The recent statement of the sheikh of reforms (as the supporters of Mehdi Karrubi call him) resulted in a situation that has many lessons for all of us. The flap began with an interview Karrubi did with the state-run Fars News Agency on the sidelines of the congress of the Mardomsalari political party. Fars quoted Karrubi as saying that he firmly stands by his claims, but that he recognizes the president.
So far, this was nothing big – just a comment made in an offhand way on the sidelines of a meeting.
Later, Karrubi’s son, Hossein, stated that his father believes the June presidential election was rigged and the vote count was falsified. But, Hossein Karrubi added, because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has confirmed Mahmud Ahmadinejad in his post, his father considers him to be the head of government.
That’s where the trouble began.
Hossein Karrubi laid particular emphasis on the point that his father considers Ahmadinejad the head of government. This must be put in the context of the elder Karrubi’s previous statements that he accepts the system. His assertion had two points. First, that he called Khamenei the supreme leader; and, second, that he called Ahmadinejad the head of government, not the president. But, according to Hossein Karrubi, the concession that the authorities wanted from his father had been made.
Things got more complicated when Hossein Karrubi gave an interview to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in which he said: “What is obvious is that people, over the last six or seven months, have raised the slogan ‘Where is my vote’ to protest against the rigging of the election. But government officials did not see fit to listen to people’s protests.” He said his father made this announcement to reduce tensions and facilitate an examination of the performance of the government. He said that now deputies in parliament are saying that the standoff with the protesters is preventing the legislature from taking any action against the government.
These remarks have prompted doubts among many protesters. First, Hossein Karrubi said his father’s stance had changed and that he had made this change in order to alter the present situation and reduce tensions. He also relates this change to the promise of some future action by parliament in the event that the protest movement recognizes the government. This, placed in the context of Mir Hossein Musavi’s statement of January 17 that implicitly recognized the Ahmadinejad government and the recently revealed content of a letter by former President Mohammad Khatami in which he reportedly also said the reformists recognize the government, has definitely aroused concern.
Later, in another Radio Farda interview, journalist and Karrubi supporter Saeed Razavi Fagheeh tried to explain that what Karrubi meant was that the government must bear responsibility for the country’s affairs. The government, he said, is responsible for the current chaotic situation.
This was followed by the efforts of Karrubi adviser Mojtaba Vahedi to clear up the situation. He told various media that Karrubi said he “firmly stands by” his position on the election and “shall remain that way and not retreat in the face of threats, abuse, and insults.” However, he added that “people have problems that need the attention of the government in place, and the present government is the government that is in place and has been confirmed. It ought to be accountable to the people.”
For the most part, these explanations have managed to assuage concerns that Karrubi’s position on the protests has changed substantially. But they have not fully ended speculation about just what is happening. There are a few possibilities that merit consideration.
First, Karrubi may simply have blundered. I think that later developments and interviews, however, show that this was not the case, since the matter could have been easily resolved by merely denying that he made the statement or saying that it had been cardinally misunderstood.
Second, there could have been some sort of behind-the-scenes deal struck between Karrubi and the government in order to reduce tensions and/or to secure his own position. Personally, I think this interpretation is just wrong.
The third possibility, which I tend to think is the most likely explanation, is that Karrubi was responding to the actions of the reformists (Second Khordad camp), who have been plotting in secret and without consulting Karrubi. Recent events hint that behind-the-scenes negotiations are under way. The magazine “Irandokht” and other media reported the contents of Khatami’s purported letter to the supreme leader and published supposed excerpts from the letter, citing a member of parliament. Khatami reportedly told Khamenei that the reformists recognize the government but called for “extremism” on the part of all sides to be halted. Khatami’s letter also purportedly said there are elements in the country that do not want peace and called for former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to lead an arbitration effort. He also called for the release of political prisoners as a good-will gesture.
Despite questions over the veracity of these reports, Karrubi feels that some deal-making is going on behind the scenes and the fact that these details were revealed by journalists close to the Karrubi camp reflects his concerns. It would appear that Karrubi decided to jump into the arena himself. It is still unclear whether he wants to add his weight to one side or the other in the negotiations or whether he is seeking to derail any deal by making the process public.
A fourth possibility is that Karrubi is trying to force Khamenei to make a move. I think this is unlikely, since the reformists clearly feel the ball is already in Khamenei’s court.
No matter what Karrubi’s motives may be, there are two lessons we can learn from these developments. After Karrubi’s statement was first publicized, some forces, launching their election campaign, began attacking the sheikh and driving divisions between Karrubi and Musavi. This childish behavior at this critical moment could seriously damage the movement.
After the Fars News Agency’s original report, some groups immediately began attacking Karrubi and saying he had betrayed us. Such divisions, provoked by a small report by a conservative, state news agency, indicate a serious weakness in the reform movement. Likewise, others began uncritically defending everything Karrubi has ever said, and this is also a problem.
Karrubi’s career can be divided into two phases – what he has done and said over the last year and what he did and said in the three decades before that. In many ways, these two phases contradict one another. The duty of those of us who supported him in the election is not to worship everything he says, but to respectfully keep him moving in the direction he has moved for the last year and to correct him when he deviates from it. This is good for us as well as for him.
The anniversary of the 1979 revolution is approaching on February 11. The government is trying to create divisions in the movement in order to get past this dangerous date. Conservatives among the reformist movement do not want the huge crowds that will come out into the streets on February 11 to get out of their control. There is no escaping a negotiation process with the authorities. But a deal can only come after February 11, after a decisive show of force by the people calling for change.
Now is not the time to be distracted by the negotiations. Now, we must focus on February 11.
Saeed Ghasemynejad is a student activist and Karrubi supporter. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL