In Iran, longtime 'reformers' stifle true revolution
The common view is that violent repression shut down Iran's peaceful Green Movement in 2009, when protesters took to the streets over rigged presidential elections. But Iran's entrenched 'reformers' deserve much of the blame. And they still stand in the way of change.
A wave of revolution is sweeping through the Middle East. But not in Iran, whose people tried their own uprising two years ago and failed.Skip to next paragraph
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The common view is that mass arrests, violent repression, and a telecommunications blackout shut down the peaceful Green Movement in 2009, when protesters took to the streets over rigged presidential elections. But Iran's own "reformers" deserve much of the blame. And they still stand in the way of change.
By reformers, I don't mean the wide swath of Iranians who demanded their vote be counted. I am referring to those who participated in the 1979 revolution to overthrow the shah, and who are – or have been – part of the strict theocratic regime that emerged. The revolution was led, in part, by democrats, but went hard-line after a violent coup.
Gradually, these elites came to recognize the theocracy's lack of legitimacy and isolation within Iranian society at large. They support a more democratic regime. Such reformers include prominent figures: former President Mohammad Khatami, cleric Mehdi Karroubi, and Mir Hossein Mousavi, the presidential candidate who many believe was the rightful winner in the 2009 contest against incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The reformers also include religious nationalists forced from power (but still in Iran), and secular and leftist organizations and elites outside the country. They all share the belief – or at least project the view – that social revolution leads to violent, extreme outcomes and is to be avoided.
For 20 years, this group has argued that the best course for change is to work within the existing system. This, despite the overwhelming evidence that the regime is unreformable – not least because the Constitution gives the Islamic supreme leader the power to overrule the vote of an entire nation.
Unfortunately, young Iranians have grown up with this false hope of internal reform, along with the skewed view that revolutions generally result in violence and dictatorship. They see the Iranian revolution itself as the prime example.
ANOTHER VIEW: Iran's Green Movement has actually achieved its goal
To be sure, the security crackdown on protesters in 2009 discouraged participation in the Green Movement. But much more discouraging, I believe, was the cautious message of reformers once the chant of protesters changed from "Where is my vote?" to "Death to Khamenei" (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and "Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic."
The new slogans arose after the supreme leader gave an ultimatum to protesters to go back home or face a violent crackdown. But reformers, too, rebuked the demonstrators' rhetorical switch, which amounted to a call for regime change.