Do Iran’s hard-liners really believe ‘velvet revolution’ plot?

The indictment of more than 100 Iranians being tried en masse for opposing the regime opens a window onto the world view of those who fear change most.

Amid the Iran’s brutal post-election crackdown and mounting evidence that dissidents have been tortured into recanting their political views, Iranian hard-liners’ consistent and vitriolic use of the phrase “velvet revolution” to describe the dissidents’ activities is puzzling.

Though many in the West have written it off as propaganda to distract attention from the discontent of a wide spectrum of Iranians, it appears that a core group of hard-liners is truly paranoid that the West has been orchestrating the overthrow of governments for decades and Iran is the latest target.

Exhibit A: The indictment against roughly 100 journalists, politicians, academics, and clerics accused of treason who are undergoing a mass show trial. The three-page document, recently translated by Evan Siegel on his blog Iran Rises, opens a window onto the world view of the Iranian hard-liners who fear change most.

“The most important point which must be noted concerning a velvet coup is that the theoreticians bought by the West’s spy and intelligence services have developed this method at the orders of their commanders to get World Arrogance out of its practical dead end by overthrowing independent systems or systems which are not in alignment with the West’s hegemony and lust for domination,” explains Iranian prosecutor Abdor-Reza Mojtaba in the indictment.

Dr. Siegel, a fluent Farsi speaker and experienced translator, says that to his mind, the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing on display in the three-page document are in fact the prism through which these men see the world.

“You’re dealing with an extreme wing of the clergy and political leadership. These are the people who invite [former Ku Klux Klan head] David Duke to be keynote speakers at conferences that deny the holocaust happened – it’s a bizzaro faction of the regime,” he says.

Velvet underground

In the original Velvet Revolution – in Czechoslovakia in 1989 – masses of peaceful protesters faced down a communist regime that was not only corrupt and unjust but denied the existence of God. That was just 10 years after Iran’s revolution to peacefully get rid of its own corrupt and unjust ruler, the Shah, and make God the centerpiece of a new republic.

Since then, “velvet revolution” has come to mean more generally a nonviolent pro-democracy uprising.
According to Iranian prosecutor Abdor-Reza Mojtaba, a host of parties including the CIA, Israeli intelligence assets, the philanthropist George Soros, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the German Council on Foreign Relations have been scheming for decades to overthrow “independent systems or systems which are not in alignment with the West’s hegemony and lust for domination.”

Not only was the end of Soviet domination in Czechoslovakia an example of this dastardly plot’s success, but so was the Solidarity movement that brought democracy to Poland and the successful independence drives by the Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia after the collapse of Soviet communism.

Apparently, Iran also looks askance at the student-led protests that pushed Slobodan Milosevic from power in Serbia in 2000 as part of the plot. Mr. Milosevic was on trial for attempted genocide against the former Yugoslavia’s Croatian and Kosovar Muslim populations when he died in The Hague in 2006.

Now the conspiracy has moved on to Iran, in the view of hard-liners, some of whom also accuse former Iranian presidents Mohammed Khatami and Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi, who are not on trial, as being in its vanguard. (here’s a story looking at which politicians are under threat in the crackdown).

US chooses leaders, gives them 'graphic and color' to launch a revolution
The indictment is long on general discussion of the conspiracy, and rather short on specific accusations. All of the violence and protests that have occurred since the elections are painted as being instigated by the Islamic republic’s “defeated and despondent” foreign enemies, acting through its “local agents.” Who controls them? The 81-year-old Gene Sharp, the world’s foremost expert on nonviolent protest to effect democratic change.

Dr. Sharp’s Boston-based Albert Einstein Institution, which runs on an annual budget of $150,000, provides translations in two dozen languages of his manuals on nonviolent protest and by all accounts his advice has been taken by democracy movements from Latin America to Asia. (You can take a peek at the clearly menacing Sharp here.)

The prosecutor says there have been 198 discrete acts of protest against the regime since the election and that 100 of them “were executed in the accordance with the instructions of Sharp for a velvet coup.” The evidence for this? An unnamed Israeli spy currently in detention who, the prosecutor alleges, had been dispatched by Israel.

The “spies” accusations and evidence meander, at times. He says that Georgia’s Saakashivili is clearly an agent of the plot because he once received a Fulbright grant from the United States. (He in fact received a Muskie fellowship to study law in the US in the early 1990s). Apparently, such educational exchanges are in service of a deeper motive, according to the spy. Saakashvili was apparently “trained” to overthrow Georgia’s legitimate government and become some sort of political Trojan horse.

“After determining the candidate they want, they pour vast sums of social capital on him... After this stage, they choose a graphic and color for this candidate and begin to prepare public opinion to vote for him,” the spy apparently said. Saakashvili came to power after Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution. Iran’s reformers have adopted green, the color of Islam, as their own.

Claims of Gene Sharp, admittedly influential, as plot leader are 'fantastic'
To be sure, Mr. Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution really do advocate for democracy around the world, as do some of the other groups named in the indictment. The Iran Democracy Project at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation and the Berkman Center at Harvard are among other groups named as backing the plot.

But Siegel points says the scattershot accusations of a vast – and wildly successful plot – to suborn world governments is “the real clincher that the whole thing is utterly fantastic. The Einstein Institution’s budget is miniscule.”

But however fanciful, the belief that the US has spearheaded a plot to foment another "velvet revolution" has very real consequences. Apart from the show trial and other measures taken against Iranians, it has also vastly complicated the Obama administration’s efforts to reach out to Iran.

“The Obama administration [was] caught flat-footed by this. They wanted engagement, to see if they could nudge them away from the nuclear option and get help in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Siegel. “Those are the priorities, and they’ve become a lot harder.”

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