The Metamorphosis of the Iran's Green Movement
by Leila Sabzee, Iranian foreign correspondent
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Is the so-called Green Movement dying away in Iran? Does the decline in the number of street protests, open letters, opposition statements, and subversive text messages and mass emails mean that the movement is running out of steam?
The Green Movement has definitely lost some vigour. It has lost hue partly because of the iron-fist strategies of the Basij and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, yet partly due to the initial make-up of the movement: an unlikely alliance between the forces that easily would divide. The size of the movement’s active protesters has shrunk to middle-class educated men and women. They are all the noise the movement can make with thousands arrested and millions silenced.
These young people, who, rightly or wrongly, supported Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s presidential rival, for a genuine political change, were not the only group ready to sacrifice whatever that had for a fairer system. The poor masses, who supported Ahmadinejad, also, were fighting for a genuine economic change. With Ahmadinejad increasingly failing them, the Green Movement, ironically, is going to need the energy it complacently ignored: the economically troubled working class.
The Green Movement was initially made up of the following layers. First, a political leadership that was a combination of the wealth and influence of former president Rafsanjani and his men and on the other hand the intellectual and philosophical weight of the Khatami circles, the followers of former president Mohammad Khatami.
In a nutshell: Rafsanjani’ s Islamic capitalism and Khatami’s noiseless reforms within the very Islamic political structure. Both schools were already bankrupt. Rafsanjani had long ago lost popularity as an economic godfather with his greedy aristocracy and Khatami as a weak politician whose massages of reform never reached the territory of action. Presidential candidates Mousavi and Karroubi were the resultant outcome of the political bargaining of these forces. And the people once more compromised — not out of faith but based on the philosophy of the lesser evil.
The second layer was the reformist (pro-Khatami and pro-Rafsanjani) press that, although destitute compared to the state media, had managed to creep through the fundamentalists’ filtering systems. One must add the statements, speeches, and publications of heavy-weight dissident clergymen, such as Ayatollah Montazeri and Ayatollah Sanei, to the reformist media. The artists, writers, filmmakers, and movie stars, although not all Khatami-type reformists, also magnified the campaign with their loud voice and green ribbons—titanic cultural pillars like the legendary Iranian singer Shajarian, the respected filmmaker Jafar Panahi, the actress Fatemeh Motamed Arya, and armies of underground artists, musicians, writers, and bloggers. Despite a lot of honest figures in this category, some of the enthusiasm must have been generated by interlinkage, behind-the-scene handshakes, or partisan beliefs and benefits.
Nevertheless, what really fuelled the engine of the Movement was the third group: the rich. They generously pumped money into the campaign and lifted up a nation disillusioned with a clerical caricature of democratic elections.
Whether or not the Iranian affluent believed in democracy and freedom remains unknown since what they were furious about was first and foremost their businesses systematically undermined by the Ahmadinejad government in the hope that Rafsanjani’s tentacles would be gradually cut off. Yet the haves, along with the first and the second leagues, shouted for more civil liberties.
“Liberty” was the word the above lobbies had borrowed from the fourth green group, the Iranian civil rights movements: the feminist movement, the students’ movement, the human rights movement, the independence-seeking regional movements, the trade unions, and the Iranian gay movement. They were the people who had been honestly struggling for change over the past decades, the people who sweated their hearts out to squeeze phrases like “liberty,” “freedom of speech,” “right to mother tongue,” and “sexual discrimination” into the nation’s everyday vocabulary.
And finally the rest of the voters who were convinced by this formidable body of leverage that it was the right time to move. And they all did move. President Ahmadinejad popped (or as the greens believe was dragged by vote rigging) out of the ballot box. The country was plunged into chaos. And the radicals took control. They attacked, beat, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and murdered. And the movement metamorphosed.
The leaders of the movement, once the pillars of the Islamic revolution, found themselves labelled as the enemies of the state and the soldiers of Satan. They woke up to see that their grip on political power had dramatically loosened by a new generation of young radical politicians with their roots in the military. The second-rate politicians supporting the movement also were either arrested or forced to somehow swear allegiance to the supreme leader and his favourite revolutionary: Ahmadihejad. The movement now has practically no leadership but occasional statements by Mousavi and Karroubi. The messages are getting more and more pragmatic yet less healing for the wounds of the protestors.
Likewise, the journalists, the writers, the artists, and even the dissenting clergymen were crushed by arrests, imprisonment, threats, libel, and slander.
So the government chopped off all the visible fingers in the Iranian political pie to keep the lion’s share intact and the fundamentalists did all the roaring a lion of a centralist political system can to ram home the message that no alternative voice would be tolerated.
The rich also disappeared from the scene immediately. All the democratic slogans that they shouted at the top of their lungs turned into lukewarm nagging in the back seat. They left the green project of political reforms on the back burner to shuffle their investment plans with a new card in: Ahmadinejad.
The civil rights activists, however, are still there. Politically orphaned, systematically shattered, and psychologically defeated, they still puff and pant: “freedom.” This is where the Green Movement has reached. And with a tiny change: with the working class being economically crushed more than ever thanks to Ahmadinejad’ s economic policies. Ahmadinejad’s Ministry of Welfare has recently announced that 25% of the population now live below the poverty line—about 17 million people. They are the key to the revival of the Green Movement and wounded Ahmadinejad, exhausted Mousavi, and the observing West seem to know this very well.
Ahmadinejad’s controversial Subsidy Plan has been designed to remove the governmental subsidies and to channel the cash into the pockets of as many needy people as he needs to support him. In a recent statement Mousavi has announced that “the main strategy of the movement now is to inform the destitute.” He advises the movement that “we must approach the working class if we want to spread the truth.” The West, lead by the Americans, also have geared up to impose new sanctions on Iran. They’ll know that this burden will only be felt by the poor in Iran. Now the question is whose scenario is going to win. Can Ahmadinejad manage to check the poor? Or Will the religious working class join the educated young middle class? With the Iranian economy awkwardly shaking, the deprived will have to make up their mind very soon.
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