Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Lisa Daftari, a journalist specializing in Iranian affairs. She is a guest contributor on Fox News and has been published in Frontpage Magazine, Washington Post, CBS.com, NBC, Voice of America, and PBS.
FP: Lisa Daftari, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about the future of Iran’s freedom movement.
I think the best way for us to start is for you to update our readers on the current status of Iran’s Green Movement. Tell us about its beginnings two years ago and how it has diminished. What has been the role of the reformist leaders in slowing down or progressing the movement over the last two years?
Daftari: Thank you Jamie, it is my pleasure to speak with you.
Well, I think I should start by differentiating between the understandings of what the Green Movement actually is. To a lot of people, the Green Movement simply refers to the uprising that occurred in Iran following the election of 2009 where many Iranians felt the election was fraudulent and rushed into the streets. This is the biggest uprising that Iran had seen in 30 years since the Islamic Theocracy has been in power. In actuality, the Green Movement is not a pro-democracy movement. It is a pro-reform movement, which means that Iran would still function under the Islamic Republic, but it would be led by one of the other candidates who would have won the Presidency. The two candidates were Karoubi and Mousavi, who are both veteran politicians within the Islamic regime.
Both were hoping to have a chance at the Presidency. Now when a lot of these young people came out into the streets, there was a fusion of sorts. They were asking to get back their votes, “Give me back my vote,” was the slogan of the uprising, but slowly people began to regret even walking into the polls, because when you vote, you actually acknowledge the government. They then turned this “Green Movement” into an anti-regime movement, saying, for the most part, we don’t even want these reformist candidates, we want the entire regime to be done away with. So there are different understandings of what the Green Movement actually signifies, what it actually represents.
Green is a very important color in Islam. We can see today in Libya, it is Qadaffi’s go-to color as well. So this Green Movement for some people just represents a freedom movement for the people of Iran, who actually want regime change. It also represents a young movement, especially because the world recognized for the first time in 30 years that the Iranian people are 70 million, many under the age of 30 and 35 years old. They are educated. They have a high energy. They know about the Western world and they want their freedoms. This basically got intertwined with the movement that these reformist candidates wanted to push forward. Also, a lot of people have problems with these reformist candidates because they have the blood of many innocent Iranians on their hands. They don’t exactly have clean records.
For example, the number of executions under Mousavi’s time, or watch, outnumber the number of executions done under Ahmadinejad’s watch, and I don’t know if a lot of people know that, or the fact that he is related to Khamenei, the clerical head of the country. So there are a lot of misunderstandings as to what is going on or what the people want. Obviously there is a lack of organization on the part of the Iranian opposition that leads to a lot of these misunderstandings and leads to a lot of confusion, both for the people and for the outside world trying to understand what is going on in Iran over the last two years.
FP: Can you please explain why the movement was successful in spreading to other parts of the world, but could not make significant changes in Iran before fading out?
Daftari: Right now we are watching the last moments of the Arab Spring unfold in the Middle East, and a lot of people give credit to Tunisia and Egypt for starting the movement, when in fact Iran was first in the region in 2009 to have full scale uprisings against their regime. For Iran, it was the most significant anti-government display they had seen in the last 30 years, despite the fact that there had always been smaller protests throughout. In 1999 they had the”Hejdayeh Teer” or the 18th of the month of Teer, the uprisings at Tehran University, but that was quickly quashed. That had been the most significant uprising until 2009. It was only in 2009 when the people came out into the streets and said enough is enough, deciding that they would do whatever they could to let their voices be heard. But, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, there was less brutality and violence against the people as there was in Iran. In Iran, they actually imported Basiji Militia men to be in the streets to stop demonstrators. They rounded people up. They came into people’s homes. So the regime is quite masterful at stopping these movements and keeping their stronghold on the government, not allowing these demonstrations to spread beyond the point they had already spread.
So unfortunately the movement slowed down. A lot of people were arrested. A lot of the consequences were too great for people, for their families, for professionals, for journalists, and photojournalists. I speak to people all the time who wanted to give everything they had, but unfortunately when the stakes are so high, the consequences become unbearable and people have to go home or leave the country in order to live another day. That being said, the Iranian people were extremely successful directly following the announcement of the election results in June of 2009 and months following, to go out into the streets, to have their stories heard, to use the Internet and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to tell their stories.
Where journalists were not allowed, the people went in, they told their stories, and were very much successful in turning the attention of the world to their plight and the gross human rights violations within their country. They brought attention to the fact that the only problem that the world has with the Iranian regime is not just their ongoing nuclear agenda, but also in spreading this terrorist and extremist ideology that they use against their own people.
FP: We see the mainstream media giving heavy coverage to Egypt, Libya and Syria, but Iran is virtually ignored. How come?
Daftari: The easy answer would be to say that journalists are not allowed in Iran. Firstly, very few foreign journalists are allowed to be inside the country and secondly, even the Iranian journalists who are inside the country and want to express themselves and send out pictures are forced to face the consequences. A young man I interviewed took the cover shot that was used on Time Magazine’s cover of the 2009 post election uprisings. He was searched for. There was a warrant out for his arrest and he had to escape the country. On the one hand, getting your photo on the cover of Time Magazine is such a huge accomplishment, for anyone, particularly someone living in Iran. And to have his “reward” then be that he has to escape the country, leave his family, leave his friends, because of such a huge accomplishment…The obstacles are great; whether it be the fact that journalists are not allowed in the country or the fact that Iranian journalists are very fearful to contribute, to put their stories out, to do a blog, to actually be interviewed. I have a hard time getting interviews that are not “anonymous.” Nobody wants to speak. Nobody wants to be responsible. Nobody wants to put things up on Facebook, on Twitter. There are crackdowns and people are really scared to voice their opinions.
FP: What do you see as the future of the Green Movement or the results of the uprisings? Do you think the authority of leaders like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will grow or do you think there is a chance that this regime will collapse?
Daftari: It’s going to be hard to tell what will happen. Obviously the people of Iran have understood that what happened in 2009 in the aftermath of the election will not be the solution, or will not result in the toppling of the regime, but that there has to be something more forceful, more organized. They definitely lack a viable leader, and I don’t think that the Green Movement, and the way I’m defining it, have real leaders in Karoubi and Mousavi. They will not be the leaders going forward because the Iranian people realized that in order to get the freedoms that they want, in order to have freedom of press, freedom of religion, women’s rights, gay rights, you name it, they will have to do away with this regime and this ideology.
I think that if the Iranian people were to come out into the streets again, risking their lives again, this time around they would go for it all; they would go for something that would actually make a significant change in their lives. We have elections coming up again in 2013 and as we get closer, hopefully the Iranian people will have a better chance at getting or at least expressing their views on what they want in a government. This time around I think they are looking more heavily to the international community to help and support them just as the allies have supported Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Iranians believe they deserve the same chance.
FP: Thank you Lisa Daftari for joining us.