UPDATE 1920 GMT: insideIRAN has posted a copy of the Persian version of the "New Green Manifesto" br>
Throughout the spring, there has been an ongoing debate amongst the Iranian opposition. The strict house arrests imposed on Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi silenced front-line figures in the movement, and former President Mohammad Khatami's call for "reconciliation" between people and the regime --- a call from which he has now pulled back --- was a catalyst for tension inside and outside Iran. Reformists and activists have been in tense discussion of specific questions, such as participation in the 2012 Parliamentary elections, and on the general issue of protest and tactics.
Last week, there was a mysterious ripple in this debate. A letter in English was published on the US-based website insideIRAN.org which claimed to be a "New Green Manifesto" from representatives of "dozens" of groups inside Iran (see separate entry). The immediate questions were over the genesis of the document --- who were these representatives? who were these groups --- but the discussion then moved to strategy and approach, as well as the call for the diaspora to speak with one voice in support of the opposition within Iran..
Now the representatives of the "New Green Manifesto" have written again, in a letter on insideIRAN, to "respond to their critics" (see separate entry).
Five points, not to take sides in the debate and certainly not to advise the Iranian opposition on the way forward, but to raise issues for consideration:
1. WHO ARE THE REPRESENTATIVES?
The latest letter tries to allay some concerns, within the limits of the security situation in Iran:
We are heads of Green cells that emerged during the painful events of 2009. The majority of us worked in one capacity or another in campaigns of Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi. The activities of our cells has included propagation of demonstrations within each cell’s locality as well as various forms of Green news and activity, such as participation in demonstrations, or just simply spraying Green paint on public signs, amongst other activities."
Four of us have been in prison since 2009, including long stints in solitary confinement. Another three of our leaders have been picked up at one time or another for questioning and then released. The majority of us have endured vicious beatings at the hands of security forces during demonstrations, including 30 Khordad (20 June 2009) and the demonstrations of Ashura. Two of us were so badly beaten that they both had hospital stays to deal with serious head injuries.
To meet the initial suspicion that the authors of the Manifesto were actually based abroad --- a suspicion elevated because the text appeared only in English and not in Persian --- the representatives explain, "A couple of weeks ago, we sent a written piece to several outlets, including JARAS [Rah-e Sabz] and Kalemeh (neither got back in touch with us or posted it)." Rah-e-Sabz is perhaps the opposition site with the greatest prominence and Kalemeh is linked to Mir Hossein Mousavi.
But that explanation raises a further question: if some of the representatives have been affiliated with Mousavi, why would Kalemeh turn down the Manisfesto? Why did it not appear on Karroubi's outlet, Saham News? Is the non-appearance because those who run the websites do not recognise the authors as significant representatives of the opposition?
Or is it because the Manifesto's authors have moved beyond the approach set out by Mousavi and Karroubi? More of this below....
2. THE INSIDE-OUTSIDE QUESTION
The representatives' latest letter is blunt about "division...between those inside and outside the country (and we think those outside the country have little right to talk for those of us inside the country without some form of consultation)". That is a significant shift from the original Manifesto, which offered the unifying statement, "Greens inside and outside the country alike need to develop new tactics and strategies in order to utilize and channel effectively the ever-rising economic, political, and social discontent within our country and to ensure that the movement does not split or falter." It is also a shift, from request to criticism, from the parallel letter written to the diaspora by one of the authors of the Manifesto: "The time has come for the Green Movement outside the country to put aside its endless discussions, personality issues, perhaps egos, and certainly fears and begin to address in a serious manner (and quickly) the issues we Greens inside the country have included in this manifesto.
So what happened? In a few days, a basic tension had overtaken the original Manifesto. Needless to say, those outside Iran have far more freedom to put their views, and those voices are disparate --- from secular democrats to reformists to monarchists to members of the People's Mojahedin of Iran, which has sought the violent overthrow of the regime for more than three decades.
The representatives of the New Green Manifesto, unable to identify them specifically, thus got drawn into the fight of Who Speaks for Iran?
Perhaps that is inevitable, but it is also a diversion.
3. THE INSIDE-IRAN QUESTION
Far more significant is what the appearance of the New Green Manifesto says about the direction of opposition inside Iran. Or rather, far more significant is its non-appearance in Persian....
Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi may have refused to call themselves "leaders" of a Green Movement which they said had no leaders, but their detention since February --- at this point, an effective tactic of "decapitation" by the regime --- has left a vacuum in the challenge to the Government and system. Neither man, especially Mousavi, was beyond criticism over background, tactics, and strategy, but a statement from either had a symbolic resonance, focusing attention on the situation and what may or may not be a Green Path of Hope forward.
That has not been possible for five months. And beyond Mousavi and Karroubi, others had already been silenced by detentions, raids, cut-offs of communication, or the threat of imprisonment --- reinforced by heavy bails --- if they spoke up. Overseas-based spokesmen for Mousavi and Karroubi and the reformists who are "safe" within the system could not cover this gap. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom some have seen as an acceptable catalyst for challenge, is still focusing on alliance with the Supreme Leader to fight his battles with President Ahmadinejad.
Former President Khatami might have filled this space, but his call for "reconciliation" had the opposite effect. It split the opposition, many of whom --- especially the reformists who are in the Parliament --- were already looking to the Parliamentary elections next March.
So the headline debate in recent weeks has not been on the wide landscape of challenge but on the specific of whether or not to stay within the system for the elections. Even those who have made important interventions have had to work in this arena.
Consider, for example, former Deputy Minister of Interior Mostafa Tajzadeh, who has defied the regime by accepting prolonged imprisonment rather than silence. His recent interview, while he was on a brief furlough from a nine-year sentence, was important in distancing the reformists from the 2012 election --- it appeared to have a notable effect on Khatami --- but only one brief paragraph looked at life and politics beyond that election.
The immediate reading of the New Green Manifesto is that it tries to re-energise the movement for that wider challenge. If so, however, it faced an immediate barrier: it was not accepted by the media whom Mousavi has called the leading edge of the opposition. As far as I can tell, the refusal by Rah-e Sabz and Kalemeh has been matched by a silence inside Iran --- at this point, the discussion of the Manifesto is outside the country.
4. THE TACTICS AND STRATEGY QUESTION
The representatives of the Manifesto rejected Khatami's approach in their initial statement, and they repeat that criticism in their latest letter. However, they are silent about the rejection of their approach by Rah-e Sabz and Kalemeh, despite the obvious questions raised.
Nor do the representatives, in their effort to address those outside Iran on who speaks for the country, address the queries raised over their Manifesto's tactical and strategic approach. These are far-from-new queries: arguably, the persistent challenge for the Green Movement has been how it would connect with other movements for economic, social, legal, and political rights.
The New Green Manifesto, echoing the move made by Mousavi in statements just before his house arrest, makes a general call for Green as an umbrella for these movements, but this opened a discussion --- expressed in a response such as that by Lissnup --- on language and tactics.
How, to repeat Lissnup's question, can connections be made outside Tehran with those whose primary concern is how to make ends meet in the current economic situation? How can that connection be established if the authors are "intellectuals" and their audience is "lower classes"?
Or tactically, how can there be an impact if opposition is in individual or silent actions, such as the quiet march for the second anniversary of the 2009 election? How can a "mass" resistance be shown?
5. THE PROBLEM OF ANONYMITY
And that returns this critique to its first point. The authors of the New Green Manifesto, who in their account have suffered detentions, beatings, and hospitalisation for their protests, must be concerned for their security, and that security is also protected through operations via "cells" rather than a larger grouping.
But "cells" need outlets and actions to represent them not as isolated pockets of activists but as part of a large, widespread challenge to those who claim authority. Mousavi and Karroubi also put forth a self-serving naivete on this issue: "We are the Media" is an essential call, but it has to be connected to representatives --- students, politicians, lawyers, advocates of gender rights, unionists, and other activists --- who can put out a message with resonance.
So far the "New Green Manifesto" is reliant on that wider appeal through an overseas site with a "niche" readership. And that for the moment --- as the representatives' latest statement highlights, with its narrow response to critics abroad --- limits any impact of the "several recommendations for the reform and strengthening of the Green Movement".