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Moin is the man
The popular accusation that a reformist president would be ineffective and powerless should be put to rest


Qumars Bolourchian
May 24, 2005

The Guardian Council made a dangerous move by disqualifying reformist candidate Dr. Mostafa Moin from participating in the presidential election. It set in motion an explosive chain reaction that will benefit both U.S. hawks and the Islamic hardliners in the short term. It will, however, damage Iran and Democracy, perhaps irreparably. We will have to wait and see if Leader Khamenei's "request" for Moin's reinstatement will diffuse the crisis. to review their decision to block reformists from standing in next month's presidential polls, fearing the disqualifications could result in an election boycott.

The game plan is to force an international confrontation between the United States and Iran. This will boost nationalistic sentiments in both countries and allow for hostile measures to be justified within both governments. As a nice side effect, it would legitimize the Iranian Mullahs by proving everything they've been saying about America to their followers. Similarly it would empower the Neoconservatives in the Bush administration to silence their dovish counter parts and paint Iran as a dictatorship badly in need of U.S. liberation and ultimately justify more defense spending in the region.

One thing neither group wants is peaceful internal transition. The Mullahs obviously want to stay in power and the Americans want to have control over the next regime. So independent internal transition is unpredictable and thus out of the question. And that's precisely what Moin represents.

Eliminating Moin would have erased the crucial distinction between two important Iranian dissident groups. The reform-minded Iranian democrats seeking peaceful change by Iranians and for Iranians are in the first group. The second group is the tiny but influential minority of the exiled opposition seeking to bring foreign-influenced regime change facilitated by the West.

By erasing the distinction, the Iranian hard-liners could have effectively cast all domestic opposition as equal to extremist expatriates seeking an invasion by the U.S. or an "Operation Ajax" style foreign funded regime change. The same scenario will be used by the U.S. Neoconservative to cast the pro-intervention expatriates as being legitimate representatives of all Iranian opposition.

The Reformists
The Khatami revolution was an outgrowth of the native popular movement. Fed up with the hard-line Islamic Regime and given some breathing room by favorable external events (i.e. lack of immediate military threats and expanding trade relations), these Iranians launched a peaceful movement and achieved important changes in Iran in a relatively short time.

There was significant opposition, to be sure, by the increasingly irrelevant ideologues of the old guard. There were arrests and beatings by the judiciary. But there were also popular demonstrations and pressure to reverse judicial decisions (and many were.) There was a flourishing of independent newspapers, the Internet and women's rights. There was productive dialogue and scientific exchange with Europe and there was, for the first time ever, organized native opposition to hard-line Islamic rule.

The young and anxious population of Iran, having tasted some of these freedoms for the first time ever, was hungry for more and was at times frustrated with the pace of improvements. But there's no doubt there were improvements. No doubt that the reformists were gradually succeeding.

After 9/11/2001, however, things began to change. The heated rhetoric and the military posture of the Bush administration put Iran under pressure. The thoughtless, frivolous and arrogant grandstanding of the neoconservatives gave the hardliners another lifeline in their political careers.

All of a sudden, liberalization and "dialogue among civilizations," became a bad idea, a dangerous idea, and an idea that could put Iran's security in jeopardy. Many ordinary Iranians flocked back to the original leaders of the revolution whose firebrand zealotry was most responsible for protecting Iran against foreign aggressors in the 8 year bloodbath of the Iran-Iraq war. In other words the state of permanent revolution had once again found relevancy. Under the legitimate guise of national security, the hard-liners clung to power.

These are the facts that had most to do with the so-called failure of the reform movement. George W. Bush is a dream come true for Khamenei and Rafsanjani. The nuclear issue is simply the latest tool the hard-liners use to force a security oriented national agenda thus making themselves more relevant. The popularity of nuclear sovereignty among a broad spectrum of Iranians shows this strategy is working. But make no mistake about it; none of this would've been possible without Bush's "Axis of Evil" mentality. So once again, thank You America!

To those who dismiss President Khatami as a disingenuous stooge or puppet, I have one question for you. Would you rather live in Iran now or 10 years ago? Was life better in 2001 or 1991? If there's even a slight sense of intellectual honesty present, one has to admit that things have seriously improved under the Reformists, despite their failures. Ask anyone who has direct experience with this and you'll hear there is no comparison. Khatami brought much more freedom and tolerance than ever existed before in the Islamic Republic. We must conclude that peaceful reform is possible.

The Exiled Opposition
The second group is the small minority of dissidents seeking to bring either violent change by direct U.S. military aggression or some other form of foreign influence resembling the 1953 coup that toppled Prime Minister Mossadegh. Broadly speaking this minority consists of Iranian Monarchists, and the MKO or Mojahedin Khalgh Organization. Both groups are influential in the Unites States and have direct access to sympathetic members of congress and the Administration. Even though they couldn't be further apart ideologically, they've decided to temporarily tolerate each other for the greater cause.

But both, combined don't represent even the majority of Iranians living abroad, and have extremely negligible influence inside the country. That's why they are incapable of doing anything themselves and need foreign powers to finance them or fight their wars.

Of course, that's not what they're saying to Congress and the Pentagon. Hoping to be the next Chalabi's and Allawi's of Iran, many of their lesser figures are frantically competing with each in order to gain favors with important U.S. government officials.

The Election Boycott
No autocratic regime has ever been toppled because not enough people voted in an election. No tyrant has ever lost sleep because his subjects didn't want to participate politically. A boycott by itself is useless. It only benefits those in power.

The previous boycott by the Iranian reformists did not only accomplish nothing, it in fact legitimized the regime by giving the hard-liners the majority. This is not to say that we should "settle" for a reformist candidate many of whom have been discredited. We simply need someone we can work with. It's not important what he is now, what's important is how responsive he will be later.

True democracy is not about choosing a candidate and then washing your hands of the process for another 4 years. What we need is to choose a follower, not a leader. We ourselves need to be the leaders and then pressure the elected officials to follow what we say, not the other way around. This of course means staying involved in the process, rigorously reading and debating every decision, taking to the streets and supporting the elected official when he does something right and demonstrating against him If he doesn't. Put so much pressure that we could not be ignored.

Of course we need to become politically sophisticated and understand political tradeoffs and power plays. We can't have everything we want overnight, but we can make the best decision given the choices we do have.

If a boycott is decided upon, it must be serious, widespread and it must be owned by the people. It must be accompanied by a social movement, complete with press offices, reporters and clear public messages. It must be present all over Iran, not just in Tehran and Esfehan. There must be regional organizations all over for it to work. Otherwise, it will simply be a low turnout and forgotten in history. Right now, there's a guy named Jerome Corsi, a rabidly anti-Kerry Republican, founder of the dubious "Iranian Freedom Foundation," and author of the scary looking book "Nuclear Iran." He comes from a long line of American "patriots," who have adopted Iran as their pet project.

Dr. Corsi and his single-digit cabal of Monarchists are marching to Washington D.C. in support of "Iranian freedom." They're rallying cry? They want Iranians to boycott the election. If this were to happen anyway as a result of Moin disqualification, or some other reason, who do you think Fox News will give the credit to in the United States? "Corsi and 5 Iranians stand up to the Ayatollah's."

This kind of nonsense has been printed before. The Neoconservatives are very good at taking credit for other people's work. They've already attributed Libyan nuclear disarmament, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Syrian troop pullout and Israel's Gaza pullout to George Bush. The last thing we need for any kind of freedom movement in Iran is for it to be associated with America. At best such an association will take away credit from Iranians who took the actual risks and at worst destroy any democratic movement because the hard-liners can successfully blame it on a foreign plot.

That's why it's important to have a meaningful PR program along with a real boycott.

The June elections
The popular accusation that the Reform movement in general and Mostafa Moin in particular would be ineffective and powerless should be put to rest now. If Moin was no threat to the Khamenei backed hard-liners and Rafsanjani, he would not have been initially disqualified. It's clear the hard-liners want to eliminate their rivals for power. But some may question the long term wisdom of such moves and opt for legitimacy in these elections.

Iranian democrats must support Moin. Without a boycott he would likely win, and with an engaged constituency he can be constantly lobbied to pressure the hard-liners for greater freedom and participation. In addition, his election would undermine the "regime change" crowd in Washington and Los Angeles. It is not a hopeless situation. Iranians will only lose if they give up and resign themselves to the hard-liners. Either way, externally, care must be taken to distinguish the desire of the majority Iranians for peaceful change from the few who would welcome Western intervention.

Iranians in the United States must be especially vocal about this. If we're not careful our entire identity will be hijacked by the few influential Monarchists, the MKO or the Neoconservatives. All of them have other agendas and none represent us. In the coming months, the U.S. will seriously consider its options against Iran.

Words have vague and twisted meanings under this administration. They can twist any word to mean anything else they want. That's why we must say no to all U.S. backed action for it never has never will be for the benefit of Iranians. Those who think they can sucker the U.S. into doing their dirty work are of course fools. We must say no to "war of liberation," no to "regime change," no to " support dissidents," no to "funding opposition." Our motto must be " Hands Off Iran," plain and simple.

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