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Akbar Ganji: My Advice For Iran's Green Movement

The Green Movement has achieved much during the past seven months. It is a stark reflection of the dissatisfaction within Iranian society and, through its creation, it has brought many Iranians together.

The movement has demonstrated that transition to a democratic society, based on human rights, is still possible without any foreign interference and foreign assistance.

Many within the Green Movement, and other intellectuals, have focused on protests. But for some, the idea of rallying on the streets has become the end rather than the means.

In order to mobilize wider segments of society, the well-known leaders of the Green Movement should keep in mind a number of points when they outline their strategy, slogans, and tactics:

1) Oil revenues have given the regime financial self-sufficiency. In the past four years, oil revenue reached $280 billion. This enormous financial independence can not be ignored.

2) Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has military, security, and intelligence forces at his disposal, which he can use to crack down on the movement at any time. Financial independence has given the government the capacity to vigorously expand this security infrastructure.

3) The supreme leader has a strong will to stay in power. Because of the shah's dependence on Western countries, he and members of his repressive apparatus always had the "possibility" to flee to other countries. Khamenei and his supporters have no such option.

4) Khamenei has a monopoly on radio, television, newspapers, and news agencies and he has deprived the Green Movement from access to any media.

Even with opposition websites, satellite television, and foreign radio stations, that unlevel playing field has provided the regime with a massive opportunity to control public opinion.

5) Among some segments of the population, aversion to religion has been the result of three decades of the religious establishment, but it should not be forgotten that most of Iran's people are still religious.

The supreme leader's propaganda and ideological machine (high-ranking clerics, Friday Prayers, mosques, the media) try to portray the Green Movement as antireligious in character.

However, the support of figures from the religious establishment, the personal religious beliefs of important figures such as Mehdi Karrubi and Mohammad Khatami, and the religious connections of Mir Hossein Musavi and many of the detainees, have made it difficult for the authorities to drive a deeper wedge between believers and non-believers.

Activists from the Green Movement should be very careful not to say anything that would result in a deeper divide based on religion.

6) The regime has been adept at playing on nationalist sentiments. In the standoff over the nuclear issue, the Western world, led by the United States, has a policy of double-standards towards Iran and other countries in the Middle East.

While some neighboring nations and other countries in the region (Israel, India, Pakistan, and Russia) possess atomic bombs, the Western world wants Iran to stop uranium enrichment inside the country.

Because of this indefensible policy of double-standards, the Iranian regime has focused its propaganda on the idea that the West opposes Iran's use of nuclear energy for scientific and medical purposes.

By making the nuclear issue the principal issue, the supreme leader has distracted Iranians' and the world's attention from the violations of the Iranian people's fundamental rights.

7) Khamenei and his followers have tried to bring the Green Movement under control by creating fear. They haven't allowed the movement to hold even a single legal gathering, but instead have jailed and tortured its activists. And by claiming that Musavi's support has diminished to a few thousand people they have tried to discourage the Green Movement's activists.

8) Aligning the movement with Ayatollah Khomeini has consequences that cannot be ignored. When prominent figures of the Green Movement present themselves as true followers of Khomeini and describe the current leaders as being opposed to Khomeini, they enter the Green Movement into a discourse from which it is difficult to escape.

The major divide (dictatorship or democracy) is reduced to a dispute between those who follow and those who oppose Ayatollah Khomeini.

Perhaps the prominent figures of the Green Movement, operating under repressive conditions and knowing that the regime is looking for any excuse to destroy them, have no choice other than to rely on Khomeini's legacy.

But the recent images of demonstrators tearing down Khomeini's picture broadcast on state television and the resulting uproar across the country, show the limitations of this approach.

The late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri never limited himself to the parameters of Khomeini's thoughts. Not only didn't he present Khomeini as a model of freedom, but he also stood against his imperfect human rights rulings.

9) Moreover, choosing a Hussein-Yazid-related discourse is an equally dangerous strategy.

Whenever Shi'a have wanted to fight a regime they have turned to Imam Hussein, their most important historical figure and symbol of bloody Shi'ite struggle. (Eds: Hussein was martyred fighting against the army of the ruler Yazid at the Battle Of Karbala in the seventh century.)

This discourse had a major role in the 1979 revolution. As the revolutionary ideologue Ali Shariati used to say: all days are Ashura and all lands are Karbala.

The consequences of the Hussein-Yazid discourse became apparent after 1979. Referring to Ashura and turning the dispute into a fight between the Whites (Hosseinis) and the Blacks (Yazidis) will only lead to the killing of the Hosseinis or Yazidis and won't open any doors for the Green Movement. Abandoning peaceful means and choosing violence is one of the consequences of this approach.

10) Radical methods, be they revolutionary or violent, will not lead to a democratic order that is committed to human rights. One of the achievements of the Green Movement has been achieving a moral victory over the regime.

The Green Movement needs a clear strategy, as the consequences of its actions, both wanted and unwanted, can affect everyone. Violent methods are not the solution to our problems.

Our problem is that authoritarianism has been institutionalized in every aspect of our lives. Our history is the history of authoritarianism and despotism.

The main challenge is the peaceful transition toward a democratic order that is committed to human rights. We have to think about it. And we have to find a solution. Otherwise, all the current momentum will end with a destructive slap.

The least that can be -- and must be done -- is to focus on the core democratic demands of the movement -- free and fair elections, the right to peaceful gatherings, the freedom of political parties, resignation of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the creation of a truth commission to look into the June 12 vote -- and get the support of as many prominent national figures as possible in order to create a national consensus.

All of us would be morally responsible if we end up in a dangerous and unwanted scenario. Instead of throwing gasoline onto the fire, we should put the fire out.

Akbar Ganji is an Iranian journalist and dissident. This is an abridged translation of a longer article he wrote for RFE/RL's Radio Farda. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL