Prof. Scott Lucas
insideIRAN publishes an interview with one of the most prominent US-based expatriate Iranians:
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo was a member of Iran’s Parliament from 2000 to 2004, and a prominent advocate of women’s rights and political reform. She resigned in 2004 after a crackdown on reformers and left Iran in 2005. She is now a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts–Boston.
Q: The Obama administration has been reluctant to express support for the opposition movement out of fear that doing so would end Iran’s cooperation in the nuclear negotiations. But now that those talks are at an impasse, what should the United States do regarding the opposition?
A: I would say the United States should carefully and delicately support the opposition movement based on United Nations conventions, because Iran is a signatory to many UN human rights conventions.
Second, the United States can help the flow of information in Iran by providing technical support for Internet and satellite access. For example, one important question is how to increase the security of domains, hide the identity of dissidents who run websites and social networking sites, and also provide a free place to move blocked websites from different servers, once the authorities shut down opposition websites. This would help the dissidents. There are many volunteers who are running the websites and they need to deal with the blockade on the Internet. The Internet and other forms of information are having a huge impact on the opposition movement. Look at the impact of BBC Persian TV during the past six months.
Q: How do you view the opposition at this stage?
A: The green movement encompasses a wide spectrum of protestors. At one side of the spectrum are protestors who are loyal to the regime and just have objections to the fraudulent election, and their ultimate goal is the removal of President Ahmadinejad. And at the other side are dissidents who fight to bring the regime down. Although the opposition is incoherent, it does have the common goals of removing Ahmadinejad, ending the violation of people’s rights, and releasing all political prisoners.
The internal leadership of the Green Movement is loyal to the foundation of the regime, so after increased demands that threaten the nature of the regime, movement leaders may be increasingly concerned about both the fundamentalists inside the government and the extremists within the movement. Former presidents Mohammed Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani have warned against radicalism. Also, there is an effort to have negotiations between opposition leaders and Supreme Leader Khamenei, even though Khamenei still talks tough and tries to convince all influential figures to condemn the protests.
The situation today is very different from past unrest. Even if the authorities arrest Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the protests will continue. There are more cracks now among the political elites than ever before. There is a rift between Khamenei and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. We also see a crack between the regime and the clergy. In every aspect of the regime, you will see that the crisis is deepening. The movement is deep and spreading. On the one hand, the regime’s strategy is the continuation of the crackdown, the arrests of activists and political leaders, to block the flow of information, and not allow any protests in the near future; and, on the other hand, the regime is trying to attract people to state-run TV by running debates at least through the end of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in February and to recruit people for a huge pro-state rally on February 11.
It is important for the West, especially for the United States, to act correctly.
Q: Can traditional conservatives, such as Rafsanjani and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani reform the system?
A: I do not see that they have such ability to reform the system because of the contradiction within the system. Khamenei does not tolerate any initiation for reform. They are unable to meet the people’s needs.
Q: Given the political instability inside Iran, what are the options available to the United States in dealing with Iran?
A: I understand that the United States wants to see progress on the nuclear side, while wanting to help the opposition movement, and these two things can be at cross-purposes. Inside Iran, because of the crisis and the cracks among political elites, they can’t reach ultimate decisions on international affairs. In domestic issues, the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, prefers to use his power to make decisions, and to some extent, he may be successful for now through the branches of government. However, he has not fully succeeded in gaining the support of most clergy, prominent politicians, and influential figures.
We see this lack of agreement on the nuclear issue because members of the regime keep changing their position. This, more than anything, shows the splits among the factions. Since 2005, Iran has bought time. But this time, it is different. First, they know that some countries do not like Iran’s regime, especially the current government. Khamenei fears that, in the future, the West might do something against him. But he believes that if he can acquire knowledge on building a nuclear weapon, this would give Iran the upper hand in future nuclear negotiations with the West. I guess the ultimate goal of some of Iran’s hardliners is a nuclear weapon, either to counter a likely air attack or to force toleration of the actions of a nuclear Iran.
But right now, Khamenei can’t reach an agreement on the nuclear issue because he can’t manage two crises at once, and for him the domestic issue is more important.
He understands that this movement, the opposition, could overthrow his government. He understands that the dissidents are not just about removing Ahmadinejad from power; now, the dissent is about much more than that.
Iran is in the process of transitioning to democracy. Supporting smooth transition would strengthen regional security. However, any sort of attack on Iran under any circumstance would dramatically hurt the movement. The Obama administrative and his allies, aside from maintaining negotiations with Iran regarding the nuclear program, should pay more attention to human rights issues in Iran and put more pressure on Iran’s government to release all political prisoners and stop the executions.