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.
Kindly update us on the events in Iran since the June and July uprising: the repression of dissidents and your own activities since your return from your clandestine trip to your country in mid-July.
Farahanipour: Our activities are right now focused on the Ahmadinejad trip to New York, which is scheduled for September 23. We are also dealing with the changing characters and forms of the movement in Iran. We’re coping with the issues of some of our members and colleagues who are being indicted by the regime or who have escaped the country.
First of all, the regime has reacted to my border crossing and the border crossings of others, by sending more forces back to the border areas and claiming that borders are completely sealed and under control. Despite this, many have crossed the borders both ways and the regime has failed in implementing full control. Secondly, the wave of arrests inside the country has now expanded to second and third tiers of activists, their family members and friends, fruitlessly consuming a lot of intelligence and enforcement energy, leaving a lot of possibilities for Iranian dissidents to continue organizing and acting for the next waves of protests.
Right now, the cancellation of certain religious events in Iran during Ramadan suggests that the regime is still scared of people assembling in large numbers for any purpose. On September 18, Karoubi and Moussavi supporters are planning to participate in the infamous Ghods Day rallies in Iran (solidarity day for destruction of Israel), discouraging people from voicing “irrelevant” slogans as a sort of dubious protest and perhaps declaration of loyalty to the foundations of the 1979 revolution, among which is the call for the destruction of Israel.
Such mass invitations have been made by “green leaders” before in order to get the people back in the fold of Islamist frameworks. But in the last months, people have either ignored them or turned the events into open protests and ridicule if they felt they could do so with acceptable risks.
FP: What is the state of mind of the people and what are they doing in the wake of the huge mass rallies of two months ago?
Farahanipour: The brutal repression of the mass rallies has not extended into a nationwide massacre. This has demonstrated the limits of the regime’s political power, which is clearly focused on containment, rather than on elimination of the threat. We all witnessed the cracks appearing within the Basseej Militia and the Revolutionary Guards in the midst of the killings and attacks on people’s gatherings and even homes during the night. We were correct to have recognized that issue as a demonstration of the IRI’s political limits and the over-stretching of the regime’s actual forces.
The limited repression, therefore, has left the people in a state of rage without having affected their will in any serious manner. The internet activities of Iranians have continued in a major way, showing their continued spite for not only Ahmadinejad but for the Supreme leader as well. Smaller scale demonstrations are taking place and as we approach the opening of schools and universities on September 23, as well as religious and public scheduled events and anniversaries, calls for action are floating around all the time.
FP: Who is leading the people at this time?
Farahanipour: The initial leadership of the presidential candidates, Karoubi, Moussavi and other regime factions behind the post election rallies, has eroded in a major way. But it has not completely vanished. The reason behind this erosion is that these personalities have also been scared of the size of the participation, the out of control direction they were taking and the widespread political unity among different Iranian political persuasions, resulting in their caution, outright absence from numerous events and in taking positions which alienated large groups of people at every turn.
Moussavi, for example, trying to control “his” crowds and to assure the regime of his loyalty, issued three clear statements in July and August, ordering the protestors to physically separate their ranks from those who opposed “the holy Islamic regime” and to adopt positions which would re-introduce the traditional animosities among Iranians. Such “fatwas,” reminding many of the physical ejection of democratic forces from the street demonstrations of 1978 by Khomeini thugs, prevention of political discourse among the opposition and monopolizing the movement leadership and etc., had the reverse effect of eroding support for Moussavi, even though it did damage the opposition unity within Iran as well as activities of Iranians across the world. Mandating the “Green Only” symbols and rejecting anti-regime slogans showed the monopolizing and theocratic pro-regime nature of many Moussavi supporters.
The sectarian and monopolistic tendencies of the pro-Moussavi activists went as far as openly denouncing many of the very same political prisoners who were put on trial along with them, as if no one else had been active within the movement except those whom they approved. The Moussavi activists changed the meaning of “defending political prisoners” into defending “our” political prisoners.
There is right now a visible trend of organizing within Iran which may result in the creation of a different movement away from the factional regime issues and personalities. This may divide the people even though it will create new chances for a meaningful opposition movement deeper and stronger than the one merely asking for vote recounts, which is already antiquated and made irrelevant in the course of events.
FP: Tell us a bit about the factional issues within the regime.
Farahanipour: Besides the issue of the people facing the dictatorship (which quickly evolved into anti-theocracy issues as well) and the important issue of US and European powers versus Ahmadinejad, the other important factor in the recent movement is that of regime factions fighting for a redistribution of power and wealth.
The more extremist elements include the revolutionary guards and Militia leadership, headed by Ahmadinejad and supported by the Supreme leader. They were and are battling the older aristocracy of the theocratic regime over billions of dollars of annual revenues, over control of monopolistic foundations and centers of power, as well as issues of ideology and foreign policy (including US relations, regional dominance, methods of the destruction of Israel etc….).
The forces in power have been promising the poverty stricken masses to seriously combat the billionaire class, even naming them (Rafsanjani and sons…) and threatening their families with inquiries and expropriations. This populist approach by Ahmadinejad managed to keep the poor out of the struggle for democracy.
This infighting is still going on and has not been resolved. Internal leaks keep flowing, accusations from both sides are getting nastier all the time as the regime’s atrocities against political prisoners are being exposed by Karoubi and his faction. Their own similar actions when they held the power are being raised by Ahmadinejad’s propagandists.
I believe that the continued factional infighting should be welcomed by all, since in the end the people will win. We have already heard more things about past and present atrocities of the regime from its own people than we had been able to discover and expose in many years. The drawback in all this is that some people, including wavering opposition forces, tend to glorify one faction against the other.
Right now, as the show trials are going on, “reformist” leaders are being forced into humiliating confessions, reminiscent of the Stalinist Khomeinist trials of the 1980s which the new generation did not witness. These sham trials, nevertheless, are not only educating the youth to the nature of the regime but, perhaps more importantly, in the short run, are angering the underdog faction in ways that cannot be reversed for quite a while. The trials are assuring the continuation of the regime’s internal conflict.
FP: Many others are also being tried in the same courts, right? What effect do their confessions or accusations have on the psyche of Iranians?
Farahanipour: Several of our own MPG party members are on trial, one for sending photos of the uprising abroad. There are people from many other anti-regime organizations on trial, for many of whom death sentences have been demanded by the prosecutors.
Our policy, as we publicly announced, has been one of discouraging resistance under torture and encouraging ordinary activists to confess to any ridiculous thing that the interrogators can think of, and believe me, the Islamic interrogators are amazingly imaginative when it comes to dishonoring and humiliating captives. Fortunately, the Iranian people have come to the same understanding and do not expect their own friends and kin to endure gruesome torture while they can get off easier and continue their struggle.
These Khomeinist sham trials have backfired even beyond my imagination. The only effect on the people has been their emotional disassociation from the regime and the regime’s increasing loss of credibility. If they are lying about these things, what other things have they been lying about before?
FP: So is this what happened to the thousands arrested during the uprising?
Farahanipour: No, not at all. The hundred or so being humiliated in the show trials are just a selection of different organizations and factions who participated in leading the June-July uprising. Hundreds of other activists and leaders have already died under torture and many have disappeared. They are possibly still being tortured or have been executed.
These days there are reports of dozens of unmarked graves discovered in Tehran’s main cemetery and numerous executions and assassinations have been reported in other cities. Some torture victims who have been released due to their minor roles, are coming forth with their testimonies; aided by the ongoing factional conflicts their voices are being heard. Just recently, however, one such witness disappeared after testifying in an unofficial but high ranking venue, while another jumped from a pedestrian bridge as he had been summoned to the prison again.
In the meantime, many regime opponents outside the country have received death threats. Even Moussavi supporters have resorted to death threats against certain regime opponents here in the US. It seems that under pressure, both regime factions revert to the same tactics.
FP: How do you think President Obama is handling this?
Farahanipour: I think it is clear that US policy has been confused. This confusion has helped Ahmadinejad, to say the least.
First, during the pre-elections campaign in Iran in early June, the administration went overboard in supporting Moussavi and Karoubi who later lost the elections following the fraudulent elections practices in an election which was based on fraud anyway. The administration ordered the censorship of all regime opponents from their Farsi language radio and TV channels and tolerated illegal and discriminatory Iranian elections to be held in 20 American cities ! Then it took Obama over a week to agree to condemn certain human rights abuses of the regime when the uprising took place. After all this, Obama’s only noteworthy activity has been sending a second presumably conciliatory message to the Supreme Leader and not opposing Ahmadinejad to travel to New York around September 23.
Interestingly enough, the same Voice of America which gave exclusive coverage to “reformist” candidates and their spokesmen abroad, later started censoring even the street demonstrations, leading everyone to suspect a change of policy in favor of Ahmadinejad.
The people who risked their lives during the uprising, generally expected open and strong support from Obama. Obama’s lack of resolve resulted in his loss of popularity even among crowds who would say “Oo-ba-ma -st” (“He is with us”, as his name sounds like in Farsi).
It seems that Obama’s resolve is stronger when it comes to appeasing the Iranian regime and following the China model. Iranians are worried about the implications of a new China policy: If election results did not produce a desired president, then let’s work with Ahmadinejad and to hell with human rights in Iran.
In any case, the truth about Obama’s Iran policy will be known soon enough: during or shortly after the Ahmadinejad trip to New York.
FP: What are your own personal plans in the near future?
Farahanipour: I’ll appear with California State Assemblyman Joel Anderson on September 18 for his promotion of a new Iran divestment bill, prohibiting insurance companies from insuring any shipment to or from Iran. On September 23, I will speak at the New York Tolerance Center at the invitation of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the same day Ahmadinejad is making his UN appearance.
FP: Well, good luck my friend.
Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.