Laura Secor on Iran’s Protest Vote


mosavi passport.jpg
The New Yorker‘s Laura Secor has a richly detailed account of some complicated history that runs between Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Ali Khamenei. The whole piece should be read, but here’s a key clip:

Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the Presidential contender whose legions of supporters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities, has a long and complex history with Khamenei. When Moussavi was Prime Minister, in the nineteen-eighties, he belonged to a faction known as the Islamic Left. It shared power with a rival faction, the Islamic Right, led by Khamenei, who was then the President. When Moussavi and Khamenei clashed, as they often did, the charismatic leader of the Islamic Revolution and the supreme leader of the country, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, intervened–most frequently on Moussavi’s side.
So, in 1989, when Khomeini died and Khamenei replaced him as supreme leader, the Islamic Left was exiled to political purgatory. Moussavi did not lift his head in Iranian politics for twenty years. But during those years the rest of his Islamic Left faction, including Saeed Hajjarian, made one of the most dramatic turnabouts in Iran’s political history. It abandoned its hard-line commitments in favor of an agenda of liberalization, freedom of expression, the relaxation of Islamic social codes, and friendlier dealings with the world. On the strength of this platform, in 1997, Khatami, who had been Moussavi’s minister of culture, won the Presidency in a landslide. Parliament soon fell to the reformists, too. Although these elected officials were subordinate to Khamenei, Hajjarian believed that they could extend their reach by triangulating between the mass movement they represented and the autocratic state with which they shared power. He coined the phrase that would define the reformists’ strategy: “Pressure from below, negotiation at the top.”
That strategy failed. The pressure from below was for far-reaching democratic reform, which Khatami could not deliver within the confines of the constitution. Moreover, the authorities at the top were not interested in negotiating. A hundred independent newspapers and magazines opened, only to be forced to close; the Guardian Council vetoed much of the legislation passed by the parliament; and Khatami could not keep his inner circle out of prison, let alone the young people whose votes had won him the Presidency. By the time he left office, in 2005, the reformists had neither a credible leader nor a constituency. Activists and public figures called for a boycott of that year’s election. What good was voting if a President with a broad popular mandate could still be controlled and stymied by unelected powers? What difference did it even make who was President?
A major one, as it turned out. Under Ahmadinejad, a crackdown on dissent forced scores of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to flee the country. Ahmadinejad centralized government, empowered the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards, flouted expert economic advice, and packed the ministries with ideological cronies. With few reformists permitted to run in the interim elections of 2006 and 2008, liberals and moderates had little recourse inside the political system. Iran seemed headed for a confrontation between irreconcilables: the forces for secular democracy and those for autocratic theocracy.

— Steve Clemons


4 comments on “Laura Secor on Iran’s Protest Vote

  1. rbe1 says:

    It helps to have a little background on the major players in this drama ! Thanks.


  2. OneCrankyDem says:

    Jeff Stien over at CQ Politics, “Spy Talk” has some information on Mousavi that is going to send the Rightwing into a real tizzie.
    “He may yet turn out to be the avatar of Iranian democracy, but three decades ago Mir-Hossein Mousavi was waging a terrorist war on the United States that included bloody attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.
    Mousavi, prime minister for most of the 1980s, personally selected his point man for the Beirut terror campaign, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi-pur, and dispatched him to Damascus as Iran’s ambassador, according to former CIA and military officials.


  3. Ajaz says:

    The initial movement to dispute the results of Iran’s Presidential elections has now morphed into a struggle for freedom and a rebellion against theocracy’s 30 year stranglehold.
    The unelected Guardian Council headed by the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was imposed upon Iran following the revolution of late Ayatollah Khomeini. This body of clerics and jurists has bestowed upon itself the ultimate power to veto any laws passed by the elected Majlis – the Iranian parliament. The Council also has the bestowed upon itself the power to stop any candidate from taking part in elections. This structure has nothing to do with Islam and is a draconian powerhouse created by Iranian theocracy to keep a stranglehold on Iran’s body politic.
    The cracks that appeared immediately after the Presidential election are not so much because Iranians want Mousavi to be their President, but because they are sick and tired of the draconian rule by the mullahs for the last thirty years.
    Prior to the Islamic revolution, Iranians suffered under the brutal and self serving regime of Shah of Iran and his vicious secret service – Savak. The 1979 revolution was not so much pro Khomeini but an anti Shah uprising. However, the people did not bargain for a theocratic led stranglehold on their daily lives. The frustration spilling out on Iranian street today is because of restriction on personal liberties and imposition of harsh rules on daily lives of Iranians especially on women.
    For the first time clergy’s power and the Guardian Council’s stranglehold has been seriously challenged. The question is, where do things go from here? Continued confrontation will lead to more bloodshed. The chances are that clergy and Ahmadinajed will win this round and keep their hold on power, but for how long that is the question? This may not be the end but the beginning of the end for the clergy.
    Also, at this time there is no apparent alternative to the system in place. The mullahs were clever enough to have enshrined their powers in the constitution which they wrote and had Majlis approve it.
    Will the Iranian Military take over and throw out the clergy and the constitution with it? That may get rid of the mullahs, but will not be a good thing in itself. Both Ahmadinajed and Khamenei have support in rural areas and in the mosque and that could lead to a major unrest and possibly a civil war in Iran and that is no one’s interest.
    It has to be seen how all this plays out. Beyond moral support and electronic enabling, the Iranian people must be left alone to fight their battle for freedom and democracy. Any hint of behind the scenes involvement of CIA, MI6 or any other western intelligence agency will severely damage the cause of the people. The Iranian Government will use that as an excuse to label protesters as American/Western backed and crack down on them even more severely. So however tempting it may be, my suggestion to CIA and MI6 is to back off


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