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Iran, One Year Later

Video Interview: Iran, One Year Later

One year has passed since the fraudulent Iranian presidential election of June 2009. For some background on Iranian politics and insight into what has happened in Tehran during the past 12 months, Near East Report sat down with Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow and expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute.

The following is part one of a two-part video interview. The second half will appear in the next edition of NER.

Near East Report (NER): Please describe the events surrounding the 2009 Iranian elections.

Ali Alfoneh: The Islamic Republic is not a democracy, but it very much likes to depict itself and picture itself to the public as a democracy. Therefore, there are elections. But the elections in the Islamic Republic have nothing to do with democracy.

Candidates are chosen by the regime, and there is a very limited range of choice. But at the very least, the regime wants to create the illusion that the Iranian public has a range of choice between different candidates.

This time the regime has, in reality, unmasked itself. It has shown that even those candidates who were accepted and recognized by the regime were not allowed to compete on equal terms, and the vote of the people was not respected by the regime.

One candidate, [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, was reelected—not because of the will of the Iranian people, but because the regime wanted and desired to reelect him.

And that was what happened. No one—not a single Iranian—believes that Ahmadinejad could have won 63 percent of the vote in [the] 2009 election. This was impossible. Everyone knows that. And this is when the regime tries to suppress the public, does not have any respect or regard for the vote of the Iranian public and does not respect the result of the election.

Then people do go out in protest against the fraudulent presidential election. The regime starts a crackdown, and you see increasingly that the military forces of the Islamic Republic—especially, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps—are used against the public in order to suppress any dissident activity.

In the short term, this may help the Islamic Republic to preserve order. But in the mid and longer terms, this is also a catastrophe for the regime itself because it does not rely on the will of the Iranian people.

It does not build its support base and legitimacy on the will of the Iranian people. It builds its power on the foundation of fear and terrorizing the public through the Revolutionary Guards, which also becomes stronger and stronger within the power structure of the Islamic Republic.

NER: What is the Green Movement?

Alfoneh: The Green Movement is, in reality, a result of the policies of the Islamic Republic—the modernization attempt of [the] Islamic Republic, but also the attempt of the Islamic Republic to deny political rights to the Iranian public.

And, therefore, you see that a movement [that] was fundamentally reformist [and that] wanted to change the Islamic Republic within the structure and framework of the constitution of the republic is now becoming increasingly revolutionary.

They have found out that elections in Iran are an illusion; they have nothing to do with democracy. And when you are incapable of [changing the system], and when the system denies you, and especially the opposition, the right to change the system within the structure, you have to break the structure down. This is why the Green Movement has developed from a reformist movement into a revolutionary movement.

Now, there are big differences between the leadership of the Green Movement and the followers of the Green Movement. The leadership still wants to believe that the regime can be changed within the structure. But the followers of the movement have long realized that this regime cannot be reformed within the constitution. And, therefore, you also will see in the near future a split within the opposition movement.

The Green Movement is the first social movement in the history of my country that is not following the orders of one single person, and that, I think, is very, very fortunate.

You have seen in European history how catastrophic political and historical developments can be when the entire public gives its direction and control into the hands of one single person who has one final solution. No. In Iran, there is no final solution.

There are many different approaches to how the Iranian society can be and should be changed. And, the unknown heroes of the Green Movement and the leaders, they are usually city-based Iranian young people who have access to the Internet, communicate with each other through the Internet and desire to change the society.

There is not one leader. Every Iranian, in reality, is becoming a leader of a revolution. This is both a strength and a weakness.

NER: Who are the leaders of the Green Movement?

Alfoneh: There are some who claim that Mir-Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi or, for that matter, former President Mohammed Khatami are the leaders of the Green Movement. I respectfully disagree. I believe that the true leaders of the Green Movement are the unknown members of the Green Movement.

And, probably, the one who has become sanctified, Neda Agha-Soltan—a young lady who lost her life—who sacrificed her life for the cause of democracy in Iran, she is the true face of the leadership of the Green Movement.

It is not those gentlemen who have been cooperating with the Islamic Republic for the past 31 years and who still are trying to convey the message to the Iranian public that Iran and the Islamic Republic can be changed within the structure of the constitution.

I believe that very, very soon we are going to witness a split within the Green Movement, where the followers just go and pursue their goal of toppling the regime because they no longer believe that the regime can be changed in [a] peaceful way and the leadership of the regime—which is, in reality, somehow co-opted by the regime.

NER: What is the Green Movement’s vision for Iran?

Alfoneh: Iran of the Green Movement—the Green Movement of the followers of the movement, not of the leadership—is a secular democracy, which is pursuing rational foreign policy goals.

This does not mean that Iran is going to surrender to foreign powers. This is not the case. Iran is going to have a rational relationship with other countries, including Israel and America—both countries that have become demonized in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

People are asking very, very simple questions. They’re asking why America and Israel should be the demonized enemies of Iran when we know that it is those who are trying to keep and suppress the Iranian population who are our true enemies. We do not have foreign enemies. Our enemies are inside our own country: those who suppress democracy in our country.

NER: Opposition to the Iranian regime appears to have quietly subsided. What should we read into this?

Alfoneh: Those people in the West who are disappointed by the fact that we do not see mass demonstrations in Iranian cities today should remember that the revolution of 1979 in Iran did not begin in 1979. It began in 1953, and it was the long quest of the Iranian people for democracy, which, unfortunately, in 1979 led to a military, into a religious autocracy, into a dictatorship, unfortunately.

But that fight and that struggle and that quest for democracy continues. And, we may not see people in the streets today, but maybe we will see them next year.

It is an ongoing movement, and it is an entire generation of Iranians [who are] demanding to become masters of [their] own destiny, rather than being slaves in the hands of the leadership. And, therefore, maybe we do not see an opposition movement active in the streets today, but that may come tomorrow.

What history has shown us, especially the revolution of 1979, is that even instruments of suppression, when they face the public—angry public—which is demanding democratic rights—legitimate democratic rights—at some point stop shooting at their own family members because this is exactly what they are.

People who go into the streets and demonstrate against the regime, they are family members of those who suppressed them. And at some point, one day, those members of the Revolutionary Guards and the police and the Basij militia will deny orders—will no longer follow orders of shooting at their own family members who are only demanding political rights.

In the next NER, we will feature part two of our interview with Ali Alfoneh. BACK TO TOP