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Entries in Green Movement (19)


Iran: The Green Movement's Next Steps (Shahryar)

Josh Shahryar writes for EA:

Yesterday was the funeral in Qom of Banoo Rabbani, the wife of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. Despite claims by some activists that Greens were going to join the funeral and protest, the atmosphere for most participants was one of silent contemplation. Security forces essentially took over the funeral procession,arresting 30 people, and Rabbani was not even buried in the location selected by her family.

The funeral follows Chahrshanbeh Suri, the Fire Festival, on 16 March. Although there was much celebration, despite the disapproval of authorities including a Supreme Leader fatwa, no protest was planned or executed by the Green Movement.

So is the decision not to use public holidays or funerals for staging protests a bad one by the Movement?

The answer is no. The movement has endured for more than nine months. It has sufficient backing and is confident enough that it will survive, despite every repressive measure of the regime, that it does not have to periodically show the world, the Iranian government, and ordinary Iranians that it can put people on the streets. At the same time, the Greens have made clear that they will not be backing down from their demands, let alone giving up.

Mir Hossein Mousavi's Nowruz address clearly hinted at this, as he . declared, "Withdrawing our demands of unconditional execution of the Constitution is an act of treason for Iran and for Islam. This is a demand that we will not abandon."

So next question: What is the Green Movement going to do if not hold protests on holidays?

Again, Mousavi's address offers a good answer:
Faced with such a situation [overwhelming violence by the government], the Green Movement must expand its reach to all segments of society. The Green Movement must revive the timeless social and Islamic principle of inclusion. We must lend a hand to neighbors and neighborhoods both near and far, through job creation and other forms of interaction.

This Iranian Year 1389, according to Mousavi, is the year of "persistence". Several activists with whom I have spoken are hopeful that within the next few months, the Green Movement will not only survive but also thrive as it wins more supporters to its side.

Indeed, their resolve is that they need not just a majority of Iran's people to back them, but an overwhelming majority. One activist noted that next time they hold a protest in Tehran, they don't want "only" one or two million participants but hope to have as much as half the city on the streets.

Only time will demonstrate how successful this will be. The Green Movement, though, is not just a spontaneous mass of discontented citizens, but an organized and well-informed movement whose members are slowly building up networks within the country and unifying their goals, all the while preparing for future confrontations with the Government.

Iran: A View from the Labour Front (Rahnema)

This is an extract from a Tehran Bureau interview with Saeed Rahnema, a labour activist in the 1979 Islamic Revolution who is now a Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada. The full interview includes Rahnema's analysis of labour's role in 1979 and the aftermath of the Revolution:

TEHRAN BUREAU: When I read articles about Iran today, there is a great deal of social unrest around economic issues, particularly workers not getting paid. There are many labor actions but not a labor movement per se. I wonder what kind of possibilities there are for economic issues becoming more of a question for the Green Movement?

The Latest from Iran (29 March): Questionable Authority

RAHNEMA: There is now a major economic crisis in Iran. Massive unemployment, terrible inflation (close to 30%), and at the same time, as you rightly said, there are many factories that cannot pay their employees. In terms of leadership there is political anarchy.

You have got government-owned industries and then you have partially state-owned industries under the control of bonyads or Islamic foundations. The most significant bonyad is the Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled (Bonyad-e Mostazafan va Janfazan). These are industries which had belonged to the Shahs' family and the pre-revolution bourgeoisie. After the time of the Shah they were all transferred to this particular foundation, which is now run by people close to the Bazaar of Iran and the clerical establishment. The bonyads are so large and so important that they are responsible for 20% of the Iranian GDP [Gross Domestic Product], which is only a bit lower than the Oil sector. Bonyads are not under the control of the state and pay no taxes.

It is an anarchic system with no serious protection for workers. Workers do not have a right to strike. They do not have unions and this is the main problem.

Many of these industries are heavily subsidized. But the government has decided to end some subsidies, along with the elimination of many gas, flour, and transportation subsides too. By ending subsidies, or having targeted subsidies, there will be more problems and more industrial actions. But these industrial actions --- and you rightly separate labor actions from a labor movement --- need labor unions. Labor unions are the most significant aspect of the rights of workers. Unions need democracy and political freedoms, a freedom of assembly and a free press. That is why the present movement within civil society is so significant for the labour movement.

This is something that tragically some so-called Leftists in the West do not understand. We read here and there, for example, James Petras among others, who support the brutal suppressive Islamic regime, and take a position against women, youth and the workers/employees of Iran who confront this regime. It is quite ironic that the formal site of the regime's news agency posted a translation of Petras' article accusing civil society activists of being agents of foreign imperialism.

What we need is continued weakening of the regime by street protests along with labor organizing. And, I think it is very important that we recognize that the Green Movement is part of a larger movement in Iranian civil society. The Green Movement is a very important part, but, it is not the whole picture. The Green Movement is now closely identified with Mr. Mousavi. So far he has been on the side of the people and civil society. Everyone supports him. But what will happen? Will he make major concessions? That remains to be seen.

TEHRAN BUREAU: There is a lot of confusion about the character of the regime because of its populist rhetoric. I am wondering what effect this confusion has on the possibility of organizing a trade union movement in Iran?

RAHNEMA: From the beginning, there were many illusions about the regime. One section of the Left, seeking immediate socialist revolution, immaturely confronted the regime and was brutally eliminated during the revolution. Another section of the Iranian left supported the regime, under the illusion of its anti-imperialism, and undermined democracy by supporting or even in some cases collaborating with the regime. This section paid a heavy price as well. Now, ironically, some leftist in the west are making the same mistakes under the same illusions.

There are four major illusions about Iran. The first is that the regime is democratic because it has elections. Leaving aside election fraud, in Iran not everyone can run for Parliament or the Presidency because an unelected twelve-member religious body, the Guardian Council, decides who can be nominated. Also, the Supreme Leader, who has absolute power, is not accountable to anybody.

The second illusion is the Regimes' anti-imperialism. Other than strong rhetoric against Israel and the U.S., the regime has done nothing that shows that they are anti-imperialist. Actually on several occasions they whole-heartedly supported the Americans in Afghanistan and at times in Iraq. Anti-imperialism has a much deeper meaning and does not apply to a reactionary force which dreams of expanding influence beyond its borders. If that is anti-imperialism, then the better example is Osama Bin Laden.

The third illusion is that this is a government of the dispossessed. A lot can be said about this, but I will limit myself to two income inequality measurements. Currently the Gini coefficient is around 44. (The range is from zero to a hundred, with zero as the most equal and one hundred as the most unequal.) This is worse than Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, and many other countries, despite the enormous riches of Iran. Interestingly, this figure is not so different from the time of the Shah. The other measurement, the deciles distribution of the top 10% and lowest 10 % income groups, shows that the top deciles' per capita per day expenditure is about 17 times that of the lowest deciles. This figure is also quite similar to the pre-revolutionary period.

The fourth illusion is that the regime is based on a 'moral' Islamic economy and not a capitalist economy. This moral economy, as Petras calls it, is nothing but the most corrupt capitalist system that we could possibly imagine.

TEHRAN BUREAU: There are some nascent unions, such as the bus drivers, sugar cane workers at Haft Tapeh, as well as teachers. These groups have been asking for international solidarity for a long time now. I wonder why those groups have had such a difficult time developing support. Have the conversations among "left" groups about anti-Imperialism blinded them to these small but very real organizing efforts?

RAHNEMA: No doubt. Some among the left in the West make the same mistakes that the Iranian left made during the revolution -- focusing on anti-imperialism and undermining and minimizing democracy and political freedoms. If the left really cares about the working class, how can this class improve its status without trade unions? How can trade unions exist and function without democracy and social and political freedoms?

Another aspect that some leftists don't take into consideration is the significance of secularism and the dangers of a religious state, particularly, the manner in which such regimes impinge on the most basic private rights of the individual, particularly women. Even if the Islamic regime were anti-imperialist, no progressive individual could possibly condone the brutal suppression of workers, women, and youth, who want to get rid of an obscurantist authoritarian and corrupt regime. The underground workers groups and other activists within civil society need all the support they can get from progressive people outside Iran, and they despise those so-called leftists in the West who support Ahmadinejad and the Islamic regime.

UPDATED Iran: "We are Going to Make the Future Better"

UPDATE 1030 GMT: EA readers are already making useful refinements to this article. In addition to the comments which remind me that Iranians are currently celebrating the extended Nowruz holiday --- which may account in part for this quiet political phase --- an activist says simply, "Don't forget that Iranian expression, 'Fire under the ashes'."

There has been a notable drop in news from and on the Iranian opposition in recent days. Discussing this with an EA correspondent last night, amidst the distraction of the Caspian Makan affair, I pondered if "the Greens were lying low/regrouping/rethinking/fading into sunset". The correspondent replied, "They are all in a very poor shape right now" because of the regime's suppressions and punishments.

So could the "regime  feel confident enough to relax the pressure and get a semblance of 'normal' in its rule"? We agreed that this would be "tough since now they are merely keeping law and order with a strong fist policy".

Still, that's not the most hopeful of conclusions. So, as we closed with the agreement that we would next consider the significance of the upcoming mayoral election in Tehran, was it just a case of being tough-minded and pessimistic journalists?

I was only shaken out of these thoughts this morning when I read the comment from an EA reader who lives in Iran:
We are hopeful and patient....We are going to make the future better. In Persian we say if God wants [it will happen]. We want to make it and we’ll make it.

And so another day begins.

Iran: An Internet Strategy to Support the Greens? (Memarian)

Omid Memarian writes for The Huffington Post:

We have learned in school that "information is power". In some countries, information and spreading the truth among the people means saving lives and alleviating the suffering of those who are in pain. That's why many of activists, bloggers, and journalists, who are aggressively trying to stop the tragic human rights violations in Iran by gathering and spreading information about current events, believe that providing Internet access for the Iranian people, and other people in the world in similar conditions, is not a political, but a moral act. There is a direct, and positive connection between free access to Internet-information, and the quality of people's lives.

I've talked to many of my friends-- bloggers, journalists and those who have difficulties to even send a simple e-mail or chat on Yahoo Messenger over the past eight months. Almost all of them believe that any kind of support to give Iranians more access to the Internet is supporting human rights and democracy in the country, supporting security in the Persian Gulf region, and most importantly saving the lives of many people who are threatened by restrictions on information that allow the Iranian government to operate behind closed doors as it violates their basic rights.

Almost all of them believe that it's a form of moral support. It should not be seen or used as a means to pursue hidden political purposes, but as promoting human rights as defined by international standards. Providing Internet access for Iranians should not be seen as a part of a possible regime change plan in Iran, because it is up to the Iranian people to decide what to do with their freedom.

Some might say Iranians' obstacle to have access to the Internet is Tehran's domestic issue. But it's not. It concerns a country stuck between other countries that either suffer from radicalism or that export terrorists to the rest of the world, a country between two major sources of conflict in the region, Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why such support is directly related to the security of the region and the world in a long run.

We should not forget that if it were not for the Internet, we would have the same picture of the Iranian government that we had 9 months ago. And if it were not for the limited access to Internet that exists, God knows how many more people would have been killed or tortured inside prisons in Iran.

The United States and some European countries have shown interests in supporting Iranians to fight with Internet censorship and provide more access to information via the Internet. But they should not forget the importance of applying standards in a balanced--not political--way. Not only Iran, but also numerous other countries, violate the right to access the Internet, and the United States and European countries should support compliance across the board. Otherwise, the charge of holding double standards will stick.

But what should be done? Here is a list of actions, policy shifts, and issues that are essential to give Iranians more access to information and help them fight with the Tehran's strong censorship:

Modifying the U.S. sanctions on Iran

Certain sanctions or interpretations of the sanctions have seriously damaged the ability of Iranians to access the Internet and need to be modified.

1) Software download is blocked to IPs from Iran: Many of major companies such as Google and Microsoft block downloads to people in Iran in fear of sanctions. For example, Google Talk or Google Chrome, one of the safest web browsers, is not available for download to Iranian users. All mass-market software that is useful for publishing, communications, and education should be exempted from the sanctions.

2) Online advertising is not allowed for Persian websites: Many companies such as Google or Facebook do not include Persian (Farsi) as a supported language for online advertising websites or allow targeting users with such a language. This is problematic when activists want to use such advertising tools to reach out to Iranians in Iran. It also prevents many of the human rights activist websites from making small amounts of money on advertising that can help them to pay for their server costs.

3) Iranians are not allowed to pay for domain purchase and related issues. In result, Iranian government-sponsored hackers stole many of the domains belonging to Iranian human rights activists because such activists have difficulties registering such domains under their names and have to do this through proxies. But, there is no way to verify their location or identity when their web domains are stolen. Just in the past few months, a few hundred domains registered on Godaddy have been stolen by the Iranian government and there is no way to get them back because the original owners were not allowed to buy those domains legally on Godaddy in the first place.

4) Funding is needed to allow hiring a limited number of web developers in Iran. Many of the small activist groups need to hire developers to build their websites. The number of web developers with a command of the Persian language outside of Iran is very few. These groups need to be allowed to hire web developers in Iran. The amount of payments could be capped to $10000 per year to make sure such a solution is not abused for other purposes.

5) Online access and advertising should be exempted from the current sanction regime via a categorical order. Without a categorical order, such a problem cannot be solved. The reason is that the Iranian market is very small and many of the US-based Internet companies prefer to stay away from it instead of spending tens of thousands dollars on legal fees to apply for an export license.

6) European companies who still sell surveillance or censorship technology to the Iranian government need to be exposed and face sanctions. A number of large European countries have provided Iranian government with technologies to monitor SMS and communications between Iranians. Without the pressure from the European Parliament and U.S. government, taking actions against these companies would be impossible.

Internet access and Security:

1) Giving VPN accounts to the activists and journalists in Iran: VPN provides the best security and functionality compared to any other solution. VPN accounts would need to be bought from different VPN providers and distributed to the activists through different online websites. Each major human rights or pro-democracy website would be given between 100-500 VPN accounts. They would distribute them to trusted activists in Iran they know. [A Virtual Private Network gives extremely secure connections between private networks linked through the Internet. It allows remote computers to act as though they were on the same secure, local network]

2) Purchasing Skype credits for activists in Iran: Using Skype credits, activists in Iran can make secure international calls. Skype's encryption is one of the best among all the voice services.

3) Anti-jamming for satellite broadcasts: The Iranian government sends jamming signals to commercial satellites. Many of the commercial carriers are reluctant to broadcast independent or reform-oriented Iranian TV content because the Iranian government can blind their satellite. Commercial satellites can be jammed because the upload and download signal is the same and the upload signal is a fixed frequency. However, military satellites are built to resist such jamming. For Iranian broadcasts, the US government could dedicate a specific satellite, which is hardened against jamming using technologies similar to military satellites.

4) Provide Iranians with free satellite Internet: The technology for Internet access is not cheap but considering the importance of Internet access in Iran, it is worth investing on this issue. There are technologies for one-way delivery of content or two-way interactive Internet access. Providing such services free of charge to the Iranian people can go a long way in breaking the monopoly of the Iranian government on the dissemination of Information in Iran.

5) Email security: Unfortunately, no secure free email provider exists. Yahoo is particularly insecure, while Gmail provides more security but is still vulnerable to key loggers. For activists, there is a need for an email service to have security as high as PayPal accounts or bank accounts. For example, the login process should be resistant against keyloggers. This can be achieved by showing images or other techniques.

6) PC security: One idea is to provide the activists with free security software and anti-virus software.

Collaborating with the human rights community

Finally, private companies and initiatives can provide resources to support the development of technology designed to combat Internet censorship including those technologies that surpass filters. There are a number of professionals and companies that are focused on developing software that provide such technologies for Iranian users that could be supported.

UPDATED Iran Election Video: Nowruz and the Green Movement

Tehran, reportedly during Supreme Leader's speech


The Latest from Iran (22 March): The Economic Clash

Chants at tomb of Hafez, Shiraz



Allahu Akhbars for Nowruz