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Fate of the Green Movement leaders

Geneive Abdo
  • Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were put under house arrest in early February. What is their status eight months later?
Mousavi was taken to a very small apartment and is under guard 24 hours a day, according to statements by his wife about one month ago. Due to a lack of privacy at this new location, she said she was unable to join him. Karroubi is also under house arrest in a small apartment and under heavy surveillance.
The two leaders’ house arrest is seriously detrimental to the opposition movement’s ability to organize and mobilize street protests because no other leadership has emerged.
  • So what is the status of the Green Movement?
The opposition movement is better organized outside Iran than inside due to the regime’s extensive repression. But it is important not to compare the Green movement with the Arab spring for several reasons. First and foremost, most Arab countries that have experienced revolutions – aside from Libya—had some semblance of a civil society. Even Syria had a civil society movement that was not as constrained by the state as is the case in Iran.
Iran’s opposition is more of an evolving social movement working inside and outside the country. It is still evolving because there are no unifying objectives on key issues, such as the relationship between religion and state, a new political structure, or the scope of reforms. Despite this slow evolution, significant and widespread movement is still underway, even if it does not speak with one voice and is not highly visible.
  • Are the reformers even relevant to politics two years after the election?  Are the reformers in a position to play a significant role in the parliamentary elections scheduled for March?
Yes, of course. The word “reformers” has a broad definition.  Much of the clerical establishment, for example, is opposed to the regime. Therefore, they should be included in the West’s catchall term “reformers.”
Iranian officials have already said categorically that candidates from both the reform movement and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s faction will be banned from running in the parliamentary poll due in March. So the reformers’ main alternative is an election boycott that would deprive the regime of the façade of democratic elections. The Green Movement aside, the population overall is depressed and apathetic. A boycott resulting in a low voter turnout would further erode the Islamic republic’s credibility—at a time when the Iranian regime is concerned about how it is perceived both at home and abroad. 
  • What role does the United States play in this political environment?
The Obama administration mistakenly believed that engagement with Iran meant ignoring human rights--in order to encourage Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program. Now that the diplomatic process is stalled, the U.S. government would be better served pressuring Iran on its human rights record.  This would include drawing attention to specific cases as well as the regime’s cleansing of Iranian universities. For example, professors and students deemed to be less than loyal to the regime have been expelled in great numbers. Women are also under enormous pressure and are limited politically and socially. The Obama administration has placed its Iran policy on hold while it deals with the turmoil in the Arab world and the domestic economic crisis. Both sides -- the Iranians and the Americans – appear to think they can buy time. As the United States government focuses elsewhere, the Iranians reportedly continue to develop their nuclear program.

The European Union and the UN have made progress in highlighting Iran’s poor human rights record and the United States would be well served to follow their example. A Special Rapporteur for human rights, for example, has been appointed by the UN. His initial report is due in this fall. He may try to visit Iran in the coming months, which would add pressure on the regime. Just today, the EU expanded sanctions on Iran due to the regime's human rights violations. 



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New Green Movement Manifesto

Geneive Abdo: The following text was given to insideIRAN.org by a group of intellectuals who are leaders in the Green Movement in Tehran. They are also the authors of this manifesto.

We, dozens of groups of Green activists in Iran, have decided to offer several recommendations for the reform and strengthening of the Green Movement. These recommendations have emerged as a result of our experiences in Iran over the past two years as well as the experiences of those in other countries in the Middle East that recently have had popular revolutions aimed at overthrowing their dictatorships. These recommendations are the result of repeated discussions and debates among leaders of Green cells inside Iran, many of whom have suffered imprisonment, beatings, or other violence during demonstrations since the emergence of this popular movement.
The continued house arrest of the leaders of the Green Movement inside Iran and the conditions in which demonstrations have been attempted after their imprisonment requires that the Green leadership outside the country review and reform its tactics and strategy so that the great social capital obtained by the Green Movement after the coup d’etat of the summer of 2009 is not lost. Moreover, Greens inside and outside the country alike need to develop new tactics and strategies in order to utilize and channel effectively the ever-rising economic, political, and social discontent within our country and to ensure that the movement does not split or falter.
This short blueprint/manifesto is divided into three sections, constituting what we believe needs to be done to expand the breadth of the Green Movement’s actions and operations if it is to become victorious at this critical juncture in history. The sections address three necessary rubrics: Inspiration, Organization, and Action. Based on Mir Hossein Moussavi’s systematic statements after the coup d’etat and those of Mehdi Karroubi, the Green Movement leadership must present a concise but comprehensive critique and condemnation of the economics and politics of the present despotic system and present our alternative to it. It must offer an explanation for the grievances of the various socioeconomic and ethnic groups within our society and then offer inspiration and organization to the people in order to motivate and provide them the path to take action to remedy this deteriorating situation.
I. Inspiration.
The inspiration that is at the heart of the movement must be recognized and its message actively propagated to all involved: The Green Movement is not a uniform undifferentiated mass. It consists of a myriad of peoples who, together, represent the cultural, ethnic, religious, and social fabric of our diverse society, and they are deeply concerned about the fate of their beloved country and religion. The principles that unite all Greens are the goals of rule of law, respect for human rights, and the supremacy of popular sovereignty over all state and government institutions, including the post of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Revolution. Thus, we reject the suggestion of the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, that we Greens and the supporters of Khamenei (in other words, the supporters of despotism) apologize to each other and go forward from there. Such a suggestion is irresponsible and ignores not only the coup d’etat of 2009, but also the massive violence used against our society by Khamenei and his system that resulted in, among other things, the murder and rape of our youth. We believe that Khatami’s suggestions in this regard are dangerous and threaten splits in the Green Movement and, if accepted, will result in a loss of our social capital. Khatami’s discourse of reform is over, since Khamenei and those behind him have shown that they are unwilling to take this course and will resort to murder and mass suppression in order to ensure their political and economic interests.
We believe that this goal of the complete subordination of all government and state posts to direct popular sovereignty needs to be clearly and repeatedly stated so that people know clearly for what they are fighting. Without a doubt, most people in our society want this political change. The time for hesitation and talk of reformism in this regard has finished.
To the working and lower classes, we must offer an end to exploitative wages, and instead work toward true, effective trade unions, protected by law, and improvements in living standards and economic well-being. This goal cannot be achieved in the state structure we have today, as it is politically and economically corrupt and is not answerable to anyone.
To ethic and religious groups, we Greens must actively propagate the promise of cultural and ethnic autonomy, which was expressed as well by Karroubi and Moussavi during the presidential elections.
To women, the Green Movement must actively propagate the idea that women must have equal rights as men before the law.
To the religious part of our society, we Greens must stress that our political goal of democratization will put an end to the abuse of religion by political opportunists and the supporters of despotism and authoritarianism to achieve and protect their political and economic interests. Religion is to be the model of morality, purity, and service to God, untainted by politics, corruption, murder, lying, and rape.
II. Organization.
  • We suggest that a Green Council of some ten or so leading and known political and/or intellectual leaders (or whatever number is deemed appropriate) be formed in the absence of Moussavi and Karroubi. Members of this council would have to accept the ultimate leadership of Moussavi and Karroubi and their representatives, given the participation of these men in the election, their popular legitimacy inside the country, and their resistance to the despotism of Khamanei and those behind him. This council, during the absence of these two men, would (a) establish the goals of the Green Movement; (b) coordinate forms of protest and demonstrations; (c) propagate the goals and actions of the Green Movement and propaganda against the coup regime.
  • The leadership of the Green Movement and/or the council needs to make a call for Greens to form individual Green groups across the country. This announcement would build on Moussavi’s idea that each person is a form of mass media. The size is not important. What is important is the construction of a country-wide network of Green “cells.” Certainly, many such cells already exist, having come into existence due to the initiative of individuals. But the network is not large enough. No success can be achieved without expansion of these cells. They are the heart of the movement. Given our experience on the street, a call for such cells will be greeted with acceptance. But it needs to be done quickly. Our social capital is not endless.
  • A call needs to be propagated that Greens need to work harder on establishing their links with the working class and the urban working lower class. This movement cannot be successful if links are not made with these classes.
  • We believe that the Green leadership needs to propagate actively the need for all local Green cells and even individuals to pass the word, either orally or through leaflets and pamphlets, about the goals of the movement and about future demonstrations and other forms of protest. We know that individuals and certain groups have been doing this. But more needs to be done in this regard.
III. Action.
  • In the face of the brutality of Khamenei’s regime, the leadership of the Green Movement needs to choose methods of protest that will lessen the costs associated with protest for individuals yet maintain and expand popular mobilization behind the movement. Suggestions are strikes, boycotts, silent demonstrations similar to what we had on the anniversary of the election, days for wearing green, and organizing specific times when all Greens drive their cars—these are just some of the methods that can be utilized, until the full force of the working and lower classes enters this struggle for the future of our country.
  • Expansion of the propaganda war. Greater systematic attention must be paid to the issues of corruption, the economic performance of the regime, murder and rape at the hands of the Khamenei regime, the linking of Khamenei with Ahmadinejad (with focus on his 19 June 2009 speech, in which he announced that his and Ahmadinejad’s views were very close).
  • Regime morale—“name and shame” must be utilized. If possible, the names of those serving in security and basiji services engaged in beating, raping, and imprisoning the people need to be found and actively propagated through the Internet, mass media, and leaflets. Failing this, just pictures of these forces taken when in action or just on the street need to be propagated inside and outside the country.
  • The names of those elites with extensive property and wealth abroad need to be found and propagated.
  • We need to resurrect Moussavi’s statement, according to which those individuals—from regular basiji and other pawns to the leading officials of the regime, from Khamenei down—ordering and/or participating in violence against and killing of people will be eventually held accountable. This needs to propagated consistently, through mass media from abroad and leaflets and pamphlets here in Iran.
  • The point needs to be made consistently that, given the certainty of the eventual victory of the Greens, there will be a policy of forgive but not forget. If officials from low positions to high positions who have not participated in or ordered the murder and rape of people come to our side, we will accept them. However, there is a time limit on this.

In conclusion, we would like to stress that this piece was made by us only as a set of suggestions and an expression of serious worry over the current state of the Green Movement. The above text is the result of debates, study, and the varied of experience of Greens on the frontline inside Iran, and our collective opinion of what is needed by our movement. We understand that most of what we have proposed without doubt can be improved and perfected as we move forward. In addition, we realize that many of these suggestions are not new. However, most of them have not been implemented or have been implemented only partially, which has resulted in a temporary but severe weakening of the Green Movement. We hope that the decision-makers outside of Iran will take seriously these suggestions. It no longer can be naively assumed that the despotic side of this regime simply will collapse due to its inner contradictions and power struggles. We on the ground have to create pressure and the conditions for its implosion. We here in Iran are looking for decisive participation from Green leaders abroad. The movement here in Iran can be rejuvenated and propelled to victory if such leadership is provided. If not, we regret to say, we feel this movement will just become another failed attempt to bring freedom, dignity, and respect to our country.


Tags: Reports

Iran’s domestic woes dictate outcome of nuclear talks

Geneive Abdo

      Iran’s leaders face a host of problems at home and abroad that deeply impact international diplomatic efforts. The outcome of current talks between Tehran and the world’s six major powers—as well as any future initiatives—is likely to be heavily influenced by the regime’s perception of its own position at home.
      Historically, Tehran has been more willing to strike compromises with the West when it has felt weak or vulnerable at home—and stood to gain wider domestic support.
      Iran begins 2011 facing several domestic conflicts that reflect the increasing fragmentation within the state. Internal divisions between hardline loyalists of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and moderate traditional conservatives are widening, as Ahmadinejad is forced to defend a controversial vice president from political attack.
      Ahmadinejad is simultaneously under fire for his own aggressive attempt to assume powers previously delegated to the legislative and judicial branches.

      Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's support for Ahmadinejad after his disputed reelection in 2009, which sparked mass protests throughout Iran, is also taking a toll on the ayatollah’s ability to maintain the government’s cohesion. Khamenei faces a major dilemma: He has invested too much in Ahmadinejad to de-legitimize him, but he also needs the support of Ahmadinejad's foes--the moderate conservatives who threaten to impeach the president.
      To create more balance between Iran’s rival factions, Khamenei has taken away powers from Ahmadinejad and delegated them to other institutions. In January 2011, Khamenei announced that the Expediency Council will work to resolve a dispute over the president’s power to select the chief of Iran’s Central Bank. The Expediency Council is an advisory body empowered to adjudicate disputes between the parliament and Iran’s twelve-man Guardian Council, which vets legislation and political candidates for compliance with Islam. The supreme leader appoints its members, who are prominent religious, social and political figures. The current head is former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a bitter Ahmadinejad foe who lost his own bid to return to the presidency in 2005 to Ahmadinejad.

      As the infighting continues, the Islamic Republic is also renewing efforts to neutralize political dissent. Tehran's Chief Prosecutor called for the arrest of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, two presidential candidates who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election. They helped spawn the Green Movement protests. The Supreme Leader so far appears to have opted for simply stifling the opposition leaders—and trying to make them irrelevant by keeping them under quasi-house arrest--rather than charging them. The regime’s schisms are becoming more pronounced even in dealing with its opposition.

      The Islamic Republic is also intensifying the scope and severity of its campaign against women's rights activists. For their unprecedented activities in the post-election protests, women and women's rights campaigners are being targeted on an unprecedented scale.

       Widely exposed at home, the decisive factor in any diplomatic effort over Iran’s controversial nuclear program will be whether the theocrats believe they will gain anything at home by making any compromises with the international community.
Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation and the editor and creator of www.insideiran.org.

The supreme leader's nine-day trip to Qom

Genieve Abdo

         Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made an unprecedented, nine-day trip to Qom last week to try to rehabilitate himself among the clerics. He has reasons to worry. Qom’s lack of subordination is a threat to Khamenei’s rule and to the long-term survival of the Islamic Republic — a system which prides itself with fusing (at least in theory) Islamic values and a republican form of governance.
         Since June of 2009, Iranians have called into question Iran’s claim to be either a republic or an Islamic state. And if the religious establishment, which many Iranians still respect, echoes the views of disillusioned Iranians, Khamenei risks becoming a mere figurehead of an Islamic revolution gone awry. Although Khamenei has had a credibility problem since he was appointed supreme leader in 1989, now critics are no longer fearful of publicly condemning his rule.


Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation and the editor and creator of www.insideiran.org.

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