28 April 2011

Haleh Esfandiari on Iran

In the Review section of the 15 April edition of The Australian Financial Review there is a fine article, Could Iran be next: Haleh Esfandiari says the voice of the people is being ignored in Tehran, reprinted from the New York Review of Books.

Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Woodrow Wilson Internation Centre for Scholars in Washington DC, and the author of My Prison, My Home: One Woman’s Story of Captivity in Iran, Harper Collins, 2009. She was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison in Iran for 105 days in 2007.

Esfandiari begins:

As the Libyan uprising was gathering force last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, for using violence against his own people and advised him and other Middle Eastern heads of state to listen to their publics. The irony was not lost on anyone. Only two weeks earlier, on February 14, Ahmadinejad had sent hundreds of riot police, paramilitary basijis, and baton-wielding goons in plainclothes to disrupt demonstrations in Tehran and other Iranian cities called by Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of the opposition, in solidarity with the people of Tunisia and Egypt. By the end of the day, 1,500 protesters had been arrested; two had been killed.

The next day, 222 of the 290 deputies of the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, approved a resolution to put Mousavi and Karroubi on trial for sedition. Several dozen of the deputies, raising clenched fists, then began to shout out calls to execute the two men. The supposedly “moderate” Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, quietly joined in. Karroubi and Mousavi, already under house arrest to prevent them from attending the rallies they had hoped to lead, were held incommunicado, denied visits even from their children and families, and then taken away to an unknown detention center.

Here was another irony, in view of the recent pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East that Ahmadenijad purported to support. Karroubi, a senior cleric, is a former Speaker of Parliament; Mousavi was prime minister and guided the country through the difficult years of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Their “crime” was to have posed a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad as candidates in the 2009 presidential elections, which many Iranians believed were blatantly rigged. Millions of Iranians poured out into the streets to protest when Ahmadinejad’s victory was announced. “Where is my vote,” became the slogan of the protesters, and some even cried “death to the dictator”— meaning Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei—an almost unprecedented attack on the regime itself.

But then the security forces and Basijis cracked down with brutal force; according to the government’s own figures, some six thousand were arrested during the election protests. That crackdown, and the mass show trial of protesters broadcast on state television that followed, muted but did not silence the opposition Green Movement. Protests have been attempted periodically since and invariably suppressed by government forces, as they were again last week.

Read Esfandiari’s article in full here.

In the run-up to the June 2009 Iranian Presidential election I posted brief profiles, with photographs, of Mousavi, who was widely expected to win the election (see Iran election watch: Mir-Hossein Mousavi), and Karroubi (see Iran election watch: Mehdi Karroubi). How different Iran and its relations with the world might have been had either of these men won.

My reflections on this historic tragedy, posted shortly after the event, may be seen at Reflections on events in Iran. I think they hold up pretty well to this day.

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