Iran’s opposition launches new manifesto

Despite internal conflict, members of Iran’s Green Movement keep hope alive that their time will come.

Iran protestors green movement
A demonstrator dressed as a victim of a public execution and a man dressed as Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei join Iranian exiles protesting against execution and stoning [GALLO/GETTY]

Across the world, opposition political movements are often their own worst enemies. When not fighting with their more powerful foes, they are bickering publicly among themselves. Iran’s so-called “Green movement” – both inside and increasingly outside the country – is no exception.

With this problem in mind, a group of intellectuals, who are also leaders of Green cells inside Iran, last week issued a document they are calling a new manifesto, or blueprint, for the future of the anti-regime campaign. They felt the need to speak publicly to the Greens outside Iran to try to end the mutual recriminations and name-calling and, more importantly, the debilitating disunity over goals and strategies.

Such disagreements, along with a host of other causes – including the regime’s brutality – have effectively crippled the Greens. At times, there have been serious consequences. For example, misguided instructions from self-proclaimed leaders outside have caused the arrest and torture of activists inside.

The manifesto – which I will discuss in detail later – is a serious document, containing well-thought out ideas for moving forward. But instead of examining the substance of the proposal, once again some Iranians in the diaspora, using the internet as their sounding board, are debating the right of Iranians inside to critique the movement. They are also questioning the authenticity of the document, and reigniting what has already become an exhausting debate over who is entitled to speak on behalf of the Iranian opposition.

The primary fault lines cleaving the Green movement can be broken down into three categories. The first two are relatively straightforward: those outside against those inside; and those supporting or opposing the call from former President Mohammad Khatami for all Iranians to continue to support the current regime, no matter its transgressions. In a speech in May before Iran-Iraq war veterans, Khatami said, referring to the regime: “If an act of tyranny has been perpetrated, and it has been, we should all forgive and look towards the future. The people will also forgive the tyranny that has been visited upon them and upon its children, and we will then all face a better future.”

Perhaps most problematic of all is the third source of opposition disarray: Members of the diaspora competing for lucrative speaking engagements and media appearances, all with the aim of profiting from what might be called Green Movement Inc. Yet, their views fail to account for the hopes and dreams of those inside Iran fighting for positive change.

Calming the waters

It is this cacophony of competing voices that the authors of the manifesto hope to quiet. The infighting within the movement has only added to the enormous obstacles the opposition faces. First, there is the problem of morale inside Iran. There is no doubt that Iranians have been depressed upon seeing Arabs in countries across the region stage formidable revolts against their autocratic governments. Some Iranians feel their own “Iranian summer” of 2009, when millions came out into the streets to protest against the contested election that brought President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back to power, was the inspiration behind the later Arab awakening. This assertion is arguable, but nevertheless, this is a relatively common view among Iranians.

The second obstacle – and by far the greatest – is regime repression. No Arab government to date, not even Damascus, has unleashed the same degree of brutality upon its citizens as the Iranian regime did in 2009 and 2010. Now, the clerical rulers and their allies are in control of the internet and nearly all forms of communication.

Th economy of Iran is crumbling. So badly, in fact, that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei this week stepped in and issued a list of remedies to address unemployment, low wages and many other economic ills. Iranians have been forced to focus on their survival, not on politics. There is a saying in Persian: Arabs revolt when their bellies are empty; Iranians revolt when their bellies are full.

In the face of these challenges, the manifesto’s authors have proposed what they describe as “recommendations for the reform and strengthening of the Green movement”. The full text is available here: in English and in Farsi.

Noting that the Green movement is extremely diverse, the authors nonetheless make clear that Khatami’s views are those of “the supporters of despotism”, and have little to do with their own vision for a future Iran. They call for giving women equal rights to men, which is not the case in Iran today. And, they call for a democratic system to put an end to those who use religion to advance authoritarian rule.

The authors also propose:

•    Creating a “Green Council” of around ten known political and intellectual leaders to serve as the movement’s leadership in the absence of Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are under house arrest. Among other things, the Council would call for Greens to form individual groups or cells across the country in order to create a sustainable and effective network.

•    Choosing methods of protest less vulnerable to the violence unleashed by the security forces

•    Expanding the propaganda war against the regime

•    Shaming the regime by identifying those in the security forces involved in beating, raping, and imprisoning Iranians. Documentation of those committing the violence, such as videos, should be disseminated inside and outside Iran

•    Establishing stronger ties between the Green movement and the urban working class, many of whom share the same grievances

In an accompanying essay, the authors of the manifesto expressed their frustrations that the Arab awakening has yet to be repeated in Iran. “The unfolding drama in the Arab world that has already brought down despots in Tunisia and Egypt has been watched closely here in Iran – and with a degree of amazement and envy on our part. We Green activists, along with the daily growing number of ‘regular’ people disgusted with the religious despotism of Ayatollah Khamenei and with the daily deteriorating economic situation, are asking: ‘How do I differ from these Arabs? Why has our own Green Movement, which back in 2009 shook the authoritarian and corrupt pillars of Khamenei’s Islamic government, failed to achieve the popular goals of democracy and seemingly fizzled out?'”

The vitality of the opposition expressed on the streets of Tehran in 2009 has indeed subsided and the Iranian regime does not seem on the verge of collapse anytime soon. But it is important to keep in mind that the Egyptian revolution was thirty years in the making.

Geneive Abdo is the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation and the National Security Network and the editor of

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.