You say you want an Arab Revolution: the Green movement in Iran

By Gianluca Mezzofiore

The current struggle for power in Iran and the impact of the Arab Spring on the country were the topics for an animated First Wednesday debate at the Frontline Club last night.

Award-winning journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan pointed out that nobody in the past 20 years dared to expose the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei as President Mahmud Ahmadinejad had in the last 2 months.

“Everything in Iran is so ironic,” he said. “The Arab Spring is behind the current fight for leadership in Iran. Ahmadinejad is panicked and fears losing power.”

In April, a public disagreement put the two maximum authorities of the country at odds. The controversial President of Iran allegedly forced Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi to resign, raising the anger of Khamenei, seen as the “backbone” of the Islamic Republic.

The reason for this rivalry lies in the Messianic nature of Ahmadinejad, according to Potkin Azarmehr, an Iranian blogger and activist.

“He’s disillusioned because he thinks to have God on his side,” he said. “He’s a maniac. If Iran becomes a secular state the world will be beautiful. Repressive organs are in the hand of the Supreme Leader. He runs everything from the media to the judiciary system.”

Sanam Dolatshahi, producer for BBC Persian TV interactive programme, disagreed fiercely with Azarmehr. “Ahmadinekad is not a maniac, and nor do I believe in his Messianic nature,” she said. “He’s clever and knows his audience. He uses his rhetoric for his purposes.”

Nazenin Ansari, Iranian journalist working as the diplomatic editor of Kayhan London, a weekly Persian-language newspaper, shared the same opinion.

“He’s a populist,” she said. “He knows that population in Iran is becoming more secular and plays with that.”

The panel then moved on to analyse the Green movement’s protests in 2009 and the possible influence of Arab Spring in the Iranian society.

“I think the Green movement has been crushed and now Syria is learning from it, blocking media and killing people,” said Lindsey Hilsum, International editor of Channel 4 News. “Iran is not allowing foreign journalists. They have a lot of things to hide. Of course Arab uprisings made Iranians very envious.”

“The Green movement in Iran has been suppressed, not killed,” echoed Saeed. “It still has power and potential. Its greatest achievement was to make people more politically mature.”

However, according to Nazenin the government was very clever to arrest the organisers of the Green movement and not their symbolic leaders like Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

“What we learnt from Iran is that the revolutions have to be real, not virtual to succeed,” she pointed out.

The role of Twitter and other social media was also played down by Saeed, who was in Tehran during the unrest in 2009.

“At that time, I didn’t know what Twitter was,” he said. “I think its role is exaggerated by official media, even in Tunisia and Egypt uprisings. We can’t really talk of a ‘Twitter revolution’.”

At the end of the debate, Pokin addressed the audience inviting them to express solidarity with the Green movement.

“Never underestimate the power of public opinion in challenging human rights abuses, like in the past with Vietnam war and South African apartheid,” he said.

Full video of the event can be viewed here.