27 May 2010

Mehdi Karroubi: The pulse of the green movement is in the hands of the people

Mehdi Karroubi's recent interview with Jaras is a MUST READ for everyone who wants to understand Iran's Green movement. Karroubi answers a number of very direct questions and also adresses some misconceptions about the movement, including criticism by the Iranian diaspora that not enough is being done.

The English translation is provided by the Khordaad88-team.
Please go to SahamNews for the original farsi text.

Mir Hossein Mousavi , Mehdi Karroubi and Mosen Rezaie , the three candidates of June 2009 Iran presidential election were among many people who faced with irregularities in vote counting procedures and expulsion of their representative from polling stations objected to the official results announced by Ministry of Interior. Among them Mohen Rezayi withdrew his protest when Supreme Leader approved the election process and the results. However since last year Mr Karroubi and Mousavi have maintained their positions and have not recognized Ahmadinejad as the legitimate president of the country.

In the course of last year, positions and views of Mr Karroubi and Mousavi , the leading figures of Iran’s protest movement were only published through statements, speeches, meetings and interviews with reformist websites inside Iran and number of foreign journalists. For unknown reasons so far neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr karboui have had an interview with an Iranian media outside Iran.

A request for interview [with Jaras] has been submitted to all four candidates. So far Mr Karoubi who is well known for his audacity in face of questions asked by reporters has agreed to [our] request.

In this interview Mehdi Karroubi , former head of parliament and the chairman of Etemaad Melli party which has been shut down by security apparatus , responds to questions by Jaras regarding green movement in the year that has passed , its future prospects, the hope and worry that surrounds the movement and the criticisms raised regarding the movement’s method of leadership.

Jaras- Mr. Karroubi a year has passed since Khordaad [June] 2009, a month full of events and accidents. Khordaad has a historical significance in [Iranian calendar]. The epic 2nd of Khordaad [1] , courageous resistance on 3rd of Khordaad [2] , the movement of 15th of Khordaad [3] and finally the last year’s fraudulent elections which sparked a mass movement that became known as the green movement. Is there a logical relationship between these events?

Karroubi- [The events] of 15th Khordaad are a major turning point in Islamic Revolution and the founder of the revolution [Ayatollah Khomeini] has called it the starting point of the revolution. [For these reasons] this day will never be forgotten. Khordaad [June] is a month of incidents. But what is more important for us is that these incidents should be investigated. For example even the 9th presidential elections in 2005 should be examined. In the year of that election the reformers controlled the government and for reasons that I do not want to discuss now we lost all [political power] . The outcome was that this person [Ahmadinejad] came to power and his supporting factions took control of the country that has only resulted in difficult consequences and suffering for people and [our] country.

Jaras- You mention that since the 9th presidential election in 2005 where Ahmadinejad and Hashemi-Rafsanjani participated in a run-off , because of certain issues that occurred reformist lost all [political] power. But when I met with you for an interview last year before the election and asked you based on the assumption that the revolution eats its own children are you among those who have been eaten or among those who have eaten others, you replied with a smile:”I am neither one of those eaten nor will I [passively] watch it happen to one of the children of this revolution “. Do you still have the same opinion? Or back then despite the suspicious election in 2005 your were optimistic that the radical [hardliner] forces will retreat?

Karroubi- After the death of Imam Khomeini we expected that certain individuals [will attempt] to reduce our influence and isolate us. But we did not predict the current situation which is not only difficult for us but also for many other people in the country. Although we were and are prepared [for this situation] we are witnessing that the majority of people that belonged to the first generation of revolution are facing the same hardships as a result of having this man as the president and in charge of the country. We would have had no worries if this person was elected by people and carried legal and popular legitimacy.

Jaras-What were the mistakes you believe you committed in the past year and what have been the strengths and weaknesses of the movement?

Karroubi- I am quite satisfied with what I have done and said in the past year. If I have been radical in my conduct as they [hardliners] claim , it has only been in reaction to their own behaviors and conduct. I have never diverted from my revolutionary ideals and therefore I will not suffer from extremism or lack of action In this past year I only acted upon my duty to stand for the people’s rights – rights that had been trampled upon . I said in one of the presidential debates last year that I am ready for Jihad and I will pay any price. The night I decided to run for election I knew I am embarking on a long and winding road. But based on necessity and in order to keep political forces from scattering I had to participate in the election.

Jaras- How about others? You, Mousavi and Khatami have given individual statements and speeches. Can we look forward to joint statements from two or three people in the 2nd year of the movement?

Karroubi- I strongly believe that each individual should and will focus on their own activities. Individual efforts must be continued. At the same time, in areas where there is a need for joint statements, this should also be done. Of course I have made suggestions for joint statements for specific issues in the past, which unfortunately did not come to fruition and as such I had to act on my own.

Jaras – Under these circumstances, don’t you see the need for the formation of a core leadership team for the Green movement? What is you strategy for leadership of the movement?

Karroubi – First of all, this movement belongs to the people. The people are its leaders and as such it will move in the direction desired by the people. The pulse of the movement is in the hands of the people. In fact, if there were to be any leader other than the people, those opposing the movement would make sure that leadership is eliminated. When Mr. Mousavi and I formed a committee consisting of four individuals, Mr. Beheshti and Mr. Moghadam (nominated by Mr. Mousavi) and Mr. Aloviri and Mr. Amini (nominated by myself) in order to support those who had been attacked after the elections, three of these four individuals were arrested immediately and sent to jail. As such everything we had planned in this area came to a stand still. Under such circumstances, the only leader who can continue the path of this movement are the masses, in other words the nation of Iran.

Jaras – They have confiscated all newspapers critical of the government. Political parties have been closed. As the head of a political party in Iran, how do you see the future of this movement? How do you think the Green movement can show itself in a society that is under such heavy military and security presence?

Karroubi- The first part of this question is related to the previous question. These gentlemen had no tolerance for an office associated with a political party. They had no tolerance for newspapers associated with a political party. They did not tolerate anyone visiting me in my office. They did not even tolerate the existence of a few newspapers and magazine that in their own words was “not one of them”. The ruling government has become so afraid that they even get written commitments from people who visit me, stating that they will refrain from visiting me in the future. They don’t tolerate our presence in public gatherings and official meetings and go as far as hiring people to create disturbances and to physically attack us.

In response to the second part of your question I must reiterate that the fact that the movement has issued statements requesting that people attend every official event and commemoration is proof that we have not stopped fighting and that we continue with our path. The fact that the movement desires change means living and being present. On the other hand, we must not only stand behind what we say, but we must also act upon it and be willing to pay the necessary price to obtain our goals. The fact that we are witnessing extensive efforts on the part of the ruling government to prepare for a potential back lash on the anniversary of the Imman’s passing and that they did not allow certain anniversaries to take place illustrates that the Green movement is alive and well. It is for this reason that they banned me from attending a ceremony commemorating the martyrdom of Hazrat Zahra. A large security force with ample knives, batons, bricks, etc. had been mobilized in order to make my presence at the ceremony impossible. All these reactions and this type of behavior on their part is evidence that we are present and that the movement is persistent and will continue to prevail.

Jaras – How long is it necessary to publish statements rather than act in order to continue with your fight?

Karroubi – Our movement is a civic movement. Our movement is not violent and cannot be armed. In which of my statements have I said something and not acted upon it? Have I not attempted when ever possible to be present amongst the people? My children have been banned from leaving the country. They have attacked my house two times. They closed down my private office, my political party and the newspaper associated with my political party. They confiscated Irandokht the newsletter belonging to my wife’s institution. They intended to kill me in Qazvin. They attacked one of my children and severely wounded him in a detention center. They attacked both myself and my security personnel on numerous occasions during various demonstrations. Do you not view these all as actions? They have arrested everyone close to me. This ruling government needs to know that Mehdi karroubi is willing to pay any price for this movement.

Jaras- One of the demands that has been published in many of your statements is holding free and fair elections. Do you think there is any hope that elections will take place one day to form a government or the parliament that includes representation from various political parties? Fundamentally, do you think that “political parties” have a future in Iran? When I say political party I mean a party that has been elected by the people and has the power to govern.

Karroubi – We must focus on achieving this goal. Currently there are two obstacles facing our progress in this area. The first is the ruling government that apposes such a concept and the second the political parties that are not accustomed to organized activities and efforts. I have said repeatedly that they are either fighting political parties or evading them. In Iran it is very difficult to belong to and work within the framework of a party. It will require time for us to learn how to work within a party and how to deal with political parties.

Jaras – You have often been regarded as the person coining the term the “Regime’s Boat” in many Green publications. Others believe that you are the one who is leaving the “Regime’s Ship”. Where do you believe the regime’s boat or ship is headed?

Karroubi- This boat has not changed. It’s capacity has not changed. It is incapable of accommodating 75 million people. This boat is not capable of withstanding the slightest wind or storm. My hope is to transform this boat into a ship that has the capacity to carry the entire nation of Iran.
It is the same boat that can’t fit all seventy five million citizens of this country. This boat can not stand the weakest storms. We hope that this boat will soon be replaced by a ship that accommodate all Iranians.

Jaras- You have been jailed in the previous regime. Have the prison system and the judiciary honestly improved or regressed?

Karroubi- The problem with the previous regime was corruption. After the revolution, we have had fresh and new players on the scene. But because this system has turned into a small and exclusive boat with occupants who want the administration to solely serve their needs and play to their advantage; occupants who use force to actively keep people out. A tiny incapable minority have occupied all the leadership positions in the country and try to put pressure on people. The situation has worsened. In the old days, government supporters did not gather in front of revolutionary’s residences in order to exert pressure. The treatment Mr. Nourizad and other political prisoners have received are even worse. The current administration lacks public support and is using force to compensate for it unpopularity. For instance, the serial killing of political activists around a decade ago lead to brutal murder of the Forouhars. If we didn’t put an end to the killings, we would have lost more activists. So we must always oppose such extreme and violent actions. In Shah’s time, there was no republic. In the Islamic Republic, all are equal under the law, even the Supreme Leader. But now, some inexpert actions are taking place.

Jaras-You are stating that under the law, even the Supreme Leader is equal to everyone else. Then what exactly are the duties of the Council of Experts? Other than eulogy and flattery, does the council do much else to serve the country or fulfill its constitutional duties? Why was the Council silent when some members of the parliament who opposed the Supreme Leader were threatened and attacked by the plain-cloth militia?

Karroubi- During Imam Khomeini’s time, the Council of Experts had a well-defined mission and methodology. The first council included country’s top figures and the most senior clerks. That council appointed Ayatollah Khamenei as Imam Khomeini’s successor. A year after that, a short-sighted act changed the body that verified the eligibility of candidates for the Council, from the faculty members in Islamic scholarly institutes to the Gaurdian council whose members were selected by the Supreme Leader. A Guardian Council whose members were vetted by Mr. Janati et al. should surprise no one. The strongest principles of the constitution are written in section 108 which has turned into the weakest section of the constitution by such people. It is not the question of membership or times, but rather the true role of the institution. I have written a letter to Mr. Hashemi about the role of the Guardian Council a little while ago.

Jaras- In a sentence, tell us how you were feeling in night of these critical demonstrations:

25th of Khordaad: I was happy to see the wave of people and the extraordinary showing of people. But at night, when I heard that some had lost their lives in the demonstration, I became very sad and couldn’t believe that such things would happen in the Islamic Republic
30th of Khordaad: I was extremely upset by the killings.
Ghords Day: I was happy to see the great showing of people in the demonstrations.
13th of Aban: I went to the demonstrations that day but we were stopped and then attached by pepper spray. One of my body guards was injured from the things they threw out way. When I returned home and learned that a number of people were killed and arrested, I couldn’t believe it.
Ashoora: I had been worried since the morning. I was in a religious ceremony and away from the streets but in the ceremony I heard that they had pushed down a person from a bridge and that a police car had driven over some people. I was extremely sad. Every news that came my way added to my sorrow. I should add that all this was happening on a religious holiday, making it very painful for me. We were all supposed to mourn Imam Houssain’s death and honour this holy day and yet they were killing people in the streets.
Day of the Anniversary of the Islamic Revolutions: That day I prepared myself for anything. There was serious ambush as I joined the crowds. They sprayed pepper gas on me. For hours, I couldn’t even open my eyes. I had problems breathing and with my vision. When I got back home, I heard that there has been a clash and some have been arrested. I was also told that my son, Ali, has been among the detainees. What happened was very sad. When Ali was freed, and I got to know what [tortures] has happened to him in prison, I was struck with sorrow. I couldn’t believe that they react with such violence to the children of this land.

Jaras- Mr. Karroubi! You visit families of many reputed prisoners, and sympathize with their families. For instance, you visited family of Mr. Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Nourizad, and other prisoners who are on hunger strike. What programs do you have in mind for many other prisoners like, Majid Tavakoli, or many other unknown students who are as well known?

Karroubi- Unfortunately the status of less well-known prisoners is very worrying. As I’ve said before, I had created a committee exactly to server this purpose; to follow up on the status of prisoners and inquire about their conditions. But even this was not tolerated, and the members of the committee were detained and imprisoned. I have talked to the family of Majid Tavakoli, the student activist. It is not right to imprison a student who voices his criticism. I have also talked through phone to families of prisoners from other towns. People do not deserve these behaviors [of imprisonment.] I am certain that the suffering that the families and specially the mothers of unknown prisoners endure makes them eligible for kindness [of others.]

Jaras- In your statements you have alluded to images and clips to prove the violence apparent in the reactions toward normal people; reactions that were result of people’s sense of responsibility and citizenship. These images, and thousand other pictures and films never made their way through the national media. These were works of normal citizens through cell phones that were distributed via weblogs and sites like Tweeter and Facebook. Have you seen those films? Are you aware of the protests movements in the virtual space against constrain that were created for you and for your bodyguard team. Youth have voluntarily campaigned and have written that they are ready to guard Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi themselves. I generally want to know your opinion on the movement that was created by citizen reporters to convey information from the violence on the streets to the symbolic sympathy sessions around the world.

Karroubi- Yes. I get very sad and embarrassed when such violent actions happen in the Islamic Republic, because even during the oppressive regime of the Shah such behavior was not common. I wrote countless times in letters and I issued warnings. Earlier we had also created films from those who have been tortured. Back then, I asked them not to talk to satisfy us, but to think of God in their minds, and know that there is a court room with God where nothing is hidden, where everyone is responsible for what they do. When I used to see their dark and beaten bodies, my heart would fill with sorrow that why should there be reactions like this to people who have merely protested to results of an election. We didn’t want to tweak documentations to prove our points. We were just recording what fact. Each film that was recorded had an original version and copy. We gave a version to authorities in charge of following up on the issue, and kept the copy, so that if they were later pressured to confess otherwise we would have recordings of what they’ve said. Our concerns were valid too; many of these people were put under pressure to deny what they’ve said. Some escaped the country as the result of the pressures, and the rest had to live lives without any security and so stopped following up.
And [what I have to say] about the troubles that they created for my bodyguards is that it is natural. When I heard that some of the youth has suggested that they would all protect me, I was joyous, but I never wanted to put others into trouble. Wherever I wanted to go, I would go with my children. I am however very thankful to the children of this land and the youth of this nation for their struggle to keep our country’s dignity. I pray that God brings them health and prosperity in life.

Jaras- My next question is about the protest movement created by the Iranians abroad. Do the leaders of the green movement have any plans to organize the forces inside and outside the country? Why not benefit from the great asset that is all the Iranians [whether inside or outside?]

Karroubi- The movement was created inside the country. Iranians abroad too followed this movement and supported it. The struggles that Iranians abroad made are great and we are very thankful for it. However they must look at the situation inside Iran. Here, I request all the Iranians abroad to pay attention to some of the details in creating their slogans and messages. Unfortunately, often times that the radicalization of movements outside the country only causes pressure to the forces inside the country. Unfortunately, the government too takes advantage of the situations to put more pressure to internal forces. Iranians abroad must act as the medium to convey the message of the Iranian people to the people of the world. I hope that the slogans inside and outside the country go towards a direction that would make the two messages coherent with each other. On the other side, we must be wary of agents that penetrate amongst us. These agents mix themselves among us and by radicalizing the slogans provide excuses for the forces and the government to start the clamp down. This movement is still nurturing, and hopefully the movement of people outside of Iran and the movement inside would eventually start to become coherent with another. We must notice however that this needs a lot of time.

Jaras- Some of the freedom seekers of the Green movement have been asking the following question since the Islamic Revolution of 1357[1979]: “Why from the beginning of the revolution did we witness a certain degree of personal self indulgence, and oppression recreated in the speeches given by the leaders of the revolution?” You exposed the crimes that occurred after the 10th elections and did not sacrifice the truth for the sake of expediency. Prior to that you were a voice against violations such as approbation supervision by the Guardian Council. All this oppression however, does not compare with what occurred in Iran in pursuing the goals of the revolution to turn Iran into a paradise of ideals. You will be asked about the first decade of the revolution. You will be asked about Imam Khomeini’s leadership and its surrounding issues. If you respond to these questions freely and fairly, some within the movement will be disappointed in you ( those who are still unable to break from idolizing an individual or engage in self criticism). If you refrain from speaking freely and seek the best course of action by depicting Imam Khomeini and the first decade of the revolution as impeccable, then you will disappoint another group within the Green movement (this group consists of two subgroups. The first group still bares a grudge against the past and sees nothing but darkness when viewing that period. They are perhaps even unable to accept that there is both good and bad associated with that era. The second group tries very hard to be fair, taking steps towards open mindedness and breaking from past prejudices.) To act as an intermediary under such challenging and difficult conditions is only possible with brave leaders. With this long introduction I would like to ask what is your assessment of the first decade of the revolution and the Imam Khomeni’s leadership? To what extent do you think that the root cause of today’s problems in Iran stem from the political beliefs of that era?

Karroubi- We need to examine the problems and see which ones belong to the past and which ones have appeared recently. The first decade after the revolution was characterized by resistance and sacrifice. I believe that the serious predicaments we face today appeared after the death of Imam Khomeini. Many examples can be recounted that demonstrate these deviations. For example while the meetings of the expediency Council were held in the older parliament building before, a year after the death of Imam Khomeini they were held in the offices of supreme leader. Or in one of the elections the guardian council disqualified large number of political and religious figures based on [its own interpretation of] approbation supervision [article in the constitution]. The revolution that was founded by Imam Khomeini has deviated from its course by others. After the death of Imam Khomeini the fraud started. In last year’s election, it is more accurate to call it appointment rather than election , votes were rationed among candidates and each candidate had a pre-determined number of votes . The issues surrounding this election should be investigated further.

Jaras- Many people criticize your way of thinking. What do you think is the common ground between you and a generation that seems to be widely different from yours in belief, taste and even appearance, yet has gathered side by side you in the green movement and even feels related to you as a clergyman?

Karroubi- Desiring freedom, obtaining citizen rights, [seeking] dignity and greatness of Iran

Jaras- Thank you for your time .

[1] The date of President Mohammad Khatami’s 1997 landslide election victory.
[2] Liberation of the port city of Khorramshahr, from 578 days of Ba’thist occupation during the Iran-Iraq war.
[3] Protest against arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1963. The uprising marked a turning point in Iranian Revolution.


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