Iran protesters: Strength in decentralization, says former White House Iran aide
Gary Sick, who was the chief White House aide during Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the hostage crisis that followed, says the Green reform movement has a surprising strength. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Iran Thursday.
As Iran cracks down on opposition protesters and jails dissidents, Gary Sick, a close Iran watcher since he was chief White House aide on Iran at the time of the Islamic Revolution, has a counterintuitive take on the prospects for the Green Movement: The movement lacks a leader, and to his mind, that's a plus.Skip to next paragraph
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“I personally think there is great strength in the fact that they don’t have one person at the top,” says Mr. Sick, who sat on the National Security Council for presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. “There is no leader to arrest. They arrest a bunch of people and a bunch more show up the next time.”
Iran has arrested hundreds of political dissidents – and executed some of them - since the disputed June election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Iran currently has more journalists in detention than any country in the world.
Yet while Burmese dissidents rally around Aung San Suu Kyi and Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, Iran’s opposition Green Movement is leaderless. This is an asset to the movement, though it also means that the protesters lack a clear ideology or agenda, spelling confusion for US foreign policy.
Sick, now a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute, says what the Green Movement means for US foreign policy is still unclear. Because it lacks a clear leader, the world knows nothing substantial about its political agenda.
“I think neither the media nor anyone else has thought very seriously about what would happen if [Iran's] ruling elite is replaced by a group of people who see themselves as reformers,” Sick says. “I think what will really happen, in the process of the chaos if the regime is brought down, is you will end up with a much more oppressive group – a more radical and demanding group.”
To be sure, he says the power of the still nascent movement is being taken seriously in Tehran. "The government in Iran is incredibly scared," says Sick. "They’re aware of how serious the threat is from the opposition.”
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad waved to tens of thousands of supporters in central Tehran on Thursday during rallies to mark the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, reports spread of widespread arrests and targeting of the opposition movement’s nominal leaders – moderate former president Mohammad Khatami, and former presidential candidates Mehdi Karoubi and Mirhossein Mousavi, who were both defeated in last summer’s election.