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  Global Viewpoint


I Support the Republicanism of Ayatollah Khomeini; Foreign Interference Is Counterproductive; Uranium Enrichment Is Iran's Right

Mehdi Karroubi is the opposition politician and cleric who has taken a leading role in protests against the results of the recent elections in Iran. At the most recent Friday prayers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the opposition of a "harsh response" if they continued their activities. The Los Angeles Times sat down with Karroubi in Tehran last week. This interview was made available to the Global Viewpoint Network by the Los Angeles Times.


Q: What is at the root of your continuing protests in Iran?

A: Personally, I decided to speak out because I came to the conclusion that what is going on in domestic politics is against the democracy advocated by the late Imam Khomeini. I am concerned that the current government does not believe the axiom of the late Imam that says: "The criterion is the vote of people." The late Imam Khomeini believed strongly in balloting, not ceremonial elections. Now, I cannot help defending republicanism. If republicanism is damaged, God forbids it. Islam will be undermined, too. I think we should defend that axiom of the late Imam vigorously.

Elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran should therefore be fair and free. I promote and I keep on promoting this idea. In recent years the elections were not fair, as the supervisors of those elections, the Guardian Council, were one-sided.

Our stance is within the framework of the constitution of the Islamic Republic, though we believe some of the articles of the constitution have been neglected. These are the ideas about which we will keep on being vocal.

The issue is very simple: Our people have voted and ask: Where is our vote?

I know all political factions, both of the left and right. If they mustered all their members, it would only amount to one-fifth of the people we have seen in the street. So these are ordinary people out there who want their votes to be counted.

To be sure, there is frustration among the people. They have been waiting for a chance to express themselves. Also, for sure the world will heed to their protests and try to fan the fire. Honestly speaking, if the U.S. administration does something wrong, do we not highlight it and make a hue and cry? So our enemy does the same to us.

Q: How will civil disobedience and demonstrations on the street at this point translate into political change? Why not, as some have suggested, call for strikes in the oil industries and refineries?

A: Look, political change can be in two forms. The change we are calling for is change within the system and within the constitution. We want observation of citizenship rights.
Someone may call for other kinds of change, but we want change within the constitution. Ten days more of peaceful rallies in the post-election period would not have led to some catastrophe. (Instead of a crackdown), the Guardian Council could have formed a jury to judge the integrity of the balloting. That way, everything could have been settled in a peaceful manner.

As for strikes in the oil industry, I do not believe in such kinds of protests because common people would suffer at the end of the day. I think if we keep on with our current reasonable and peaceful stances, it will lead to good results. In the end, the government cannot defy peaceful reasoning. A heavy crackdown does not work; it has not worked.

Bear in mind, our disputes are not so deep. They are disputes among members of a family. In our family some members have grabbed power without being competent enough. That is the issue. So we do not need that scale of protest, (such as strikes at oil refineries).

Q: What's the strategy for the coming period? What are your aims? What are you trying to achieve?

A: For us, gaining freedom of press is a win. It is a win for us if the rights of people are observed. Freedom of association is a win. Stopping the show trials is a win. To win is to have an impartial Guardian Council.

One member of the Guardian Council clearly took sides with the current government recently at Tehran Friday prayers. He said that big figures among the reformists must be arrested. I say in counter argument that the big fishes in the Guardian Council should be dismissed and retired.

Q: What message do you have for your young supporters?

A: Young people need jobs and decent livings, not to be humiliated in public places by the Guidance patrols, or morality police. Yes, young people have the right to protest, but reasonable, well-considered peaceful and nonviolent protests within law.

The other side is waiting for some blunders committed by the youth to label them as "non-Muslim, thugs and unlawful." So young people must avoid providing any pretexts.

Q: How do you characterize the current government? As illegal? Illegitimate?

A: My description is that it is without wisdom and it lacks expertise. The government is not competent enough to shoulder the complicated affairs of the country. This is not the government to lead a country.

Q: Many complain about the role of the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard) in domestic affairs? What do you think?

A: The IRGC staff are ideological, political-minded military people, and they have the right to be so. But they are not allowed to act in a partisan manner and take sides with a political faction. The late Imam (Ayatollah Khomeini) said in his will that if the Guard gets contaminated with partisanship it would be doomed.

Yes, whenever the Revolution is endangered, they must intervene to save the Revolution. Now there is no such case; there is no need for their involvement. There is no counterrevolution or counterrevolutionary forces in the streets.

Who is a counterrevolutionary? Those with a bright record of activities against the Shah? No. The IRGC belongs to the people. As an institution, it is sacred and must stand aloof from partisanship and not get involved in domestic politics. Otherwise they will, God forbid, be divided.

Q: What about the Basiji? Are they part of the problem? Should people speak out against the Basiji or just some of the Basiji. Do you think they should be blacklisted internationally like al-Qaida? Or would that be counterproductive?

A: Al-Qaida is a terrorist group. The Basij is different. It defended the country in the war (with Iraq). I myself was the head of the Martyrs Foundation, so I know the Basiiji have been self-sacrificing in the past.

But today's Basiji are different. They are not those who defended the country as a sacred task.

During the eight-year war, the Basiji comprised 60 percent of the total martyrs. In those years they were from the grassroots - teachers and students, workers and farmers.
Now the Basiji have been diverted into political activities. Young kids are recruited into today's Basij and are engaging in partisanship.

Nonetheless, I do not believe people must chant slogans against Basiji. Instead we should try to bring them back to their original track in the first decade of the revolution.

And I do not agree with blacklisting the Basiji. If a handful in an organization does wrong things, we should not punish the organization collectively. The Basij is a blessed institution and has been damaged. We should revive its original spirit and save it.

Q: Can foreign governments do anything to help, or will that only hurt your cause?

A: I think it hurts and is counterproductive if foreign governments help. They only must stop being hostile to us.

Q: If there is an attempt to arrest you, will you go underground?

A: I will not go underground. I will act publicly and openly. Even if I am arrested and jailed, and then released, I will go back to open activities.

Q: Will increased pressure on Iran over the nuclear issue hurt or help the Green protest movement? Or the other way round: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compromises with the West, do you think it will help or hurt?

A: Honestly speaking, I have no such calculation in my mind. Generally, I do not agree with any pressure on any government because, at the end of the day, the ordinary people will suffer.

I believe to have access to nuclear science and technology and energy is our right - but within the accepted norms and dialogues of the IAEA. The problem is the government has made enemies for the country with such provocations as the Holocaust conference, with slogans about "death to this and that." Such rhetoric is counterproductive for us on the nuclear issue. If we are transparent enough, why should we give up uranium enrichment?