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Nazila Fathi: The Green Movement in Iran

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Mrs. Nazila Fathi is a journalist who covers her native Iran for The New York Times. Her house came under surveillance. She was practically under house arrest. She left Iran on the night before July 1, 2009 , after the surveillance team left. Many people as well as almost all of her sources and some of her friends had already been arrested.

Mrs. Nazila Fathi has completed her M.A. program at the University of Toronto in Political science and Women's studies in 2001. We interviewed Mrs. Fathi on the Iranian opposition organization, The Green Movement, and the challenges it is facing. The interview was conducted by Aziz Enhaili for®.

Aziz Enhaili : Could you define for us the Green Movement and its objectives?

Nazila Fathi: The Green movement is the opposition movement in Iran today. Green was the symbolic campaign color of presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi. It became the color of the movement after the June 12 elections when many believed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had stolen the elections. The Green movement at this stage includes people with diverse backgrounds and demands: those who favour the overthrow of the regime and those who want reform within the current system.

Aziz Enhaili : How does it function?

Nazila Fathi: The Green movement has so far staged massive protests and sent a strong message outside the country that it does not consider the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad legitimate. Despite the brutal crackdown by the government it has persisted. It is an electronic savvy movement which has relied on the Internet, text messaging, and Satellite television as a way to mobilize its supporters and spread information. Its lack of leadership and agenda has been a major setback.

Aziz Enhaili: Is it strong enough to continue its move?

Nazila Fathi: Only time will prove that. This movement is a result of the anger and frustration that has been simmering beneath the surface since the 1979 revolution. Young people, both men and women, have joined it. They are parents and relatives of political prisoners executed by the regime in the 1980s, as well as many founding members of the revolution and war veterans. Even if the government manages to end the protests, the dissent will no doubt re-emerge on a much larger scale. The establishment needs to address the democratic demands of the people.

Aziz Enhaili : How far is the Khamenei regime prepared to go? Is Ali Khamenei still in control ?

Nazila Fathi: The regime has shown that it will go to extraordinary lengths in the use of violence to end the protests. It has tried to intimidate protestors by killing them on the streets, jailing and torturing hundreds and even executing protestors in recent weeks. It has shown no real sign of a compromise. Mr. Khamenei has the final word on state matters. He has repeatedly supported Mr. Ahmadinejad in public speeches since June 12 and warned protestors that they would face consequences if they did not back down. The Revolutionary Guards report directly to Mr. Khameni. They are the military force set up after the revolution which was behind the falsification of the election results and the brutal crack down. Mr. Khamenei has lost credibility by putting himself at the forefront of the struggle and therefore protestors consider him responsible for what happened. Most slogans in recent months were aimed at Mr. Khamenei and many opposition figures, including prominent scholars now in exile, wrote a public letter late last year calling specifically to limit the power of the supreme leader if not to remove him from his position. Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Ataollah Mohajerani, Akbar Ganji and Abdolali Bazargan were among the signatories of the letter. Protestors have demanded the removal of Mr. Khamenei during demonstrations.

Aziz Enhaili: What actions should the United States and Canada take with regard to the situation in Iran ?

Nazila Fathi: The Iranian people are very patriotic. They believe they are capable of undertaking their struggle on their own without foreign interference. They would however like to be recognized as a force inside the country. They do not want to be brushed off by Western governments as a movement that would ultimately be crushed by the Iranian authorities. They want to be part of official meetings with Iranian leaders. They expect Western governments to put pressure on the Iranian authorities for the gross human rights violations. In the meantime, they do not wish to see Western governments sign agreements with Iran in ways that could empower a president who is not considered legitimate by the majority of its people.

The Iranian government has managed to cripple the opposition in recent weeks with the restrictions it has imposed on the Internet. It has also jammed Satellite television channels broadcasting from outside the country. Western countries can help the movement by making the technology accessible inside Iran. Unblocking the Internet can make a huge difference. It requires some kind of investment and technological breakthrough from outside to make it accessible and to thwart the filters of the Iranian censorship but the political gains would be huge. The results would be great for Iran and the region. A more democratic Iran will become an inspiration in the region for other neighbouring countries. Making the technology accessible to the Iranian people could be more efficient than sanctions which have so far hurt the people, not the government.

The interview was conducted by Aziz Enhaili for®.

February 21, 2010


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Enhaili, Aziz
By Aziz Enhaili

Aziz Enhaili is an expert on the Middle East, of Islam and Foreign policy. He is a contributor on irregular basis to the ‘’Neighbouring countries’’ of the European Union, a unit of Europe2020, a groupe dedicated to prospective studies. He is... (Read next)

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