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An opposition manifesto in Iran

Groups protesting against the current regime reveal what they want a new Iranian government to look like.

January 06, 2010|By Robin Wright

Iran's so-called green movement is not yet a counterrevolution, but recent developments make clear it is heading in that direction. Seven months after the uprising began, an opposition manifesto is finally taking shape, and its sweeping demands would change the face of Iran.

Three bold statements calling for reform have been issued since Friday, one by opposition presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, one by a group of exiled religious intellectuals and the third by university professors. Taken together, they suggest that the movement will not settle for anything short of radical change.

The statements set tough preconditions for a political truce: resignation of the current leadership, introduction of broad democratic freedoms, prosecution of security forces engaged in violence against the opposition and an end to politics in the military, universities and the clergy.

The proposed reforms would amount to a total overhaul of the system. But they also reflect a common desire to prevent an all-out confrontation by engaging the regime in compromise and ending the escalating violence. The three sets of demands all accept that Iran will remain an Islamic republic, if largely in name only.

The three statements offer the outside world the first concrete indication of what the opposition wants and what Iran might look like if the opposition prevails. Just as striking is the fact that several branches of the opposition are developing a voice despite the increasingly brutal crackdown by an increasingly militarized regime.

The boldest statement was issued Sunday by five exiled religious intellectuals who founded diverse parts of the reform movement in the 1990s. Many of today's opposition activists are their progeny as students, colleagues, political allies and friends.

Their 10-point manifesto begins by calling for the resignation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose reelection in June sparked an outpouring of public rage over alleged fraud. It calls for the abolishment of clerical control of the voting system and candidate selection, replacing it with an independent voting commission that includes the opposition and protesters. The authors also demand the release of all political prisoners and recognition of law-abiding political, student, nongovernmental and women's groups as well as labor unions. They call for an independent judiciary, including popular election of the judicial chief, and freedom for all means of mass communication. They even demand term limits for elected officials.

The five authors include philosopher Abdulkarim Soroush, the father of the reform movement; dissident cleric Mohsen Kadivar; former parliamentarian and Islamic Guidance Minister Ataollah Mohajerani; investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, who was imprisoned for six years for reporting on regime corruption; and Abdolali Bazargan, an Islamic thinker and son of a former prime minister.

They issued the manifesto on a website run by Kadivar and Mohajerani to mark the green movement's growing maturity, Soroush explained in an interview Monday. "The green movement is known only for its demonstrations and protests, not its ideas, so it was time to explain its political demands," he said.

The manifesto also carries a message to the green movement's widely diverse followers. "Some people expected the green movement to do miracles, to do the impossible. We wanted to make it clear that it's a democratic movement, and if it has a godfather, it is Gandhi," Soroush said. "We are insisting adamantly that democratic, nonviolent change is at the heart of this movement. That will minimize the violence from the other side, which is ready to engage in any kind of violence."

All five of the manifesto's exiled authors, most of them titans of Iran's 1979 revolution and major figures in earlier governments, remain connected to the opposition at home.

In a separate statement, opposition leader Mousavi, whose defeat by Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election sparked the current uprising, made some of the same demands in more general terms. "What we want is a government and system that is honest and supportive, and is based on votes of people, one that looks at variety in the votes and ideas of people as an opportunity instead of a threat," he wrote Friday in a long statement on his website.

In Iran, Mousavi called for the government both to be held accountable "for the troubles it has caused" and to establish wide freedoms of press, speech, assembly, protest and independent political activity. Acknowledging new calls for his arrest and execution, he added that he was willing to die for the cause.

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