The Green Movement
- The Green Movement took its name from a green sash given to Mir Hossein Mousavi by Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s two-term president and the reform movement’s first standard-bearer.
- The Green Movement reached its height when up to 3 million peaceful demonstrators turned out on Tehran streets to protest official claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the 2009 presidential election in a landslide. Their simple slogan was: “Where is my vote?”
- The movement soon embodied the frustrated aspirations of Iran’s century-old quest for democracy and desire for peaceful change.
- Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, are the nominal leaders. Mehdi Karroubi has been its most radical and relentless advocate. Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani embodies politicians who vacillate between supporting the movement and siding with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- The movement has no hierarchical structure. Its global reach resembles the Internet it uses. But its amorphous structure is both its strength and weakness.
- Sept. 18 – Qods Day, or Jerusalem Day. In the past, Iranians shouted “Death to Israel” at rallies. In 2009, protesters instead shouted “Death to Russia,” because it was the first government to recognize Ahmadinejad’s election.
- Nov. 4 – Anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover. Pupils traditionally get the day off and schools bus them to the old American compound for a rally. In 2009, thousands turned out on the streets to instead protest their own regime, not the United States. Chants of “Death to America” were replaced by cries of “Death to No One.” Some even shouted, “A green Iran doesn’t need nuclear weapons.” More pointedly, others shouted, ”Obama, you are either with us – or with them.”
- Dec. 7 – National Students Day, commemorating the deaths of three students in protests around the time of Vice President Nixon’s 1953 visit to Tehran. The turnout was the largest since the summer and spread to campuses across the country, despite increasingly harsh government tactics, including alleged torture, rape and deaths in prison.
- Dec. 19 – Montazeri’s death. The death of Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, Iran’s leading dissident cleric and spiritual father to the Green Movement, sparked more mass demonstrations. Crowds were enormous in the holy city of Qom, earlier off-limits to protests, and elsewhere. Montazeri had been the clerical face of the opposition since 1989, when he was fired as heir apparent to Khomeini, for criticizing the regime’s mass executions and failure to live up to its revolutionary promises. The government responded to the outpouring by redistributing the statement about Montazeri’s dismissal as supreme leader 20 years earlier.
- Dec. 27 – Ashoura, the holiest day of the year for Shiites as they commemorate the seventh century martyrdom of Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Hundreds of thousands turned out in mass protests. In response, government forces opened fire on unarmed civilians in the streets. Turmoil spread to at least 10 major cities. There were several confirmed deaths, scores of injured and hundreds of arrests. The fact that a clerical regime had opened fire on peaceful demonstrators on the day of Ashoura was a serious departure from a long tradition of non-violence on that day.
- Saeed Hajjarian, architect of the reform movement and senior adviser to former President Khatami.
- Mohammad Abtahi, former vice president under Khatami.
- Moshen Miradamadi, head of the largest reform party, former member of parliament, former head of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, and one of three masterminds of the U.S. Embassy takeover.
- Behzad Nabavi, co-founder of a reform party and former deputy speaker of parliament.
- Short-term, the opposition faces political purgatory. The regime has been willing to use unprecedented brutality to maintain power.
- Long-term, Iran’s many challenges are likely to be solved only in a more democratic environment. The pressures include a dominant, Internet-savvy youth, an assertive women’s movement, structural economic difficulties (including double-digit unemployment and inflation), badly needed investments in oil and gas industries, and a troubled private sector.
- To survive, the Green Movement must offer a more cohesive leadership and a more cogent platform. It must also find a way to surmount the regime’s cyber-jihad, which uses Western, Russian Chinese and Indian technologies to stifle the opposition’s voice.
- The most serious potential problem for Iran’s democratic movement is the threat of war. Smart sanctions focused on weakening the regime’s ideological and oppressive apparatus can facilitate the maturation of this movement. A military assault could sideline or kill the movement for the foreseeable future.
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“The Iran Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in comprehensive but concise online chapters on Iran’s politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and nuclear program. It chronicles U.S.-Iran relations under six U.S. presidents. It also offers policy options, timelines, leader bios, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. Click here to order a hardcopy. Timely articles are added weekly at the top.