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“Moussavi Himself Did Not Expect a Movement of Such Scope”

Monday 15 June 2009

Why that change of heart?

Moussavi's partisans are going much further than he. It is as though he were being pushed by them to take on a stature that he was not previously known for. The demonstrations surprised everybody: no one, including Moussavi, expected that the movement would take on such scope.

From the announcement of the election results, little groups formed spontaneously on all the street corners, in the expectation of a rallying call. It was only after that that Moussavi contested the results. At the same time, the regime's partisans also began to occupy the field. Confrontations broke out while the riot police set to charging regime opponents. In fact, since Saturday, we've seen a demonstration of force by both sides, each of which seeks to legitimate the election a posteriori. It's possible, nonetheless, to imagine another scenario with respect to Monday's demonstration. Has it all been prearranged? Moussavi has met with Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the latter has called on him to calm things down. Perhaps Moussavi, unable to suddenly dissolve the movement conducted by his partisans, has decided to go to the demonstration to calm things down?

Lots of pressure on foreign journalists has been reported. Are you also encountering problems with doing your work?

The atmosphere is very tense, but we are able to work. For several days, we lived through something unbelievable. We did whatever we wanted. In the street, everyone was talking. Demonstrators from both sides came to see us to try to win us over to their respective causes. But the regime took over again with the confrontations: we were put under increased surveillance, with identity checks, etc. Foreigners are perceived as enemies of the regime, suspected of having fomented a velvet revolution along with the opposition. Ahmadinejad, moreover, is constantly repeating that in his speeches - which still doesn't prevent the two sides from continuing to approach us in the street.

Ahmadinejad was officially reelected with 63 percent of the votes. A result that should be ascribed to the fraud denounced by Moussavi, to a too-weak opposition, or simply to the popularity of the outgoing president?

I think that that outcome is the result of all those three reasons together. Ahmadinejad is truly more charismatic and popular than Moussavi: his rallies bring together at least twice as many partisans as Moussavi's. Ahmadinejad appeals because he is charming, close to the population; he acts as though he were the salesman in the neighborhood store - I've seen him go by myself in a car that doesn't look like anything special - which is exactly the opposite of the super-rich mullahs who have grabbed the country's wealth.

With respect to fraud, it's difficult to know. We've just watched a strange exercise: the staging of elections in a non-democratic regime ... What is certain is that the regime did not simplify Moussavi's task. It never stopped putting sticks in his wheels: a non-operational microphone during a rally, web sites supporting Moussavi blocked ... But it wasn't just Moussavi: reform candidate Mehdi Karoubi had a ridiculously low result - which allows the thought that he could have been the victim of fraud. Still, while it's true that although Ahmadinejad may not have really had 63 percent of the votes, his partisans are nonetheless more numerous and more disciplined than Moussavi's. The pro-Moussavi movement, on the other hand, is not structured and he has no political party.

Are there reasons to believe that the movement will last?

That's very difficult to say. That's never been seen. The movement is not limited to Tehran and the small burghers north of the capital; it spills out into several other cities. It seems to bring together all those who contest the regime: even Iranians who didn't vote since they didn't believe in these elections have come down into the streets. They have a very determined air and have demonstrated incredible courage in confronting the regime this way. The two sides give prominence to a social economic and religious fracture: the third of the country that voted for Moussavi is better off, while Ahmadinejad's electors enjoy more modest circumstances and are more indoctrinated. The pro-Moussavi partisans are beginning to call the system into question. Moussavi has even evoked, through hints, the separation of religion and politics. Which really frightened the regime. We can expect a formidable repression, since, obviously, the regime is stronger than the demonstrators - mass arrests have already begun. But the regime runs the risk of wreaking havoc. Asking a third of the population to swallow its anger may have medium-term effects.

It's also possible that the regime has allowed things to spill out, the better to counterattack by brandishing the specter of a revolution. Now that it's in the process of losing its American enemy since Obama's accession to office - given his search to calm things down - the regime may want to create a "domestic enemy."


Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.

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