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 a secular republic in Iran. He was a student leader in the 1999 uprising, just one year after creating MPG.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
We have witnessed an evil and barbaric crime committed by the regime in the cold-blooded murder of Neda Agha Soltani. It represents well the regime's treatment of its own people for thirty years. Before we get to this horrible tragedy and its repercussions, tell us first where the situation in Iran now stands. Would it still be accurate to describe the movement we are witnessing as reformist-oriented?
Farahanipour: I’d argue that the movement is past the elections and reforms and is in fact now questioning the very legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.
This shift is very clearly illustrated in the various slogans people are shouting in videos that have been uploaded. Initially what you heard were slogans against Ahmadinejad such as “Iranian are ready to die, but will not tolerate being humiliated.” Slowly the slogans became more radicalized such as “Death to the Dictator,” which at that point was still referring to Ahmadinejad.
After Khamenei’s Friday prayer, where he essentially slammed the doors on re-holding elections, it crystallized the fact that there are only two camps - those with the regime and those against it. The slogans now are crossing red-lines that were never crossed during the history of the Islamic Republic. Slogans such as “Death to Khamenei” and “No to Mousavi,” “No to Ahmadi,” “Damn Khamenei supporters,” have become the norm.
This movement can’t be reformist oriented because there no such thing as “reformists” anymore.
FP: Did Khamenei make a mistake in his Friday prayer? Was it a strategic mistake for the Islamic Republic?
Farahanipour: No, Khamenei always ran things this way. For example, during the student uprising in 1999 he said all the same things and the next day all of the leaders including myself were apprehended at our homes. They entered my home with gunshots and broke the door open. Twelve members of Marze Por Gohar were taken out of our homes under great duress, they grabbed me and beat me. Then I was subjugated in their filthy jail. The only thing that is different this time is the mullahs are fighting amongst themselves. Khamenei directly attacked another ayatollah (Rafsanjani) during his speech last Friday. It seems they are losing their footing this time because they are at war with each other as well as the people. The best end result is that they kill each other and end this regime once and for all. The way this is going it looks as if at least half of them will be eliminated.
FP: Are you surprised by the developments?
Farahanipour: We are not surprised at all. I am proud of our people for standing up against the occupied regime. They have reached their boiling point and will not be kept down any longer.
FP: So there really isn’t a clear leader for this movement is there?
Farahanipour: Previously it would have been easy to simply declare Mousavi as the leader of this movement. After all, the first protests were littered with people wearing green. But again, the movement has moved past Mousavi, and this is very evident when Mousavi asked people to not protest on a particular day and yet protests did take place. Leaders will come fourth and this movement will eventually coalesce around certain individuals; this is normal. I believe these would-be leaders will come from Iran, not abroad, who have lived under this medieval government.
FP: Why did Mousavi ask people not to protest? How come Iranians did not listen to him?
Farahanipour: Mosavi analyzed the situation and rapidly realized that people were moving much faster than he anticipated beyond his own personal agenda.
FP: Ok, let’s get to Neda and the tragic and vicious taking of her life. Who was she and what happened?
Farahanipour: Neda was a young lady that was participating in the protests with her music teacher. She was subsequently shot in the chest and died. The last fleeting moments of her life were caught on video, which is very difficult to watch, particularly for Iranians. Her death has become a symbol of the brutality and injustice Iranians have experienced for the last 30 years under the Islamic Republic. Neda is the martyr of this revolution.
FP: Who shot Neda?
Farahanipour: One of the snipers of the occupied regime shot Neda right in front of the camera.
FP: Do you think the tragedy of Neda might unite the people and the world so powerfully that it may lead to a revolution in Iran?
Farahanipour: We have been working towards a revolution for many, many years and to see this much progress in that direction in such a short amount of time gives us a lot more than hope. We can see the revolution now.
FP: Many of the protestors and freedom fighters in Iran who have been arrested are being tortured right now, yes?
Farahanipour: There are two different groups that are being captured for protesting. One group is the people inside the regime and the other is the general public. The insiders, such as Rafsanjani’s family members, are being treated with a degree of respect and not violated physically. The general public however is being tortured and murdered mercilessly.
FP: What do you think of the regime perpetrating the foreign media blackout on the uprising?
Farahanipour: Well the fact that most foreign media have been asked to leave the country means that our eyes and ears are now Iranians themselves. The raw and sometimes difficult to watch events that transpire on the videos Iranians send or upload to the outside world provide an unparallel glimpse into how violent the Islamic Republic really is. When we previously documented the human rights abuses, some accused us of fabricating or exaggerating the abuses – these videos put those assertions to sleep. The fact that the footage is raw makes it difficult for foreign media to spin it into their own respective viewpoints.
FP: How stable is the communication with inside Iran?
Farahanipour: SMS service is sporadic and so are mobile voice calls. The idea behind shutting down mobile phone services is pretty simple – to stop coordination of protests and other activities. The internet has also been heavily filtered, however since some of their infrastructure relies on the internet they have not completely shut it down. Services likes Yahoo messenger are blocked and the closest thing you have to instant messaging is Facebook – which can only be viewed with a proxy server, since Facebook is blocked itself. Accesses to proxy servers are also dwindling, and so we are ensuring that our members have access to proxy servers.
FP: Is the Iranian regime ready and willing to engage in a Tiananmen-style massacre?
Farahanipour: They have been ready for several days now but serious “ethical” problems still confront them: Are their forces ready to fire upon people whom the Supreme Leader has called “our own” and in a conflict he has characterized as “internal disputes”? There are reports suggesting that there are conflicts within the regime forces over this. The next issue is whether a massive crackdown planned for the streets and for demonstrations would be relevant to strikes taking place in work places while the streets are the scenes of small and highly mobile skirmishes.
FP: Are the events in Iran a devastating blow to Islamism and Islamists everywhere?
Farahanipour: The people most worried about the events in Iran are the region’s major terrorist forces who cannot function without huge cash and equipment flow from Iran. The Syrian regime’s tone is very very worried. If the regime in Iran is overthrown or drastically changed, it will have a similar devastating effect to the fall of the Soviet Union which was followed by the sudden evaporation of hundreds of movements and communist parties worldwide.
FP: Yes, a possible domino effect.
Can Iran ever return to what it was in terms of being a tyrannical theocracy?
Farahanipour: Yes it can but it would be almost impossible for it to survive for long, since the effects of this shocking new phenomenon will remain within the psyche of the society for a long time.
FP: What are your own personal hopes and fears for the situation ahead?
Farahanipour: On one hand I am glad this movement is happening towards the direction of tearing down the Islamic regime. On the other hand it is a travesty that innocent people standing up for their civil rights and opinions have to be martyrs.
Marze Por Gohar has always promoted the fall of fundamental Islam ruling Iran. Our mantra has always been and will always be “Down with the Islamic Republic.” We have this slogan on our pens, Facebook cause, and every interview that we have done and will do. Even though some of the interviews we have done censored our slogan, we continued.
We believe we have been one step ahead of the general world public putting this message out as much as we can. It just takes one big united ripple to make a tidal wave. We believe our message has been heard by not only by the people occupying Iran and the U.S. but by the world.
FP: What are your thoughts on how the Obama administration is handling the whole ordeal? What would your advice be to the U.S. administration?
Farahanipour: Obama has repeatedly said that he wants to engage the “people and leaders of the Islamic Republic in Iran” (see his Persian New Year message). If this is still the case, he must be against any event that destabilizes this regime and challenges the legitimacy of its known leaders. I hope I am wrong. My advice is to rethink the whole Iran policy and get back to supporting democracy now that the damaging, deceiving and self serving theories about Iranian people not being ready to rise up, our people not being willing to risk anything, the era of revolutions have ended and etc… have all been swept away and their promoters have been fully discredited in one week of fully televised revolution.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.