I’m grateful to post an interview with Iranian activist, Parvin Ardalan, by courtesy of the original author Farooq Sulehria. The article was caught up by myself when Farooq has circulated it around Socialist Pakistan Newnetwork (or SPN) list members, in which I am enrolled.
A few days ago, Iran has hit again the headlines of the international media as the street protest took place coincidly with the 30th anniversary rally to mark the storming of the US Embassy during the 1979 Islamic revolution. Now BBC has just reported : “109 protester were detained for the public order offences after Wednesday’s protests in Tehran” quoating officials. Nontheless, it doesn’t seem that the opposition protest would be simply crackdowned to be disappeared, rather be expected to show up with time-leg. In that regard, I believe the following interview has a significant indications of political developments of the country.
Iran was making headlines the other day yet again. It reminded me of Parvin Ardalan.
An Iranian activist, Parvin was awarded Olof Palme Award. She was recently in Stockholm. Below is the interview I conducted for my paper Internationalen.Mazdoor Jeddojuhad also ran this interview two weeks back. Hope it answers many questions we all have in our minds. – Farooq Sulehria-
Iranian activist Parveen Ardalan was recently in Stockholm to receive Olof Palme prize for championing women rights in Iran. She was awarded the prize two years back but travel restrictions delayed her arrival to Sweden. Internationalen’s Farooq Sulehria caught up with Parveen for an interview. Excerpts:
Internationalen: Where have the demonstrators, we saw in June, all disappeared?
Parvin : These demonstrations were a reaction to the cheating in elections. This cheating was not new. Even in the previous presidential elections, there were allegations of cheating. Mehdi Karobi, for instance, raised hue and cry about cheating. He claimed to have got more votes.
But his voice was not that strong and nobody took to streets. Ahead of the present election, the regime in order to legitimise itself, wanted more and more people to cast their votes.
The candidates contesting elections against Ahmedinejad were approved by Guardian Council. They were opposition but not the secular opposition. Some of these candidates of the opposition like Mousavi or Karobi, also thought that a high turn out would lead to their victory. They also wanted more and more people to vote. They had Khatmi’s victory in mind. They thought a high turn out would make cheating difficult.
But in my view, a high turn out also meant that time for coup d’etat was drawing closer. The regime does not want to lose the power even in the election and is ready to use military to stay in power.
Now this election also became a civil action for social rights. People came out to vote as a way to exercise their political right. The regime did not expect this big participation.
When it happened, the regime reacted and then demonstrations took place. The regime tried to frighten people through arrests and repression. Apparently, the regime has succeeded in doing that. But in the longer run, it will be different. But something has happened. They are sloping down. Its not like 1979. Back then there was Islamic regime whose power was increasing. Now regime’s power is decreasing. Something has happened. There is a new start. They can not stop it. The legitimacy of the regime has disappeared. This is important. Even important is the fact that there is now a leadership, a collective, plural leadership. There are now many voices and any leader can be criticised. It was not possible to criticise a leader before. The movement continues. We will see little by little, things happening.
Internationalen: If elections were cheated even in 2005, why people did not protest back then?
Parvin : People were not happy with the reformists. The reformists did not meet the expectations. They did not want Rafsanjani either. The reformists promised that all voices would be heard. But they did not allow it. They promised that secular voices would not be stifled, but they did. The people were optimistic neither about reformists nor Rafsanjani back in 2005. Also, Karobi was not very well known. He was a cleric, on top of that. Ahmedinejad was not very well known either. He was a mayor wearing suit and tie instead of clerical robes. He invoked a populist image, appearing as a man of poor. Anyway, when he won, nobody cared about it. But this time, we had seen Ahmedinejad for four years. Last time, people did not follow reformists. But this time, they did. Also, Mousavi last time was not there. He was involved this time after 20 years. He was seen as somebody who has been away from power for so long.
Internationalen: Ahmedinejad cultivated an image of ”poor man’s president”. He is seen as such in certain circles as such in Pakistan or many Muslim countries. Even some left intellectuals bought this propaganda. But did poor really benefit under his first term?
Parvin: Ahmedinejad proved very clever. He played with the psychology of the people. Well, it was good thing that he went to many small cities ahead of elections and met people. Talking to people and listening them was good. But it was mere a propaganda tactic. Not to solve their problems. He handed out money to poor as if they were beggars. But it does not eliminate poverty. True, it has an impact when people see that Ahmedinejad is helping them, listening them. This propaganda was good. But in the longer run, does not benefit the poor.
However, in general price hike has gone up. Renting a house is becoming impossible. I am finding food items like milk, rice, meat and bread cheaper in Stockholm than Tehran. A kilo of meat in Tehran costs $ 15. A litre of milk costs one US dollar almost. The agricultural inputs for peasants have become too expensive, for instance, for rice growers to afford. They are turning to other crops.
This propaganda that poor supported Ahmedinejad is not true. For instance in north of Tehran, we have neighbourhoods for Sipah (army) and Basij (militia). They have their own exclusive cooperatives where they go shopping. They support Ahmedinejad. Also, the complexion of Bazaris and poor have changed. The poor are not necessarily uneducated too. Similarly, defining middle class is not that simple any more. There are bazaris who support Ahmedinejad.
International: Is it mere a myth then that Ahmedinejad is a man of poor?
Parvin : Well, it is true that he enjoys popularity in small towns. He cultivated that popularity in a populistic way. True, many people voted for him. But this does not mean that he really was the winner.
Internationalen: Every time Ahmedinejad denies Holocaust, defies the USA on nuclear question or challenges Israel, his popularity in Muslim world goes up. Does he muster support in this way inside Iran too?
Parvin : Well, his supporters try to use all this to propagate but if you talk to people on the street, among journalists, among intellectuals, nobody cares. In this case, he is more popular outside of Iran. Also, every time the regime starts violating human rights, it at the same time invokes the nuclear issue.
Right now, at domestic front the regime is threatening journalists and arresting activists. But internationally engaged in negotiations with international powers on nuclear question.
Internationalen: There is also an impression that Khatmi regime wanted to privatise while Ahmedinejad is opposed to privatisation. What’s the truth?
Parvin : Both want to privatise. However, Ahmedinejad says one thing and does the other. The Telecommunication industry, for instance, is now has been handed over to Sipah (military). What is it? Military and militia is taking over economy. Therefore, we can say that Ahmedinejad is privatising (and militarising) the economy. But this is a privatisation for themselves. This I think is more dangerous.
Internationalen: How big the secular forces are inside the opposition?
Parvin : It is hard to say as everything is happening very quick in Iran. I can not point out. But little by little secular forces are becoming big. In last 30 years, we have seen that fundamentalists became reformists or liberals, some even became secular. There have been people who were part of the authority but became part of opposition in the society. I am optimistic and think future voice in Iran should be secular. But, of course, it is an uphill task.
Internationalen: Hugo Chavez has internationally appeared as a symbol of anti-imperialism and is playing a progressive role in his country and region. But is supportive of Ahmedinejad. How does his support affects the progressives and their struggle in Iran?
Parvin : First time, it was in fact Fidel Castro who shocked us. He during his visit to Iran some ten years ago, went to Ayotollah Khomeni’s grave to pay his tributes. Then Hugo Chaves came time and again, Ortega came too. Many leftists came. Che’s children paid a visit too. Even some leftists in Iran started defending these left visitors saying they need Ahmedinejad’s support against the USA. Few leftists in Iran said Hugo Chavez did not know about human rights violations in Iran. There was a debate inside Iran. But this regime is also improving relations with Arab countries and not just with left-wing governments. In my view, it is attempting to become big power in Middle East. There are some who say Iran is against the USA. It’s good if it becomes strong. But then what is the meaning of democracy and human rights? For us in Iran, Chaves’ support for Ahmedinejad was funny. (ends)