FrontPage Interview's guest today is Roozbeh Farahanipour, an Iranian journalist, democracy activist, former political prisoner in Iran and head of Marze Por Gohar Party(MPG), an Iranian opposition party seeking the establishment of an secular republic in Iran. He was a student leader in the 1999 uprising, just one year after creating MPG.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I'd like to talk to you today about the election coming up in Iran on June 12. How do you see it? What does an election mean exactly within the framework of the Islamic Republic?
Farahanipour: Thanks Jamie.
The Islamic Republic, like other totalitarian regimes, wants to give the impression that the Iranian people are free to choose their leaders, when in fact they don't even have such basic rights such as deciding what color clothes to wear, much less free elections. A point which is frequently overlooked is the fact that the Islamic Republic is a theocracy, meaning Iranians are really just spectators in this regime and have no say, no choice in matters.
The Islamic Republic has two parallel governments: The one in charge of day to day affairs is the one which is subject to the current highly controlled "elections" but the real government which is really in charge of policy making in all vital issues -- foreign and domestic- is the office of the Supreme Leader which has departments duplicating all the major ministries. The "official" government can be criticized, humored (sometimes) and holds highly controlled "elections" but the real government has no elections and cannot even be criticized or humored -- it is regarded as a holy entity- and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader, while it consumes huge amounts of the nation's wealth and resources.
The "official" government, holding "elections" these days is mainly a faÃ§ade for the real one and its "elections" are tools for legitimizing the Islamic system domestically and internationally. This government is also a means for periodical sharing of the massive looting of the nation's wealth between Islamic factions and their cliques.
FP: Why is voting important for the regime?
Farahanipour: In a democracy the people are the sovereign, the real holders of power are the people. "Islamic Democracy" simply takes just one popular aspect of a real democracy - the elections - and incorporates that into its theocracy. Merely having elections does not transform a theocracy into a democracy.
Khomeini is frequently quoted as saying that "justice is measured by the vote of the people." However, that is just one portion of his quote. Khomeini's full comments are: "Those who do not accept Islam must leave the country. Only those who recognize us as the legitimate government are allowed to vote. Those that are allowed to vote are free to make their choice, however I cannot recognize those votes that are against my ideals. Justice is measured by the vote of the people." It must be noted that it is the supreme leader that appoints the president, thus if the supreme leader is only going to recognize the "votes" that he wants -- those who agree with him and his ideology - then obviously voting has no real value. Besides, at the end of the day, if the supreme leader deems the person with the most votes is unfit to be president, then he can simply discard the votes and the candidate and appoint another one instead.
Khamene'i recently stated: "The issue with elections is not a matter of which candidate to vote for, the first issue [what matters most] is your participation. It is your participation that strengthens the regime; it strengthens the pillars of the regime... It strengthens the regime against our enemies... So the paramount issue is [your] participation... In order to confront the enemy we must vote. The elections are our national humility. Foreigners are watching closely to see the level of participation in the elections. All the candidates that have been vetted by the Guardian Council are all acceptable by me."
During the Friday prayer on May 22, 2009, Khamene'i said:
"We ask the people understand the importance of this term's elections... If less than 40 million vote this year, it will mean that people are indifferent to regime... The legitimacy of the regime will come under question if less than 40 million vote. If we can conduct an exciting election with high turnout, we will have insured the regime for another 4 years. If less than 40 million vote, it will be a blow for the regime."
FP: Would you explain a little bit about the filtering of candidates?
Farahanipour: The Islamic Republic's constitution, which we do not recognize, describes an elaborate filtering mechanism by various government institutions which allow it to weed-out anyone who is deemed unfit to be a candidate for various positions in government [including the presidency]. For example, in order for an Iranian to be vetted as a presidential candidate, the theocracy's constitution outlines in addition to other requirement that this individual must be:
- a male
- a practicing Shiite Muslim
- sworn to uphold the regime's constitution
- proven loyal to the supreme leader
- accepted by the supreme leader
Virtually anyone can register to be a candidate for the Islamic Republic's presidency, but there's a powerful government organ, the Guardian Council, whose job it is to "approve" the applicants. Out of the 485 applicants, only FOUR were vetted to run for the presidency. The previous presidential race began with 1,014 applicants and ultimately only EIGHT were "cleared" to run. During the 5th term, almost immediately after Khomeini's death, the Guardian Council approved only two applicants, one a virtual unknown and the other Rafsanjani who at the time was speaker of parliament -- it should be pretty clear who won that one and how.
FP: What do you make of the argument that Iranians are choosing between bad and worse?
Farahanipour: Every regime wants to prove its legitimacy to its citizens in the interregnal interim, and voting is one of the best ways to accomplish this. The Islamic Republic's propaganda arm holds campaigns to give the illusion that the elections are very close and to create a buzz and excitement among Iranians. The people as always try to pick the path of least resistance and thus falsely believe that they can make their voices heard by participating in these sham elections. One will find it extremely difficult to use the regime's own tools to dismantle the regime itself - an exercise in futility that has been attempted repeatedly for the last 30 years to no avail.
However, even within the primitive and truculent framework of the Islamic Republic, people still retain the right to withhold their vote and not participate in this burlesque production. They have the right not to vote and will exercise it.
FP: Some say the only people who boycott the elections are the opposition, who are detached from what is going on in Iran. Is that so?
Farahanipour: The groups and organizations that have boycotted the elections are primarily inside Iran, such as the Iranian National Front, the Iranian Nation Party, Marze Por Gohar and other nationalistic entities. The regime tries to have it both ways: they try to discredit Iranians living outside of Iran who support boycotting by claiming they [boycott supporters] are detached and out of touch, while at the same time they provide logistical support to pro-regime entities living outside Iran to help promote the elections. The latter is in fact illegal: it is illegal for the Islamic Republic to place ballot boxes in foreign states with which it has no official relations. Meaning, it is illegal for the Islamic Republic to place ballot boxes in the Unites States and count the votes cast here in the states for the elections in Iran.
There are many organizations and personalities who were forced to leave Iran or face imprisonment or execution. This is another campaign initiated by the Islamic Republic's Intelligence Ministry, to attempt discrediting opposition figures.
It is interesting that the father of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini, himself lived in exile for 15 years before being ushered back to Iran. During those 15 years, no one told him to stop preaching because he was abroad and therefore "detached" from the realities in Iran.
FP: What's the history behind the four approved candidates?
Farahanipour: Mir-Hossein Mousavi was a student studying architecture during the Shah's regime at Tehran University. Two years after the revolution (1981), he was nominated as the Prime Minister by Khomeini. He was responsible, as head of the Council of Cultural Revolution, for shutting down the entire university system for four years. Starting in 1988, on the orders of Khomeini, a council was formed, with Mousavi as a member, to revise the regime's constitution to drastically increase the powers of the supreme leader.
Mousavi's socialist ideology became very apparent during the 1980s when he initiated Islamic Socialist policies such as subsidized food coupons, oil coupons and converting private enterprises into government controlled entities. Mousavi was also responsible for mass executions during the early and the late 80s when tens of thousands were executed and their bodies dumped into mass graves. Now after twenty years he has re-emerged as a candidate for the Islamic Republic's presidency.
Mehdi Karroubi was a prisoner during the Shah's rule for engaging in revolutionary activities. In 1982 Khomeini appointed Karroubi to coordinate pilgrimages to Mecca. In 1985, while Karroubi was the coordinator, a conflict erupted between Iranian pilgrims and Arabs in Saudi Arabia resulting in death for many Iranians. Subsequent to the slayings in Saudi Arabia, he was appointed as head of the Foundation for Families of Martyrs. It was during this time that Karroubi was able to embezzle large sums of money that were to be distributed to the families who had lost loved ones during the war and the revolution.
Additionally, it was during his leadership that Karroubi became infamous for numerous sexual scandals and severe corruption. Due to his differences with other high-ranking clerics, he established a new government-funded party which enabled him to become speaker of parliament and an opponent of Rafsanjani. During the 6th term of the Islamic Republic's Parliament, many controversial events took place, starting with the selection of the so-called "reformist", Mohammad Khatami, as the regime's president. In spite of promises during his campaign for presidency that he would support a free press, Karroubi reneged on his promise and on the orders of Khamene'i prevented the parliament from voting on a bill to ease press restrictions. Karroubi was also a candidate for the 2005 elections with one of his campaign slogans being "I'll buy your vote for $50." In a country where the average person makes $250 per month, $50 was a lot for just a vote and thus Karroubi took the second highest number of votes.
Mohsen Reza'i formed an opposition group called "Mansour Van" in Ahvaz during Shah's time. Mohsen Sazegara formed the Islamic Republic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) in 1980 and Reza'i was appointed the first commander of the IRGC at the age of 27 without even a high school diploma. In the Iranian Kurdestan province, he's well known as the "butcher of Kurds" for the brutality he exhibited during the early days of the revolution.
In a TV interview, Reza'i boasted about how he had beheaded Kurds and brought them back to Tehran. During the Iran-Iraq war he helped extend the war for 5 unnecessary years which caused the deaths of more then one million people. In 1988 he left his military position and declared that he would pursue cultural activities. Reza'i began referring to himself as doctor and added the "Dr." title to his name, even though he did not even finish high school.
Mohsen Rezai was also found guilty in 1994 for the Argentine Jewish Center bombing and Interpol has issued a warrant for his arrest.
He is currently working as the Secretary of the Expediency Council under Rafsanjani.
As for Ahmadinejad, well, he is already well-known to everyone.
FP: How do these candidates view the U.S.?
Farahanipour: The foreign policies are set by supreme leader, Ali Khamene'i. However, all these candidates have proved their anti-American ideas at different times. Mohsen Reza'i, one of the candidates, is the plotter of the 1982 explosion in the US embassy in Lebanon which cost hundreds of American lives. Mousavi is one of the anti-Americans during Cold War Iran. Karroubi caused hundreds of Iranians killed by the Saudi government for anti-American protest. Ahmadinejad is one of the most infamous anti-Americans in the world.
However, because of the Iranian people's empathy with the U.S. and their affinity with all things American, and their belief in the land of freedom, these candidates, adjusting to the realities on the ground, are trying to get more votes by denying their own anti-American past and embellishing their opponents' history of anti-American activities and ideology.
FP: What about their views on Israel?
Farahanipour: The views of all candidates have been historically identical on Israel. Not only have they all declared their dedication to the destruction of the State of Israel, but whenever they did hold public offices, they were very active in providing the means for such destruction.
Mousavi, for example was the Prime Minister -- when this office existed as the actual head of the cabinet in the 1980s - under whose direction Islamic Revolutionary Guards entered Lebanon in huge numbers and laid the framework for today's Lebanese Hezbollah and established the IRI's hold on Lebanon, for the purpose of militarily engaging and destroying Israel.
Karroubi also declared his intention and even his "leading" role in sending IRI military forces to fight Israel on various occasions. In fact, just last week during the televised debates (available on the internet) in Iran, Ahmadinejad reminded Karroubi of his speech in Saudi Arabia a decade ago of promising to send 300,000 Iranian fighters to fight Israel.
Reza'i, as the head of the Revolutionary Guards for a long time, presided over the establishment of the infamous Ghods Force of the IRGC, whose mission was the conquest of Israel in addition to its worldwide duty of spreading the Islamic Revolution by force and by terrorism.
These days, while two candidates are trying to rebuke Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust comments and extremist declarations for the destruction of Israel, their angle is not that these ideas are wrong, but that they have caused international isolation for Iran. These candidates are of the opinion that such ideological tasks should be carried forth without bold advertisement or open threats before the means for them are ready and the situation is ripe.
FP: What do you predict will happen after the elections?
Farahanipour: No matter who is selected, Khamene'i has the last word on all matters. Therefore, even if there are differences among the various factions in the government, they will follow whatever political line Khamene'i sets. It's fairly obvious that the Islamic Republic is seeking to engage in some manner with the Obama administration.
And while the world anticipates normalized relations between the US and the theocracy and all attentions are on diplomacy, as it were, the clerics will be perfecting their nuclear program in peace and without hindrance.
Obviously one of the requests the regime has made to the US is the dismantlement of the opposition in the United States. As we've seen in other places, where there is an Islamic Republic embassy, there are terrorist activities, with the most recent case being Baku, Azerbaijan.
FP: Does the opposition get financial support from foreigners?
Farahanipour: We believe that some opposition groups are being financed by foreigners. However, the Islamic Republic accuses every opposition group of spying and betraying the motherland. They are trying to prove that the opposition does not care about the motherland and the Iranian people. Yet, this propaganda by the regime has not changed the Iranian people's attitude towards nationalistic and patriotic groups which only believe in the motherland and her territorial integrity and the freedom of Iranian people.
The United States, for example, has tried to provide very limited funding for a few individuals and groups whose opposition work is limited to human rights research or promoting certain reformist elements in Iran. The famous multi-million dollar funding for the Iranian opposition is mostly spent on US radio, TV and media who, as a rule, do not engage in anti-regime propaganda, such as the Voice of America and others who try very hard not to even include opposition figures in their programs.
FP: What about the regime?
Farahanipour: It seems that the leaders and factions within today's regime have received the biggest shares of foreign funds to date. Michael Evans has recently revealed in his book that Jimmy Carter gave $150 million to Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris, while he was the opposition leader against the Shah in 1978; this is the equivalent of probably $1.5 billion in today's purchasing power of the dollar in Iran.
Ahmadinejad, just last week, accused Hashemi Rafsanjani of taking huge sums of money from the Saudis, when he was in competition with Ahmadinejad in the Presidential elections of 2005. These days we can clearly understand the value of the free media coverage that Karroubi and Mousavi are receiving from the VOA and other US media.
FP: In what framework would you be willing to participate in an Iranian election as a political party?
Farahanipour: We believe in a new constitution which has to be confirmed by the majority of Iranians. This constitution has to guarantee the equality of all Iranians regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity and language. Second, all parties must have equal and guaranteed rights and time to express their ideas and opinions, publish in print or on websites, have access to Iranian media, in addition to authorized offices and centers to express their ideology, conduct discourse, raise funds, etc. The elections have to be free elections with no filtering whatsoever. We also believe in freeing all political prisoners, immediately.
FP: Roozbeh Farahanipour, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
By Jamie Glazov