Today's date:
Winter 2010

I Support Ayatollah Khomeini’s Republicanism

Mehdi Karroubi is the opposition politician and cleric who has taken a leading role in protests against the results of the recent elections in Iran. At Friday prayers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the opposition of a “harsh response” if they continued their activities.

The Los Angeles Times sat down with Karroubi in Tehran in late August. This interview was made available to NPQ’s weekly column, Global Viewpoint, by the Los Angeles Times.

NPQ | What is at the root of your continuing protests in Iran?

Mehdi Karroubi | Personally, I decided to speak out because I came to the conclusion that what is going on in domestic politics is against the democracy advocated by the late Imam Khomeini. I am concerned that the current government does not believe the axiom of the late Imam that says: “The criterion is the vote of people.” The late Imam Khomeini believed strongly in balloting, not ceremonial elections. Now, I cannot help defending republicanism. If republicanism is damaged, God forbids it. Islam will be undermined, too. I think we should defend that axiom of the late Imam vigorously.

Elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran should therefore be fair and free. I promote and I keep on promoting this idea. In recent years the elections were not fair, as the supervisors of those elections, the Guardian Council, were one-sided.

Our stance is within the framework of the constitution of the Islamic Republic, though we believe some of the articles of the constitution have been neglected. These are the ideas about which we will keep on being vocal.

The issue is very simple: Our people have voted and ask: Where is our vote?

I know all political factions, both of the left and right. If they mustered all their members, it would only amount to one-fifth of the people we have seen in the street. So these are ordinary people out there who want their votes to be counted.

To be sure, there is frustration among the people. They have been waiting for a chance to express themselves. Also, for sure the world will heed to their protests and try to fan the fire. Honestly speaking, if the United States administration does something wrong, do we not highlight it and make a hue and cry? So our enemy does the same to us.

NPQ | How will civil disobedience and demonstrations on the street at this point translate into political change? Why not, as some have suggested, call for strikes in the oil industries and refineries?

Karroubi | Look, political change can be in two forms. The change we are calling for is change within the system and within the constitution. We want observation of citizenship rights.

Someone may call for other kinds of change, but we want change within the constitution. Ten days more of peaceful rallies in the post-election period would not have led to some catastrophe. (Instead of a crackdown), the Guardian Council could have formed a jury to judge the integrity of the balloting. That way, everything could have been settled in a peaceful manner.

As for strikes in the oil industry, I do not believe in such kinds of protests because common people would suffer at the end of the day. I think if we keep on with our current reasonable and peaceful stances, it will lead to good results. In the end, the government cannot defy peaceful reasoning. A heavy crackdown does not work; it has not worked.

Bear in mind, our disputes are not so deep. They are disputes among members of a family. In our family some members have grabbed power without being competent enough. That is the issue. So we do not need that scale of protest, (such as strikes at oil refineries).

NPQ | What’s the strategy for the coming period? What are your aims? What are you trying to achieve?

Karroubi | For us, gaining freedom of press is a win. It is a win for us if the rights of people are observed. Freedom of association is a win. Stopping the show trials is a win. To win is to have an impartial Guardian Council.

One member of the Guardian Council clearly took sides with the current government recently at Tehran Friday prayers. He said that big figures among the reformists must be arrested. I say in counter argument that the big fishes in the Guardian Council should be dismissed and retired.

NPQ | What message do you have for your young supporters?

Karroubi | Young people need jobs and decent livings, not to be humiliated in public places by the Guidance patrols, or morality police. Yes, young people have the right to protest, but reasonable, well-considered peaceful and nonviolent protests within law.

The other side is waiting for some blunders committed by the youth to label them as “non-Muslim, thugs and unlawful.” So young people must avoid providing any pretexts.