A Persian letter to Arab revolutionaries

Ghadyani’s letter pulls down the phantasmagoric delusions of tyranny and hypocrisy to the ground zero of moral politics.

Abolfazl Ghadyani is widely known and admired among Iranians for a famous letter that he wrote to Ali Khamenei from the notorious Evin Prison... comparing him with Mubarak and Gaddafi [EPA]

Abolfazl Ghadyani is an ageing revolutionary. He put his life on the line to make the Islamic Republic in Iran possible. He is now a political prisoner of the Islamic Republic.  

The day that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was having a global podium to denounce the dictatorial regime at the UN, as he called it, Abolfazl Ghadyani was subject to Ayatollah’s own dictatorial reign in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic. He could not attend the NAM meeting. He was not invited. But once he heard of the meeting and of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s speech, he wrote a public letter to him and had it published (original letter in Persian).   

This letter is not just to President Morsi, it is also to Egyptians at large, to the Egyptian revolutionaries who have just toppled a dictatorship, just as Iranians did more than 30 years ago, and by extension it is to all Arab revolutionaries who have made this magnificent Arab Spring possible.  

In this brief public letter, Ghadyani speaks from a position of experience, of struggle, of deep identification with the Egyptian revolutionaries. For he sees in them his own youthful image, the image of his own generation when more than 30 years ago they were full of identical aspirations and have now ended up with this catastrophe called the Islamic Republic.  

What Abolfazl Ghadyani says matters – for at the age of 67 he has spent his lifetime struggling for the formation of the very Islamic Republic that has now put him beyond bars. He is not the proverbial child of the revolution that is being devoured by it. He is among its founding fathers.  

To be jailed by jailers you enabled 

Abolfazl Ghadyani is a senior member of Sazman Mojahedin Enghelab-e Islami – an affiliation that marks him above all as a Muslim revolutionary. He was jailed and tortured during the Pahlavi regime, and he is jailed now under the Islamic Republic. He is in jail because he has publically challenged the veracity of the presidential election of 2009.

He is charged with insulting Khamenei and insulting Ahmadinejad for which he is sentenced to four years in prison. From prison he keeps writing, bypassing Ahmadinejad altogether and charging Khamenei with being a tyrannical monarch on par with the Pahlavi and Qajar monarchs. 


 Listening Post – Recapping the Arab revolutions

Abolfazl Ghadyani is not the first or the only political prisoner in the Islamic Republic. Over the last 30 plus years, the ruling regime has jailed, tortured and murdered many people – the very same Islamic Republic that Abolfazl Ghadyani and other Islamist revolutionaries enabled – but at the beginning of its reign, it was only doing these to those who opposed the radical Islamisation of a multifaceted revolution.

Now it does so to those who aided and abetted in that violent over-Islamisation. So when Abolfazl Ghadyani addresses the tyranny of the leader of the Islamic Republic, the pain and suffering, the tortured bodies and murdered limbs, and above all, the silenced voice of many others are hidden.  

Abolfazl Ghadyani is widely known and admired among Iranians for a famous letter (the original letter in Persian) that he wrote to Ali Khamenei from the notorious Evin Prison in which he accused the Supreme Leader of dictatorship, comparing him with Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, asking him to get off the path of liberty, admonishing him that he and his comrades did not fight for this revolution to see it ruled like a monarchy.  

In this letter to Mohamed Morsi, Ghadyani addresses the Egyptian President and honours him as an elected official that has emerged from the anti-dictatorial Egyptian revolution.  

“Unfortunately during your short visit,” Ghadyani informs President Morsi, “the true representative of Iranian people could not meet with you for they were either in prison or if out of prison their freedom is not much more than those in prison.”

Then he tells Morsi that since the Egyptian president has been a political prisoner himself, it would have been good of him if he were to ask to meet with the political prisoners in jail because of their involvements with the Green Movement – “a movement that was an inspiration to the anti-dictatorial movement of the great Egyptian people and perhaps the entire Arab Spring”.

Of course, Ghadyani adds, the authorities would not have allowed him to meet with these political prisoners, but his request might have reignited their demands.   

Generating a moral synergy in the region

It is impossible to overstate the significance of these sorts of regional conversations  across nations in the Arab and Muslim world, from one end of Africa to another end of Asia. For with all its uncertainties, the Egyptian revolution has invested in President Morsi far more moral authority to be a voice for justice in Iran than the Prime Minster of Canada Stephen Harper will ever muster to talk about human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic while severing diplomatic relationship with Iran on behest of Israel and in anticipation of even more crippling sanctions against Iranians or even a military strike.   

The Islamic Republic is one of the worst countries on planet earth in human rights abuses. But Stephen Harper is the last person on the very same planet to point finger at Iran while a diehard Zionist when it comes to turning a blind eye to the criminal atrocities of his favourite settler colony. 

The letter of Ghadyani to Morsi is the exchange between one current political prisoner and another former political prisoner – and what binds them together is a common thread of struggle against tyranny. Neither Harper nor Obama or any Western European leader shares that common ground, or, a fortiori, the moral voice that it entails.

There is thus a fundamental difference between Morsi speaking against the Syrian tyranny (and thus its Iranian backers) right in Khamenei’s face in Tehran and Harper closing his embassy in Tehran in support of Israel. Ghadyani’s letter to Morsi pulls down the phantasmagoric delusions of tyranny and hypocrisy to the ground zero of moral politics. 

“The letter of Ghadyani to Morsi is the exchange between one current political prisoner and another former political prisoner – and what binds them together is a common thread of struggle against tyranny.”

Ghadyani then turns his attention to Khamenei and tells Morsi that the man who sat there as the leader of Iranians and lectured the world about justice and democracy and fighting against tyranny does not do what he preaches.  

“Alas, all the faults he finds with the international regime – from the veto right to injustice, the presentation of falsehood as truth and truth as falsehood, the imposition of the will of the powerful on people … has for years been the case and the norm under his own leadership. Mr Khamenei ordered people to be crushed precisely for having objected to these things.”

As an example, Ghadyani refers Morsi to the dishonest way in which his own speech was intentionally mistranslated in the official Iranian media. It is the same fraudulent behaviour that stole the presidential election of the 2009, which has resulted in an illegitimate state and that prisons are full of freedom fighter, “just like under Mubarak”.  

Ghadyani’s advice to the Egyptian revolutionaries: “I wish that you and other Egyptian revolutionaries and the Egyptian people learn your lesson from the Islamic Revolution in Iran and what happened to the noble Iranian people and do not allow the tyrants steal the Egyptian revolution just like they did the Iranian revolution, thereby betraying the freedom fighters’ hopes and aspirations.”  

Nelson Mandela as a model  

As for his recommendation to Morsi and other Arab revolutionaries in position of Power: “I very much hope that you and other Egyptian revolutionaries would adopt Nelson Mandela as your model and do not allow under any circumstances any leader to become a lifetime ruler in Egypt. When the time comes hand over the power to people’s real representative – the same people that you were handed power as the real representative of the people. You are well aware that absolutism and tyranny have a seductive tradition in the Middle Eastern societies.”   

The Arab Spring is the return of what the Islamic Republic has wasted more than 30 years trying to repress: The cosmopolitan disposition of the political culture that overthrew the Pahlavi monarchy to establish a free and democratic republic and that the militant Islamists – Ghadyani’s own cohorts – hijacked and paved the way for the establishment of a brutal theocracy.  

Millions of Arabs pouring into their streets demanding their civil liberties reminded the world what the Iranian revolution of 1977-1979 was all about – and this is exactly the reason why the Shia Sultan that rules Iran rushed to brand the Arab Spring an “Islamic Awakening” – precisely to disallow the return of what his regime has repressed. But the Ayatollah protests too much.  

As he found out right in his face after Morsi’s speech, the Arab Spring is no “Islamic Awakening” of the sort he has in mind – though Egyptians or any other Arab nation has perfectly a legitimate reason to participate in the political fate of their homeland as Muslims. 

The distance between Muslims as free citizens of their democratic republic and the Islamic tyranny that the Shia clerics, and their oligarchical cliques and praetorian guards are exercising in Iran is the defining moment of the Arab Spring. 

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (Zed, 2012).  

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