Opinion article by Ali-Asqar Ramezanpour (source: Rooz Online)
This week marks the second year since the leaders of Iran’s reform movement Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi were put under house arrest in 2011, while about 4 months are left to the next presidential election in Iran. In these three years, the Islamic republic has used every possible violent and cruel means to controls the streets to gain control of the public sphere.
Cartoon: Iranian Reformists (see high resolution)
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The result of these conditions and measures has been hopelessness for the reform activists to engage in any meaningful political activity. But more importantly, they feel impotent in changing the prevalent political situation. Most of the active members of the political reform and civil movement for freedom in Iran who belong to the different ideological strands are experiencing hopelessness in engaging in any reform activities.
In the last three years, reformists have been experiencing the most difficult conditions since the first presidential term of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Regardless of the changes outside the reform movement and those in the political atmosphere of the country, reformists in Iran have experienced three transformations since that time:
Compared to the 2 Khordad movement, all reform groups in Iran have gone through changes in their leadership and organization, and at the same time have witnessed changes in public expectations and those in the ideological sphere of the movement.
While Khatami may still be the most important reform leader in Iran, but as the demands of the voters in 2009 became more radical, and as Mousavi and Karoubi moved to a new position, the position of these leaders in the reform movement also underwent a change.
But the most important change in the leadership and organization of the reform movement lies elsewhere. In the first years of Khatami’s presidency and even during the election period there used to be a leadership group along side with the leader of the movement. Personalities such as Saeed Hajarian, Mostafa Tajzadeh and Abbas Abdi, and also thinkers such as Hossein Bashirieh among others whose names are not published because of limitations of space, in addition to political organizations such as the Participation Front (Jebhe Mosharekat) and organizations close to the national-religious groups, including the civil groupings, existed and assisted the leaders of the whole movement in its decision making. In contrast, today the only place where any talk seems possible is Facebook. The irony is that a movement which at one time was the center of the debate for all Iranians today cannot even communicate within itself.
At its height, the reform movement poured millions of people into the streets of Tehran. But its analysis at that time was that the movement failed to conquer all the big cities and towns. During election time because the costs of political participation are low the number of activists is high. But as we move away from election time - such as the current time - we must look at other indicators to gauge public wishes and the reach of groups and ideologies.
There is no serious study on what were the social demands of Iran’s reform movement in the past or what they are today. Based on very general observations, during the reign of the 2nd Khordad reform movement was made up of a wide group people that included the petty bourgeoisie that lent towards tradition and religion, peasants, and middle class groups. At that time, labor workers and groups associated with them - which are in contrast to and separate from those who are engaged in black market activities and who have turned into a key economic and social activity during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency - covered mostly underground economic activities which from a social and theoretic perspective cannot be considered official economic activities: these were not part of the reform movement.
Under today’s conditions, it appears that the reform movement lacks the social reach and depth it had then. Workers and related groups in recent years have left their workshops because of the subsidies programs or have joined underground economic activities. Some still continue to work at the half active workshops. Today, there is no trace of the official pseudo-labor organizations that existed in those days. These social groups have not found any supporters among reformers. Despite comments by Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Iran’s Green Movement, as part of the reform movement, has been inattentive in the last three years to the growth of the labor protests. This disregard has not been deliberate but has happened because of the social, organizational and ideological foundations of the Green Movement and the reform movement in Iran. Perhaps this reality is because the deprived groups in Iran have lost their hope in the reform movement caused by the onslaught of the populist promises of the Islamic republic and Ahmadinejad’s bands.
The differences in the goals and slogans of the reform movement between the 2nd Khordad period and today are amazing. At one time the slogan of the movement was “Iran for Iranians” whereas today we have retreated even from the “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, My Life is for Iran” slogan. The special task of the Shiite reformists who in the 90s preached religious moderation today aims at drawing the line between the religious and non religious groups while striving to keep the organizational link with the remaining reformists who at one time were part of the regime. Today’s reform movement has been forced to retreat from its positions and beliefs on a daily basis because of pressure from the regime. It has abandoned goals and slogans that at one time united the various social groups and ideologies. The net result of this is that it deprives a large part of the youth from finding a reason to stay with the movement. Not just because being religious or not religious is irrelevant to many youth but because focusing on this issue deprives the leaders of the movement from focusing on the new social changes that have been evolving. Iran’s reform movement has followed behind in its understanding of the social changes that have been taking place and of the social movements in Iran. The leaders of the movement do not demonstrate any creativity in their views. They have no new understandings of the international relations or the cultural-social changes that have taken place in the world. They have no new thoughts and ideas on Iran’s new social conditions.
So it is not off the mark if we said that Iran’s reform movement is suffering from disorganization in leadership and suffers, from an inability to deepen social links, and from creativity. The purpose of this criticism is not to rejoice or condemn the leaders but to point out that what is needed is to review the developments to arrive at a clearer understanding and replace the old views as a way to find a future for the reform movement.
Today, we still view reforms as the only real path to peaceful and fundamental political, economic and social change in the country. The reform movement must needs new views and understandings of the structure of its leadership, management and at the same time a fresh look at the social wants and demands. It also needs new approaches and beliefs as guides for its political, social and cultural actions. Such an endeavor requires that it acts jointly inside and outside Iran. This is true for those who desire reforms within the current constitution and also for those who dream of an Iran without the Islamic republic.
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