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Iranians Unite Against Ruling Mullahs By: Reza Bayegan
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 27, 2004

With the disappearance of the last vestiges of hope for democratic transformation within the existing political system, the Iranian opposition to clerical dictatorship is closing ranks and converging on items of a common agenda for the future of the country. At the beginning of Khatami's presidency, even many of those Iranians who were sympathetic to the Islamic revolution privately voiced the view that the reform card was the regime's last chance. They argued that either Mohammad Khatami would succeed in transforming the religious state into a democracy, or his presidency would be remembered as the final nail in the coffin of the Islamic Republic. Not very surprisingly a term and a half into his presidential mandate, Mohammad Khatami looks increasingly like an undertaker. His public credibility has all but vanished and the political movement that became synonymous with his name lies in tatters.

Hashim Aghageri, a leading Iranian dissident reacting to the massive disqualification of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council
has declared that Iran's reform movement is finished. In an open letter published by the Iranian news agency ISNA, this history professor who is a reformist himself said that hopes for mending the system from within are over and he advises Iranians to oppose the regime through passive resistance.

Passive resistance or civil disobedience is one of the items on the wish-list, which is uniting Iranian activists from all over the political spectrum. Many of the items on this wish-list entered the Iranian political lexicon with the publication of a book in 2002 called Winds of Change by Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran, who is leading a campaign to overthrow the mullahs' dictatorship from his home in exile in the United States. Arguing that violence breeds more violence, he has been insisting on a peaceful plan of bringing down the regime through political non-participation. He has also proposed a
democratic referendum on the future of the country as the only way out of the present political quagmire. Many of the reformist intellectuals who once vehemently supported President Khatami and his effort to change the republic from within now have also come to see a referendum on the future of the country as the only viable option. One of these people is the prolific satirist Ebrahim Nabavi. Reflecting on the legacy of the reformist movement in a recently published article, this hugely popular writer says: 'What we can all do at this moment is to make up for our past mistakes. We have no choice but to carefully navigate our country's vessel through its surrounding stormy waters and towards the free and democratic world. The reformist movement at this point should concentrate on forcing the hardliners to accept a national referendum on the future of the country'.

What Nabavi means by 'forcing the hardliners' is putting them in a situation so they can see that a quiet departure is their only route to self-preservation and the most generous deal they can expect from the nation. Twenty-five years of mismanagement and impetuous policies in the name of revolutionary Islam has brought the country to the verge of collapse. Iranians are left unprotected not only against man-made and natural calamities, but also against a government that has consistently assaulted their human rights and freedoms. How such a government with such a disastrous record has been able to survive for such a long time has been the subject of mystifications even for some Iranians with long experience in politics. Fereydoun Hoveyda, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations during the time of the Shah, blames the British, French and Germans for propping up the Islamic Republic and preventing its downfall.

In an article published on 13 February 2004, he asks 'how a group of incompetent and often corrupt lower ranking clerics' who have brought nothing but misery and bankruptcy to our nation have been able to survive except with the backing of those powerful European governments in whose economic benefit it is to keep them in power.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this theory, it is true however that the Islamic Republic has succeeded in defrauding, or as Mr. Hoveyda argues bribing the key European countries and even elements within the Democratic Party in the United States. Seeking the protection of these powers the mullahs have found it necessary to create the impression that they are interested in democratic reform. One should keep in mind that a dictator like Khomeini who thought nothing of ordering the mass execution of hundreds of his opponents also found it expedient to call himself a democrat. Many Iranian activists who had a soft spot for Khomeini's revolution turned a blind eye on profound and irreconcilable defects of the system. They waited patiently hoping that one day a democratic state could emerge from within the Islamic Republic.

One of these activists who supported the 1979 revolution was Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Faced with the mass elimination of candidates, she has declared that
she will refuse to vote in an undemocratic election where people are deprived of the right to vote for whomever they wish. The decision of the influential Nobel laureate to stay away from the polls is bound to give a moral boost to the the advocates of political non-participation and civil disobedience.

Ironically, the reform movement which was an ineffective force in its prime, is showing signs of vitality at its deathbed. The disgruntled candidates not only boycotted the polls but have broken a taboo by openly criticizing Khamenei's role in their disqualification accusing him of duplicity.

The recognition that the Islamic Republic is the common enemy of freedom and democracy has induced the country's political activists; monarchists as well as republicans to form a united front against dictatorship.

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