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Iran 'Facing Tomorrow' By Letting Opposition Participate In TV Debates

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

Mohammad Zakani transposed over an image of his debate with opposition supporter Javad Ettaat on "Ru be Farda" on January 17.

Mohammad Zakani transposed over an image of his debate with opposition supporter Javad Ettaat on "Ru be Farda" on January 17.

In an apparent attempt to address political tensions that stubbornly refuse to go away, Tehran is allowing opposition-minded figures to participate in live televised discussions on the country's postelection crisis.

It's arguably a small concession, seeing as none of Iran's major opposition figures have appeared on the new talk show-style program being aired on state television's Channel 3.

But it has created a buzz among Iranians accustomed to seeing broadcasts that generally favor the views of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The talk show "Ru be Farda," or "Facing Tomorrow," has for weeks pitted hard-liners and more moderate figures against each other. On January 14, for example, former parliamentarian Javad Ettaat condemned (below) the state's deadly crackdown on opposition protests that took place on Ashura, the traditional Shi'ite religious festival that took place on December 27. Ettaat is a supporter of Mir Hossein Musavi, the leader of the opposition Green Movement who finished second to Ahmadinejad in an election his backers believe was stolen.

Ettaat said that the Iranian people have been denied the right to voice their criticisms of the country's political situation, and called out hard-liners for implicitly admitting that Iran is essentially a dictatorship.

"Velvet revolutions occur in despotic countries. When you say that some want a 'velvet revolution' to take place in Iran, you have admitted that the Islamic republic does not have free elections. You admit it indirectly," said Ettat.

The university professor added that "if there are free elections, if the process is democratic, if there is free space for competiveness, and if the fate is decided by the ballot boxes, then why should people want a revolution?"



In another debate, reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian faced Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-line daily "Kayhan." Shariatmadari accused the opposition of colluding with Iran's enemies and of damaging the Islamic establishment.

"If we are accusing former presidents of having ties with America, or leading sedition, then nobody can remain," Kavakebian responded.

Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a New York-based journalist, tells RFE/RL that the debates expose internal rifts within the conservative camp itself, with moderate conservatives trying to find a way out of the postelection crisis.

"The moderate camp of the conservative faction was able to push forward this idea that opposition members should also be given a platform -- but not those who are considered the 'real' opposition," Mirebrahimi says.

Mirebrahimi says the state television invite to the debates people that are being considered by conservatives as moderate members of the Green movement.

"They chose people who are close to the principlists, or those who aren't really opposition members."

Mirebrahimi suggests that the move is an official acknowledgment that the country is indeed facing a crisis, something officials have refused to publicly admit.

Countering Foreign Media?

Prominent Tehran-based political analyst Abbas Abdi wrote on January 17 on the reformist website "Bamdadkhabar" that the real reason for the debates is not an attempt to resolve the postelection crisis, but rather a move to counter foreign Persian-language satellite television stations that have attracted many viewers inside the country.

Whatever the case, the talk show debates are reported to have attracted a broad audience, having received a cautious welcome by some conservatives and reformist lawmakers.

Opposition demonstrators flee riot police in Tehran in November.
The speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, said on January 19 that the holding of the debates should not be temporary and it should be turned into a strategy for Iran's state broadcasting.

Reformist parliamentarian Ghodratollah Alikhani has expressed hope that Musavi and another candidate in the election, reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, will one day be able to appear on the program to express their views.

...And Domestic Pressure

There are signs that the debates will not last, however. It was recently announced that "Facing Tomorrow," which was originally broadcast three times a week, will now be aired only once a week due to "the tiresome preparations" that go into the talk show.
A student activist in the Iranian capital and member of the opposition Green Movement who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security fears tells RFE/RL that the debates might have been "eye-opening" for some government supporters, leading to it to be considered "dangerous" by hard-liners. Indeed, several conservative publications, including the daily "Resalat," have criticized "Facing Tomorrow," warning that the program could lead to street riots.

Looking at the big picture, the activist says the debates are too little and too late to satisfy the opposition, whose members are getting ready to resume their protests against the government on February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.

New York-based journalist Mirebrahimi believes that hard-liners will try to halt the broadcasts of "Facing Tomorrow," or at least limit the scope of the debates on the show.

"Giving a platform to these critics made some of those people -- who rely solely on state television for news and don't have access to the Internet and satellite television -- realize that not only has the crisis not ended, but it's being seriously discussed.

From this aspect it is positive, and this is also the reason why I think the radical faction [of the Iranian establishment] will stop it."

But for now, the show goes on, with former Revolutionary Guard head Mohsen Rezai and Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, scheduled to spar this week over recent developments in the country.

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