Interview with Mohsen Kadivar
"People Have Started Believing in Their Own Strength"

Katajun Amirpur talks to the Iranian reformist theologian Mohsen Kadivar about the current state of the Green Movement in Iran and the most recent declaration to be issued by Iranian intellectuals

Mohsen Kadivar (photo: Diplomasi Iran)
Mohsen Kadivar, who was born in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, was a student of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the spiritual mentor of what is known as the "Green Movement"

​​In early January, five Iranian intellectuals, including Mohsen Kadivar, issued a declaration formulating the objectives of the movement. This declaration appeared only a few days after Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main challenger in last year's presidential election, issued a declaration that many commentators and members of the exiled Iranian opposition movement dismissed as Mousavi "backing down" (for extracts from this declaration, see box below).

Mr Kadivar, what was the intention behind the declaration issued by the Iranian intellectuals?

Mohsen Kadivar: This declaration was written in the light of what is currently possible in Iran. We tried to avoid the mistakes made by most Iranians who live abroad, namely that some Iranians who have not lived in Iran for years or even decades are not taking account of whether something they consider to be good is even wanted by the majority of Iranians and can realistically be implemented in Iran at the present time.

So you are not in favour of a revolution?

Kadivar: The majority of Iranians has no desire for a second revolution, thirty years after the last one. Instead, most Iranians want institutional, fundamental changes to the system. This is why we can refer to this movement as a reform movement; its objectives are revolutionary, but it operates in an absolutely non-violent manner, carefully, and within the framework of the country's existing laws.

Demonstrations by the Green Movement (photo: AP)
Hope for peaceful change: "Those who say that what the Iranians want right now is a revolutionary overthrow, don't know their own country," says Mohsen Kadivar

​​This is why we paid great attention to the constitution of the Islamic Republic when drawing up this declaration. We tried to highlight those parts of the constitution that comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles of democracy and to emphasise them. And in those areas where the regime provides a dictatorial interpretation of the constitution, we want to show that the constitution can also be read in a democratic way.

Extract from the declaration issued by Iranian intellectuals

• Ahmadinejad's resignation, new elections under the supervision of independent institutions, and the establishment of an independent election commission that includes members of the opposition
• The release of all political prisoners and the investigation of all cases of suspected torture and rape in the form of fair trials in a public court of law
• Press freedom and the complete abolition of censorship
• The acceptance of the right to free activity for all political parties, the student movement, the women's movement, and NGOs, and the right to peaceful assembly and protest
• The guaranteed independence of universities, the expulsion of military forces from university campuses, and the abolition of the Cultural Revolution Council
• The criminal prosecution of those involved in torture and murder, especially in recent months
• The guaranteeing of the independence of the judiciary through elections of its leaders, the abolition of illegal special courts
• The expulsion of all security forces and armed units from the political, economic, and cultural sphere
• The preservation of the financial and political independence of the clergy and the prevention of state control
• The election of all high-ranking officials and a limitation of their term in office; they must be answerable for their actions and face criticism

Signatories: Abdolali Bazargan, Akbar Ganji, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolkarim Soroush, and Ataollah Mohajerani

And how can that be when the constitution allows for a body like the Guardian Council, that can reject any bill on the grounds that it is not in line with Islam? This was what happened to 90 per cent of all bills put forward by the reformist parliament, for example with the law regarding CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women), which the parliament agreed to sign, but which was immediately blocked by the Guardian Council

Kadivar: If there was a Guardian Council that was elected by the people, then we wouldn't have the problem you have just highlighted. We have tried to act within the framework of the constitution. They are minimum requirements, but at least they are feasible.

But if it were possible to have the members of the Guardian Council, which checks all bills to establish whether they are in line with Islam, elected by the people, then the people should also get the chance to decide whether it even considers such a Guardian Council proper.

Kadivar: Theoretically, it is possible. However, according to our interpretation, the Guardian Council is a kind of constitutional court anyway.

Mir Hossein Mousavi (photo: AP)
The beacon of hope for the Iranian opposition and motor of the Green Movement: Mir Hossein Mousavi

​​Is the declaration you and the other intellectuals issued a reaction to the one issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi?

Kadivar: No, our declaration only came out around the same time as Mousavi's; that was just a coincidence. The first draft of our declaration was written three days before Mousavi's declaration was issued. Basically, however, both declarations are calling for the same thing. In other words, we are in complete agreement with Mousavi's demands.

We all made these declarations to show that you can drive and bring this movement forward without becoming radical, without the radicalism that we continually hear about here abroad and also, naturally, hear from some young people on the streets of Tehran. And this is also why our declaration does not contain a single thing that the Iranian regime could abuse and use against us. We believe that at the present time, in the current situation, most Iranians do not feel the need to overthrow the regime. Those who say that what the Iranians want right now is a revolutionary overthrow, don't know their own country.

But do the demands made by the demonstrators not already go much further than those made by Mir Hossein Mousavi, and has not this been the case for quite some time?

Kadivar: No, I don't think so. Naturally, as a result of the massive state violence, the young people in particular have become more radical. The majority of people and the demonstrators themselves, however, still back Mir Hossein Mousavi, our elected president, with whom we intend to continue along this path.

If he is the elected president, what was your reason for issuing a declaration? Is it not up to him to formulate the objectives of the movement?

Riots on the Day of Ashura in Tehran (photo: AP)
Violence as a response to state violence: at least eight people lost their lives during the most recent unrest on the Day of Ashura last December

​​Kadivar: Mousavi is in Iran and all his advisors are in prison. He is alone. This is why we wanted to support him, to create a kind of think tank abroad. The reason being that the regime has transferred what used to be his think tank to Evin prison. We just wanted to show the regime: if you put one think tank out of action, then we will create another one abroad. And we can formulate a few things more clearly. Mousavi is subject to major restrictions in Iran.

Akbar Ganji, who also signed this declaration, is considered a radical secularist and even called for a complete boycott of the elections five years ago. He recently told the BBC's Farsi news service that the movement does not need a leader abroad. Do you share this opinion? After all, it could help.

Kadivar: I share that opinion. We already have someone who is leading this movement. And what's more, the leader of this movement must be in Iran.

Could the situation in Iran escalate? Could it end in renewed bloodshed, as Said Montazeri, son of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, fears?

Kadivar: That is our biggest fear; it is a very real danger. This is why we have to proceed very carefully.

What was the regime's biggest mistake?

Kadivar: Ali Khamenei's biggest mistake was to acknowledge the election result. His second mistake was not to allow an independent court of arbitration. The third was to spill the blood of innocent people. Even according to the constitution, demonstrating is one of the fundamental rights of the people. However, the regime of the Islamic Republic turned the peaceful demonstrations of the people into a shoot-out.

And it is lying. After all, what happened on the Day of Ashura was a brutal attack by the security forces on a peaceful, religious procession. Not one of the demonstrators committed an offence against the holy, religious values, as is claimed by the regime. They are only making that claim because they consider themselves to be holy and therefore consider the cry "Down with the dictator!" – by which people mean Khamenei – to be an offence against holy values.

But there is nothing holy about Mr Khamenei and he whom we consider holy, namely Imam Hossein, has offended nobody. And then there are the murders in the prisons and the torture.

The fifth mistake made by Mr Khamenei is that he is giving no thought to the fact that he is delivering the country up to the security forces. It is said that the country is ruled by the clerics. The fact is, however, that only a very small percentage of clerics are ruling the country (and even in the case of those that are, it is not at present clear whether they really are ruling the country or whether the country has not long since been taken over by the security forces). We are afraid that an as yet undefined military government is, in fact, now governing the country.

What are your thoughts on the future of Iran and the prospects for the reform movement, in both the short and the long term?

Kadivar: I am very optimistic. In recent months, things have happened in Iran that have not happened in the past 30 years. One of the results of the Green Movement was this: previously it was a specific class that criticised the rulers; it was the elite, the intellectuals. Now everyone's doing it. The knowledge of the offences committed and the laws broken by the Islamic Republic is something that has reached the masses. Everyone has become aware of it.

That is one aspect. The other is that people have started believing in their own strength. Now they are saying: "We are all together! Let us not be afraid!" phrases that are repeated again and again on the streets of Tehran and in the universities. Being together – that is something new. In the past, people were afraid. Now they have become courageous; this courage is worth a lot. The third thing is that technology has come to the aid of the Iranian protest: in the past, the regime committed crimes and no-one found out about it.

Today, someone films it on their mobile phone and within a few hours, it's posted on YouTube and the whole world knows about it. Today, when a police van races into the crowd and kills people, the chief of police can deny it all he likes and say that it didn't happen; but there is a film that proves that it did, and this means that the crimes of the Islamic Republic have been recorded, the crimes of the tyrannical regime of the Islamic Republic.

This is why I believe that in the long term, the Green Movement will win. In the longer term. However, as far as short-term success is concerned, it depends on a number of factors. The regime in the Islamic Republic is not dependent on the money of its citizens. This is why it is deaf in one ear and does not hear the protests of the people. The regime is built on oil.

This is why this oil is, at present, one of the enemies of the Iranian people. After all, by selling the oil, the regime can do whatever it pleases. On the other hand, the regime has manoeuvred itself into a dead end and because it has, we may be victorious in the short term. However, I am not talking here about days or weeks. I am talking about the year that lies ahead of us. If the movement and its leaders continue to proceed with caution, step by step, we might witness successes this year. We are making progress; slowly, but victory is certain.

Interview conducted by Katajun Amirpur

© 2010

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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