a significant segment of the monarchists, the so-called revolutionary leftists (orthodox Communists), and the neoconservative bloc that is supported by U.S. neoconservatives. They have no significant social base within Iran and, therefore, will not be discussed any further in this article.
The Background of the Green Movement
So, what are the achievements of the Green Movement? To begin with, we must first recognize that the movement was not born in a historical vacuum. Just as the 1979 Revolution had its roots in the Constitutional movement of 1905-11, nationalization of the oil industry by Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh in the early 1950s, the CIA-MI6 coup of 1953 that overthrew the Mosaddegh government, and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's absolute dictatorial rule of the 1960s and 1970s, the Green Movement represents the continuation of a century-old struggle for democracy. The 1979 Revolution raised hopes for a democratic Iran, but for a wide variety of reasons, it failed to achieve its goals, was hijacked by reactionary forces, and gradually brought the nation to its current state.
At the same time, the long Iran-Iraq War, the political repression of the 1980s, and the revision of the Constitution in 1989 that gave the Supreme Leader nearly absolute power in many respects also gave birth to the reform movement. While many Iranians shared similar ideas and contributed to the movement, it was spearheaded by a group of Islamic leftists who were ardent supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- indeed, they referred to themselves as "followers of the Imam's line."
The reform movement was strong enough to twice elect Mohammad Khatami president. His first election, in 1997, provided the ruling establishment an opportunity to begin narrowing the gap that had widened between it and the people. In fact, right after Khatami's landslide victory, a group of prominent Reformists met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and pleaded with him to lead the reform movement and gradually change the structure of power in Iran. The ayatollah rejected the proposal, claiming that the Islamic Republic did not need any reform.
Instead of viewing Khatami's election as an opportunity, Khamenei and his hardline supporters, as well as Iran's traditional right wing represented by the Islamic Coalition Party and its allies, saw the reform movement as a threat to their power and interests. They began cracking down hard on the Reformists. With the Reformist sweep of the first nationwide city council elections in the fall of 1998 came the revival of the infamous Chain Murders, the continuation of an assassination campaign that began as far back as 1988. That was followed by draconian moves to restrict the press, which had been enjoying a relatively free period. This in turn led to the uprising by university students in July 1999, which was violently suppressed. The Reformists again triumphed in the elections for the 6th Majles (parliament) in February 2000. The press consequently felt emboldened to publish many revelations about the endemic culture of corruption and crimes in the Islamic Republic. As prominent Reformist strategist Dr. Saeed Hajjarian put it, the press "partially lifted the curtain for the people to see." In response, Khamenei and his supporters cracked down again on the press in April 2000. After more than a decade, the press has yet to recover. In fact, freedom of the press has essentially lost its meaning in Iran.
After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, the reactionary forces took over the organs of government. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the organizations under its command, such as the Basij militia, now wanted their share of the riches. They had acted as foot soldiers for the conservatives during former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's second term (1993-97). They had created, as Khatami put it, a major crisis for his own administration every nine days. Ahmadinejad did not disappoint them. One of his first acts as president was to give the Basij $400 million. It never became clear how the money was spent, or even who was in charge of spending it. Ever since, it has been the official policy of his administration to shower the Guards and other organs of the hardliners with rich contracts worth billions of dollars, without any formal bidding or competition.
The trend has accelerated since last year. In addition to new oil and gas contracts worth $21 billion, Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naghdi recently reported that the militia's budget has been increased sevenfold. The ruling establishment is clearly worried and wants to be ready to confront any future popular protests. This only alienates the nation further. At the same time, we have seen in other countries that quasi-fascist organizations, as powerful as they may seem, easily collapse under huge social pressure.
But the privileges that the hardliners have enjoyed have also generated corruption on a vast scale, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Khomeini said famously that Iranians did not revolt against the Shah because of the economy and that "the economy belongs to the donkeys," a symbol of stupidity in Iran. Although it is estimated that the middle class now makes up about 40 percent of the population, the fact is that, even by the government's own statistics, one out of every six Iranians lives below the absolute poverty line. About 35 percent of the population belongs to the lower middle class that constantly struggles to make ends meet. A very large segment of the population is thus extremely unhappy about its economic plight, among its other concerns. At the same time, there is a new upper class in Iran that has made its wealth largely through its links with the ruling establishment, rather than hard work and competition.
Even if we give credence to Khomeini's claim that Iranians did not revolt against the Shah because of the economy, Iranians certainly did revolt for a democratic government, supremacy of the rule of law, equality of all citizens, and a moral social order. Those hopes were not realized. The ruling establishment's insistence on imposing what it claims to be Islamic laws and values -- by force, when necessary -- and the remarkable extent of corruption among the establishment and its supporters, has further alienated much of the population. At the same time, the country's Baha'is have been under tremendous pressure, while the Sunnis have not achieved even a small fraction of their demands.
In 1992, a new phrase entered Iran's political parlance: the philosophy of khodi haa va gheyr-e khodi haa (roughly, "us and them"), which aimed to divide the population into two groups -- those who blindly follow the ruling establishment (the khodis) and those who do not (gheyr-e khodis). It is a mistake to think that this division did not exist before the 1979 Revolution. Particularly from the mid-1960s to the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty, the Shah and his supporters similarly divided the people into khodis and gheyr-e khodis, though they did not use that terminology. In that period, the division was between those who had bought into whatever was Western and Western-leaning (the khodis of that time) and the Iranian-Islamic traditionalists. In fact, the Shah's attempts to "Westernize" Iran played an important role in the 1979 Revolution.
In any event, dividing the people into "us" and "them" has further deepened the gap between the ruling establishment and most of the population. While back in 1992, the ruling establishment could still legitimately claim that the "ship" of the khodis was very large and included much -- if not an outright majority -- of the population, it has been shrinking ever since. As Karroubi put it recently, "If the nezaam [political system] is limited to people like Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Jannati, and similar people, then it is a boat that cannot accommodate 75 million people and is not stable."
A few initiatives that the ruling establishment took eventually backfired, and were turned into vehicles for demanding change. For example, before the 1979 Revolution, Iran had about 15 institutions of higher education. After the war with Iraq ended in 1988, the Islamic Republic rapidly expanded the number of such institutions to about 75. Practically all of these are now hotbeds of anti-government sentiment.
As another example, consider the following. After the cultural revolution of 1980, the establishment recognized that it could never control the universities. But it also recognized that it needed educated and trained cadres to serve its interests, run the bureaucracy, and advance its agenda. Thus, the Islamic Azad University was founded in 1982 by Khamenei, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and others. After the war with Iraq ended, the university expanded on a grand scale, penetrating some of the most remote areas of the country. Most often than not, the students were not local. They were predominantly children of the middle and upper classes from large cities who had not been able to get into one of the public universities, but were able to pay Islamic Azad's high tuition and living expenses. The students brought the demands of the urban population to smaller towns around the country. Hence, gradually, the university's branches became symbols of modernity in many of Iran's less developed regions. These students were not necessarily loyal to the ruling establishment. In fact, studies indicated that they played a key role in Khatami's victories in the 1997 and 2001 elections.
An example of this phenomenon is telling. In 2001, Dr. Abdollah Jasbi, the university's chancellor, ran against Khatami. He held a campaign rally at the school's branch in Semnan, a town 220 kilometers northeast of Tehran. The large number of students who showed up to listen to Dr. Jasbi's speech were served a traditional dish, chelo kabob (ground beef kabob and rice). After Dr. Jasbi left the campus, the students issued a statement: "With heartfelt thanks for the delicious chelo kabob, we the students of the Semnan branch of Islamic Azad University declare our support for Khatami!"
The role of the Islamic Azad University in spreading the message of the Reformists is a central reason why the hardliners have been trying to wrestle control of the school from Rafsanjani and his group. The hardliners have also founded Payaam-e Nour (message of light) University to serve their interests.
Of course, the advent of the Internet and increased access to other means of mass communications also played a significant role in awakening the people. The younger generation, born shortly before or since the 1979 Revolution, that knows only the Islamic Republic and its glaring shortcomings has been particularly affected.
Achievements of the Green Movement
This is the environment in which the Green Movement was born. Let us now consider its achievements.
Demonstrating the ineffectiveness of Velaayat-e Faghih
The backbone of Iran's political system is the doctrine of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist), represented by the Supreme Leader. The 1989 revisions of the Constitution gave nearly absolute power to the Leader on many fronts, and Ayatollah Khamenei has not hesitated to use the power in his attempt to crush the opposition. But his attempts have come at a heavy price: The republican aspect of the political system has essentially become irrelevant, and the vast majority of the people do not recognize the legitimacy of the Faghih. The erosion in the doctrine's legitimacy and its glaring ineffectiveness has forced the hardliners to claim that it is, in fact, not the people that represent the source of legitimacy for Velaayat-e Faghih. Rather it is God who appoints the Supreme Leader and the role of the people -- or their representatives in the Assembly of Experts, the constitutional body that names the Supreme Leader -- is to discover the appointee. It is now clear, more than ever, that a large, complex, and dynamic nation such as Iran cannot be run by the system of Velaayat-e Faghih,a concept that is not even accepted by the majority of Shia clerics. In fact, only the hardliners' use of force has allowed Velaayat-e Faghih to survived as long as it has.
The fall of Ayatollah Khamenei
Long before last year's election, it was clear to the nation that Ahmadinejad was Khamenei's preferred candidate. In a meeting with Ahmadinejad's cabinet a year before the election, the ayatollah told the ministers, "Do not work as if you will be in charge for only one more year, but plan for five more years." The ayatollah had also strongly supported Ahmadinejad during his first term, even when his incompetence had become too obvious to ignore.
When on June 13, 2009, the day after the rigged presidential vote, Khamenei congratulated Ahmadinejad on his "reelection," not even waiting for the Guardian Council to certify the vote's legitimacy, it became clear that he had tied his maintenance of power to Ahmadinejad. He lost any residual legitimacy six days later when, leading Tehran's Friday Prayers, he threatened the opposition and declared that if any blood was spilled, it would be the opposition's fault. Ever since, Khamenei has been the leader of just one political faction -- and a shaky one at that -- rather than the fatherly figure that the Supreme Leader is supposed to be.
These events have led some of Khamenei's most loyal supporters to desert him. Mohammad Nourizad is one good example. An artist and journalist who used to write for Kayhan, the mouthpiece of the hardliners, he has written several open letters to the ayatollah, criticizing him on all fronts. His latest letter is particularly sharp, not only for its content, but also for its tone. Nourizad refers to the ayatollah as "Sayyed Ali." That is totally unprecedented.
The net result of all of this is that Khamenei is now despised by the vast majority of Iranians. He was already held in contempt when he prevented the "smiling Sayyed" -- as people affectionately referred to Khatami -- from carrying out his reforms. But events since last year have made him the most loathed figure in Iran, even more than Ahmadinejad.
Despite their pretense otherwise, even the hardliners are keenly aware of this. Not only have they been attempting to tie the ayatollah and his "legitimacy" to a higher authority -- God Himself -- they have also been busy trying to present a "softer," "gentler" image of the ayatollah to the nation. Thus the arrangement of meetings between him and artists, poets, authors, young people, and so forth. In most cases, the true artists and intellectuals -- those who support the Green Movement -- stay away, and the effort has failed miserably. The hardliners have also tried to portray the ayatollah as someone who lives very simply, is utterly uncorrupted, and has no wealth of which to speak.
Even if the claim is true, he remains corrupt -- his thirst for absolute power seems to have no limit.
Revealing the true nature of the fundamentalists
Iranian Islamic fundamentalists refer to themselves as Principlists, simply because they know that the word "fundamentalist" has very negative connotations. During the Khatami era, they claimed to support a religious democracy. But when the Reformists swept the elections for the 6th Majles and Khatami was reelected by a margin that surpassed the one in his initial victory, it became clear that the fundamentalists would lose almost any competitive vote, let alone ones that were truly free and fair. That is why they have been using the organs of power to hold "engineered elections" -- those whose outcome is a priori fixed in their favor. The Guardian Council vets the candidates and blocks those who are popular and credible from running. Even then, the fundamentalists change the votes (as they did last year) or declare an election flawed so that they can cancel it (as has happened with many elections for seats in the Majles).
Last year's rigged election, and particularly the violent reaction by the hardliners to people's peaceful protests in its aftermath, basically burst the bubble for the fundamentalists. Even they recognize it. There is no longer any pretense to a religious democracy. Some leading fundamentalists now speak openly about the Islamic Government of Iran, rather than the Islamic Republic of Iran. All the talk about the impending return of Mahdi -- the Shiites' 12th Imam, who is supposed to emerge from hiding one day -- represents another facet of the fundamentalists' attempt to distance themselves from any pretense to meaningful elections and democracy. Who can blame them? They cannot win any meaningful election.
Gaping fissures in the ranks of the fundamentalists
Last year's election and its aftermath have also deepened the fissures in the conservative and fundamentalist ranks. There is constant infighting among them. Many Majles deputies criticize Ahmadinejad. Many of them have made revelations about members of his cabinet, such as accusing First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi of having a fake doctoral degree and of involvement in a $700 million embezzlement case. Majles Speaker Ali Larijani has accused Ahmadinejad of breaking the law and appointing those Larijani calls foroumaayegaan (roughly, "utterly unqualified") to the cabinet.
Some Majles deputies have even spoken of impeaching Ahmadinejad. This is all happening in a body in which 200 of the deputies supposedly belong to the fundamentalist camp. Ahmadinejad recently complained to Khamenei that "running the nation has encountered difficulties."
Khamenei effectively sacked Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who Ahmadinejad preferred as his first vice president. Even the reactionary Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's spiritual advisor, has attacked Mashaei.
Still, the president has appointed his close ally to numerous posts. Mashaei is Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, secretary-general of the government's cultural commission, head of the council for free economic zones, head of the council of young advisors to the president, head of the Razavi pilgrimage and culture, representative of the president in the national council of the Iranians in diaspora, head of the Institute for Globalization, and head of the government's communication council. This means nothing but fissures between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, his most important supporter.
Majles deputy Morteza Nabavi, manager of Resaalat, a leading conservative daily, and a former cabinet member, said in a recent interview, "We do not have the required stability in the ranks of the government officials. They do not all think alike, and are not united. We do not have this even among the elite Principlists. Some of our friends tell me explicitly that they have given up. But you do not see the same in the opposition. Today, only a few defend the Supreme Leader." Khamenei himself has openly talked about the khavaas-e bibasirat (roughly, "unwise, useless elite") who have failed to openly support him.
At the same time, the military faction of the fundamentalists, led by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia, has been putting relentless pressure on the more moderate, more pragmatic conservatives, in order to coerce their support. The attempt to take over the Islamic Azad University is but one example. Ahmadinejad recently declared, "There is only one political party, and that is the Party of Velaayat," implying that all other political groups, even within the conservative/hardline camp, should be disbanded. The pressure on such parties has been so heavy that it prompted Mohammad Reza Bahonar -- a leading fundamentalist and former Majles deputy speaker, whose nephew Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi is a close confidant of Ahmadinejad's -- to declare, "A threat to the Principlists' front is a small faction within the front itself that is increasingly making more transparent its plan for eliminating the rest of the Principlists." Bahonar's own faction, the Islamic Coalition Party, which represented the backbone of the right wing during most of the Rafsanjani and Khatami eras, feels threatened and left out.
Fissures in the Revolutionary Guards
The Green Movement has also penetrated the rank and file of the Revolutionary Guards, where there has long been speculation about possible fissures. Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the top Guard commander, has finally confirmed such speculations. He admitted in a recent news conference, "We have had some casualties in the 'soft war,'" which is how the hardliners refer to the popular struggle for democracy. He also admitted that the Green Movement has supporters among the Guards, and that the events of the past year have created "ambiguities" for some Guard commanders. He said, "We have tried to convince them that they are wrong, which is better than physical elimination."
Credible reports indicate that at least 250 Guard commanders have either been forced into retirement or expelled. Some former Guard commanders who supported Mousavi have been arrested and tortured badly. One recent example is Hamzeh Karami.
Fissures between the Guards and Ahmadinejad
Even though Ahamadinejad could have never risen to power without the active support of the Guards and Basij, there have been consistent and credible reports of tension between him and some of the top Guard commanders. In one episode in February 2010, the president and General Jafari got into a heated argument during a meeting of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
Jafari shouted at Ahmadinejad, "Have some shame. It is due to your incompetence that Iran has been in chaos for six months."
Fissures between Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guards
Even though the Guard and Basij commanders repeatedly declare their loyalty to Khamenei, I believe that their long-term plan is to eliminate the clerics from the organs of power. Having already described this in an article last year and returned to the topic in an article this June, I will not go into further detail about it here.
Fissures in the ranks of the clerics
Among the most important fruits of the Green Movement have been the deep fissures in the ranks of the clerics, including the leading ayatollahs. The most prominent moderate ayatollahs, such as Yousef Sanei, Ali Mohammad Dastgheyb, Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, and Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha have openly supported the Green Movement and harshly criticized the hardliners and Ahmadinejad. The Green Movement has damaged the credibility of Khamenei so much that the only ayatollahs openly supporting him are either those who owe their positions to the fundamentalists and hardliners that prop them up, such as Ayatollah Hossein Noori-Hamedani, or the reactionary ayatollahs who also have reputations for being corrupt, men such as former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Secretary-General of the Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is believed to aspire to Khamenei's position. There is not a single ayatollah with any credibility among the people who supports the fundamentalists and Khamenei. The rest of the Supreme Leader's clerical support mostly comes from young former students of Mesbah Yazdi.
The remaining ayatollahs can be divided into two groups. One group comprises those who are totally silent, indicating their displeasure and disapproval of the current regime. The other comprises those who have shown their displeasure by their actions. For example, two important conservative clerics, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini and Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Ostadi, refused to lead the Qom Friday Prayers for several weeks. Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, a maternal uncle of the Larijani brothers, even declared that he would never lead Friday Prayers again. Almost all of these ayatollahs refused to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his "reelection." In a Friday Prayer sermon last year, Ostadi vehemently criticized the supporters of Ahmadinejad.
This has also deepened the fissures between Khamenei and most of the important ayatollahs. He has tried to get some credible ayatollah to certify his son Mojtaba as a mojtahed (Islamic scholar), without success. He pressured some of the major ayatollahs to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his "reelection," but they refused. There are credible reports that the ayatollahs have rebuked Khamenei for supporting "the worst possible person" for the presidency -- Ahmadinejad -- and have told him that if they follow suit, they will lose their popular support and following.
Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, the first secretary-general of the Guradian Council, recently told Khamenei, referencing his transgressions and his eternal fate, "You have lost this world, and I worry for you in the other world." When pressured by Khamenei's representatives to meet with Ahmadinejad, the grand ayatollah reportedly said, "I will never let such a ----- into my home."
Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, father-in-law of Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief, is also known to oppose Khamenei. When the right-wing clergy tried to promote Khamenei as a marja' taghlid (source of emulation) in the 1990s, Vahid Khorasani is known to have told him, "You be the sultan, but leave marjaeiyat to others."
Whenever Khamenei visits Qom, Vahid Khorasani and many other leading ayatollahs leave town to avoid having to meet with him.
Such frictions have also created suspicions within Khamenei's inner circle. When he recently traveled to Qom and met with Ayatollah Javadi Amoli at the home of Amoli's sister (Amoli apparently wanted to avoid meeting in Amoli's own home), Amoli's staff brought cups of teas for both men. An aide to Khamenei then switched the tea that had been given to his boss with the one given to Amoli, as if it might have been poisoned. Amoli was reportedly so angered that he abruptly ended the meeting.
Khamenei clearly recognizes the significance of all these fissures, which is why he constantly emphasizes that the nation needs unity. What he really means, though, is that the hardliners must become united.
Transformation of the Guards into a political-security organization
As pointed out above, Ahmadinejad could not have come to power without significant help from the Guards and Basij. Such intervention by military organs into political affairs violates the creed of Khomeini, who strictly banned political involvement by the military. At first, the Guards would deny that they were intervening politically at all, though it was clear to most observers that the denials rang hollow. Then, as the Guards were increasingly called upon to intervene in affairs of state, they were forced to defend their actions with the excuse that they were protecting the country and the Revolution against "internal enemies." When that was mocked, General Jafari claimed that the Guards, or Sepah-e Pasdaran, had to obey the "the present era Vali," namely, the current Supreme Leader. When that did not work either, he finally had to admit, "Even before being a military organization, the Sepah is, first and foremost, a political-security organization."
The Guards can no longer conceal their aims. By supporting a repressive regime, they have made clear that they are opposing the wishes of a large majority of the people.
In effect, the Guards now play the same role that the military plays in Pakistan. This poses two dangers for Iran: First, it puts national security at risk, because the country's elite military forces are preoccupied with internal affairs, at a time when there is the possibility of foreign military attacks on Iran. As Mousavi put it, referring to the Guards' economic interests, "When the Sepah is worried about the fluctuations in the stock market, it cannot defend the nation and its national interest, and becomes corrupt." Second, just as in the case of Pakistan, the militarization of Iran gives rise to extremist groups that may fall out of the Guards' control and create problems for the nation with adventurism abroad.
A movement neither religious nor nonreligious
Throughout Iran's modern history, there have been arguments between those who adhere to two opposing schools of thought: those who claim that the reason Iran is not as advanced as it can and should be is the central role religion plays, and those who insist on keeping religion at the center. The Shah tried hard to eliminate religion as a social force. The Islamic Republic tries to justify everything it does based on religion.
The Green Movement is neither religious, nor nonreligious. It is a social movement that encompasses all those, regardless of their religion, gender, ethnicity, and political views, that worry about Iran and its future and want their country to be run by a just and democratic system in which the rule of law is supreme and all citizens are equal. This has been emphasized by both Mousavi and his wife, Dr. Rahnavard, which has angered the hardliners, who accuse him of planning to eliminate religion from governance.
As such, the movement is unique, and its very nature constitutes a great achievement. This is the first time that Iran has had such a movement, which bodes well for its future.
A nonviolent movement
The Green Movement rejects violence because it aims to achieve national progress lawfully, not through force. It emphasizes the significance of executing the laws without exception. In fact, the movement's leaders correctly recognize that if the fate of the present struggle were to be decided by violence, the sure loser would be the Green Movement. The hardliners are armed to the teeth, and do not hesitate to use violence. Moreover, the hardliners do not even mind if the movement resorts to violence, because it would give them the perfect excuse to carry out a large-scale massacre of the movement's supporters. The nonviolent nature of the movement, despite the hardline-sponsored violence that resulted in the murder of at least 110 people and the torture of countless others in the aftermath of last year's rigged election, is another great achievement.
A noncharismatic movement
The Green Movement is not based on its leaders' charisma. In fact, Mousavi and Karroubi can hardly be considered charismatic. While Khatami can, he has taken a backseat and plays his natural role, that of a deep thinker who criticizes the ruling establishment calmly and rationally. For example, as Khamenei and his supporters refer to the Green Movement as fetneh (sedition), Khatami has responded, "The true fetneh is the amateurish lies that are being told to the nation." He recently observed, "In dictatorships, criticism is interpreted as the effort to overthrow the political system."
Instead of being based on the personal charisma of its leaders, the Green Movement is based on the social, economic, and political demands of Iran's citizens. In short, the movement wants justice and equality -- social, political, and economic -- for all Iranians. These demands will not be met unless the nation becomes a true republic, which is why the leaders of the movement insist on the republican features of the Constitution and underscore how the hardliners have rendered them meaningless.
A pragmatic movement
The Green Movement is pragmatic. It recognizes its strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the hardliners. Thus, the movement does not set lofty goals meant to be swiftly achieved. Ideals always sound wonderful on paper. But at the end of the day, one must confront the facts on the ground: The hardliners are armed to the teeth, control the nation's vast resources, have a significant -- albeit narrow -- social base, and are ready to fight to the end, simply because they have no place to go.
At the same time, it is a grave mistake to think that every citizen that is unhappy with the hardliners wants, first and foremost, political and social freedom. It is a grave mistake to believe that every morning, when the dissatisfied citizens of Iran wake up, the first thing that they all think about is respect for human rights or freedom of expression. I am not saying that they do not care about such rights, but that they may not be the top priority of every citizen who is unhappy with the hardliners. For some, for many, economic grievances are primary.
Thus, as Mousavi has emphasized, the most important thing to settle on is a set of minimum demands about which every unhappy citizen agrees, so that the movement can inspire maximum support. Mousavi himself is the embodiment of this pragmatism. He represents the mainstream of the movement. There are some who are more radical than him, and some who are more conservative. In my opinion, pragmatism is crucial to the future success of the movement.
A growing movement
Despite some claims to the contrary, the Green Movement continues to grow. The best evidence is the fact that the hardliners are still on the defensive. Illegal arrests persist. Show trials are still resulting in long jail sentences. The hardliners continue to make absurd claims in the attempt to discredit the movement's leaders, such as the recent assertion by Ayatollah Jannati that the United States, via Saudi Arabia, provided $1 billion to Khatami to spend against the ruling establishment.
Minister of Intelligence Haydar Moslehi then claimed that it was not $1 billion, but $17 billion that the United States spent in Iran. Khamenei recently warned the hardliners, "Be prepared for larger fetneh."
All one needs do is compare the Mousavi of the period immediately around the rigged election with the present one. Whereas he used to say that the Constitution must be executed word for word, he now says that the Constitution is not God's words and thus inalterable. Rather, after the movement's minimum set of demands has been achieved, the Constitution can be revised and its undemocratic articles eliminated. Mousavi has also emphasized the rights of all citizens, and his positions are now those of a person who truly believes in a democratic political system.
The Green Movement and Iran's nuclear program
The one issue that the movement's leaders have not addressed is Iran's nuclear program. This must be done in the near future, as the drumbeats of war get louder. The Green Movement and its leadership should make their position regarding the program clear, just as they have announced their unequivocal opposition to the imposed sanctions. I will discuss this issue in the near future.
In sum, the Green Movement has had a tremendous number of achievements. So long as the environment in which it was born and the ills that gave rise to it persist, the Green Movement will not only survive, it will thrive. The movement has had too many successes in a short time to be ignored, dismissed, or forgotten.
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