Iran Special: Mousavi, Karroubi, and the Strategy of “We Are Still Standing (for the Revolution)”

By Prof. Scott Lucas | 24 June 2010

And so another statement, accompanied by a picture of the two men warmly greeting each other, from Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

The announcement followed the now established pattern of declarations from opposition figures.




1. Use current events to highlight the declining legitimacy of the Government, highlighting the attacks on key groups in the Islamic Republic


Iran Document: The Mousavi-Karroubi Meeting (23 June)

“No government or authority can remove the love of these guardians of the religion from the hearts of the believers by relying on a group of thugs.”

In this case, Mousavi and Karroubi highlight the Government’s campaign against marja (senior clerics). This month’s verbal and physical assaults on the reputations and homes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson, Seyed Hassan Khomeini, Grand Ayatollah Sane’i, and the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri are a solid platform for an appeal to the public which is lastly to last throughout the summer.

Doing so, Mousavi and Karroubi are claiming that they are defending the Islamic Republic, which is being torn down by a Government which should be upholding its values and Constitution. Some would-be analysts of Iranian politics argue that the opposition is “counter-revolutionary”; Mousavi and Karroubi point to the strategy that the opposition is still “revolutionary” in its pursuit of the goals of 1979. Equally important, they are pointedly noting that the Government is attacking figures, including Khomeini, who were and are “the Revolution”.


2. Make a political move to get support from those who are not in the opposition


“Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi expressed their sorrow and concern for the weakening of the legislative branch….some don’t even respect the stature of this Parliament.”

At one level, this is a continuation of the argument that the Government is attacking the institutions of the Islamic Republic and the defenders of the Revolution.

At another, however, it is a tactical approach to “conservatives” and even “principlists” within the system. The headline story in Iran at the moment is the running battle between Ahmadinejad and the Parliament over economic and social policy and institutions; this week’s furour over the supervision of Islamic Azad University is only the latest symbol in the contest.

There is no chance that Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Parliament, and Mousavi and Karroubi will ever be ideological brethren. But there is more than a chance that they could share the common goal of wanting to remove Ahmadinejad from power and change the approach of the Government to its relationship with the legislative and judicial branches.


3. Highlight basic civil rights


“Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi pointed out the government’s denying the people’s legal and legitimate request to hold a silent demonstration, while an organized group, in complete security, attacks whoever and wherever they want.”

The reference to the anniversary of the election, 22 Khordad/12 June, is in part a defensive move by Mousavi and Karroubi, covering their decision not to proceed with a march in defiance of the Government’s refusal to issue a permit.

At the same time, however, the approach is to highlight that the battle for civil rights is more than one occasion for demonstration. The references to “the current security trend and recent arrests… [and] the chaotic situation of the detention centres and prisons” brings Mousavi and Karroubi back to their fundamental challenge.

This is not a legitimate Government, for it does not guarantee and safeguard the rights must be part of the Revolution and its incarnation in the Islamic Republic: When Mousavi and Karroubi call on Iran’s judiciary “to move toward restoring public rights and promoting justice and legitimate freedoms”, they are both making another tactical approach to those in the “establishment” — you do not have to bow down to this illegitimate President and his advisors — and pointing to the heartbeat of civil rights within the opposition.

And this strategy is not separate from the 2009 election and “Where is My Vote?”; it is vitally linked to it. For how can Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sustain his cry of “24 million supported me” when that support is seen today in the refusal of dissent and the accumulation of political prisoners?


4. The Green Movement lives because the campaign for civil rights lives


“Mousavi and Karroubi once again emphasized othe rightful demands of the Green Movement and the role of promoting awareness and knowledge in the society about the assured rights and fundamental freedoms of all classes of the society.”

This approach may not be enough for many in the opposition, inside and outside Iran. As the row over Nikahang Kowsar’s cartoon on Mousavi and “Statement 3000″ illustrated, Mousavi and Karroubi’s approach may be seen as the unacceptable of the “gradual” or even a tacit resignation covered over by their words. The issue of whether they should have taken to the streets in June (and, in the case of Mousavi, for months before that) is still fresh.

Strategically, this latest statement remains vague on specific steps and demands. Indeed, the last clear declaration by Mousavi of those demands may be his statement at the start of January. And Mousavi and Karroubi’s clear line of working within — in fact, exalting — the Islamic Republic will not be to the taste of those who want a greater revision or even sweeping away of the system.

At this point, however, Mousavi and Karroubi are working in an Iran where many activists have been imprisoned or have left the country, where the Government has tried to shut down communications beyond the most “reliable” of outlets, where the security forces are omni-present not only on possible dates for marches but in all aspects of Iranian life.

In that environment, the imperative may to be grabbing whatever space to declare: We are legitimate; the Government is not. We uphold the Republic; the Government does not. We believe in the rights and pursuit of discussion, dialogue, justice; the Government believes in the baton and the jail cell.

For better or worse, the immediate purpose of this statement could be: We are still standing.

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