Thursday, April 14, 2005

Is Iran on the way to a color revolution?

Safa Haeri, IPS:
Is Iran gearing for a new “colour revolution”, similar to the ones in Georgia, Ukraine and most recently in the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan? ...

The question is becoming more pertinent after Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam, a veteran Iranian dissident and probably one of the world’s longest political prisoners, invited his fellow country men not only to boycott the coming presidential elections, but also turn the event into a national referendum on the Iranian regime.

To end the miserable situation of the country and to stop the cycle of reproducing poverty, repression and deceit, one has to seriously boycott the parody of elections and to transform the elections into referendum”, the 72 years-old Amir Entezam urged Iranians in a message on 19 March on the eve of Iranian New Year, that started on 21 March 2005.

A Deputy to the late Mehdi Bazargan, the first post-Islamic revolution provisory government’s Premier, Mr. Amir Entezam was arrested on 19 December 1979 after radical islamist students claimed, on forged papers, to have found documents at the US Embassy linking him, then ambassador to Sweden, to the CIA and jailed, charged with "treason".

Kept in total isolation from outside world for two years and tortured both physically and psychologically to force him to confess to his alleged secret ties with the United States, Mr. Amir Entezam was seen for the first time in 1981 during a trial by an Islamic Revolution court that sentenced him to life imprisonment, without being able to produce any convincing documents of the charges.

Not only the prisoner rejected forcefully all the accusations, but he stated that he would never get out of prison before a fair trial is held with the presence of Iranian and international lawyers, jurists and the press, a demand that the leader-controlled Iranian Judiciary refused to satisfy, giving Mr. Amir Entezam limited freedom against his will.

“By boycotting the elections and by an active participation in the peaceful process of referendum, we can arrive to a democratic system. Our greatest capital in this national action is our youth as flag bearer”, the indefatigable Amir Entezam stressed, insisting that the “red line” for this action must be the “non violence”.

The proposal received a strong and unexpected backing from most leading Iranian political dissidents and active forces, like the students, the scholars, the intellectuals.

“Not only Mr. Amir Entezam is a man of convictions, one who has always expressed his opinions openly and clearly, but also one who has always been a front runner when it comes to the struggle for a democratic Iran. We completely support him and back his proposal, for the simple reason that we too have unanimously declared that elections must be boycotted and a referendum organised under the supervision of the United Nations”, Mr. Amir Abbas Fakhravar, a leader of the Confederation of Independent Iranian Students told Iran Press Service.

Floated years ago, the project of referendum was taken by the students and popularised with the famous “referendum, referendum, this is the slogan of the people”. But it was shelved after the surprise victory of Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and the reformists in the May 1997 presidential elections, an event that the majority of Iranians saw in it heralding changes in the system of Islamic Republic, promising more freedoms, democracy and equality.

But as both the President and the reformers failed badly in implementing the reforms they had promised, not only the idea of organising a referendum was again revived as the sole way of changing the regime peacefully, but also it served as a catalyst for Iranian fighting the present regime.

Supported by most Iranian dissidents of all walks inside and outside the country, the project gained an unprecedented popularity and was fiercely debated after major republican and monarchist forces joined hand and formulated a short, albeit vague charter.

“Knowing well that this regime would never agree to the referendum and would not allow the UN to supervise it, that it has no respect for the wishes of the people, we in turn would go on implementing what Mr. Amir Entezam has suggested. Not only boycotting the elections is also our position, but we shall work hard for getting the best of this action”, added Mr. Fakhravar, a writer, journalist and political dissident who was speaking during a short leave from Evin prison – my residency --, where he must spend another eight years on charges of insulting Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the leader of the Islamic Republic, propaganda against the Islamic Republic, sedition, endangering the State’s security and propagating lies etc.

Like Mr. Fakhravar, other influential dissidents and opponents of the Islamic Republic have expressed strong support for Mr. Amir Entezam’s proposal to turn the coming elections into the referendum.

Both Mr. Mohsen Sazegara and Mr. Qasem Sho’leh Sa’di of the “Iranians for Change Movement” welcomed the suggestion.

“Like most freedom fighters, Mr. Amir Entezam has rightly insisted that unless one has not addressed the crucial question of the present Constitution in a freely held referendum, talking about elections or democracy is an exercise in futility”, Mr. Sazegara, a former islamist student and one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards in the early months of the Islamic Revolution told IPS, days before leaving for Washington where he obtained a six months Consulting chair at the Washington Institute, a Republican think tank.

Condemned to one year imprisonment, Mr. Sazegara, a university professor, left Tehran for London a year ago to undergo heart and eye surgery.

For his part, Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di, an outspoken dissident jailed last year for writing a daring open letter to Mr. Ali Khameneh’i questioning both his religious and political credibility said not only the initiative of Mr. Amir Entezam “must be fully backed, but also implemented”.

“If in Bishkek a thousand of people came out demonstrating in front of the White House on the first day, culminating latter in hundreds of thousands for the purple revolution to succeed there, the potentials in Iran is much greater, for the simple fact that where the majority of the people is against the regime”, he pointed out, talking to IPS in an interview made in Paris.

An Attorney in Law and teaching International Relations at the Tehran law Faculty and a former lawmaker, Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di is back in Iran where he says is intending to take an “active part” in the referendum movement.

“The present rulers have two options left, either to accept a peaceful handing of the power to new leaders elected freely by the people in what I would describe as a coloured revolution or to face a violent upraising” Mr. Sho’leh Sa’di stressed, calling on the outside world to give the referendum “firm moral and political support”.

However, like many other opponents who support the referendum, he thinks that before going further on the idea, one has to explain its goals to the people “in the most direct, clear and open way” for every one to understand the meaning of referendum.

Asked whether the recent events in Ukraine and in Kyrgyzstan had any impact on the Iranian people and authorities, he said immediately: “Have no doubt on that” and added: “Already we can see the impact in the streets, on the people, on the youngsters as well as on the officials. One of the latest jokes is this: “Let’s go choose colour”, in reference to the colours of these recent revolutions. These events have spirited the people, mostly the young generation in the one hand and dispirited the authorities, mostly the leadership that is thrown in full crisis, as it sees how similar dictatorships relying on the bayonet have crumbled in one night and finished”, he declared.

This shows that when a regime has not a popular backing, it can fall; it can melt like snow in the sun. These lads know that in order to live and survive; a regime must have both domestic and international legitimacy, something that this regime has neither.

Dissidents also agree that contrary to some nations where the colourful revolution took place and succeeded because the existence of a minimum of freedom and space for expressing opposition, in the Islamic Republic, not only there is no freedom at all for the opponents, but the ruling clerics have no taste for any kind of changes, the sad end of Khatami’s promised reforms standing as witness.

To circumvent the obstacles placed by both the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and the Council of the Guardians (CG) in the path of “undesirable” candidates in the one hand and place the authorities in front of a fait accompli that would bring the people into the streets on the other, Mr. Hoseyn Baqerzadeh, a veteran human rights activist based in England suggested that Mr. Amir Entezam should register for the coming elections, due next June 2005.

The 12-members CG has bestowed itself the right to vet all candidates in all Iranian elections, rejecting any one that it considers as illegible without providing any explanation.

“CG’s main task is survival of the present system. However, international pressures have placed this organ in front of new difficulties. By listening to the people and allowing Iranian to chose freely their desired president and lawmakers, by accepting democratic principles of freedom of the press, political parties, expression and equality of all Iranians, reforms can be operated. Otherwise, the fate of the regime would be sealed in a different way”, observed Mr. Mas’oud Behnoud, a veteran journalist based in London.

However, he acknowledges that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities and the CG to give such rights to the people and change.

“For the authorities, it is not important which one of the candidates that have already entered the race would win. The important question is the number of the voters, since the last two elections, the city and rural councils and the Legislative saw a very poor participation”, Mr. Baqerzadeh stated in an article published in several Farsi-language websites.

To encourage the voters to come “massively” to the ballot boxes, the ruling conservatives and the so-called “official reformers” of the outgoing President Khatami have produced a plethora of candidates, most of them civilians, but all in the line of the orthodox leader of the regime, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i.

“Boycotting the elections with a limited number of people is not sufficient for proving the outside world the illegitimacy of this regime and the illegality of the elections. If one wants to prove that, one does need to wait for the presidential elections. This move can only become efficient when a large number of people come into the streets and to reach this vital point, one has force the hands of competent organs in charge of the elections, like the CG or the Interior Ministry to reject the candidacy of a candidate on the basis of his political or ideological issues”, he observed.

According to Mr. Baqerzadeh, the man who has all the required qualities and potentials to seriously challenge the Islamic Republic and push for the establishment of a democratic system based on human rights values in Iran is, under present circumstances, Mr. Amir Entezam, “a man who despite years of imprisonment, never abandoned the fight for democracy, freedom and human rights and because of his political backgrounds and experiences, is greatly respected both at home and abroad and therefore can be the focal point and the common denominator of all Iranian democratic, independent and freedom loving forces”. READ MORE

“If the majority of democratic forces come together around this political process, one can start the action as from now by immediately concentrating all the propaganda machine on the presidency if Mr. Amir Enteam with a vast, popular movement in which the students forms the engine and the leading actor”, Mr. Baqerzadeh proposes, adding that “of course, when registering as a candidate, Mr. Amir Entezam must cross out all the political and ideological bounds, like allegiance to the velayat faqih and alike”.

Aware of the fact that by doing so, Mr. Amir Entezam’s candidacy would be rejected, Mr. Baqerzadeh suggests using this occasion for the start of the Iranian “colour revolution’.

“The very moment that the Interior Ministry of the CG bar his candidacy must be turned into the beginning of the popular action, which, if directed and conducted properly, can continue up to the end of the Islamic Republic. Experiences in Georgia and Ukraine showed that an unhealthy electoral process can be the stark for a successful popular upraising. Such an occasion is presenting itself to the Iranians. If coupled with the project of referendum, they can attract the support of the international community as well and walk towards victory”, he concludes.