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Contentions

The Enigmatic Mousavi

I do not trust Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. He is part of the Khomeinist establishment, although a crudely sidelined one at the moment. His record as former prime minister isn’t much more attractive than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s record as president.

The democracy movement is rallying around him, but the activists should be careful. Ruhollah Khomeini managed to convince Iranian liberals and leftists to forge an alliance with him to topple the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979, but he brutally smashed them once the revolution swept the old regime out of power. Alliances between liberals and Islamists is extraordinarily dangerous – for liberals.

At the same time, though, it’s possible that Mousavi has changed. Michael Ledeen seems to think so. “He is not a revolutionary leader,” he wrote, “he is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him…Whatever plans Mousavi had for a gradual transformation of the Islamic Republic, they have been overtaken by events.”

Robert F. Worth published an interesting profile of him in the New York Times. “[Mousavi] is far from being a liberal in the Western sense,” he cautiously wrote, “and it is not yet clear how far he will be willing to go in defending the broad democratic hopes he has come to embody.”

There are some interesting anecdotes in Worth’s piece, though we should be careful before assuming all this is true:

Yet like many founding figures of the revolution, he has come to believe that the incendiary radicalism of the revolution’s early days must be tempered in an era of peace and state-building, those who know him say. Some have seen a symbolic meaning in his decision to make Monday’s vast demonstration in Tehran a march from Enghelab (revolution) Square to Azadi (freedom) Square.

“He is a hybrid child of the revolution,” said Shahram Kholdi, a lecturer at the University of Manchester who has written about Mr. Moussavi’s political evolution. “He is committed to Islamic principles but has liberal aspirations.”

[…]

Although he is deeply religious, Mr. Moussavi (the name is also often rendered in English as Mir Hossein Mousavi) appears to hold relatively liberal social views. His wife is a well-known professor of political science who has campaigned alongside him, often giving speeches and news conferences independently. When they were younger, he was sometimes introduced as “the husband of Zahra Rahnavard.” His wife promised that if he was elected, he would advance women’s rights and appoint “at least two or three women” to the cabinet.

His oldest daughter is a nuclear physicist. The youngest prefers not to wear the Islamic chador, and her parents do not mind, the relative said. “There has never been any compulsion in the family,” the relative added.

In recent years, Mr. Moussavi was deeply dismayed by the excesses of the morality police and by the government’s decisions to shut down newspapers, his relative said.

He decided to run for president earlier this year to save Iran from what he said were Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “destructive” policies.

Mousavi himself probably doesn’t know what his agenda will be a week or a month from today if he’s still alive and out of prison. If he wins the internal power struggle, topples “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, and becomes president, he might end up more Khrushchev than Gorbachev. History, though, is moving at light speed in Iran. And human personalities can be powerfully transformed during volcanic upheavals where the stakes are victory or destruction.



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