By Rasa Sowlat, Mashhad (Source: Mianeh)
Claims they are disorganised and lacking guts ignore the pressure they face from the government. The apparently small number of Green Movement supporters who turned out to protest against the regime in February 11 demonstrations has unleashed a wave of criticism directed towards the opposition.
Iran's Green Leaders
Some analysts have accused the leaders of the movement of being disorganised, lacking in foresight and the courage to step up the resistance against the government. They've also been charged with hypocrisy and not having the guts to have it out with the regime. These accusations are unfair.
The IWPR article "Rewriting Green Movement Script" by Jafar Farshian is one such analysis. Farshian has rightly pointed out the need to change the strategy and tactics employed by the Green Movement. He has, however, based his analysis on a view on the current situation of the opposition and its leaders that does not correspond with the realities of Iran and the restrictions that have tied the hands of the opposition leaders.
He said, "The Green Movement leaders seem unable to decide whether they believe the Islamic Republic should continue or not. One of its leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has been very clear in his attachment to the system he helped found as he showed in his January 27 statement, 'I feel the need to emphasise the Islamic and national identity of the Green Movement, its opposition to foreign rule, and its loyalty to our constitution.'"
One should not judge the views expressed by Mousavi and other Green Movement leaders without considering the armour that they must wear to protect themselves and the Green Movement from the attacks launched by the government.
Mousavi speaks very diplomatically. The meanings of his words are often hidden behind phrases, examples and metaphors that are familiar to Iranians and sometimes misleading for foreign analysts.
If we look deeper, we will see that in the same statement, Mousavi repeatedly stressed the importance of "respecting different views and opinions" and "the rights of religious and ethnic minorities". At the same time, Mousavi is trying to neutralise the propaganda of the government.
The latter seeks to portray the opposition movement as anti-religious and illegal and to implicate its leaders with having ties with unfriendly foreign powers, in order to find an excuse to arrest and execute its leaders and supporters.
Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, another Green Movement leader, know the language used by the Iranian government well and use the same language as a weapon to delegitimise its actions. This is precisely one of the strategies that have succeeded in strengthening the power of the opposition.
Farshian believes that Mousavi's opinions are in contrast to "the fact that a great many of those supporting this movement define themselves without any reference to Islam, and many more are openly against the religion and its place in government".
This claim does not correspond with the reality of Iranian society. While the incompetence of the Islamic Republic has caused many people to loath the influence of religion on state affairs, one cannot be so bold as to claim that many of the Green Movement supporters are against religion.
The reason behind the durability of the theocracy in Iran is the mixture of religious beliefs and superstitions that a significant portion of the populace have. We must not forget that Iran is not just its cities and Tehran is not the only city in Iran.
Aside from this, the Green Movement is a train with many empty seats waiting to be taken by the traditional religious people who are financially and technologically poor. Whether we like it or not, they have voted for the incumbent president who has given them a handful of religious superstitions as well as superficial financial and social incentives.
The Green Movement strives to not repeat the same mistakes made by the reformists during the eight-year presidency of Mohammad Khatami. During that time, Khatami told his cohorts "not to act in a way that would cause people to have increasingly radical expectations". The Green Movement and Mousavi do not have the power or capability to overthrow the government or religion in the short run.
And this does not correspond with the interests of Iranian society or the democratic demands of the Green Movement. As Mousavi put it in a February 2 interview, changing the regime would only "throw Iranian society into a pit".
Spontaneous changes would lead dissatisfied, pious people and those who are devoted to the regime to take their revenge. People should not forget that the 1979 Islamic Revolution was partially an outcome of the rapid elimination of religion from society by the Shah's regime.
Farshian criticises the leaders of the Green Movement, especially Karroubi, saying, "He implicitly asks his supporters to do what he is not willing to do himself: keep questioning the system."
How can it be right to accuse Karroubi of lacking the courage to confront the establishment without considering that he is assaulted by government agents every time he leaves the house?
In another part of the article, Farshian writes, "Not one of the individuals currently vying to lead the Iranian opposition - either domestically or abroad - has clean hands. None has been bold enough to mention abolishing the theocratic system, although privately it is quite possibly what they would all like to see happen. Perhaps this hypocrisy is why February 11 was a failure."
The question is: who, whether politician or not, has never dirtied his hands?
It was this kind of absolutist and holier-than-thou attitude that gave birth to the Islamic Revolution 31 year ago and with which people are still forced to struggle.
Instead of acknowledging and praising change in people, we continuously look for their past mistakes - a past when they might admit to being young and foolish. Such an approach sends out a message that people will forever remain the same and will never seek to make up for their past mistakes and understand their society and the world. This is the wrong approach.
Mousavi and Karroubi, both former regime insiders, have rebelled against the establishment and know well how to use the language of the establishment to criticise it. Let them criticise. Let's not worry too much about their possible betrayal of the people's future. The difference between today's Iranians and those of yesterday is a 31-year experience during which history has been studied and political homework has been done.
If tomorrow Mousavi and Karroubi decide to stray from standing up for the opposition's rights, the people will do to them what they are doing to the government. So let's not leap to accuse them of betrayal too soon.
Just as Farshian says in his article, "The opposition strategies need to be analysed and integrated into future plans."
But this does not mean that the past methods were wrong in their own place and time. Circumstances change and it is possible that at some point street protests will be replaced with some other non-violent tactics. What is important is the continuity of the movement, which will not reach its goals without determination and maturity.
About the author: Rasa Sowlat is the pseudonym of an Iranian journalist and social analyst based in Mashhad.
This article is an abridged and translated version of the full original text published on the Persian pages of Mianeh, with editorial adjustments agreed with the writer made to provide clarity for English-language readers.
About Mianeh: Mianeh is a new independent web-based initiative run as a project by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (iwpr.net) the award-winning non-profit media development organisation that works across the globe to platform local voices and promote international learning and engagement. Mianeh aims to be an open space for ideas, news and debate where writers in Iran can reach out to each other as well as to those outside the country who are interested in learning more about the vibrant and dynamic society that is Iran today.
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