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Speaking of Freedom: Mostafa Tajzadeh on the Upcoming Elections

11 Jul 2011 12:36Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

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11:45 a.m., 20 Tir/July 11 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

In reaction to considerable speculation about whether the reformists will participate in the Majles election next March 3, Mostafa Tajzadeh, deputy interior minister in the first Khatami administration, said in an interview with Kaleme, the website that reflects Mir Hossein Mousavi's views, "There is no middle ground. The reformists will take part only in democratic elections." He stressed that the political establishment must be given no other option than to hold free and open elections, and that if conservative and hardline factions do not allow for reformist participation, they will only fall into deeper disputes among themselves. Tajzadeh has been incarcerated since immediately after the 2009 presidential election (the image on the homepage shows him during a show trial in which he was convicted of such charges as "disrupting public order" and "insulting officials of the Islamic Republic").

Tajzadeh added that before the 2009 vote, he believed that reformists must participate in each election at all costs and try to maintain at least a minority presence in the Majles. But now, "The narrative of the Green Movement has changed the entire affair...either the elections will be free, with all the parties and free press, or we should not participate and leave them [Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's supporters] to play out the conflicts among themselves."

Tajzadeh said that the passage of time since the 2009 vote has benefited the Green Movement. In his views, the hardliners are grappling with many problems and are in a weak position. Even the prison and security officials that he sees indicate that they now recognize that Tajzadeh and his comrades were right about what is going on in the country. In his view,

Their differences are over rare sources of power, because everyone wants to have the last word. On the other hand, it is the economic difficulties that have the last word, which they cannot address, and that has heightened the differences [between various hardline and conservative factions]. This government has been in power for six years, and even the cultural conditions have worsened according to their own standards. Internationally, they have many problems too. The hardliners were of the thinking that, given the problems that the U.S. has in Iraq and Afghanistan, the possibility of U.S. intervention in other Muslim countries was practically nil. Given the recent developments, particularly in Libya, it has become clear that things are not the way they thought....

The Green Movement has its roots in in the Constitutional Revolution [of 1906-11], nationalization of oil [of 1951-53], and the reform movement [of 1997-2005]. The reformists are the only group who want independence [from foreign powers] and freedom simultaneously [emphasis added] and defend both. They are opposed to the internal dictatorship and external colonialism. The reformists and supporters of the Green Movement defend freedom and do not believe that to confront the internal dictatorship they must ask foreign powers for help. They also do not believe that struggling against foreign colonialism means that they should ignore the internal dictatorship. We are opposed to colonialism and dictatorship; independence and freedom are the two main slogans and the true nature of the Constitutional Revolution, the oil nationalization, the Islamic Revolution, and the 2 Khordad [Movement, meaning the reformist movement]. The only skill that the hardliners have is that, under the guise of opposing the U.S. and in the name of justice, they act against freedom. We should explain that the only way to save the country is independence and freedom. In particular, those who hope for foreign intervention in Iran should know that [if that happens] the country will burn in a civil war for two decades. It will not be as if violence will end [quickly] and democracy will rule. The best examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that these two nations will be involved in bloody wars for years to come, and if the U.S. leaves them there will be the threat of civil wars there, but if the U.S. does not leave, Talibanism will be created to confront the U.S.

Tajzadeh's reference to independence, freedom, and U.S. intervention is a response to those members of the opposition in the diaspora who been calling for such intervention either publicly or behind the scenes. He continued,

From a practical viewpoint, the strategic goal that has been created for the Green Movement is what has been the goal of all the reformists and freedom lovers since the Constitutional Revolution. National sovereignty and free elections are the two strategic goals of the Green Movement. The only way out for the country is holding free elections. The country will not [emphasis added] be saved through national unity government and national reconciliation. And free elections have their own components. Free elections mean freedom of writing, expression, thought, and life style, meaning that the political parties must be free, gatherings of people must be free, and unions and nongovernmental organizations must be free. In my opinion, holding free elections is the only way to save the country, and we must direct our forces in that direction.... From a tactical point of view, fasting, hunger strikes, gatherings on streets, and the like can be very useful. We must not, under any conditions, remain silent.

Tajzadeh, who as deputy interior minister supervised two of the freest elections in Iran's history in 1998 and 2000, then defined what he means by free elections:

In free elections, it is people who have the last word.... We must explain to the people what we mean by free elections. One aspect of such elections is that the officials and those who supervise the elections must either be completely neutral, or allow monitors from all the parties at the polls. We cannot call elections free if the head of election monitoring commission is Mr. Ahmad Jannati [secretary-general of the Guardian Council] who presides over meeting for the principlists and [tells them] to preserve their unity. Or Mr. [Mohammad] Yazdi, deputy secretary-general of the Guardian Council, who fights with the Reformists and even the independents. The law stipulates that those who are members of the election monitoring commission cannot be part of the elections, and now the problems that the opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad has are exactly the same, and interestingly they are expressing the same concerns that we had expressed. Now they [the principlists] want to form a committee for the protection of people's votes [like those the reformists set up for the 2006 and 2009 elections] and are concerned that the government will distribute cash in the billions among the people [as the reformists pointed out took place back in 2009].... Such a cash handout can affect people's votes, and therefore this is a legitimate concern.

Tajzadeh's observations about how the hardliners now echo what the reformists said two years ago parallel those I described at length in a recent article. He continued,

But such concerns are not limited to just the government. We must also be concerned about the monitoring commission, the Guardian Council, and the Relief Committees [that were founded in the early days of the Revolution to help the poor]. Thus, when free elections are talked about, one must consider the tools for such elections, and carefully consider everything from the beginning. Everything and everybody must move in the direction of free elections and the government must not be able to help a certain group. There are now doubts and concerns about the government committing fraud against part of the principlists. One can develop a solution for this problem, but we cannot just tell them, "For God's sake do not commit fraud." They will say they will not, and [expect that] it will solve the problem. Surely, if all the groups have representatives in the monitoring commissions, they [the government] will not be able to commit fraud. When they insist that the commission must be homogeneous [from one group only], it is because they want to cheat; otherwise, they should not be terrified of the election being monitored and would invite others to take part. The conditions for free elections are not complex, and they have been met around the world.

When asked whether the present constitution can be a vehicle for holding free elections, Tajzadeh said,

Yes, it was through the same constitution that the 2 Khordad [Movement in 1997] arose and the [elections] for the first [1998] and second city councils [in 2002] were held. I participated in the second city councils [for Tehran] and was defeated [he came in 16th; the Tehran council has 15 members]. Those elections were the freest elections over the last 100 years. No one was prevented from running due to his views and political standing [candidates for city councils are not vetted by the Guardian Council]. In those elections neither the loser nor the victor had any complaints, and the elections were 100 percent free. We [reformists] were defeated [in Tehran], and accepted our defeat. Of course, our defeat was not due to the high vote that our competitors received, rather it was because only 11 percent of Tehran's eligible voters took part in those elections. In any case, one of the freest elections were held during our time. If people are present in the elections, free elections can be held even with this constitution. The important issue is the interpretation of the law. One can have democratic interpretations of the Constitution, but if people do not take part, one can also have dictatorial interpretation of the Constitution. It is up to us how to interpret the Constitution. I have always said that the U.S. Constitution was written [almost] a century before the abolition of slavery and is still being implemented. Although it now has several amendments, it is still the same constitution. This does not mean that this [Iran's] constitution must not be revised. We must do this at the appropriate time, but we should not defer holding free elections until the Constitution is revised.

***

In a letter to Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the reactionary cleric who used to be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor and ardent supporter, but has now turned against him, Ayatollah Hojjati Kermani criticized him for supporting the president. He wrote,

Over the past several months you and others have been speaking about a "perverted group'"that has surrounded Mr. Ahmadinejad and [claiming that] he is attached to this group. Without any further ado, let me ask you explicitly and bluntly, was it not you and people like you who promoted and propped up Ahmadinejad so high that he has now become a problem for you?

Hojjati Kermani then sarcastically observed,

Given the treatment that his ministers and aides in his first and second administration have received from him, there is no doubt about his love of "justice" and "fairness."

He then pointed out Ahmadinejad's problems with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:

Aside from his numerous firings and appointments that have been done in haste without considering the interests of the nation, I point out only the recent episode regarding the opposition of the Supreme Leader to firing the minister of intelligence, and the more recent dismissal of the minister of oil and the appointment of an acting minister for this key organization.

He then turned to matters of economic policy and management:

According to the experts Iran's earnings from oil exports during the Ahmadinejad administration has been the same as that of the entire 100 years since Iran began exporting oil, yet it has had no result for the nation. The bureaucratic corruption has never been higher. Reducing the subsidies by 10 percent annually had always been discussed since the administrations of [Akbar] Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and Khatami, but under the current conditions of economic stagnation in which our industrial production has decreased and our plants have lost their strength, Mr. Ahmadinejad carried out the plan in haste and under the guise of "targeted subsidies," without any regard for its consequences, which will surely be catastrophic, because our working people making the minimum monthly wage of 370,000 tomans [about $300] cannot resist the out-of-control inflation and continue to live in dignity.

Hojjati Kermani added,

Do you still insist on your past criticisms of the governments of Hashemi and Khatami? Do you [still] consider your support of Ahmadinejad in 2005 and 2009 the right thing to do? Do you not think that the political, economic, moral, and international environment were more favorable to Iran during the Hashemi and Khatami administrations, even though they both were also subject to criticism?

Interestingly, there is news that a son of one of Mesbah Yazdi's deputies has converted to Christianity. The news was first reported by journalist and documentary film maker Mohammad Nourizad, who was recently released from prison. Cleric Rasioul Jafarian confirmed the report and said that it should not surprise anyone, due to weak works in the cultural arena and the failure to critique other religions.

Fars, the news agency run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that the plan to summon Ahmadinejad to the Majles and questioning him has been set aside, because 30 of the 100 deputies who originally backed the motion have withdrawn their support. According to Article 88 of the Constitution, at least one quarter of the deputies, 73 out of the total of 290, must support a motion to question the president for it to proceed. Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar told Fars, "Some of the deputies decided that questioning the president is not necessary at this time."

But Mehrdad Lahouti, the deputy from Langroud, denied that the plan to question Ahmadinejad has been tabled. He said that after the Fars report, he contacted several of the deputies who had supposedly withdrawn their support for the plan and they all denied the news agency's claim. Lahouti added, "The issues that the president is to be questioned about are too important to be set aside." Hossein Sobhaninia, a member of the Majles leadership team, also said that he is not aware that the motion has been shelved.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, a few days ago Revolutionary Guard commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari discussed in a long interview many of the current problems facing the nation, and criticized the supporters of both Ahmadinejad, and the reformists and the Green Movement. In response, Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of former President Mohammad Khatami and former secretary-general of the outlawed reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, wrote an open letter to Jafari, in which he referred to the general as a coup leader:

I do not know how I should refer to you: as the commander of Sepah [the Guards]; as the official in charge of the development of the country; as the official in charge of culture and morality of the society; as the head of the government, or as the head of a military junta? Your behavior as a military commander has only one implication, which is that it is the behavior of a coup government['s chief]. Because in the rule of a military coup, the law is what the martial law ruler says, which everybody must accept.

The younger Khatami added, "You are not in a position to decide what the politicians should do." This was a reference to what Jafari's declaration in his interview that former President Khatami must "repent" in order to return to the political scene.

The letter has put the hardliners on the defensive. The younger Khatami, a medical doctor, is married to Zahra Eshraghi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's granddaughter, and has never been implicated in any crime or corruption. Thus the hardliners felt compelled to react swiftly to his comments. Led by Fars, they immediately began attacking him and the IIPF.

Fars claimed that the IIPF is not an orthodox political group, but one that wants to topple the regime. The basis of the claim is a five-year strategic plan drawn up by the IIPF in autumn 2008. The plan spoke of "complete democracy" for the Iranian people, and opposed making any law permanent based on the idea that the law is according to religious teachings and, hence, unchangeable. Fars claimed that most members of the IIPF opposed the plan, and only the most extreme elements supported it. This appears to be an attempt by the hardliners to split the reformists into "radicals" and "moderates," with the goal of attracting the latter in the upcoming Majles elections. Fars, quoting an Arabic magazine, also accused the younger Khatami of believing that the people, rather than God, bestow legitimacy on the Islamic Republic and demanded that he be put on trial.

Majles deputies also got into the act. Seyyed Ahmad Reza Dastgheib, the deputy from Shiraz, told Fars that Article 149 of the Constitution stipulates that protecting the Revolution is the Guards' mission "in all aspects." He attacked certain "reformists" -- meaning Mohammad Reza Khatami -- claiming that they are terrified by the Guards' "authority" to defend the Revolution and that they are attempting to "revive the sedition." The latter claim was closely echoed by Fatemeh Ajorlou, a Karaj deputy. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy declared, "The Iranian nation will not accept insulting Sepah. There is a deeply rooted alignment between the Islamic nation and Sepah." Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, deputy chairman of the Majles Commission on Judicial Affairs, said, "The letter by the [former] secretary-general of the outlawed IIPF is nothing new, because attacking and insulting the revolutionary forces, including Sepah, by the IIPF began in the era of 2 Khordad [Mohammad Khatami's presidency]." He claimed that the letter has to do with the upcoming Majles elections and that Mohammad Reza Khatami publicized the letter "in order to evaluate the popularity of IIPF in the society." Javad Zamani, a deputy from Kangavar, demanded that the judiciary take Khatami to court. He added, "Because Sepah resisted the seditionists and their attempts to topple the Islamic Republic, they want to take revenge." Zohreh Elahian, a Tehran deputy, said that the Guards must confront those domestic groups that want to overthrow the Islamic Republic, and that they can not be considered as merely political problems. Ghasem Mohammadi, the deputy from Ardabil, said, "By insulting the Sepah commander, the outlawed IIPF has carried out another mission for the foreigners. This will only increase the popularity of Sepah."

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the ultra-hardline head of the Guards' political directorate, accused Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi of wanting to topple the Islamic Republic. Javani added, "We must answer the question of what organ could defeat the reformists and seditionists: It was definitely Sepah that, based on its mission and legal duty to defendthe Revolution, played the fundamental role in destroying the reformists' plots." Defending his boss, Jafari, he said, "If he points out the role of Mr. Khatami in the sedition of 88 [2009], and sets repentance as the condition for his return to the political scene, it does not mean that he is interfering in politics. It only indicates Sepah's alertness."

Once again there are rumors that Hamid Baghaei, Ahmadinejad's vice president for executive affairs, will be arrested over the next few days. The rumors have apparently been fueled by the arrests of several executives with companies that are active in the tourism industry, and have been linked to Baghaei in the past, when he was the head of the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism.

Cleric Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, a member of the Majles Commission on Economic Affairs, said that Ahmadinejad may wrest control of the Organization of Religious Endowments away from Khamenei, without informing the provincial governors who report to him. The Organization of Religious Endowments controls vast resources and would be a significant prize in the struggle between the president's and the Supreme Leader's camps.

As reported by Tehran Bureau, Ahmadinejad ordered Kamran Daneshjoo to halt gender-based separation of university students and forced retirement of experienced professors, and Daneshjoo responded that he would oblige. Then, Alef, the website published by Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Amad Tavakkoli, claimed that Khamanei was also opposed to the gender-based separation of the students. But that has seemingly pitted some conservative clerics against Khamenei. Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi expressed his regret over the plan being halted. Ahmad Khatami said that the chancellors of those universities who have already implemented the plan must "receive medals." Ahmad Alamolhoda, Mashhad's Friday Prayer Imam supported the plan and Ayatollah Nourollah Tabarsi, Khamenei's representative to the province of Mazandaran, said that the separation plan "should be implemented as soon possible."

In a meeting with a group of journalists, Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said, "Given the religious teachings, deceiving people by the powerful is wrong, regardless of the justification." He emphasized, "Means of mass communication and the growth of people's knowledge have increased their power, which is increasing as time passes. If we restrict the press in informing the people, it will create a fertile ground for the growth of false news and [people] turning to the foreign press that will threatened the national interests of the country and hurt the Islamic Republic."

Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi said that the NATO alliance and foreign intelligence organizations support the terrorist group Jundallah. He added that two members of Jundallah that had arrived in Iran to carry out terrorist operations have been arrested.

Masoumeh Dehghan, wife of Abdolfattah Soltani, a prominent attorney for political prisoners, was released from detention after posting $25,000 bail. She was arrested on July 5.

Blogger Seyyed Akbar Rouhani, who was arrested on June 12 in Qom, was released from detention. He has been accused of acting against national security and propaganda against the political establishment. Blogger Peyman Roushanzamir, has been sentenced to 17 months of imprisonment. He has already spent two months in solitary confinement in Ahvaz Prison in Khuzestan province, and refused to defend himself during his trial, on the ground that the trial was illegal because it is against Article 168 of the Constitution that stipulates that the trial of political prisoners must be open to the public and in the presence of an independent jury.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrived in Tehran on Sunday, after conducting talks in Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that the goal of the trip is "to discuss the latest developments in the region, particularly those in Syria." The Turkish government has challenged the Syrian regime over its response to the demonstrations there, which has angered the Islamic Republic. Salehi denied that he will soon visit Saudi Arabia.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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