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Addressing the Supreme Leader


02 Jun 2010 12:0610 Comments

Green leaders must take their campaign to Khameini.

There is a Persian saying, "When riding a camel, there is no crouching" (shotor savari dola dola nemisheh). Meaning, when doing something obvious, there is no point in trying to hide. As the first anniversary of Iran's contentious election nears, I would like to remind the Green Movement's leaders of this expression.

Many writers, activists, and scholars in the Iranian diaspora have called on the movement's most prominent figures to more explicitly state their demands and the manner in which they want those demands achieved. My own feelings are perhaps most inspired by Mehdi Jalali's open letter to Ataollah Mohajerani published on Jaras, in which he suggests that the choice not to directly address Ayatalloh Khamenei will soon be viewed as a "moral weakness" by the Iranian public. Jalali argues that this "reservation" about reaching out to the Supreme Leader has in fact "increased the costs" and "decreased the moral capital" of the Green Movement.

Given how the last 12 months have unfolded, with arrests of political activists of all stripes and the hardliners dictating the fate of the opposition at every turn, I believe there is little else left for the Green Movement to do but the unthinkable and finally address Khamenei directly.

Whether or not a military mafia has largely taken over the country, Khamenei is still ultimately the person in charge. It is clear to everyone that he alone has the power to make real changes in Iran, so why not address him publicly instead of hiding from the fact?

In Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy, 198 methods of nonviolent action are listed, categorized, and even subcategorized. They include varying forms of economic, social, and political noncooperation, protest, persuasion, and intervention. For those who aren't familiar with his work, his book was translated and used as a blueprint for many of the Eastern European color revolutions after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Though comparisons of those revolutions to the Green Movement proved to be premature and in various ways inaccurate, there are still enough similarities, I believe, to use Sharp's work as a lens through which to examine Iran's current political situation.

However, it would be best to reimagine the book's title: "From Dictatorship to Reform." After all, both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi have explicitly stated their belief in the Constitution. Instead of any form of regime change, Reformists like Mousavi have called for gradual transformation. Even with this emphasis on reform in mind, we should still question why Mousavi and the Green Movement have engaged in fewer than a dozen of the activities listed by Sharp, and those mostly symbolic forms of protest.

By now, both Mousavi and Karroubi have made it clear that the Green Movement's cause has grown beyond the 2009 election and that their concerns include human rights, civil rights, and women's rights. They have asked for all political prisoners to be released. They have condemned the political executions. They have called for transparency in economic matters. And they have done all of this without naming the one person who truly has the power to meet their demands, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

This is not a question of semantics, revolution, regime change, or even challenging Khamenei's rule. This is also not to second-guess Mousavi as a political leader or even as a spokesman. He is heading a movement without precedent in Iran's last 30 years. Regardless of the results, he has helped introduce a new dynamic in Iranian politics that the hardliners cannot ignore and will surely never forget.

I do believe, however, that it is time to begin engaging Khamenei in some form of dialogue, directly. To address him, directly. To plead with him, directly. After all, to ignore Khamenei in Iranian politics is, to use an American expression this time, tantamount to ignoring the elephant in the room.

There are activists and scholars who would argue that if Mousavi were thus to proceed, it would essentially be the end of him, politically and existentially. But one could argue that aside from giving speeches and calling for more protests, he has been rendered largely ineffective anyway.

With many of his aides, including the head of his security team, arrested, Mousavi is now the captain of a ship with no crew. The Revolutionary Guards and their fellow hardliners in the judiciary have done what they please since the aftermath of the election. They have arrested and tortured major public figures. They have called for Mousavi's arrest in newspapers, the sort of demand that typically gets satisfied. They have made veiled threats about the possibility of his assassination. And even his calls to protest on June 12 are worrisome.

As Sharp points out, protests outside the context of a considered, expansive plan -- a grand strategy, as he calls it -- serve only as symbolic gestures that may inspire the public in the short term but rarely achieve anything material in the long term. Mousavi, it seems, has been banking on tactical moves, which at best will generate some emotional or moral momentum, and at worst could cost the lives of many. Besides, if the last few weeks serve as any indication, future protests are more likely to be impromptu affairs than coordinated rallies.

Of course, I use Sharp's book only as a point of reference, not a manifesto. And again, Mousavi and Karroubi have made it clear that they believe in the Constitution. They have been very explicit about this. And I am not one of those in the diaspora screaming at Mousavi to call for regime change or for the end of the Guardianship of the Jurists. But if change is to occur in Iran -- which, after all, is the stated goal of the Green Movement -- it starts at the top with Khamenei. In the eyes of the Iranian people, there is no hiding from this fact.

So if the protests on the anniversary of the election turn out to be as muted and stunted as the 22 Bahman protests, failing to produce any gains for the Green Movement, then perhaps Mousavi and company can begin the second year of Ahmadinejad's second presidency by addressing Khamenei directly in pursuit of their demands.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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The reason nobody is willing to see the elephant in the room is because the elephant is not Khamenei but Islam, or at least the version of Islam that is practiced by the Shiite in Iran.

Mohammad Alireza / June 2, 2010 11:27 PM

As Khamenei is the ultimate nemeisis of the Green Movement and therefore the majority of the people maybe the Green Movement should go out of their way to hug him close? My sense of Khamenei is of a man at the end of his life with many crimes to his credit, set on a course that he is convinced it would be fatal to deviate from. There is probably no way back for him and the hardliners but anything is worth a try. Time is not on the hardliners side, can they crawl back off the limb they are out on? They pretend they believe they are riding the crest of a wave of worldwide sentiment and gov't propaganda reinforces this view if Press TV, Fars News and other outlets are anything to go by.

pirooz / June 3, 2010 5:04 AM

Hi Pirooz and Mohammad Alireza
I think you guys nailed it. The problem is the hypocritical version of Islam that the current system is employing to quash any dissent , yet as History has thought us over and over again "No despotism last forever".

PersiaTraveler / June 3, 2010 11:21 PM

I notice this is by a 'correspondent' not even anonymous. Does this guy have a clue about anything or does he not the workings of the IR system. There has been much engagement between Khamanei and the green leaders after all Khatami was president for 8 yrs whilst Khamanei was VF. All presidential candidates met with him prior to the elections and after the elections he did call upon them to make their complaints to the Guardian Council and was agreeable for them to have extra time to make their representations. But they did not. Then their have been many direct and indirect conversations via Rafsanjani. However the fact remains that there are differing visions for Iran amongst its political class and Khamanei as the Leader has a duty to keep a balance in a very complicated society that IRI has become.

rezvan / June 4, 2010 3:42 AM

Your SL (Supreme Liar) is only keeping the balance of his own interests: to him society is a herd of sheep, which he sacrifices whenever necessary. And did you forget that your 'president' called the people "khas o khashak" (dust and trash)?
Go, tell your stories somewhere else!

ma bishomarim

Arshama / June 4, 2010 6:41 AM


I typically don't respond to categorical attacks against a race, religion, or any group. But if you're suggesting that Islam, or Shia Islam, is an impediment to reform or democracy I'd recommend a more thorough analysis of Iranian history in which Islamists, Monarchists and Leftists have all stood in the way of democracy at one point or another.


Your analysis of Khameini is fair enough. And there is ample evidence for the conclusions you've reached. However, I didn't suggest hugging him close, rather addressing him directly. And you're right, time is not on their side, what's most uncertain is what comes after Khameini.


I'm speaking about today. Engagement between Khameini and members of the Green movement of the 80's, 90', or even the earlier parts of this decade has nothing to do with what I'm speaking about. Neither does "direct or indirect" conversations with Rafsanjani- unless you have evidence of such talks taking place currently.

What I am speaking about is instead the Green movement's particular focus with Ahmadinejad, human rights, and the elections without addressing the one person who has the power to meet their demands.

Also, I would suggest that Khameini has not kept a "balance" in our society. He clearly favors one side.

Correspondent / June 5, 2010 4:54 AM

I suppose I was being a bit flippant when I suggested that they "hug him close". As far as addressing him directly, do the mechanisms exist to do that?Until not long ago he was treated less like the flesh and blood mortal that he is and more like an insubstantial prescence who lived in the higher realm of spiritual affairs.The light always on in his office, like Stalins.

pirooz / June 5, 2010 8:41 PM


My comment was not a "categorical attack" on Islam, which seems to be how you have taken it. Rather it was pointing out how things are in Iran right now; nobody, be they in government or not, reformist or not, will cross the invisible line of questioning the various Islamic ideas which make up the fundamental pillars of this regime. Until those ideas are discussed openly -- by all sectors of society, not just the clerics -- and without fear of persecution, the elephant will continue to trample around, largely out of control, causing damage.

If this is a theocracy (which claims democracy is an inherent part of it) then shouldn't we all have the right to know under what laws and ideas we are to live under?

Or do only a non-elected handful of people grant themselves the right to tell the rest of us what those laws and ideas are, based on their own interpretation?

Mohammed Alireza / June 6, 2010 12:22 AM


The mechanisms do not exist as far as I know. But just recently Mousavi did address him directly saying some people consider themselves "saints of Islam." I have yet to find the Persian article so I can't be sure how far he went with the criticism but I believe it is this type of dialogue that is necessary for the transparency that Mousavi has been calling for in all matters of society. Of course, addressing Khameini is not an end, and who knows how much of it he hears, it's just a suggestion.


Thanks for the clarification. I understand your point now. The problems that can arise out of mixing religion and politics deserves a book, perhaps even a library.

One of Mousavi's favorite words has been "transparency" so that, as you say, "to know under what laws and ideas we are to live under." If these are his aims, then it is important to address the one person that has the power to bring about this type of transparency.

Correspondent / June 6, 2010 9:37 PM