In an interview with the opposition Kaleme website, Zahra Rahnavard, women’s activist and wife of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has said that the radical elements currently in power in Iran have been present in the country since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and are determined to stay in power “at any cost.”
The veteran activist said that the aim of Ahmadinejad and his allies was to “eliminate” any “thought, idea and ideology” that is not in line with their agenda. “At times, this elimination has been accompanied with suppression and the people’s suffering and at times, it has manifested itself through the chain murders [of reformist figures in the 90s] and [inflicting] pain.”
“In fact, with the election of the ninth government [in 2005], a portion of this radical group, which was either in favour or was involved in the chain killings, is in a position of power and now wants to keep this power by any means [possible] and under any condition. It could be said that following the Islamic Revolution, the radical and oppressive factions that had not yet risen to power, [finally] rose to power during the ninth [presidential] elections [in 2005 that saw Ahmadinejad take office] and will stop at nothing, not even a coup d’état, to maintain power.”
When asked about the post-election clampdowns against protesters, Rahnavard responded by saying that the aftermath of the rigged 2009 presidential election was a “nightmare” for those who had played key roles in the Islamic Revolution’s triumph and had suffered greatly under the Shah’s dictatorship. “They never imagined that such tragedies would ever take place under an Islamic Republic, whose ideals were all against tyrant, suppression, prisons and that police environment [during the Shah’s reign] and [the Islamic Republic] was shaped based on kindness, compassion, humanity, freedom and the union of the nation and state,” she said. Rahnavard told Kaleme that a “great rift” had been formed between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime.
“We never imagined that such mistreatment would take place whether in the streets or inside the prisons. According to us, this was a nightmare [scenario] perpetrated by the Shah’s regime. In any case, the Green Movement’s goal is the rule of the people and not the rule of states.”
In reference to the suppressions and the injustices in the post Islamic Revolution era, the prominent women’s rights activist said that she herself had been a victim of the state’s oppressive measures and had constantly faced the Iranian government’s censorship. “In these thirty years, no one has been more of an opponent [of the regime’s policies] than me. I’ve protested whenever I’ve had information [about the state’s actions], but I have been among the people who has always been under pressure and none of my books have been granted permission for publication … when I saw that I could not be active I sought sanctuary at the university … but this meant that I couldn’t take part in any social activities.”
Rahnavard, who many consider to be Iran’s true “first lady,” stressed that she has always been against actions contrary to freedom and liberty. “Through my writings and speeches, I have always expressed my opposition to oppressive measures when it comes to women’s rights and what they wear,” she continued.
The university professor was also asked about her role in her husband’s 2009 presidential campaign. “When I set foot in the election [race], I knew that I would be attacked ruthlessly. I went against tradition by breaking a mental taboo, and as women do not have the right to take part in the presidential race [as candidates], for the first time [in Iran] I commenced [my] electoral activities as the wife of a candidate,” she said. “I accompanied Mousavi so that I could put forth the ideals that I was fond of, and for me, more important than Mohandes Mousavi’s candidacy was [the fact] that I intended to make use of the opportunity and to defend thought, lawfulness, democracy and the freedom to write as well as [freedom] of speech.”
Rahnavard also explained that her involvement in the presidential race was to draw women and the youth to polling stations and to materialise slogans such as “freedom, rule of law, democracy” and more specifically to “remove gender-based discrimination” in the country. She argued that throughout history, due to oppression, Iranian women had usually been reluctant to play an open role in politics despite influencing the men of power in their lives, “but today, the presence of women has come out from beneath the layers of history and is [no longer] concealed and [restricted] to [simply] having an influence, but rather, it is lucid, serious, rational and out in the open,” she added. She also called Iran’s discriminatory and domineering laws against women, “overbearing.”
“During the election rallies, first [it was] I [who] would make a speech and then he [Mousavi] would speak and these [actions] drew the people and especially women [to the polling stations], and they saw that during the election their demands were being echoed by a woman and this won a great deal of votes for the reformists [but] was then followed by that monumental fraud or electoral coup.”
During the interview, Rahnavard also spoke about the relentless attacks against her by Ahmadinejad and his allies during the 2009 presidential campaign. “They showed their deep sense of resentment towards me by accusing me of having studied illegally and by provoking Mousavi by insulting me,” she said, referring to Ahmadinejad’s infamous television debate with Mir Hossein Mousavi during which he questioned Rahnavard’s academic degree, forcing Mousavi into defending his wife’s academic record.
“By attacking me, he really started a [new] phase in the oppression of women, and by insulting [me] during that television debate, the clampdown on women had begun. After that, I was attacked, in a personal way, numerous times in the streets by anti-riot police who used both electric batons and pepper spray and their websites and media continue to show their profound revulsion towards me through slurs and slanders.”
Zahra Rahnavard expressed dismay over the fact that women have been one of the “most oppressed sectors of society” in Iran, “whose position and rights have always been belittled.” “Women have been oppressed all throughout history,” she said, “and Ahmadinejad’s government represents a portion of the history of oppression against women.”
“Women entered the election [race] in a far more significant way and after the election, they were at the forefront of the Green Movement and the repression against women increased to the same extent, both in the streets and in prisons.”
The opposition figure also blamed the authorities for a radicalisation of the Green Movement’s slogans, but maintained that the movement’s strategy was peaceful with moral and cultural commitments. “But when the ‘Where is my vote?’ slogan is met with such violence, the reactions will be different. They could not use their blunt teeth to untie knots that could have been opened by hand and these blunt teeth of violence, which the regime resorts to, cannot untie this knot. You saw how the slogans went beyond ‘Where is my vote’ and you can see that they have turned into extreme and radical ones.” “Nevertheless,” Rahnavard reminded, “these slogans will never distance themselves from mercy, clemency and companionship and this is the movement’s weapon, otherwise, it will face defeat.”
Rahnavard stressed that the Green Movement’s inception was closely linked with the reform movement in Iran which began in the late 90s after the election of Mohammad Khatami as president in May 1997. She said that the Green Movement was “pluralist, but it does not plan to topple and is not a separatist [movement]. If it speaks about the rights of ethnic [minorities], this does not mean that [the minorities] seek separatism or that we are proposing such an idea. We see this pluralism, while [at the same time] maintaining unity.”
Speaking on the Green Movement’s leadership and the adversary it faces, Rahnavard said that the country’s current rulers were not willing to let go of power and that a “powerful organisation,” armed with weapons and a monopoly over the country’s oil riches and media apparatus, was in control of the country’s affairs. “They oppress the people using these weapons to stay in power,” she said, while praising the Green Movement’s use of its members’ “collective wisdom” which went “beyond individuals.”
“Whether they like it or not, Mr Karroubi, Mousavi and Khatami are considered to be the leaders of the movement and are alongside the people.” she pointed out. “In effect, an interaction has been formed between the nation and the leaders of the movement. Agreeing upon the constitution and its full implementation, while [taking into account] the fact that constitution is subject to change, is at the core of the national agreement within the Green Movement.”
Regarding the issue of state oppression and violence, Rahnavard stated that it would only further provoke and strengthen civil protest. “Let’s not forget that [protesting in] the street is not the only option,” she said. “Violence will strengthen the Green Movement in its path and will help the movement in deepening and become more pervasive,” she added. “Personally, I have prepared myself for the gallows and am prepared to pay with my life for ideals such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”
Also, Rahnavard slammed what she called the Iranian regime’s “belittling” of humans and its interferences in the personal lifestyle and beliefs of individuals. “One woman wishes to be tanned, another prefers to be pale, one dresses one way and the other dress another way, what business of yours is it?” she asked Iranian authorities. Rahnavard also drew parallels between the enforcement of Hijab in post-revolutionary Iran and Reza Shah’s attempts to ban Hijab altogether. She argued that if women and youth were left to themselves, they would strengthen Iran’s “national prestige” and give the country a more “rational” image without compromising personal tastes and individuals’ sense of aesthetics.
In the end, Rahnavard praised the wives of political activists for their political, emotional and at times, romantic letters of support to their husbands behind prison bars and expressed hope that one day, these letters would be published. “Each one, in their own way, has contributed these political literatures to the Green Movement and the Iranian nation.”
Translation by GVF