Iran Special Analysis: After 25 Bahman’s Success, The Challenges for the Green Movement

 The Iranian regime’s response to the street protests of Monday was predictable. Rather than realising that a sizeable proportion of its people were maintaining serious and justifiable grievances about the ruling elite, institutions of the Islamic Republic have put up a preposterous show of defiance. A large group of Parliamentary deputies openly agitated for violence and asked for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to be killed.

The classic line of UK-US-Israel-„terrorist“ MKO (Mujahedin-e-Khalq) involvement patterns were put out in full force.  The Secretary of the Expediency Council and 2009 Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, a man routinely praised by pundits as a voice of balance and reason on the current Iranian political battleground, called both Mousavi and Karroubi “servants of the Americans” and laid out an ultimatum for the two former Presidential candidates: disown the protests by Tuesday night or face the “fully justifiable” response of the “people”.

 The two Green leaders did nothing of that sort. In communiques published on their official website (over which there are some doubts of legitimacy, given that Mousavi has supposedly been cut off from contact since Sunday), both Mousavi and Karroubi praised the behaviour of the people on Monday and stated their determination to persist with their struggle.

Both messages fell short, however, of taking stock of the mood on the streets of Tehran and other cities on 25 Bahman. As relayed by the considerable YouTube footage, the bulk of the slogans shouted by the protestors were directed straight at the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is now considered the main “culprit” of the current predicament. But no mention of Khamenei is made by either Mousavi or Karroubi, despite the ringing chant on YouTube associating the Supreme Leader’s fate with that of former Egyptian President Mubarak and Tunisian leader Ben Ali. Both Mousavi and Karroubi have also decided to maintain the controversial theme of “loyalty to the Late Imam’s [Ayatollah Khomeini] Values”. Mousavi’s alleged communique even said that such loyalty is the sole desire of the protestors, a comment which completely discounts the frequent and clear calls for the termination of the velayat-e faqih doctrine — introduced and brought forward by Khomeini — as principal element in the leadership of the Islamic Republic.

 Despite the relative success of the 25 Bahman event and the unexpectedly large turnout, the Green leadership has to grapple with two pressing issues. The first concerns the extent to which Mousavi and Karroubi are in tune with the aspirations and overall direction of the popular base of their movement. Evidence from the ground suggests that the rank-and-file members of the opposition are moving towards a stance vis-à-vis the state system which is far more radical than the hitherto restrained confrontation favoured by the two former Presidential candidates. This could in turn lead to a considerable gap between the leadership and the base, who might decide to take matters into its own hands and embark in a no-holds-barred and potentially very bloody confrontation with the Government. Two years on, the constant referral to Khomeini’s time as a golden era of Iranian politics is also appearing dated and counterproductive. 

The second major point of contention for the two leaders is their attitude towards the State system. Despite meeting the target of persuading considerable numbers of Green supporters to return to the streets, the plans for 25 Bahman also highlighted shortcomings and ambiguities in Mousavi and Karroubi’s decision-making. The formal request to the Interior Ministry for a permit for a rally in support of Egypt and Tunisia was counterproductive, as it invested the supposed “coup” government with legitimacy and implied that both leaders consider the Interior Ministry, and by association the entire Government, as a “rightful” one. The announcement late in the day by close associates of Mousavi and Karroubi that no permit was needed, according to the Constitution, also questioned the validity and usefulness of initially requesting authorisation. The actions of the ruling clique in the past 24 hours have also challenged any residual claim that compromise and negotiation, as occasionally favoured by leading elements of the opposition such as former President Mohammad Khatami, is a viable choice for the Green leadership.

Faced with the heavy-handed response by the authorities, the question that lies ahead for the both Mousavi and Karroubi is pressing: Should they finally give up all pretence of compromise and resolution of conflict within the boundaries of the Islamic Republic and their reluctance to engage in a full-frontal confrontation with all elements of the regime, Khamenei included? Should they start to question the authority and wisdom of the Supreme Leader directly, as strongly requested by the protestors in the streets, or should they keep pressing with strategies which have been unsuccessful so far?

The rallies of 25 Bahman certainly blew the „breath of life“ — to borrow Karroubi’s phrase — into a stagnant Green movement, but it also brought to the fore compelling questions which need carefully-crafted answers.



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