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Iran Essay Contest (1st Place): The Green Movement --- Why It Has Lost...And How It Can Win

EA has been honoured to support the essay contest run by Iranian Progressive Youth, "What are the Ways to Bring About Democratic Change?".

Today, the winning essay by three authors who have asked to remain anonymous:

On a breezy morning, we three headed down to a main square at Tehran to join the anti-regime protests on the occasion of the regime’s victory anniversary on February 11, 2010. Seems paradoxical?

There were millions of people gathering there: a bizarre, heterogeneous mixture of two large groups of people, supporters and protestors, walking next to each other, each one having a nervous look at the face of the other. A spark was needed to ignite the whole crowd. Some comrades, whom we saw by accident, had the same feeling: being lost and lonely. Like former protests, we hoped that somewhere, someplace, some people may have sorted out some sort of protests. We wandered for hours to find them. But nothing did really happen that day.

That day, the confused, wandering population of protesters was abused by the government as "their supporters". Was this the glorious achievement vowed by Iranian opposition activists, some even claiming the toppling of the ruling regime?

It was then that a series of vital questions needed to be answered.

Was the Green Movement on the right path to democracy from the beginning? Has this path been swayed after a while? Is the Green Movement open to constructive criticism? How can the Green Movement bring a democratic change in an effective, sustainable way? To answer such broad questions, it is necessary to identify and analyze the main factors which have played a critical role in the Green Movement, and then critically analyze each one from a historical and investigative perspective.


Since its emergence in June 2009, the Green Movement has tried a variety of ways to express disapproval with the regime and bring out a democratic change. Of these, street protests have been the main strategy for showing their dissidence after the disputed presidential election. But which ones have been really effective? This is a question that can be answered by a historical and investigative research.

The major protests after the disputed presidential election started as concentrated street protests. The very first and most effective one was June 15, in which the demonstration path had been announced by the opposition. This demonstration was called by many as an unprecedented event over the lifetime of the Islamic Revolution, in which millions of Iranians demonstrated peacefully to express their dissatisfaction with the results of presidential election. Eighteen people were killed in that day according to official sources, though unofficial sources claim hundreds of victims. That shortly-planned event was a "media win", as it was given a worldwide coverage, and an 'intense pressure', as the government was confused in confrontation with the demonstrators. It also favored the development of ‘silent’ demonstrations in the succeeding days, June 16, 17, and 18.

On June 20, the Friday congregational prayer by the Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei was a turning point in transforming the type of street protests in two ways: concentration of protests in places and over time, i.e. ‘concentration in time’ and ‘concentration in place’. The street protests did not follow an everyday trend after June 20. Nor they did aim to gather as many people as possible to have a "media win". Instead, they tended to be scattered protests (lack of concentration in place), which helped the regime to:

(1) oppress protesters more easily, as they had a much better control over communication channels and roads, while there was no network coverage, and protestors could not be get known of what was happening in an alley nearby;
(2) conceal the real number of victims;(3) distort the real number of protestors, to which international and opposition media had no access;
(4) kill, purposefully, with a few, effective kills;< /br>
(5) kill in an 'eye-dropping' manner rather than mass killing, which led to terrorising protestors and non-protestors, instead of irritating public feelings.

Further protests did not follow an everyday trend to maintain pressure. Instead, they were confined to specific days. They lacked concentration in time. On the plea of commemoration of special occasions, whether for or against the regime, the Green Movement took to the streets.

This lack of concentration in time helped the government to:

(1) restore and take much more planned actions against the movement;
(2) use TV and radio stations, which are all state-owned and strictly-controlled, to build sham scenarios in order to persuade, incite, discourage and terrorize different classes of people;
(3) identify and arrest the protestors, especially activists, at their homes, on their way to protests, or at other places, eventually making the protestors retreat.

Of course, these two "strategies" are not the only failed ones which resulted from mismanagement of the Movement. Rather, they represent two "simple" issues that could have been easily managed to prevent such great failures.

The Green Movement, instead of performing a critical analysis of the results, has justified these poor strategies by fallacies and covered up the dysfunction of the Movement in protests. Opposition figure Mohsen Sazgara, formerly one of the earliest founders of the Revolutionary Guard, has been insisting on scattered protests in his weekly satellite broadcast on Voice of America. Even the demonstration paths announced by the two opposition leaders, Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, have been different at times.

Moreover, the leadership has failed to be inclusive and make use of weakness points of the ruling regime. The Iranian leader Ali Khamenei has been naming the past four Iranian calendar years as "innovation and flourishing" (2008), "improving the consumption pattern" (2009), "double work and double endeavour" (2010) and "economic Jihad" (2011). The trend of assigning of names shows the rising importance of the economic issues to the Islamic regime. But did the Movement take the advantage of these issues? The answer is a simple no.

Economic issues have been underplayed in most of the Movement's actions and slogans. The failure to recognize the importance of economic issues can be obviously seen in the slogans chanted in the streets. Frequently-chanted slogans by the protestors such as "Death to dictator", "O Hossein! Mir Hossein!", "Allah-o Akbar", "I’ll kill, I’ll kill, whom killed my brother", "Cannon, tank, Basiji are no longer effective", do not share anything about economic aspects.

This lack of reference to economic aspects implies either or both of two things: one is that the Green Movement is distancing from the working class, and therefore their demands, by not raising their problems, and the other is that the working class is distancing from the Green Movement, and therefore their demands, by not seeing much in common with them. In other words, the working class has either been excluded from or not taken active participation in the street protests.

One might argue that as time goes by, the economic aspects will eventually resurface as they did in the 1979 Revolution –-- that the working class will join and strengthen the Green Movement spontaneously. Some like Said Madani, a social researcher, were optimistic about this spontaneous change in the Movement: “Some people from working class who are more willing [to change the political structure] will enter the Movement. The main discourse and slogan of the Movement are of political aspects. I have no doubt that this aspect [justice], sooner or later, will become more highlighted inside the Green Movement as a result of the accelerating trend of social and economic inequalities.”

But they never did. During the past year, there has been opportunity for the Movement to become all-embracing; to encompass different social and economic classes.

Sohrab Behdad, professor of economics at Dennison Ohio University professor, believes that the Green Movement needs to pursue social justice and speak for working-class demands in order to survive: “The Iranian society is after democracy and social justice. The Green Movement, however, has been stuck with the appeal for democracy, while the matter of social justice has been left aside by its leaders.”

He argues that The Green Movement cannot succeed unless it raises social justice issues, and above all, working-class demands. Behdad stresses that “The Green Movement has to come up with such slogans that are directly referring to a change in life and working conditions of workers.”

Jafar Azimzzadeh says that as long as the Green Movement is confined to the war between two parties fighting for power, the workers do not feel to have any association with them. “The workers do not find themselves a part of the so-called Green Movement and its leaders, who had been themselves in power for eight years as the Reformist Party.”

If the labour movement feels that none of their demands are raised in the all-embracing movement, which is the Green Movement, this doubt makes them keeping their distance from this movement. The Green Movement has not yet insisted on economic demands. Its discourse is mainly a liberal-democratic based on political liberties.

Social injustice and decreasing class gap, which are one of the main demands of the working class, have had no reflection on the Green Movement until now. Conversely, the Green Movement, which is considered mainly the movement of the middle class, will have, of course, a kind of alienation or duality of distance and doubt toward the Movement.

These are a few of many visible drawbacks that the Green Movement has been facing with for almost two years, yet it fails to critically analyse them and propose practical solutions. This failure can be traced back to the elusive notion of "leadership" in the Movement.

Robin Wright, a foreign policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, asserts, “The new opposition movement [the Green Movement] is ambitious, imaginative and determined. But it does not speak with one voice. Nor does it have a single leadership. The diverse factions see the issues through different prisms—and have disparate views of a new Iran.”

Cultural Infrastructure

William O. Beeman, anthropologist and specialist in the Middle East studies, contends that the turbulent internal politics of Iran following the June 12 election is fundamentally between two very old, very entrenched religious philosophies that have been debated for more than 300 years. It’s a debate at the heart of every major political uprising in the nation’s history from that time forward. Even if the present controversy is quelled, this debate will continue for the immediate future, likely resulting in a major governmental shift.

Beeman writes, "The fundamental debate is over the role of religion in the governance of the state. The Safavid Dynasty, founded in the 17th Century, marks the beginning of modern Iran."

Superpowers, or as they say International Community

Let us begin this section with a challenging question. Is the international community's "help" vital to and a must for the success of the Green Movement, or in general, any democratic change in Iran? In a more critical sense, to stress a semantic duality, the word "will" is a better alternative to "help", as "will" can resist or support in nature.

To answer this question, firstly a definition of international community is needed. To what does it refer: the people of the lands all over the world, or a certain group of countries, or superpowers, which govern global affairs such as UN Security Council? The term international community is a confusing, tricky misnomer indeed. It has been claimed that the superpower nations (now mainly the United States) use the term to describe organizations in which they play a predominant role, regardless of the opinion of other nations. For example, the Kosovo War was described as an action of the international community even though it was undertaken by NATO, which represents approximately 10% of the world's population.

The above question, as a result, needs to undergo a metamorphosis: Are the world superpowers willing to assist a democratic change in Iran? Again, a historical and investigative research will clarify the situation.

"The history is well known", as US President Obama said in Cairo about the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, in which the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was brought down by the intelligence agencies of the UK and the US in Operation Ajax. Since 2000, a number of top US authorities have acknowledged and apologized for their role in that coup. In 1953, “CIA officers orchestrating the Iran coup worked directly with royalist Iranian military officers, handpicked the prime minister's replacement, sent a stream of envoys to bolster the shah's courage, directed a campaign of bombings by Iranians posing as members of the Communist Party, and planted articles and editorial cartoons in newspapers....This episode, like many others, demonstrates the colonial attitude that the US ruling elite has towards the rest of the world, and just how little respect for democracy it has".

On the surface it may appear to some that the West interferes and manipulates the internal affairs of the third world countries to spread their "democratic" values, but the bottom line is imperialism. Francisco Gil-White, an anthropologist and specialist in American foreign relations, argues, "The Islamist regime has been in place since 1979 and invariably appears very tough against the West. But the Western powers never attack Iran. What in fact happens is that the Western powers assist the Iranian Islamist regime." For example, during the 1980s the US sent billions of dollars in armament to the Iranians every year, for the duration of the Iran-Iraq war, while claiming in public that the Iranians were their bitterest enemies. When this was discovered it was called the "Iran-Contra" scandal because the US was also, simultaneously, arming the Contra terrorist force in Central America.

Iran-Contra is just one example. Gil-White writes, "In fact, the entire history of US foreign policy toward Iran has been pro-Iranian. What is anti-Iranian is the rhetoric. But actions speak louder than words."


We came this far to answer one fundamental question: how can Iranians, in general, and particularly the Green Movement, bring democracy into their country eventually? Through a historical and investigative perspective, the main factors that resist or assist a democratic change by Iran's Green Movement have been analysed, and a number of reasons were provided to clarify why they have not been so much successful so far.

Leadership was the first. The Green Movement's leadership has been so far something blurry. Nobody knows for sure who should be followed as a leader. There are many to be followed, and thus so many more perplexing strategies to be pursued. Meanwhile, the leadership has failed to have a critical look at the results and adopt successful and creative strategies over time. It failed to be inclusive and all-embracing. Important issues like economic factors have been left out of consideration and as a result, a huge proportion of Iranians, namely the lower economic stratum including workers, feel they are not playing in their own game.

We also scratched the surface of another significant, yet less visible, issue: cultural infrastructure. The current regime is an extreme example of a theocracy, a body politic organized essentially around religious principles. For many latent Iranians, one question should be answered before they pour into streets: is the future Iran led by today Green Movement going to be theocratic or secular? Once there is a answer, Iran's streets will certainly welcome more protesters.

The last, but not the least, determining factor we referred to is the superpowers' approach toward the current regime. The conclusion is bitter but realistic. They have confined their support to the Iranian opposition to rhetorical statements and minor symbolic actions. The so-called international community repeatedly has been emphasizing over last few decades that Iranians' liberation is in their own hands.

Nobody argues with that, but again we need to accentuate the fact that international community can be a strong catalyst here. So far, the world's superpowers has been a tangentially negative reinforcement. It has hampered the opposition progress in Iran with lack of concentrated pressure. The current regime now knows that there is always a loophole for circumventing international sanctions. It learned how to adopt itself and it will for sure do that in the future, too. The international community needs to understand the message: either move now and use all you have to get the job done, or else.

When all is said, one vital suggestion can be made here. To succeed, the Green Movement needs a locus of attention, something to which everybody can feel connected to and yet also be liberated from. This would be a council formed by elites of the needed fields, but to make a change, the Green Movement does not need only leaders specialising in politics. It needs sociologists to predict its individual limbs behavior. It needs military specialists to suggest proper tactics to people on streets to save lives. It needs cultural studies scholars and media experts to identify, change and make the most of the cultural infrastructure. The Green Movement is in dire need of economists whose practical suggestions can cripple the regime. The Green Movement should form a "scientific-based council" as a leader to connect globally and to form a strong medium for connection and education nationally. The members of such council can be elected based on objective criteria, and use modern means of communication such as Internet for intra-organizational communications.

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