I attended a great discussion today with major Iranian experts including Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran and Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. William Kristol of the Weekly Standard moderated the discussion, but Reuel serves as a sort of pseudo-moderator and posed many questions to the Iranian experts. He did share his thoughts on corruption within the Revolutionary Guard and Iran as a country of intellectuals who oppose dictatorship. “Totalitarianism doesn’t work there,” he said when comparing to nearby Arab states and cultures.
The panelists tackled the question of what the “Green Movement” in Iran wants at this stage. Mohsen began by saying at first, the movement’s goal was to get their votes back and prove the election was illegitimate. At this point, they are trying to solidify their efforts, find strength in solidarity, demonstrate national resistance and paralyze the government.
They touched on the issue of communications in Iran, saying the key form of communication for most people is either the Internet or satellite TV—both of which have been under attack by the government and “cyber police.” They hacked into Mohsen’s Web site and tried to take down his daily YouTube broadcast that provides information on how to continue protests. Whenever the regime feels that a demonstration is about to take place, they make the Internet run significantly slower or shut it down entirely. They have also attacked the VOA and BBC Persian services that appear on sattelite TV.
Mehdi emphasized the importance of defining “regime” when talking about regime change in Iran. Is the regime the Islamic government? Is it Ahmadinejad? Is it Khamenei? And once this is defined, which regime does the Green Movement want replaced? Khamenei is telling Iranians that the U.S. is waging a soft war against the government, and many different groups within Iran are involved, including scholars, teachers, bloggers, journalists, human rights activists and students.
Will the Green Movement succeed? He asked, and then answered, “Yes, but not because of the organization’s strength, but because the real leaders of the movement are Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. They have the weapon of self destruction.” He said the missteps taken by the government and Supreme Leader only strengthens the movement. Already, Khamenei isn’t happy with all of Ahmadinejad’s policies because of the poor state of the economy.
“The regime is defined by who rules,” Kristol said quoting Aristotle. In this case, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s actions will define the course of the Movement and the future of the regime.
Mohsen touched on the growing opposition among labor workers because of the dwindling economy and the closing of manufacture plants and factories.
On another revolution occurring? Mehdi warns against linking this movement too closely to the Islamic Revolution. The Shah was disconnected, spoiled and consumed with extravagance, he said. But Khamenei knows just how a revolution takes place and how the network grows from underground. But his weakness lies in his growing isolation.
Khamenei, he said, has been ignoring the advice of other Iranian leaders and has tightened his control. Ahmadinejad was the first president to publicly kiss his had, for example, signifying that Khamenei is significantly influential in his actions.
“For Mousavi, free and fair election would save the regime,” he said, while on the flip side, for Khamenei, a free and fair election would ruin it.