Opposition is sending signals for political compromise

2010/02/01

Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” and the daily “Tagesspiegel” on January 31 2010
Source (German): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2010-01/iran-opposition-ahmadineschad?page=all&print=true

In the face of the approaching anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, opposition leaders have hinted at a possible compromise. The price the current Iranian government would have to pay could be a high one, though.
By Martin Gehlen

People protest against the Iranian regime, not only in Iran, but world wide. Photo: Protest in Paris. © Berstrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images


Iran is getting ready for the next showdown. “Turn out in masses for the anniversary of the Revolution”, it said on the websites of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi this weekend. On 11. February, the Islamic Republic will for the 31st time commemorate the day of its founding and the deposition of the Shah. This time, the regime by all means wants to impede a turnout of tens of thousands of people who publicly insult the Supreme Religious Leader Ali Khamenei, calling him a murderer, dictator, and the new Shah, as it had happened on the day of the Ashura festival in late December. Eight people were killed on that day, among them a nephew of Mir Hossein Moussavi. More than 1000 were arrested.

For seven months now, the demonstrations against the rigged re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been going on. They have recently more and more developed into fundamental protests against the Islamic Republic. No wonder that the regime is trying to intimidate the restive population more massively than ever before.

Thus, the judiciary for the first time had two alleged protesters executed, who, however, were detained already prior to the elections in 2009. On Saturday, a second show trial was started, this time against 16 “counter-revolutionaries”, among them two women who were arrested on the day of Ashura.

The message for the year 2010 has been put straight: Who continues to chant slogans against the Supreme Religious Leader and his president in public is facing to be hanged. “We will absolutely not tolerate anything that calls itself green movement showing up in the streets”, announced Tehran’s commander of the Revolutionary Guards. Anyone protesting will be regarded as a “foreign agent”. In response, government opponents hacked the internet site of the news agency Fars, uploaded photos of demonstrations and adorned them with the headline “We are countless. The green movement will bring you to your knees.”

However, with the protests becoming increasingly critical of the system, Moussavi and Karroubi also get into political trouble. Both are co-founders of the Islamic Republic, and both do not want an overthrow. “We are loyal to the constitution”, Moussavi already three days after Ashura explained in his statement No. 17. With this statement, he for the first time addressed “the government” and called on them to “assume responsibility for the problems that the government has caused for the country, release the political prisoners, and respect the people’s rights of peaceful assembly.”

Promptly, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards and 4th presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie in a letter to Khamenei referred to the statement as a basis for a political compromise. Moussavi, said Rezaie, had dropped his general challenge of the government of Ahmadinejad, and this “could be a new start for re-uniting the protesters with the rest of the people”.

Three weeks later, reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi put it a bit more lucidly: He does not retreat from his criticism of the electoral fraud, he explained. Now, however “Mr Ahmadinejad is the inaugurated head of the government”, since he was officially confirmed by the Supreme Religious Leader. Despite all protests from within the population, Ahmadinejad is now heading the executive, and is obliged to answer for his actions, Karroubi added.

Likewise, the former president Mohammad Khatami is said to have addressed a similar letter to Khamenei. For the opposition leaders as much as some moderate conservatives within the government camp are concerned that the current conflict might result in a long-winding, eroding struggle that will not see a winner, but eventually paralyze the entire country. To find a way out of this dead end street, the opposition wants to help the tarnished Khamenei regain his position as the umpire of the country who stands beyond all political camps. Karroubi, however, has already announced the price that will have to be paid for this: “I do not believe that Ahmadinejad will be capable of finishing his term”, he said in an interview with Financial Times. When asked, though, whether Khamenei had already responded to the offer, he had no answer: “There are no indications so far.”

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