Iran Election Guide

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Iran Special: How the Myth of the Green Movement and "Regime Change" Was Created

Protesters in Tehran's Azadi Square, 15 June 2009

Hat tip to the EA reader who sent us the English translation of the Marandi interview, posted by the US Government's Open Source Center:

Three weeks ago, the Iranian site Khabar Online published an extended interview with Alireza Marandi --- the physician who returned from the US to become the Islamic Republic's first Minister of Health, a minister under Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, and now a prominent MP from Tehran. While his name may not be well-known in the "West", Marandi's record and his "straight shooter" reputation make him a bastion of the establishment --- so when he speaks, the words carry weight.

The discussion is an extended denunciation of Mousavi, both in the 1980s and during the 2009 Presidential election. In that sense, with the former Presidential candidate now entering his 15th month of strict house arrest, it is far from surprising.

But amidst the damning of the Green Movement's figurehead, one passage deserves a feature. For Marandi's explanation of why Mousavi turned in 2009 from candidate to the would-be mastermind of "regime change" reveals how the myth was spread that Iran's protesters were merely the puppets of the "West" and the "seditious elements" within the Islamic Republic.

Asked if Mousavi had turned against the Iranian system and the Supreme Leader in the 1980s or "if he was pulled that way" in 2009, Marandi replied:

On the day after the election for President of the Republic [13 June 2009] my wife pointed out to me that in Mr. Mousavi's interview with TIME [magazine, he had said, "We want to pressure the Leader with these street demonstrations". If there was the slightest ambiguity in my mind [about Mousavi's turn against the system and the Supreme Leader], the issue became entirely clear to me with this interview. However the general public did not know about this interview or the other issues and it was natural that they would remain confused for a longer time. 

 Despite this I sent him a message and corresponded with him. I was hoping if he would withdraw into himself and make his own decision, the problem would be solved.

Unfortunately, the interviewer does not ask about that correspondence and Marandi does not offer details. So, since "the problem" was clearly not "solved", let's have a look at the supposedly damning evidence in the TIME interview, conducted by Joe Klein and Nahim Siamdoust on 11 June, the day before the election.

This is the passage about the system and the Supreme Leader:

The last reformist President, Mohammed Khatami, who supports you now, had a difficult time getting along with the leader. Do you think it will be different for you than it was for him? 

There are different pillars of power in our system that must interact properly. This is the reality in our system, and I'm willing to have this interaction both in dialogue and in performance of my legal responsibilities. I believe I can balance this interaction.

Do you think the reformists went too far and did not respect this balance? 

Khatami's rule came to an end after eight years, but if he had stayed in government, who knows, maybe that balance between the [Supreme] Leader [Ayatullah Ali Khamenei] and other powers would have eventually been reached. But we have a particular system of division of powers in Iran. The Leader has certain powers, and the President has other powers, and balance between these powers is possible.

You and the Leader are both sons of the village of Khameneh. When you were Prime Minister, you were known to have friction in your relationship with the Leader. Do you think this could lead to problems if you become President? 

The problems we had then were based in the constitution. But now, of course, these responsibilities are much more clearly spelled out in the constitution, and there is much more room for harmony.

While Mousavi talks about the need for a balance between powers within the Islamic Republic's complex system, with the Supreme Leader and President respecting and working with each other, there is nothing in his remarks indicating that he would force the Supreme Leader into change. To the contrary, the emphasis is on "room for harmony".

However, in an editorial comment, Klein and Siamdoust appear to put words into Mousavi's mouth: 

As President, Mousavi wouldn't have nearly the power that the Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, does, especially in the areas of foreign and national-security policy. But he did express a belief that the remarkable street demonstrations of the past week would basically change the nature of the power structure — in effect, forcing the Supreme Leader to pay more attention to public opinion. 

Thus the conclusion of the wife of Alireza Marandi, shaping the view of one of the most important legislators in Iran: "We want to pressure the Leader with these street demonstrations."

To this supposedly ominous warning, Marandi adds an important sleight-of-hand. The "street demonstrations" were actually campaign rallies for Mousavi --- they were unprecedented in their size and enthusiasm for a challenger in a Presidential election, but they were not protests for regime change.

However, Marandi shifts this in his comments to 13 June, when angered people had taken to the streets to challenge the declaration of victory for President Ahmadinejad --- there were incidents on that day of cars being damaged and fires being set in the streets. He then reduces the peaceful protests on 15 June in Tehran by hundreds of thousands --- estimates run as high as 3 million --- to a "confused" general public, unaware of Mousavi's devious scheme.

With those twists, Marandi converts Mousavi's campaign and the post-election mass demonstration into a Western-supported conspiracy. What is essential, however, is not that this is being claimed in March 2012 but that this tale was already being told in June 2009, both to give supposed legitimacy --- as the Supreme Leader had done with his quick declaration of an election result --- to a President Ahmadinejad and to justify the suppression of dissent. Even before and on Election Day, the regime had used the pretext to carry out arrests, disrupt communications, and intimidate the campaign staffs of Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

On 24 June 2009, Marandi's son Seyed Mohammad, an academic at Tehran University, allied with two former officials of the Bush Administration --- , husband and wife Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett ----to convert the dispute over the election into the story of the US-backed attempt to overthrow the Supreme Leader and the system. The supposed dissection of myths that the result was manipulated, posted in Politico, opens with this declaration:

Although bloody images continue to be replayed on American television, the protests that broke out in Tehran following Iran’s presidential election on June 12 are, predictably, dwindling. They are fading because further demonstrations would no longer be about alleged election irregularities but, rather, would be a challenge to the Islamic Republic itself --- something only a small minority of the initial protesters support.

While the protests are subsiding, days of round-the-clock, ill-informed commentary in the United States have helped to “sell” several dangerously misleading myths about Iranian politics. Left unchallenged, these myths will inexorably drive America’s Iran policy toward “regime change” --- just as unchallenged myths about Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ties to Al Qaeda paved the way for America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Later in the article, Marandi and the Leveretts repeat the theme of a battle --- already won by the regime --- between the forces of sedition and those of order: "Read in conjunction with the election results, the pattern of protests since June 12 underscores the idea that the “opposition” that mobilized around Mousavi never represented a fundamental threat to the Iranian political system."

Of course, the Politico article was directed primarily at an American audience to convince them that there was nothing really to see in the drama of the election and the subsequent protests. But, far more significantly, the same script was being read out in Iran with more serious consequences. By late August, after Ahmadinejad's belated inauguration, the regime was displaying more than 100 defendants --- including former high-level politicians, academics, and journalists --- in a trial in Tehran. From the prosecutor's indictment:

The defeated and despondent enemy immediately went into action and set off a chain of chaos and riots in Tehran through the mobilization of its propagandist, political, and local agents. Our dear compatriots suffered many losses of life, property, and mental health as a result. According to documents which we have obtained and the confirmed confessions of the accused, the occurrence of these events was completely planned in advance and proceeded according to a timetable and the stages of a velvet coup in such a way that more than 100 of the 198 events were executed in accordance with the instructions of [US academic] Gene Sharp for a velvet coup....

Numerous foundations and institutions came into existence through the Western countries’ spy agencies and other governmental institutions which, through a division of organizational labor and concentration on various missions, were tasked with the joint purpose of implementing a velvet coup project. The most important of these institutions and foundations are the Soros Foundation (the Open Society Institute), the Rockefeller Institute, the Ford Foundation, the German Marshall FundFreedom House, the American Council on Foreign Relations,the German Council on Foreign Relations, and the Centre for Democracy Studies of Britain.

No proof was provided for any of the allegations or for subsequent claims such as the declaration of Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, that the West had given $50 billion to Mousavi and other agents for regime change.

But of course, proof has never been the point. It is the myth --- whether or not it is believed by those, like Marandi the father or Marandi the son, who put it out in Iran or abroad --- that matters.

It is the myth that stigmatises legitimate political campaigns and "illegitimate" dissent. It was the myth that put many hundreds in prison from June 2009, put dozens of the detainees in a Show Trial that summer, and keep hundreds behind bars today. It is the myth that has arrested the lawyers of those detainees, seized the activists who raised their cases, and broke up the publications that dared maintain the questioning.

It is the myth that props up the system: a system challenged not by the deviant Mousavi, but by the protests that moved from "Where is My Vote?" to "Where are My Rights?", a system further challenged --- even after those protests were quashed --- by political, social, and economic tensions that cannot be explained away by "regime change".

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