"The War of Ideas in Iran Is Over": Interview with Nader Hashemi

Analysis, posted 07.16.2011, from Iran, in:
"The War of Ideas in Iran Is Over": Interview with Nader Hashemi (Photo: Qantara.de)

What influence do the protests in the Arab world have on the Green Movement in Iran?

Nader Hashemi: The pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, have reinvigorated and re-energized the Green Movement in Iran. Notwithstanding the differences in language, ethnicity and religious sect, politically, Iran and Tunisia and Egypt share many things in common, in particular forms of the authoritarian regimes that rule over them and a deep-rooted hunger for democracy and human rights.

Within Iran there has been a "battle of narratives" between the Iranian regime and the Green Movement over events in the Arab world. While Iran's ruling clerical oligarchy have tried to portray these protests as an affirmation of Iran's Islamist ideology and a validation of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Green Movement has argued the proper parallel is not between 1979 Iran and 2011 in Egypt and Tunisia but rather between 2009 Iran – when the Green Movement was born – and today in Egypt and Tunisia.

On February 14th, the Green Movement exposed the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime – which claims to openly support the protests in the Arab world – when they asked for permission to hold a demonstration in solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt.

Although the official permit for a demonstration was denied, supporters of Iran's Green Movement took to the streets anyway. And the Iranian regime has reacted with fear and paranoia. In large part because they have been arguing that the Green Movement is dead, which it clearly is not. Hard-line members of Iran's parliament publicly called for the execution of the leaders of the Green Movement. At the end of February they were arrested, along with their wives, and they are currently being held in an undisclosed location.

What exactly is the Green Movement's agenda? Is it more coherent than that of the protest movements in the Arab countries, and is it entirely democratic?

Nader Hashemi: The Green Movement's agenda is reform, not revolution. The leadership is still committed to advancing democracy within the framework of the existing constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran with an emphasis on those sections of the constitution that speak about the rights of the people. This is a controversial strategy given that this document privileges clerical sovereignty over popular sovereignty. In this sense there is a clear difference with the protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt who have been calling for comprehensive "regime change" and a rewriting of the constitution.

Supporters of the opposition in Iran, including I suspect the Green Movement leadership, all desire a similar transformation in the structure of power in Iran, but the question is one of strategy and timing. The nature of authoritarianism in Iran and the question of the legitimacy of the existing regime is qualitatively different than in Tunisia and Egypt – thus necessitating a different strategy by the pro-democracy Green Movement. Officially, the leadership has been calling for freedom for political prisoners, freedom for political parties, a free press and free and fair election. It has been recently updated with an emphasis on the rights of women, workers and minorities.

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Interviewed by Lewis Gropp

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