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Mousavi, Karroubi, and the Opposition in the Diaspora

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

17 Dec 2010 20:17Comments

A close look at the criticisms voiced in the diaspora and the motivations behind them.

61762_439815689453_45061919453_4871585_7234190_n.jpg[ feature ] Over 18 months after the rigged presidential election of June 12, 2009, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former Majles Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, together with Mousavi's wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, and to a significant extent former President Mohammad Khatami, form the core of the Green Movement's leadership. Their thoughtful positions and critiques of what the hardliners are doing to Iran and Iranians, and what needs to be done to correct the dangerous path that they have put the nation on have become a thorn in the side of the ruling elite, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the high-ranking officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- in particular, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Guards' top commander, and Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the Guards' political directorate.

Although the hardliners have proclaimed the death of the Green Movement -- what they refer to as the "sedition" -- on too many occasions to count, not a single day passes in which they do not attack Mousavi and Karroubi and the movement's supporters. The reactionary cleric Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president), explained in his sermon during Tehran's Friday Prayers of December 3 that Mousavi and Karroubi are still denounced on a regular basis because "they have not retreated from their positions" of defending people's rights, democratic elections, a free press, and freedom for political prisoners.

Mousavi was recently prevented from attending the memorial for his daughter's father-in-law -- three of whose sons were killed in the Iran-Iraq War -- that was attended by many former Guard commanders who served during the conflict. The press was ordered to delete Mousavi's name from the list of signatories of a condolence message published in Tehran's newspapers. In fact, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and in particular the deputy minister in charge of the press, Mohammad Ali Ramin, has forbidden the Iranian news media from publishing photos or reporting on any statements that the leadership trio of Mousavi, Rahnavard, and Karroubi make, as if they are nonexistent. Khatami is mentioned, but very rarely.

What the hardliners are doing is not unprecedented in Iran or elsewhere -- all dictatorial regimes behave similarly. The hardliners did the same to Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (1922-2009) for several years, after he was sacked from the position of Deputy Supreme Leader in 1989. Before the 1979 Revolution, the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi banned the publication of photos of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh and anything that had to do with him. For nearly 30 years, the apartheid regime of South Africa banned mention of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and other leaders of the African National Congress, and barred publication of their images.

At the same time, arbitrary arrests of opposition figures, journalists, student activists, human rights advocates, and attorneys who represent political prisoners continue unabated. The incarceration spree has expanded to the point that the hardliners have been forced to invoke some very strange justifications for particular arrests. Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, 79, leader of the Freedom Movement of Iran, one of the country's oldest political parties, has been arrested. His family has been told that the reason for his arrest was that he and some friends had held namaaz-e jamaa'at (group prayers led by a prayer imam) in Esfahan, in central Iran. Apparently, in a country that is supposedly run by an Islamic government, an official permit is now required even to say prayers in a group.

For greater insight into what is taking place, one might read, for example, the defense of Abolfazl Ghadyani, a senior member of the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, who was recently given a one-year prison sentence for "insulting the President and the Leader." He helps us to understand the depth of the catastrophe that is taking place in Iran by turning the table against the hardliners and putting Khamenei and Ahmadinejad on trial, calling the latter a liar and dictator. And Ghadyani is a man who was jailed for five years by the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Long-term jail sentences are still being handed out at the end of trials with predetermined outcomes, held behind closed doors, without juries and, almost all the time, in the absence of the political prisoners' attorneys, who are often not allowed even to read the cases that the judiciary claims to have against the prisoners. Even before these pseudo-trials are held, the political prisoners are told by their interrogators -- often agents of the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit -- the length of the sentences that they can expect to receive, predictions invariably borne out by the judges who specialize in these cases. In short, Iran has become a hell for journalists.

Many of the imprisoned journalists have not only been given long jail sentences, they have also been banned from practicing their profession. For example, Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi has been banned for life from writing, on top of his six-year jail sentence and five years of internal exile. He was also recently told that he would be given a furlough only if he guaranteed that he would not allow Mousavi, Karroubi, and former Minister of the Interior Abdollah Nouri, a leading clerical reformist, to visit him at home. Zhila Bani Yaghoub, the distinguished, award-winning journalist, has been banned from journalism for 30 years, in addition to a one-year jail sentence. Hoda Saber, a journalist close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition (NRC) led by Ezatollah Sahabi, was kidnapped last July and has been jailed ever since. In his case, no reason -- not even a bogus one -- has been given. And this is not the first time that he has been jailed without apparent basis. Together with two other prominent journalists who are close to the NRC, Reza Alijani and Taghi Rahmani, Saber has been arrested and jailed repeatedly. The unspoken reason is that the trio is very popular among university students. In short, as Dr. Rahnavard recently said, the hardliners have created a jail as vast as Iran.

So, regardless of how loudly the hardliners proclaim the death of the Green Movement, everything that they do indicates their deep fear of the depth and breadth of the movement, its achievements, and the popularity of its leadership. In the latest manifestation of that popularity, shouts of "Yaa Hossein, Mir Hossein" -- "Oh, Hossein [the third Shia Imam, a most revered figure in Iran], Mir Hossein [Mousavi]" -- were everywhere during the gatherings and demonstrations that took place on the 57th anniversary of Student Day. Indeed, leading hardliners have made their fear explicit, such as Guardian Council Secretary-General Ahmad Jannati, who warned that the Green Movement is "a fire under ash."

At the same time, as if to reassure themselves of the credibility of their leader with the masses, the hardliners have been working hard to put up public shows that supposedly demonstrate that Khamenei still enjoys support among both the populace and the majority of senior clerics. Examples include his recent trip to Qom, and his meeting with thousands of Basij militia members at a Tehran military base. The latter is particularly interesting -- the hardliners clearly do not recognize that having a demonstration at a military base to indicate support for the Leader only goes to show the extent to which the nation's political affairs have been militarized, a charge made repeatedly by the leadership of the Green Movement and denied by the hardliners.

While Mousavi, Karroubi, and their close aides have courageously resisted the huge pressure by the hardliners and, if anything, have sharpened their message to the masses and expanded the movement's reach to encompass a broad spectrum of views, Mousavi has been attacked by part of the opposition in the Iranian diaspora. Before embarking on a discussion of these attacks -- the focus of this article -- let me emphasize that it is a fundamental right of any Iranian to view Iran's political developments and political figures in any way that he or she desires. The point here is thus not to argue against the right of people to criticize Mousavi and other Green Movement leaders, but to see whether the criticisms being made are well-founded.

Among the leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi has been criticized and attacked more than the others by some of the opposition in the diaspora, simply because he was Iran's prime minister for nearly eight years. The reasons for the attacks on Mousavi vary widely. For obvious reasons, supporters of Mojahedin Khalgh Organization, as well as a segment of the exiled monarchists, never accepted Mousavi as an opposition leader to begin with. Some members of the secular left, particularly the far or revolutionary left, hold Mousavi partly responsible for what happened during the 1980s, in particular the execution of more than 4,500 political prisoners in 1988. Others thought that the Green Movement would easily overthrow the Islamic Republic -- even though that was not the movement's goal; they therefore supported Mousavi initially, then became disillusioned when their unrealistic expectations did not materialize.

Mousavi and the Execution of Political Prisoners in 1988

It has almost become a cliché of the opposition to Mousavi in the diaspora that, as soon as his name is mentioned, they attack him for his supposed role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, around the time that the Iran-Iraq War finally ended, without proving that he actually played a direct, or even indirect, part in the executions. Before analyzing whether the claim is correct, the parameters of the discussion must be set. In my opinion,

(a) The 1988 executions represent a clear case of crimes against humanity.

(b) The public has a fundamental right to know exactly what happened, why the executions occurred, and who was responsible for them.

(c) The entire leadership of the time, including Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami (note, however, that Khatami was then a relatively junior figure), has moral responsibility for the executions. In addition, those in the leadership who were directly involved in the executions also bear executive responsibility and must some day defend themselves in open court.

(d) If it eventually turns out that Mousavi, Karroubi, and other political figures that support or lead the Green Movement had executive responsibility for the executions, they must thus be held accountable, though, of course, allowed to defend themselves in a fair trial. The fact that people such as the author currently support Mousavi, Karroubi, and others does not imply that any evidence for their direct involvement, if such evidence is ever revealed, should be ignored or the possibility of putting them on trial abrogated.

(e) It is totally immoral to reductively frame the executions as merely a symptom of the confrontation between two political groups, or between the opposition and the government. There is a third party here -- the families of the executed, who are entitled to know what happened to their loved ones and who was responsible for the crimes. History helps us understand this better.

On December 26, 1988, less than four months after the executions, families of the executed who had become aware of the crime gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice building in Tehran in order to meet with Dr. Hassan Habibi, justice minister in Mousavi's cabinet. They had prepared a letter for Habibi in which they demanded

* (i) to learn the date of the "retrial," the length of the time period in which the case of each of the execution victim was studied by the courts before the executions, the reason for their retrial, and the place of their retrial (note that as I explained earlier, before the victims were executed, they were put on a totally bogus show trial)

* (ii) to learn the date of execution and the location of the burial site of each victim;

* (iii) to receive the wills that the victims wrote before being executed;

* (iv) to learn the exact number of victims;

* (v) that those who were responsible for the crimes be put on trial, due to their violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, which explicitly bans such crimes; and

* (vi) to obtain the agreement of the government for an international delegation to inspect Iran's jails and to meet and talk with the families of the victims.

Security forces attacked the families, arresting some of them, and the letter never reached Habibi. Sometime later, the letter was published in the Iranian press in the diaspora.

(f) At the appropriate time, Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, and the Reformists must clearly explain their views and position regarding the executions. As Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leading Reformist and deputy minister of interior in the first Khatami administration who is currently imprisoned, recently said, "Reformists must apologize to the people" for their misdeeds.

Note that the distinction between moral and executive responsibility is not my invention. The concept has been recognized and invoked since at least World War II in many major trials involving large-scale political killings and mass murders.

Now that the parameters of the discussions have been set, given the heinous nature of the 1988 executions, it is important to ask the question: Was Mousavi involved in the executions? The fact is, I do not know. But, if I were to guess based on the currently available evidence, I would say that he did not know about the executions until after they occurred. What is the evidence?

One piece of evidence is provided by the most authoritative account of the executions, namely, the memoir of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the only top official of the Islamic Republic that publicly opposed the executions -- indeed, he was expelled from the ruling circle as a result. Nowhere in that part of the memoir that deals with the executions does the ayatollah mention Mousavi or imply that he had any role in the killings. The fact that after last year's election, Montazeri strongly supported Mousavi confirms the ayatollah's positive view of him and strengthens the case that he was unaware of the executions.

The cliché response to this evidence is that "Mousavi was prime minister for eight years. How could he not know what was going on?" Aside from the fact that those who make this perennial claim do not seem to be aware of the power hierarchy in Iran and the existence of several centers of power that act virtually independently of each other, there is also considerable evidence that Mousavi was unaware of many developments. Although, as prime minister, he was strongly backed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the right-wing ministers that had been imposed on his cabinet were carrying out their own, unauthorized agenda behind his back, which again indicates that it is plausible that he did not know about the executions. For example, this October, Mohsen Rafighdoost, who was minister of Sepah (the Revolutionary Guards) during the war, declared in an interview that he had ordered the seizure of industrial plants controlled by the government to use them for making ammunition and the impounding of trucks to transport troops without informing Mousavi. Read here Mousavi's strong response to Rafighdoost.

Another piece of evidence is the letter of resignation that Mousavi submitted to Khomeini in September 1988. The letter was secret, but a copy of it was recently released by Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, who was impeached by the Majles and forced into exile. In the letter, Mousavi bitterly complains about the existence of several centers of power that carry out their own policies, particularly in the foreign policy arena, without informing the government and receiving the approval of his cabinet. The letter confirms that Mousavi was not aware of many developments as they were taking place and found out about them only later.

Still more evidence was recently provided by Dr. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, a senior advisor to Mousavi on legal issues. In a recent meeting with Iranians in Berlin, Amir Arjomand was asked about Mousavi and his role in the executions. He responded that Mousavi was not aware of the executions until after they had occurred. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a senior advisor to Mousavi has made such an explicit declaration. In addition, Amir Arjomand stated that after Mousavi became aware of the executions, he formed a committee to look into the reasons for them. The committee prepared a report and submitted it to Mousavi and Khomeini, though Amir Arjomand did not say what the commission had found. He did say, presumably on Mousavi's behalf, that regardless of the original reasons for the arrests of the executed political prisoners, the fact that the executions had taken place without due process made them completely illegal and that, naturally, those responsible for and involved in the executions must someday defend themselves in a court of law.

Let me emphasize once again: I am not trying to exonerate Mousavi. If he had executive responsibility for the executions, he must defend himself someday. But there is presently no credible evidence that indicates that he was involved in the decision-making process that led to the executions, or that he was even aware of what was going on until it was too late.

Mousavi and the 'Golden Era of the Imam'

attachment-1.jpgThe opposition to Mousavi also derides him for having spoken about his wish for Iran to return to the "golden era of the Imam," meaning Khomeini. When Mousavi first spoke of the "golden era," just before the presidential election of 2009, he was criticized by some of his supporters in Iran. He and his aides then explained that what he meant was the time when the ayatollah was in Paris in the fall of 1978, leading the Revolution from there. (Tajzadeh has also said that this is the "golden era" to which the Reformists refer.) At that time, the ayatollah had promised a completely democratic state in which even the Communists, for instance, could advocate freely for their views (pictured as one of the headlines in Kayhan newspaper). This explanation has been forgotten amid all the traumatic events that have since taken place. Mousavi and his wife, Dr. Rahnavard, have since said that while they understand the criticisms, they would like to be free to express their honest opinion about Khomeini, while inviting others to do the same and to continue to criticize them if they wish. Meanwhile, though, they have deemphasized discussion of the era.

In my opinion, the criticism is justified on moral and historical grounds. There is no question that Khomeini was responsible for (1) putting in place the system of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader), which is the root cause of the present situation in Iran, and (2) the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s, as the ultimate authority at the time. These two matters constitute the "inheritance" the ayatollah left for Iran and, together with his leadership of the 1979 Revolution that toppled the monarchy, represent his historical legacy. From this perspective, the criticism is completely justified.

But there is also another aspect that we must keep in mind. After the June 2009 election, the line has been clearly drawn: On one side stand the hardliners, the reactionary clerics, the top Revolutionary Guard commanders, and a substantial portion of the traditional conservatives. Opposing them are the supporters of democracy, respect for human rights and a society without discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, economic class, and religion and one in which the vast resources of the state are not looted by a small minority, as is happening now. This opposition, which has crystallized as the Green Movement, constitutes a very large majority of the population.

So, given the present extremely repressive regime and highly polarized society, one must ask: What would be gained if Mousavi and Karroubi publicly declared that the era of Khomeini was the bloodiest period in Iran's modern history? Whether anyone likes it or not, the fact is that there are many in the traditional conservative camp that still respect Khomeini (I am not claiming that they are justified, simply observing that they exist), even as they oppose, albeit more or less quietly, what is happening in Iran now. Mousavi and Karroubi are trying to attract this faction of the traditional conservatives to their side of the line that separates the majority of the population from the hardliners.

The hardliners have consistently violated certain principles that Khomeini repeatedly preached, while still professing to be adherents of his path. The ayatollah, for instance, was totally opposed to military intervention in politics. Contrast this with the militarization of Iran by the Revolutionary Guards. Another principle that he believed in was Majles dar ra's-e omour ast (the Majles leads the affairs of the state). Contrast this with Ahmadinejad's ceaseless violations of the laws approved by the Majles -- the same parliament that was handpicked by the Guardian Council -- and his recent claim that the ayatollah's principle was no longer applicable. The ayatollah always emphasized that the criterion for approval of any political figure is the people's vote: Mizan ra'ye mellat ast. Contrast this with the vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council that has led elections in Iran to degenerate into virtually meaningless spectacle. In addition, the Majles is drafting a law to permit monitoring of the body's own deputies. In other words, if vetting does not succeed in eliminating all "undesirable" candidates and some are actually voted in, there will now be yet another instrument of control.

In addition, it is believed that Mousavi and Karroubi are widely popular among the rank and file of the regular army, as well as the officer corps of the Revolutionary Guards (although presumably not among the highest ranks). General Jafari, the top Guard commander, has spoken explicitly about their popularity. Major General Ataollah Salehi, chief of staff of Iran's regular armed forces, recently admitted that Mousavi and Karroubi are very popular among the soldiers and that he had seen their photos in soldiers' rooms at various military bases. Many officers of both the regular army and the Revolutionary Guards have not subscribed to the view of Khamenei and the hardliners that Mousavi and Karroubi are leaders of "sedition," precisely because they know that the two were close to Khomeini and therefore could hardly be committing treason against their country, of which the hardliners have repeatedly accused them. That is why Mousavi and Karroubi are striving to convince the honest conservatives that they cannot call themselves followers of Khomeini if they do not protest the many blatant violations of his principles, not to mention the Constitution.

Mousavi, the Constitution, and Free Elections

Both Mousavi and Karroubi have emphasized that they want the Constitution to be implemented completely, by which they mean those articles of the Constitution, ignored by the hardliners, that affirm the rights of the citizens and fundamental democratic principles. The Constitution does have many democratic articles:

Article 9: Freedom, and independence and territorial integrity are inseparable.... No official has the right to take away the legitimate freedom of the people, even if it is done through legislation, in the name of protecting the independence of the country and protecting its territorial integrity.

Article 19: All the people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like do not bestow any privilege.

Article 22: The dignity, life, property, rights, residence, and occupation of the individual are inviolate, except in cases sanctioned by law.

Article 23: Inquisition is forbidden, and no one can be attacked and questioned due to his or her beliefs.

Article 24: The press is free, unless what it publishes violates Islamic teachings or the rights of the citizens. Details of such exceptions must be specified by law.

Article 25: Inspection of letters and failure to deliver them, [secretly] recording and then disclosing phone conversations, revelation of telegraphs and telex and willful failure to deliver them, censorship, and eavesdropping are illegal, unless authorized by law.

Article 27: Public gathering and demonstrations, if done without weapons, are free if they do not violate Islamic teachings.

Article 32: No one can be arrested without lawful procedure. If arrested, the accusations accompanied by the reasons must be given to the accused in writing, and in at most 24 hours the preliminary case should be referred to the courts.

Article 33: No one can be banished from his place of residence, prevented from residing in the place of his choice, or compelled to reside in a given locality, except in cases provided by law.

Article 34: It is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to competent courts. All citizens have right of access to such courts, and no one can be barred from courts to which he has a legal right of recourse.

Article 35: In all the courts [and trials] the two sides have the right to be represented by attorneys.

Article 36: Issuing orders for punishing an accused and executing the punishment can be done only by a fair court and according to the law.

Article 37: Innocence is to be presumed, and no one is to be held guilty of a charge unless his or her guilt has been established by a competent court.

Article 38: All forms of torture for extracting confessions are illegal. It is illegal to compel [by torture] someone to testify, or confess, or take an oath, and any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence. Violators will be punished according to the law.

Article 39: All affronts to the dignity and repute of persons arrested, detained, imprisoned, or banished in accordance with the law, whatever form they may take, are forbidden and liable to punishment.

Article 168: The trials of political and journalistic offenders must be open to the public, and must be held in the presence of a jury.

Clearly, putting into practice these articles would represent an important step toward reviving the rights of Iran's citizens. Given that these articles are currently completely ignored, as they have largely been ignored for much of the Islamic Republic's three decades, the demand to "implement the Constitution completely" is strategically wise.

There is, however, a counterargument based on Article 110 of the Constitution:

Article 110: The following are the duties and powers of the Leadership [Supreme Leader]:

1. Delineation of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran after consultation with the nation's Expediency Council.

2. Supervising the proper execution of the general policies of the system.

3. Issuing decrees for national referenda.

4. Assuming supreme command of the armed forces.

5. Declaration of war and peace, and the mobilization of the armed forces.

6. Appointment, dismissal, and acceptance of resignation of:

* i. The fuqaha' [clerical Islamic scholars] on the Guardian Council.
* ii. The supreme judicial authority of the country.
* iii. The head of the radio and television network of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
* iv. The chief of the joint staff [of the armed forces].
* v. The chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
* vi. The supreme commanders of the armed forces.

7. Resolving differences between the three wings of the armed forces and regulation of their relations.

8. Resolving the problems that cannot be solved by conventional methods, through the nation's Expediency Council.

9. Signing the decree formalizing the election of the president of the Republic by the people. The suitability of candidates for the presidency of the Republic, with respect to the qualifications specified in the Constitution, must be confirmed by the Guardian Council before elections take place, and in the case of the first term [of the presidency] by the Leadership.

10. Dismissal of the president of the Republic, with due regard for the interests of the country, after the Supreme Court finds him guilty of violation of his constitutional duties, or after a vote of the Islamic Consultative Assembly [the Majles] testifying to his incompetence on the basis of Article 89 of the Constitution.

11. Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation from the head of the judiciary. The Leader may delegate part of his duties and powers to another person.

In other words, the Supreme Leader controls all the important organs of power. Right-wing reactionary clerics go even further and claim that what the Constitution specifies represents the lower boundary of the Supreme Leader's authority. Thus, the critics say that as long as the Supreme Leader has so much power, there is no hope for implementing those articles of the Constitution that affirm the citizens' rights. In this, the critics do have a valid point.

The alternative to "implementing the Constitution completely" that the critics of Mousavi and Karroubi suggest is demanding truly democratic elections. There is no question that, except for the hardliners and their allies, practically all political groups agree on the necessity of free and democratic elections. But a few facts must be kept in mind:

(a) While free elections are a pillar of democracy, and under Iran's current conditions can act as the glue that joins the entire opposition (and even a part of the conservative camp), they do not necessarily guarantee the establishment of democracy. The most important aspect of free elections is acceptance of the principle that the people's wishes -- whatever they may be -- must be expressed through such elections, that they cannot be replaced by anything else, and that they represent the least dangerous path with the lowest "cost" for moving a society toward democracy, but that the outcome is not guaranteed. Adolf Hitler came to power through such elections. Free and democratic elections also do not guarantee that those political parties that want to mix religion and governance will not be elected. The Islamic Salvation Front won the October 1991 elections in Algeria. The Lebanese Hezbollah routinely receives a significant share of the vote in Lebanon's elections. Hamas won a plurality in the Palestinian parliament. Despite heavy repression and all types of restrictions on their activities, as well as electoral fraud, Egypt's religious parties consistently receive around 25 percent of the vote. I believe that if democratic elections were held in every Islamic country of the Middle East, Islamic parties would do very well, if not win outright victories, in most places, because the regimes in most of those countries are allied with the United States. Even in Iran, religious parties, though not necessarily the right-wing ones, would still garner a substantial share of the vote.

(b) Since 1997, we have witnessed the birth of two democratic movements in Iran that were the result of undemocratic elections. The first was the reform movement of the Khatami era. The second is the Green Movement, which represents a much broader and more encompassing outgrowth of the former.

(c) Implementation of the democratic articles of the Constitution that have been ignored, particularly those that were emphasized in Mousavi's Statement 17, is a prerequisite to free and democratic elections. In that statement, Mousavi outlined the minimum demands of the people for the short term: (i) a free press; (ii) freedom for political parties to advocate their views; (iii) freedom for peaceful gathering and demonstrations; (iv) unconditional release of all political prisoners; (v) elimination of the Guardian Council's vetting power; (vi) banning military intervention in the nation's political and economic affairs; and (vii) free and democratic elections. The final item cannot be implemented without first implementing the preceding six. In short, the slogans "implementing the Constitution completely" and "free and democratic elections" go hand in hand.

(d) No undemocratic political system and no unelected or fraudulently elected ruling elite will give up power voluntarily. Only when societal pressure on the ruling elite becomes unbearable may they retreat and try to respond to people's demands. But societal pressure can become unbearable only if it is applied by a significant majority, has a recognized leadership, and can show to the ordinary people the fundamental contradictions between the words and deeds of the ruling elite, in addition to their corruption and utter incompetence in running the country. Therefore, the question is, When will free and democratic elections take place, before removal of the Islamic Republic or after? It is instructive to briefly review what has happened in other nations over the past three decades.

From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, many Latin American countries were ruled by U.S.-backed military dictatorships, among them Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Every single one finally agreed to hold meaningful, if not completely democratic, elections. Most did not immediately result in democracy; in fact, in most cases, the military did not allow every candidate to run and tried to protect some special rights and privileges for itself. But the elections paved the way for democracy to the extent that practically all South American nations are now run by leftist governments. Brazil's new President, Dilma Russeff, for instance, is a former leftist guerrilla and fugitive.

With the exception of Poland, most Eastern European countries did not even have powerful oppositions in the 1980s. But they all ultimately agreed to hold elections after it became clear that continuing the communist system was untenable. In the first round of elections, every ruling party was defeated, although socialist parties have since come to power.

Elections in the old Soviet Union were even less meaningful than those in Iran, because every candidate was from a single group, the Communist Party. But in the late 1980s, similarly undemocratic elections produced a parliament that voted to revise the country's constitution and end the Communist Party's monopoly on power.

In each case, it was unbearable societal pressure combined with economic deterioration, rather than a popular revolution, that forced the ruling elite to hold elections and otherwise change their ways. Thus, in analyzing the path that the democratic movement in Iran should take, it is instructive to keep in mind the recent lessons of history from around the world, as well as the more immediate fact that the 1979 Revolution hardly resulted in a democratic state.

Finally, when people protest the arbitrary arrest of political figures, students, journalists, and human rights advocates, their protests have a legal framework: the Constitution itself and its democratic principles, outlined above. When there are protests against show trials, those protests have a legal framework: Article 168 of the Constitution. And when there are protests against restriction and repression of the press, those protests have a legal framework, as well: the Constitution's guarantees of a free press. This is particularly important now, because the hardliners have even set aside any pretense of following the nation's laws. During a debate a few days ago at the University of Lorestan between Dr. Ali Shakouri-Rad, a member of the central committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest Reformist group, and Ahmadinejad supporter Abdolreza Davari, former director of the Islamic Republic News Agency, Shakouri-Rad stated that the interrogators of political prisoners tell them, "Do not speak about the law." Shakouri-Rad was speaking from personal experience -- just two months ago he was arrested and briefly detained. Shortly after the debate, he was arrested once again.

The Leadership of the Green Movement

Mousavi and Karroubi have humbly said many times that they consider themselves only supporters of the Green Movement, not its leaders. Although whatever they do only reinforces their leadership, their humble statement has been used by some to attack them or deny their leadership. Some people claim that there is no leadership at all, and in fact no need for it. But as political analyst and movement supporter Abbas Abdi has put it, "How is it possible to have a movement without a leader?" Others claim that they support the movement, but do not consider Mousavi and Karroubi its leaders, and still others claim that the two men are merely "symbolic leaders" of the movement. Both groups have a goal, although they do not state it explicitly: they want to go around the leadership, do whatever they want and take any position, but do so in the name of the movement. There are also people in both groups that fantasize about assuming leadership of the democratic movement, but do not dare to say so publicly. At the same time, those who reject Mousavi and Karroubi, but accept that a dynamic movement does need leadership, do not point to any credible alternative leadership. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that people living in Iran support any leadership other than that of Mousavi and Karroubi.

There is also an important point that those who oppose Mousavi and Karroubi in particular and the Reformists in general do not seem to understand or are not honest enough to acknowledge: Without the Reformist groups and their supporters acting as the first line of defense, the ruling establishment would have employed violence on a much greater scale. Without the Reformist groups, the Green Movement might not have been born at all. Without the Reformist groups and figures, the democratic movement would not be as encompassing as it is now, which has deeply frightened the ruling establishment. And without the Reformist groups, the ruling establishment would be much more cohesive and unified. This explains why the ruling establishment considers the Reformists as its number one enemy. All one need do to see this is to glance at the roster of political prisoners, regard the crackdown on political parties and the press, and attend to the daily attacks by the voices of fascism on various groups and individual activists to see who are the main targets of the wrath of the hardliners.

A faction of the monarchists points to Reza Pahlavi as the leader of the democratic movement. Aside from the question of his qualifications (in my view, he has none) and the fact that the only reason that he is even talked about is that he happens to be the son of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose dictatorship was overthrown, there is no evidence whatsoever that he has any significant base of popular support within Iran. Furthermore, in my view, the Green Movement needs leaders who live in Iran and are directly exposed to all the horrendous problems that the people deal with on an everyday basis, not someone, such as Reza Pahlavi, who has lived all of his adult life outside the country.

In conclusion, I quote what Dr. Dariush Homayoun, highly regarded among a faction of the monarchists, recently said about Mousavi. Homayoun was an important figure in the Shah's regime. He and his group advocate a return to monarchy, albeit a constitutional one, which Iran has no experience with and which I reject. In my opinion, however, Homayoun's actions and statements over the past several years have been very positive and constructive overall, certainly much more so than many of the pretenders to democracy on the one hand, and what I call the "superpatriotic" Iranians -- that coalition of neocons, royalists, and right-wingers who tried to provoke the George W. Bush administration to attack Iran -- on the other. Homayoun has repeatedly declared that if Iran is attacked by the United States, he will join the fight to defend it. In a recent article, he said the following about Mousavi:

Mousavi is not my comrade-in-arms, but I look at his work and compare it with those who have claims to leadership in the diaspora. He is under tremendous pressure and [yet] everyday speaks more radically [against the ruling elite], and searches for new supporters of the Green Movement in the political system. I cannot oppose any of this. As I said in an interview, What would I do if I were living in Iran? I would certainly not be a spokesman for the Congress of [Iranian] Nationalities on the issue of federalism, and I would not attack the young man [Mousavi] who was in charge of running the economy of the nation during the war [with Iraq] and did a good job of it -- for the decisions behind what took place in that era [the execution of political prisoners and growing repression] were made at the top of the leadership [not by Mousavi]. To me, the fact that the leaders of the Green Movement are in fact part of the political system is a sign of the strength of the movement, as well as a reason for more optimism for the future. At the very least they defend one Iran [without federalism]. In my view, a person who has evolved from being a favorite son of Khomeini to the spokesman for the Green Movement is far more valuable than [those holding] other positions that cannot even be described.

Homayoun is referring to Reza Pahlavi's support for a federalist system in Iran. In an interview with a Toronto television channel, Reza Pahlavi went so far as to say that the central government should be in charge only of foreign policy, defense, and general economic planning. His stance has been criticized by many. Those who advocate leadership for Iran's democratic movement other than Mousavi and his ally Karroubi would do well to think about what Homayoun has said.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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