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Without Resolve, Reformists' Path Will Hurt Iran


By Muhammad Sahimi (first published by IMEnews)

Related Story: Iran: Reformists meet with Supreme Leader

I have always liked and respected former President Sayyed Mohammad Khatami, the sayyed-e khandaan [smiling sayyed]. I still do. I believe he is a patriot and a pious Muslim who is doing his utmost to move Iran in the right direction on a path toward democracy. I also believe that he is a principled man, someone who is willing to sacrifice himself and his personal credibility, if he thinks that doing so would do some good for the nation. And, unlike what a part of the opposition in the Diaspora would like to pretend, he is still popular among the university students who are at the forefront of the democratic struggle in Iran. The best evidence for this is the fact that large groups of university students [and other strata of the society] from around the country meet with him regularly, listen to his speeches, and talk to him about the crisis that the nation is facing. When last December 7 there was commemoration of Rooz-e Daneshjoo [day of university students] at the University of Tehran, and his message was broadcast to the gathering [he had been banned by the state from attending the commemoration], the response to it by the students was huge. December 7 is the anniversary of the day in 1953, when three students, Mehdi Shariat Razavi, Ahmad Ghandchi, and Mostafa Bozorgnia, were murdered by the security forces at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran. The students had been protesting the visit to Iran of then U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the aftermath of the CIA coup of 1953.

In my view, Khatami is now much more appreciated and respected by the common people, who remember his administration during his two-term presidency. Aside from a better a social environment, a relatively free press during the first three years of his presidency that, as the Reformist strategist Saeed Hajjarian put it, “lifted the curtain a bit so that people could see some of what was going on behind it,” and very low tension with the outside world, during his presidency Iran’s economy grew considerably - by an average of 5.2 percent a year, never less than 4.7 percent, and as high as 7.5 percent in 2002 - the inflation was low, and the unemployment was at a manageable level of about 10 percent, and all of these happened when the price of oil was low, as low as $8/bbl during his first year in office, and never more than $50/bbl. Compare this with the nearly $600 billion oil income that Iran has earned from exporting oil during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad era, for which his administration has almost nothing to show.

After experiencing the catastrophic consequences of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, people now have much deeper appreciation of the Khatami era - not that it was their ideals or anything close to it. My own brother who was very critical of him during his presidency told me recently, “We made a grave mistake in not appreciating what the poor man was trying to do for us under the most difficult conditions. I feel ashamed about not supporting him, and so does everyone else that I know,” the same sentiment that, according to him, a lot of people now have about Mir Hossein Mousavi, now that he has been under house arrest for nearly two years, but is still resolutely resisting the tremendous pressure on him to back off from his positions regarding the destructive policies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his supporters that have endangered the nation. Even Ahmadinejad, who bragged for quite sometime about “destroying” the Reformists, was reported saying, “I, who was supported by the Supreme Leader, am in this condition - in political isolation and under fierce attacks by Khamenei's supporters - How painful Khatami's suffering must have been.” Indeed, every time Khatami tried to do something to improve the political system, his efforts were stymied by Khamenei and his supporters. As Khatami said once, the hardliners created a crisis for the nation once every 9 days.

This is not to say that the political system during the Khatami era was democratic; far from it. But, everything is relative, and the point here is a comparison between his era and the current disastrous conditions. We must also recognize that the Khatami’s reform movement is not the same as the Green Movement. Though the latter is the fruit of the former, the Green Movement’s demands are much stronger and more encompassing. In addition, there is another fundamental difference between the two: The Green Movement is horizontal - people based - while the reform movement was vertical and hierarchical. But, the fact is that many of the leading figures of the reform movement are currently some of the most ardent supporters of the Green Movement. So, the two work and act along the same direction.

Ever since the Green Movement was born a little over three years ago, the repression of the nation has increased dramatically. While the ruling elite declare every day that the fetneh [sedition] - the name that Khamenei invented to refer to the Movement - and the democratic movement are dead, their deed belies their words. Just consider what happened, for example, over the period July 20-26, 2012. I chose this period because we are now close to the next presidential election in June and, thus, the tension is unusually high, particularly after the attacks by Ahmadinejad on the Larijani brothers. Therefore, it may be better to take a look at what happened at a time when the country was not, relatively speaking, in a highly agitated state [updates on the events are, however, provided].

July 20

Students at the University of Isfahan [in central Iran] were threatened by its security division that they will be expelled from the university if they continue using the Facebook.

Ejlal Ghavami, spokesman for the Organization for Defense of Human Rights in Kurdistan was kidnapped, beaten badly by unknown assailants, and his documents were stolen.

In Saghez, Kurdistan, Mahmoud Fattahzadeh was sentenced to one year of imprisonment on the charge of “acting against the national security.” His original sentence was 2 years of incarceration, but was reduced to 1 year. Three other citizens were also arrested in Boukan, in West Azerbaijan province and jailed on security charges.

Hanieh (Sharareh) Farshi, who is serving a seven year jail sentence for “insulting the religion and the Supreme Leader” and is ill, was denied medical treatment.

Husband and wife journalists, Mahsa Amrabadi and Masoud Bastani, both imprisoned, were allowed to meet after 80 days [they both are still in jail].

Due to insulting treatment of a young woman by the police, a group of people in eastern Tehran attacked a police car that supposedly keeps an eye on women’s hejab [Islamic cover].

Ali Ajami, a secular leftist student was expelled from the law school of the University of Tehran, after serving a two-year jail sentence for his political activities. He had only one more semester of studies to graduate.

Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, two Kurdish dissidents that have been sentenced to death and are held in Rajaei Shahr prison [near Karaj, west of Tehran], have been barred from having visitors.

July 21

Abdolhossein Rouh ol-amini, father of Mohsen Rouh ol-amini, a young graduate student of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran who was murdered in the Kahrizak detention center [on southern edge of Tehran] in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections, said that he is still waiting for the day in which the culprits for the murder of his son [and at least three others who were also murdered in Kahrizak] are put on trial. The prime suspect is Saeed Mortazavi, the infamous former Tehran Prosecutor who has been accused of committing many crimes, but was appointed as the head of the Social Security Organization by Ahmadinejad. His appointment recently led to the impeachment of his superior, Minister of Labor Abdolreza Sheikholeslami by the Majles.

Cartoonist Mahmoud Shekarayeh was summoned to the press court for drawing a cartoon of a Majles deputy from the town of Arak.

Distinguished journalist Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, who has been imprisoned since immediately after the 2009 election and has been sentenced to six years of imprisonment and five years of internal exile sent a birthday message to his wife and asked her to be patient. [He was recently granted a short furlough].

Ali Ashraf Saeedi, the new warden of the Evin prison has increased pressure on the political prisoners, including “creating problems for medical treatment of the prisoners” that need it.

Hardline Majles deputy Alireza Zakani, a former IRGC officer, said, “If Iran is destroyed 1000 times, it would be better than being taken over by the enemy [the Green Movement].”

July 22

After a long delay, political prisoner Mohammad Sedigh Kaboudvand who has been on a hunger strike, was transferred to a hospital, even though he had been ill for quite sometime.

Four people who had been arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 elections, and had been sentenced in show trial, were summoned to prison to serve their sentences. The four, Mansoor Naghipoor [a human rights activist], Ali Molla-Haji [a medical school student], Abtin Jahanian and Ashkan Allahyari [also students] have been sentenced to, respectively, 7, 1, 3, and 1 year of incarceration.

It was announced that political prisoner Gholamreza Khosravi will be executed on September 11. When he was only 16 years old, he was arrested in 1981 and incarcerated for five years. He was arrested again in 2007 and was sentenced to death [his execution was apparently either nullified or postponed].

Maedeh Soltani, daughter of imprisoned distinguished attorney Abdolfattah Soltani asked Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi to grant his father a medical furlough [the furlough was never granted]. Soltani, who has represented numerous political prisoners, has been sentenced to 18 years of incarceration.

Dr. Mohammad Sharif, attorney for the political prisoner Zeinab Jalalian, said that his client, who has been given a life jail sentence, is in grave danger due to her medical problems and needs to be treated outside prison, which the judiciary has yet to agree to. She is a Kurdish dissident.

Reza and Mehraveh Khandan, husband and daughter of imprisoned distinguished attorney, human rights advocate and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh were barred from leaving the country. Mehraveh is only twelve and a half years old. Their attorney Nasim Ghanavi was prevented from entering a judiciary building in Tehran to present her clients’ case [later on, Sotoudeh went on a hunger strike to protest this, and stopped the strike only after the ban was lifted].

Physician and human rights activist Dr. Hesam Firoozi was transferred to the Evin prison to serve his sentence of 18 months incarceration.

Sara Mahboobi, a Bahai [a religious minority not recognized by the government] university student who has been expelled from her university, was transferred to the prison in Sari, the provincial capital of Mazandaran province by the Caspian Sea, in order to serve her 10 month jail sentence.

July 23

Adel Mohammad-Hosseini, a university student was taken to the Evin prison to serve his six month jail sentence.

The managing editor of a sports magazine called 90 [so called for the duration of a soccer game] was convicted by the press court for insulting officials and “disturbing people’s mind.”

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi published a report on status of human rights in Iran, the plights of the political prisoners, and what has been done to them by the hardliners. [Ebadi has continued doing so every month.]

July 24

Against the advice of the prison’s doctors, the Evin prison warden prevented transfer to hospital of Mostafa Tajzadeh, the outspoken reformist who has been incarcerated since the 2009 election. While in prison, he has developed severe problems in his eyes.

Ahmad Shariat, publisher of the pro-Ahmadinejad website Nedaaei az Daroon, wasarrested after the website criticized the IRGC. He had posed a simple question on his website: suppose that the leader of the “perverted group” - Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and close confidante - wins the next presidential election [in June]. What will be the reaction of the Sepaah [IRGC]? According to him, “They [the IRGC] are willing to go to any length to prevent him [Rahim-Mashaei] from becoming the president.”

Twenty people were sentenced in Mahabad, a town in West Azerbaijan province, to a total of 67 years of incarceration, with the sentences ranging from 10 years to 6 months. They all had been arrested for “security reasons,” even though their possible offense was not publicized.

A case has been formed by the judiciary against a fourteen year old blogger in the city of Kermanshah near the border with Iraq.

Parisa Hafezi, who was in charge of Reuters’ bureau in Tehran, will attend a court session to respond to charges against her organization. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has threatened to close Reuters’ bureau in Iran [the bureau was closed later on].

July 25

It was reported that hardliners have made pornographic movies to discredit the “dead” Green Movement.

Kaboudvand, the Kurdish activist, ended his hunger strike after 58 days.

Poet and blogger Setareh Ashraf Alikhani, who is incarcerated in the Evin prison, endedthe hunger strike that she had gone on to protest the transfer of two of her cellmates to the notorious Gharchak prison in Gharchak, a town 20 km southeast of Tehran. She has been sentenced to three years of imprisonment.

Madaaraan-e Laleh [mothers of Laleh, a park in Tehran], a group of mothers of political prisoners and those who have been killed, issued a statement to strongly protest the new wave of pressure on the political prisoners, and the inhumane conditions in the Gharchak prison.

Leading reformist politician and journalist Rajab-Ali Mazrooei, who is also the spokesman for the leading reformist group, the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, wassentenced in absentia to 18 months of incarceration for “propaganda” against the regime and “insulting” the president. He was also barred from journalism for five years. Mazrooei lives in Belgium, left Iran legally, and so long as he was in Iran, no charges were brought against him by the judiciary. In effect, the judiciary has barred Mazrooei from returning Iran.

Two students at the University of Isfahan, Erfan Mohammadi and Mojtaba Karimi, werereleased from prison after 62 days, after they each posted a bail of $55,000. They had been arrested for their article in a student newspaper.

July 26

Twelve days after she was taken to a hospital during which there was no news on her state and no one was allowed to visit her, imprisoned human rights activist and journalistNarges Mohammadi finally called her family from her prison in Zanjan, a city 280 km northwest of Tehran, to let them know that she had fallen in the prison, had severely injured her face, and had lost her eyesight for 5 days [later on, Mohammadi was released from Prison after posting a bail for $200,000].

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi refused to grant a medical furlough to Abolfazl Ghadiani, currently the oldest political prisoners at 67. Ghadiani, who has been highly critical of Khamenei, was also imprisoned for four years before the 1979 Revolution. Ghadiani has said, “The people did not dedicate our lives, whatever we had, and our [personal] freedom [for the Revolution in 1979] so that three decades later Mr. Khamenei be the king, and, ”Khamenei is the taaghoot [tyrant] of our era. I did not fight [for democracy] for 50 years so that he [Khamenei] can be the king now.” During the early years of the revolution taaghoot was used to refer to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Ghadiani was recently exiled from Evin prison to Ghezel Hesar Prison, where only common criminals are held, in order to cutoff his contacts with the rest of the political prisoners and to silence him, but he has continued his courageous struggle from Ghezel Hesar; see here.

Roozbeh Khanpayeh, a Kurdish activist, was sentenced to four and a half years of incarceration. He was previously imprisoned twice for a total of 18 months.

Dr. Mohammad Hassan Yousef Pourseifi, a human rights activist and a member of Society for the Defense of Children’s Rights, was sentenced to 66 months of imprisonment. He has refused to appeal his sentence.

Afshin Osanloo, a brother of the imprisoned labor activist Mansour Osanlou wasarrested. [He has since been released.]

A human rights center published statistics that indicated that there have been 51821 cases of violation of human rights during June 22 - July 22, 2012.

July 26

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran published a list of twenty eight Kurdish dissidents who are in danger of being executed.

Security forces arrested four Kurdish citizens in the Kurdish areas of Iran.

Labor activist Pedram Nasrollahi was sentenced to three years of incarceration. He had tried to organize labor unions.

Political activist Habib Halafi was arrested in Hamidieh, a town in Khuzestan. He had previously been imprisoned for two years.

Seventeen members of Daraavish-e Gonabadi, a Shiite religious group, were summoned to a court in Shiraz in southern Iran. The group has been under tremendous pressure because it has called on the people not to pay a sort of religious tax to the clerics.

Alef, the website that represents the views of Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakkoli and had been blocked by the government, was allowed to be published again.

Mitra Aali, a top graduate student at Sharif University of Technology, was jailed to serve her one-year sentence. She had already been arrested twice.

Given that there have been over 50,000 violations of basic human rights in Iran in just one month, what I listed above should be considered as the best-known cases, but also the tip of the iceberg. Such is the state of the affairs in Iran.

**** ***************

But, as the country slips into a deeper crisis, it is surrounded by the U.S. forces, is in the grips of a terrible economy whose problems have been compounded by the tough economic sanctions, and for some time Israel has been threatening to attack Iran, an important date is looming: the presidential elections of June to end the disastrous Ahmadinejad era, but with no brighter future emerging, given the religio-military dictatorship of Khamenei-IRGC. On July 25, 2012 Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehisaid, “We will not allow what happened in 2009 to be repeated again [in next year’s presidential elections].” Since then, every high official of the security/intelligence establishment, as well as hardline clerics, have been repeating the same threat. Why are they afraid of a “dead” movement?

It is under such conditions that Khatami and his comrades stepped forward. They began talking about the possibility of having a candidate in the elections. I believe that Khatami is aware of the grave threats that the nation is facing, and is trying to help averting them. But, respecting Khatami does not imply agreeing with what he does all the time, especially at a time when Iran is facing grave danger, both internally and externally. I personally believe that the June election must be boycotted. But, if Khatami or perhaps Abdollah Nouri, refuse to run for the office, and instead support a lesser candidate, that path will not only not help the nation, but will, in fact, harm it, given Khatami’s track record. Let me explain.

During Khatami’s presidency five important national elections took place. Two were for the city councils in the fall of 1998 and winter of 2002; two were for the 6th and 7thMajles in March 2000 and 2004, while the last one was the two-round presidential elections of 2005. The first nation-wide elections for the city councils were still in the shadow of Khatami’s landslide victory in 1997, while those in 2002 were also a short time after Khatami’s second landslide election in 2001 when he received 22 million votes. The city council elections are also not controlled by the Guardian Council. Thus, both of them went well. In fact, I believe that the second nation-wide elections for the city councils are the most democratic elections ever held in Iran, when practically anyone who wanted to run did run.

The elections for the 6th Majles in March 2000 were held at the height of the Reformists’ popularity [the Reformists swept those elections, particularly in Tehran]. The Guardian Council did not dare to disqualify a large number of the candidates. Most importantly, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Deputy Minister of Interior for security, was in charge of the elections. He took a tough stance against the Guardian Council that was trying to cancel the elections in Tehran, because not a single conservative had been elected. At the end, the Council annulled 700,000 votes in Tehran that allowed it to eliminate nationalist-religious figure Dr. Alireza Rajaei [he is currently incarcerated] and instead “elect” Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, father-in-law of Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba. Tajzadeh took the reactionary cleric Ahmad Jannati, Secretary-General of the Guardian Council, to court for the votes’ annulment, but the case never went to a trial.

Tajzadeh was then taken to court and was barred from serving in the government for two years. In his absence the troubles began with the Majles elections of 2004. Over 600 of the best-known Reformist candidates and their allies were disqualified from running by the Guardian Council. Over 85 Reformist deputies in the 6th Majles staged a sit-in in theMajles to protest the disqualification. Khatami vowed that his ministry of interior will not hold the elections, unless the Reformist candidates were allowed to run. But, under huge pressure by Khamenei and the IRGC, he and his Minister of Interior Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari relented and held the elections. Interestingly, right before the elections, the Reformists published a list of 190 districts and the conservative candidates that they thought would be “elected” in the absence of Reformist challengers. The conservatives scoffed at the list, but out of 190 districts, the predictions of the Reformists for 189 districts turned out to be correct: the elections were not competitive; they were farce. Hence, an era began in which the hardliners would manipulate the elections, use their power in the Guardian Council to prevent the democratic candidates to run, and if everything else failed, commit outright fraud, as they did in 2009, to “win” elections.

Next were the presidential elections of 2005. They were nominally run by Mousavi Lari and his lieutenants, but in reality the hardliners took control of the elections. In the first round of the elections, the votes were manipulated by the hardliners so that Ahmadinejad could come in as the second highest vote getters, surpassing Mehdi Karroubi who was way ahead of him for several hours after vote counting had begun. In the second round, through massive intervention by the IRGC and the Basij militia, Ahmadinejad “defeated” Rafsanjani. Hardline IRGC commander Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr said after the elections, “Ahmadinejad is a child of the Sepaah, and we brought him to the presidency through a complex two-year plan.” Rafsanjani said that he had no one to complain to but God, and Karroubi wrote an angry letter toKhamenei. But, not a word was uttered by Khatami about the intervention in the elections. Instead, his administration gave way to what I believe to be the most destructive government in Iran over the past many decades, including the pre-revolution era.

As the elections for the 9th Majles [held in March 2012] neared, in a speech in December 2010 Khatami set the minimum conditions for the internal opposition to take part in the elections:

Our demands in the past as well as the present are clear, and have been emphasized even in the aftermath of the recent [2009 presidential] election. [Favorable] conditions for broad participation of people [in the elections] and guaranteeing their rights must be provided. In addition, the elections must be held in such a way that there will be minimum hindrance of free voting by the people and maximum conditions for materializing their demands and ideals.

The minimum conditions for the Reformists' participation in the elections are the release of all the political prisoners, freedom for all political parties and groups and removal of all limitations [on their activity], commitment of all, particularly the officials, to the Constitution and the execution of all of its articles, especially its true spirit [meaningthose articles that respect the rights of the people], and holding free and fair elections].

Aside from a small group of “rejectionists,” Khatami’s conditions were widely praised and accepted, both within the country and in the Diaspora. As the elections approached, 39 prominent political prisoners called on the people to boycott the elections and instead focus on demanding the release of Mousavi, his wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, and Karroubi. One hundreds forty leading political figures, intellectuals, journalists and others wrote a public letter to Khatami and told him that because his own conditions had not been fulfilled, he must clearly call for the boycott of the elections. With very few exceptions, mostly some opportunists that called themselves reformists, no credible Reformists ran in the elections. Khatami himself said, “Participating in the elections since 2005 has been a mistake,” because they were not free or even competitive. And, in late December 2011, only three months before the elections, Khatami said, “The evidence indicates that one should not participate in these elections.” The people responded to Khatami’s call: only about 39 percent of the people voted in the elections [the Interior Ministry put the figure at close to 64 percent].

But, on the Election Day, Khatami voted in the town of Damavand, explaining that his vote was due to the information that he had received over the last 48 hours prior to the elections, indicating that if he did not vote, the remaining reformists would be imprisoned and the extremists would react very strongly. While everything that he said may have been true, and while it is easy for people like me who live in comfort in the West to issue directives for those who live in Iran under the most difficult conditions, one expects a national leader to be more resolute. Khatami’s vote deeply angered many, even among some of his own closest friends and allies; see here for another sample of the opinions regarding his vote.


It is with such a track record that Khatami and some of his comrades began talking about the possibility of having a candidate in the next year’s elections. He first claimed that there were some signs that the political space would gradually be made more open, without explaining what he saw as such signs. When the twelve-and-a-half years old daughter of the imprisoned attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh was barred from leaving Iran, a gross violation of Iran’s own law, and when, as I outlined above, harsh actions are taken every single day against the opposition, what was the opening that Khatami saw that the rest of us could not? But, most importantly, the attacks on him by Khamenei and the hardliners around him have continued unabated and, thus, it was not clear why Khatami thought that anyone that is remotely connected to him would be allowed to run.

Since the 2009 election Khatami has been under the most severe attacks by the hardliners, particularly the top command of the IRGC, who accuse him of helping the birth of the Green Movement, the same movement that they declare dead every day. And, ever since Khatami left office in August 2005, Khamenei has been attacked him, without naming him, on a consistent basis. He was reported to have said in private that Khatami “is just like Mousavi and Karroubi, but only more polite.” Last June Khatami said, “If I were with my friends in prison, life would be more pleasant.” That angered Khamenei even more, and goaded him to attack Khatami even fiercer. For example, in one of his attacks on Khatami, Khamenei spoke about what the Khatami administration had done during the nuclear negotiations with the European Union (EU) trio - Britain, France, and Germany - in 2003-2004. In a meeting with senior officials of the government on last July 24 Khamenei said,

In the era in which the language of our officials with the West and the United States was one of flattery, the person [George W. Bush] who himself was the symbol of evil dared to call the Islamic Republic [part of] the axis of evil. The West had become so shameless in that era that even though our officials had accepted that Iran would have very few[uranium enrichment] centrifuges, they opposed it, but today we have 11,000 centrifuges working in our nation. If the retreat of our officials in that era had continued, we would not have made the nuclear and scientific advancements that we have today.

Khamenei’s statement was clearly sheer lie. In a speech on November 2, 2003, only a few days after Khatami had signed the Sa’dabad Agreement with the EU trio according to which Iran agreed to suspend its nuclear program and implement on a volunteer basis the provisions of the Additional Protocol of the nuclear safeguards, Khamenei said, “There are a couple of other problems that I would like to comment on, one of which is what our dear and pious President, his Excellency Mr. Khatami, explained in detail [regarding the nuclear negotiations].....Some of our pious people believe that the government surrendered [to the EU trio], but that is not true [emphasis mine].” The current Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was Iran’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency at that time. He said after signing of the agreement, “The Sa’dabad Summit was a great victory for the Iranian nation and a great achievement for the European Union and the international community.” And, while the negotiations were going on in France in 2004 that eventually culminated with the signing of the Paris Agreement of November 2004 by which Iran re-affirmed its Sa’dabad Agreement commitments, in a speech to Iran’s ambassadors in August 2004, Khamenei said, “Of course, our friends [the Khatami administration] that have been negotiating, did so well. I was reading [about] the Paris negotiations that took place about a month ago; they took very strong positions, defended [Iran’s positions] well, and spoke strongly and rationally.”

After Khamenei’s speech, Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy and former IRGC officer Alireza Zakani, attacked Khatami and his negotiation team. Then, Hossein Sheikhoeslam, a conservative former Majles deputy accused the Reformist majority in the 6th Majles of wanting to approve an urgent law to force the Khatami administration to sign the Additional Protocol [before Iran agreed to voluntarily observe its provisions]. In response, Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the former President who was Deputy Speaker in the Majles, strongly rejected the claim, saying, “No piece of legislation about the nuclear program was ever proposed or discussed in the Majles.”

The question is: given the hatred that Khamenei and his supporters have against Khatami, the Reformists and the Green Movement, what does the former president saw that encouraged him to speak about the possibility of having a candidate in next year’s elections?

Since then, fortunately, Khatami has recognized the impossibility of holding even competitive elections in Iran, let alone free elections. But, will he change his stance again?


I believe that people must always participate in elections. But, participation takes various forms. In this particular instance, participation means taking advantage of the elections to bring out the Green Movement again, and to explain to the people the consequence of their voting in the absence of any meaningful changes in the power structure, without any candidate or even voting, unless certain conditions are met. AsKaleme, the website close to Mousavi, said of the regime,

They [the regime] are afraid of [free] elections. They are right to be terrified by [free]elections and even become scared as soon as they hear the words " [free] elections." The fundamentalists want to have nothing to do with [free] elections. Election campaigns are "soft war" to them.... What the hardliners should be terrified by is neither Khatami, nor the Reformists, nor elections.... What they should be terrified by are informed people...

Emphasizing that everything must be done lawfully, Khatami said last July, “His Excellency Mousavi has said that his basis [for his struggle against the ruling elite] is his statement 17.” The following are the conditions set by Mousavi in that statement [the complete statement is here], repeating what he had set in his statement 13

Releasing all the political prisoners, restoring their credibility [accepting theirinnocence], and compensating them for their suffering.

Revising the election law in such a way that free and fair elections can be held [and their results are accepted].

Guaranteeing freedom of the press, and changing the one-sided actions of the Voice and Visage [the state-controlled the national network of radio and television stations] in order to eliminate all the limitations on its programs, so that the political parties can use the Voice and Visage to express their positions regarding various issues, and to revise the law that governs the Voice and Visage to make it responsive to people's demand.

Freedom for the political groups to form and espouse their views and positions regarding important issues facing the nations, and putting into practice Article 27 of the present Constitution that recognizes the people’s right for peaceful gatherings and demonstrations.

And in his statement 13, which was the basis for statement 17, Mousavi had also made other demands:

The conditions are clear. If they are implemented, that will be the end of the Islamic Republic as we know it now.

But, setting conditions is one thing, being resolute and insisting on their implementation are completely different matters. The problem is not Khatami setting conditions; Mousavi has already set them, and Khatami says that he also accepts them. The problem is that Khatami buckles under pressure and abandons his own conditions.

I believe Khatami is well-intentioned. I believe that he is worried, not about the survival of the present dictatorship as some claim, or his own credibility or reputation, but Iran’s survival. But, as Abdollah Nouri, his first Minister of Interior put it, “The government does not feel that it has any problem internally, because there is no domestic organized movement with plans.” Nouri is correct. Khatami must recognize that the only language the ruling elite understand is the language of force, exerted by an all-encompassing social/political movement on the ruling establishment. The movement already exists; it is the silent Green Movement, but its leadership is under arrest. Thus, Khatami and others around him must insist on the release of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Dr. Rahnavard. They must make it clear publicly that they will call for a national boycott of the June election, and that they are willing to pay any price to gain the release of the three leaders. Only if the trio, the resolute leadership of the Green Movement, is released, one can talk about the other conditions. At the very minimum, they can demand putting the trio on a fair and open trial and broadcast it nationally, in order for the people to see what “crimes” they have committed.

In a recent speech Khamenei warned those who demand free election in June, claiming that the elections have always been free in the Islamic Republic era. Aside from the fact that his claim is a lie, it also indicates the sensitivity of Khamenei and his supporters to free elections, because they are well aware that such elections will be the beginning of the end for them. Since then, the hardliners around Khamenei have been attacking and threatening those who call for free elections, but at the same time are very worried about the upcoming months.

But, as Tajzadeh said from his jail cell, “Do not pay attention to the noise [by hardliners regarding free elections]. Continue demanding free elections.” That, in a nutshell, should be both the strategy and tactic of the Reformists and the Green Movement.

Voting in the June election, even if a second- or third-rate Reformist candidate, such as Mohammad Reza Aref who has demonstrated no leadership, is allowed to run, but without the release of the Green Movement’s leadership - the leadership that has withstood the tremendous pressure by the hardliners and paid the price for its resistance, but refused to recognize the fraudulent 2009 election as legitimate - and without any guarantee for a fair and honest election would be tantamount to committing treason, not only against the Green Movement and its leadership, but also against the nation, because not only such election participation will not solve anything, but will make Khamenei and his supporters even more determined to protect their religio-military dictatorship.

Will Khatami and the Reformists do the right thing this time? Only time will tell.


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