FrontPage Interview’s guest today is Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian journalist, democracy activist, former political prisoner in Iran and head of Marze Por Gohar Party (MPG), an Iranian opposition party seeking the establishment of an secular republic in Iran. He was a student leader in the 1999 uprising, just one year after creating MPG.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Let’s discuss the so-called Iranian “election.” I guess you are not too surprised that Ahmadinejad has been declared the winner?
Farahanipour: No not at all. After 30 years of the Islamic Republic nothing surprises me. You have to remember that during the ramp-up to the elections, Mousavi’s campaign began talking of the “green revolution”. Once his campaign had reached its peak the color green was synonymous with Mousavi’s “green revolution.” This strategy backfired catastrophically, as the Islamic (Republic) Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) issued a statement basically stating that they have received hints of a planned “velvet revolution”. The statement went further and stated that other countries where velvet revolutions have taken place did not have the IRGC, but Iran does. One could even go so far as to say that the only reason Ahmadinejad was able to make the damaging accusations against his rivals was that Khamenei had given him the necessary backing.
FP: Many of the Islamic Republic's ballot boxes in the US are illegal, yes?
Farahanipour: Yes. The United States does not have normalized relations with the Islamic Republic, so there are no consulates or embassies. The Islamic Republic’s Special Interest Section is located in the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C, while America’s is located in the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Officials of the Islamic Republic have to stay within a 25-mile radius in Washington D.C and New York. The regime had listed 37 different ballot box locations where Iranians could cast their vote. Suffices to say, most of these ballot boxes fell outside the 25-mile radius. As FDI’s letter to the Secretary of State clearly explains “The laws of the Islamic Republic require that representatives of the Guardian Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must supervise each ballot box at all times. Those laws also stipulate that the ballot boxes in overseas locations be placed ‘only on sovereign soil’.”
FP: What do you make of the protests in Iran?
Farahanipour: Iranians yet again trusted the Islamic Republic and believed that “reform from within” was possible and yet again the Islamic Republic has proven that “reform from within” is just a slogan. The protests are a natural expression of the frustration and insult that have been dealt by the regime. Iranians will tolerate a lot, as the last 30 years attest to, but being treated as stooges is where they draw the line.
FP: How about the state-media quoted voter turnout being around 80%?
Farahanipour: It was a very normal result of an intense propaganda campaign. Practically every high ranking official of the regime constantly reiterated that people need to participate in the elections. Even foreign media began helping the campaign for the theocracy’s elections, which usually favored so called “reformists” over Ahmadinejad. Please also note that the night the ballot boxes closed the Ministry of Interior stated that 5 million votes have been tallied which accounts for 20% of all the votes. So clearly, the 80% turnout figure should be taken with more then a grain of salt. In fact a quite normal elections fraud that has been going on all along is the exaggeration of the total numbers of the voters to boost regime legitimacy.
FP: Is this the final nail in the coffin for reformists?
Farahanipour: I’m not sure; anyone that is not considered a “hardliner” is automatically labeled as a reformist. While it may be odd that a person such as Mousavi, who had nothing to do with the reformist movement, is now being touted as the leading reformist figure, we should remember that the person who created Hezbollah is now teaching at Yale – in other words nothing surprises me. The protests have in a sense crystallized Iranian politics into two camps, pro and anti-regime. There are no reformists because we have very clearly seen there are no reforms.
FP: Are the protests as disorganized as they appear in the media?
Farahanipour: Unfortunately, the vast majority of Iranians do not have the necessary experience or knowledge for organizing, strategizing and planning protests. As a result, what you see is raw emotions taking hold and Iranians venting their anger in any way they can. This is why we stress the importance of organization building, because without it people get hurt and/or killed for no good reason. There is however a hint of organization in the political line and the endurance of the street movement.
FP: Did foreign governments play a role in the election campaigns?
Farahanipour: Unfortunately the West thought that if they could replace Ahmadinejad with Mousavi that they could implement a “China model” with an Islamic slant. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated early on that human rights would not hinder business interests, therefore even with the regime’s notorious human rights record, the United States was looking towards business interests with the Islamic Republic. It’s interesting to note that during Bush’s administration the State Department reiterated over and over that it would not interfere with Iran’s internal affairs. However, with Obama’s administration it appears that State, according to Kenneth Timmerman, met with Mousavi’s campaign manager and offered their full support. In addition, the State Department pressured Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian service to only invite guests that support reformist candidates. It seems that the current trusted Iran analysts and advisers have misled the Obama administration as to the nature and the extent of the powers and motivations of the office of the Supreme leader and the façade of these elections.
FP: How does Ahmadinejad’s re-election impact the Iranian opposition?
Farahanipour: It has united the Iranian opposition in that those who promoted the idea of reform have come to understand that it’s not possible with the Islamic Republic’s laws, and thus have joined the opposition. Differences between different opposition organizations have also been set aside to focus on the real enemy, the regime itself.
FP: The Obama administration has not yet recognized Ahmadinejad as the regime’s president. Does it matter?
Farahanipour: It’s certainly interesting. Even prior to being elected president, one of his campaign promises was to sit down with Ahmadinejad and negotiate. Then during his Iranian New Year greeting he lumped the people of Iran with the Islamic Republic, referring to them as “the people of the Islamic Republic.” Even after that, he – for all practical purposes- allowed the illegal placing of ballot boxes throughout the United States. And now they are having second thoughts about recognizing Ahmadinejad as the president of the Islamic Republic? I would be laughing if it were not my country. Once the shock of the collapse of the “green revolution” has worn off, the American administration will again side with the strengthened dictatorial regime instead of the people.
FP: How do you think Ahmadinejad’s “re-election” will impact Obama’s engagement plans with the regime?
Farahanipour: Nothing has really changed. Except maybe now, with Ahmadinejad already boasting about his enhanced power and legitimacy, the United States will have to beg a little more for engagement and the Islamic Republic may increase the number of pre-conditions the US must meet. Shariatmadari, a close confidant of Khamenei and editor in chief of the regime’s official newspaper, has already cited some of these pre-conditions. They include:
*The U.S. must suspend the four US-initiated UN Security Council resolutions on Iran.
* The U.S. must release frozen assets.
* The U.S. must criminally try and convict the commander of the USS Vincennes, William C. Rogers III.
* "Criminals" (meaning Iranian opposition activists) who fled Iran must be sent back.
* The U.S. must recognize Hamas and Hezbollah as government representatives.
Also remember that it was the U.S. that had pre-conditions before, and now it is the regime.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.