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.
Tell us about the latest developments in your homeland.
Farahanipour: Thank you Jamie.
The movement has grown, as the world has witnessed, beyond the capital and to other cities - Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Ahvaz, etc. - and the people's demands are more clear: freedom and changes to the current constitution.
FP: So this isn’t really a Mousavi vs. Ahmadinejad battle, or a battle over the election, as much of the media is portraying it as, right? Can you talk a bit about what the media and our literary culture is missing in what is really happening?
Farahanipour: This movement is quickly surpassing the Mousavi issue and raising various demands of the people in the streets. Mousavi is much too slow and much too reluctant to lead this forward since it will jeopardize his behind the scenes negotiations and even challenge the whole system. Perhaps one reason that Obama is reluctant to openly support this movement is that it has gone beyond the predicted and simplistic victory of the “elections” process.
FP: So what freedom do Iranians want? What changes to the constitution do they want?
Farahanipour: Discrimination against women in the constitution and laws which institutionalize control and exclusion in all levels of Iranian elections such as the powers of the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader have always been criticized and even openly challenged by periodical movements within Iran.
FP: What is happening, exactly, with Hossein Mousavi?
Farahanipour: The Interior Ministry denied Mousavi’s supporters their demonstration permit for Monday’s demonstration, again with the world’s eyes upon them, and Mousavi asked the people to postpone it.
When his message was publicized, people turned on him. Slogans on the street were: “Mousavi, for shame, for shame, we asked you for support, you betrayed us all the same,” and “Mousavi, we want our votes back!”
After Mousavi said he'd boycott the demonstrations, people ignored his gesture and went ahead on their own. Other candidates - Karrubi, Karbaschi, and Rezai - said they'd participate; Mousavi, not wanting to be left behind, changed his mind and joined in.
He asked people to remain calm and not agitate the situation – not create incidents. People ignored it and did not heed his advice and continued pushing on.
FP: So the Iranian people have made the decision here in terms of protesting, yes?
Farahanipour: Yes, the people are doing their own thing. Their line is clear. It is Mousavi who is trying to keep himself on-board and stay attached to the movement. After all, his name was in it, so he wants to remain relevant, besides, he has an obligation to his investors.
FP: Are the demonstrations peaceful?
Farahanipour: Our people have always sought to advance their cause peacefully. The violence is unleashed by the ruling regime, now and during the previous regime as well; especially the Islamic Republic and its extremely short fuse – zero tolerance for dissent and opposing opinions.
During Mousavi's term as prime-minister, we remember mass-executions. Specifically on women’s rights, after Mr. Mousavi's “mandatory hijab” bill was ratified by the Majlis in the early 1980's, the militia having just been handed a carte-blanche, regularly attacked women in the streets to “enforce” his law.
The regime dealt with the movement with their special brand of brutality during the 5-day uprising of 18 of Tir in 1999, after his term in the Parliament had ended.
The Islamic security enforcers have upped the ante this time around and opened fire on people, escalating their brutal violence against the people on public display before the world - momentarily.
Not only did they use physical violence, but they also blocked and disabled the people’s channels of communication with the outside world: they are confiscating satellite dishes and are trying to shut down email, Facebook and twitter as well; again, as the world watches in silence.
FP: So Mousavi is by no means a moderate, and very much a fanatic who has been complicit in enslaving and punishing the Iran people. Tell us some more about his complicity in torturing his own people and how he is no democrat.
Farahanipour: Mousavi has had a long history of hard line positions and murderous suppression of opposition and presiding over massacres of political prisoners in the 1980s. Even today he has constantly declared his devotion to the Supreme Leader and his religious ideology of hierarchical Islamic government. His moderation myth has developed out of his opposition to Ahmadinejad’s open and bold statements. Mousavi believes in quietly doing the same things, i.e. the nuclear development, support of Hezbollah and Hamas and etc.
FP: Can you tell us some more things you know about the regime’s violence against the protestors right now?
Farahanipour: The Revolutionary Guards and special foreign legions of terrorists being trained around Tehran have been alerted to the highest levels for an immediate intervention. So far the regular police and the small anti-riot police forces who have been mostly subdued by the protesters (even treated by the protesters of their injuries and set free) are apparently under orders not to exert too much force, pending the outcome of the ongoing negotiations above. At this time when “only” 8 people have been killed in Tehran, the regime fears that a violent crackdown will bring about a massive and energetic popular response and is therefore counting on the movement to run out of fuel.
There is a more harsh policy in smaller towns where the crowds are smaller and international and Tehran based sensitivities are lower towards them. Dozens have been killed in smaller towns and injuries and clashes have been more violent.
FP: So, what becomes of Ahmadinejad and his supporters?
Farahanipour: A large number of his supporters are government workers, i.e.: basij, IRGC, civil servants, etc., some of whom are doing it under pressure and to do their “obligation” to the government. These groups would not openly clash with the people when it comes right down to it, but it is their duty to participate in events as they are closely watched and bussed to locations, and so, they go along with it.
Generally, Ahmadinezhad and Khamene’i are one and the same in the eyes of the people – they are cut from the same cloth. Another part of his support comes from those who are disillusioned by Rafsanjani and his posse. This group is looking to capitalize on the current events and use this opportunity as a tool to punish Rafsanjani and his entourage and give them their due.
FP: What exactly is the regime's position now?
Farahanipour: They are on the defensive: they have retreated out of fear and taken a step back, having just agreed to review and recount the votes. Fortunately, people's demands have grown beyond that point and are seeking the complete abrogation of this election; they want it nullified and voided.
The opposition forces, including MPG, also demand this election nullified, the Guardian Council dissolved and a new open elections held with equal opportunity and open participation of parties - including the opposition members - under the supervision of UN to elect true and direct representatives of people and to change the constitution to eliminate the Velayate Faqih or the rule of jurisprudence, etc.
FP: What do Iranian people expect from other countries?
Farahanipour: First, the countries who have not recognized Ahmadinejad, to not recognize these elections as legitimate and insist on holding open and free elections with the conditions mentioned above. Next the countries like the US whose president is trying to avoid expressing solidarity with the people of Iran: the NGOs, grassroots organizations and people's representatives [congressmen and women and senators] to insist and demand that their president take a position supporting the people of Iran.
FP: The Iranian people on the streets are very brave, knowing they’re risking their lives. So much courage. Are you proud and excited for your people? Will they prevail under the pressure?
Farahanipour: We did the same thing back in 1999 during the student uprising and witnessed amazing courage by the young and unarmed activists of our time during much harsher crackdown than we are witnessing today. I believe that today’s youth will show epic resistance to the crackdown that is expected in the coming days.
FP: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome?
Farahanipour: The exact outcome cannot be predicted right now; however, we shall be witnessing a different Iran regardless of what happens. The rising momentum of this movement may well throw this level of expectations into a higher orbit and challenge the system while a massive crackdown which may succeed in the very short term will lay the grounds for a new wave of radicalized youth in their millions adopting more organized and extremely more courageous methods.
FP: Is there the potential for this to bloom into an actual revolution that will overthrow the Mullahs?
Farahanipour: This movement is surpassing Mousavi and losing patience with the guardian council and the unpopular Supreme Leader. The powers negotiating a way out are being led by extremely unpopular and corrupt “leaders” such as Rafsanjani. This clearly means that a further split within the regime and a possible momentum gain by the street will target the whole system. On the other hand, many other factors can contribute to middle of the road alternatives and a movement running out of fuel.
FP: Is there a chance that there might be a Tiananmen type outcome here, that the Iranian regime might squash this freedom movement with bloodshed? Will the Iranian army do this to its own people?
Farahanipour: The Revolutionary Guards and their little brother the Basseej Militia have been training for exactly the same Tiananmen scenario. Earlier this year there was a major nationwide maneuver by the Basseej for controlling and suppressing massive uprisings, under the pretext of a possible American invasion. Islamic fanatics have throughout the ages demonstrated their absolute hatred for Iranians and have committed massive massacres. Even after the 1979 revolution we have witnessed atrocities rarely seen anywhere else in the last 30 years. The difference here will be in the aftermath, since a massive crackdown will further radicalize the new generation who are in the majority in the country rather than subduing them into submission.
FP: You were at a demonstration yesterday. Tell us where and what happened there.
Farahanipour: There have been daily demonstrations in Los Angeles in support of the Iranian movement for freedom. In our area the majority of demonstrators are those opposing the Islamic Republic as a whole. The smaller groups supporting Mousavi are themselves split between a majority of liberals who support Mousavi as a tactic to oust Ahmadinejad and a small minority of hard core supporters of the IRI. We have coordinated our protests with the non-IRI Mousavi supporters in the spirit of unity and they have been able to push their IRI “friends” not to display their flags and raise their slogans.
Yesterday there was a scuffle when dozens of anti-IRI people tried to take down the illegal flag of the IRI; they succeeded and the LAPD separated the two groups. Fortunately, in our area the Islamic Republic agents are still operating clandestinely and hold their meetings and gatherings very secret. They are scared not only of the majority of Iranian Americans but also of US authorities who may discover much more insidious motivations and means if they are arrested or investigated.
FP: What can the West do that would be most effective in helping Iranians in their quest for freedom against the Islamic Republic?
Farahanipour: The West must openly support this street movement today and any democratic movement which will follow it in unforeseen ways and shapes. President Obama, who is trying to distance himself from the Bush Doctrine of supporting democracy, is unfortunately too immersed in his realist Foreign Relations Doctrine to understand or follow this concept and may end up siding with tyrants.
Calling for real free elections based on fairness and level fields, freedoms and possibilities without which free elections cannot take place and refusing to warm up to violent dictators and bullies will encourage our people and discourage the paper tigers in charge of Iran today.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.