The Unhappy Anniversary

The Iranian system has reached a point of repression saturation


The Unhappy Anniversary
by Rouzbeh Parsi and Trita Parsi

Thursday, on the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei’s government was fighting for its survival, as leaders of the country’s opposition Green Movement sought to take back a revolution gone astray.

Even as demonstrators participated in carefully choreographed pro-government displays, the fact that the Iranian authorities had to turn off the Internet, disable access to Gmail, and fill the streets with riot police and paramilitary Basij served to illustrate the dilemma in which the Khamenei regime now finds itself.

The Iranian system has reached a point of repression saturation. It is difficult to see what more can be done in the name of religion and revolution to delay or renege on a century-long Iranian promise of justice, equality, and popular sovereignty.

In this context, February 11 takes on huge symbolic significance as the most important secular anniversary in the current Iranian political calendar. It marks the promise of a life without monarchical despotism, but also, in hindsight, all that can go wrong with a revolution.

Today, the Iranian revolution, like all its historical predecessors, is devouring its own children. The eradication of co-revolutionaries in the immediate aftermath of victory against the shah can be explained (though not excused) by the political rivalry that always follows the defeat of a common enemy. But the attempt in the last eight months to subdue the reformist wing of the political elite in Tehran constitutes an attempt to bury, once and for all, the ideals that originally animated the revolution.

What’s at stake now is not just the survival of the reformists, but the very possibility of Iran’s eventual transition toward a democratic system. By reneging on its promise of justice and political liberties—and by refusing to take part in a national debate about what the ideals and goal of the republic should be—the radical conservatives have in effect negated the very notion of a republic, and of a nation of citizens with minds of their own and the political autonomy to express themselves.

To get away with this backward march of folly, the hardliners seem to believe that they must kill the very children of the revolution—the ones who led the revolution and still feel obliged to honor its promises.

By coercing the Iranian people to acquiesce to the absolute rule of an unelected guardian, the government is accomplishing a revolution in a literal sense, by creating a circular movement that ends where it started. In order to maintain their grip on power, acting in the name of religion, the radical conservatives in government are imprisoning the very leaders who helped bring an end to secular monarchical despotism 31 years ago.

In the flawed-yet-lively Iranian electoral system, the reformists have not only been drawing on their own experience, but have also tapped into the aspirations and frustrations of several generations of Iranians. The Green Movement has resiliently, and overwhelmingly peacefully, resisted the repression with which their demands for greater transparency, justice, and accountability have been met. The movement is an amorphous amalgamation of citizens from all walks of life, including leading members of the clergy, the supposed core of the regime’s leadership.

The tent of the Green Movement is large, containing many different political philosophies and goals. There are the elements around Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, who wants to reclaim the revolution through a nonviolent campaign within the framework of the current constitution. There are also people within the movement who see an opportunity to do away with Iran's Islamic system as a whole.

The coalition is held together not just by a rejection of the dubious election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but by the realization that Iran would take a giant leap toward becoming a military dictatorship if the hardliners win.

A Green victory will not automatically lead to democracy, but it will keep the path open to a gradual, controllable transition toward democracy. A path that can keep the hope of a century-long promise alive.

First published in

Rouzbeh Parsi is research fellow at the European Institute for Security Studies

Trita Parsi is the president of the National Iranian American Council and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.



Thanks Trita and Rouzbeh

by MM on

I agree with your conclusion

"A Green victory will not automatically lead to democracy, but it will keep the path open to a gradual, controllable transition toward democracy. A path that can keep the hope of a century-long promise alive."

But, a more direct way of uttering your conclusion is to say that; in order to reach true democracy, the green movement, especially in the Iranian Diaspora, has gone beyond and wants

1. separation of religion and politics, and

2. implementation of UN's human rights charter.

Currently, many green in Iran are still nostalgically attached to Karrubi / Mousavi / Khatami axis, but by passage of time, they will see that these three still want to work within the VF system, and that whole system is not compatible with true democracy.


A clear misrepresentation of events and facts

by Sohrab_Ferdows on

I don't think this is due to delusional evaluation and interpretation of the facts that authors of the above article have come up with such conclusions about "openning gradual path to democracy" but a clear intent to mislead readers about the issue. Making vague statements like "flawed-yet-lively Iranian electoral system" is an obvious attempt by authors to misrepresent the fact that the whole system is based on a flawed constitution and that is the source of all current and future troubles for Islamic Republic (and more so for Iranian people) no matter how long it survives. Through many elections of last 30 years in Islamic Republic, Iranian people (not the phony greeens) have come to realize that, it is not through any election that they can force religious dictatorship to change and submit to the will of the people.

Coming to power of Ahmadinejad 5 years ago, was direct result of total disappointment after 8 years of presidency of Mohammad Khatami who apparently represented hope of "change" through reform which were dashed when it became clear that he was just a stamp on the bottom of big contracts to bring fortune for a variety of corporations to support continuity of the miserable religious dictatorship in Iran. When Khatami was confronted by Iranian young students for his shameless lies they were called "hooligans" by him to indicate that he had no more use for them! That is what the phony greens want, another 8 year of ride, and possibly more, at the expense of Iranian people's diminishing resources.

 There is no possibility of any kind of democracy, gradual or not, as long as the constitution of "Islamic Republic" system is there and as long as the phony greens insisting on continuity of "Islamic Republic" system. The genuine movement of Iranian people can not settle for anything short of complete dismantling of Islamic Republic system otherwise, all sacrifices by people will go to waste for religious dictatorship that considers itself representing Allah on the earth, not the Iranian people, although people's votes are being invoked to put on a legitimate face on the system for show. Islamic Republic system is exact proof that democracy is not just about "voting" and in the absence a workable constitution which does not leave important and vital decisions to despotic rullers (religious or not).

Continuity of Islamic regime in Iran will result in continuous "tit for tat" operations of "phony greens" vs "red Islamic revolutionaries" who initiated their conspiracies against Iranian people and for the interest of international corporations about 40 years ago through a joint effort that started with massacre of Ayatollah Shamsabadi and his family members. Democracy is nothing but an illusion under religious rule.


Sargord Pirouz

Parsi has walked himself so

by Sargord Pirouz on

Parsi has walked himself so far out on the plank with his post-election anti-IRI cheerleading, that he's now incapable of backtracking.

He's invested all his political capital in Washington over this. And now he, like all the other delusional "iran experts" that were predicting a takeover, are left with egg smeared all over their faces.

Too bad, too. Parsi is definitely a talented individual. What he needs to do now is make the adjustment, set his ego aside, and adopt a much more reasonable approach to US-Iran relations, more like he exhibited a couple of years before the election. 

Darius Kadivar

When was it Ever a Happy One ? ...

by Darius Kadivar on

I wonder ...

Fereydoun Farrokhzad - Irani Boodan:


Fereydoun Farrokhzad - Boom Baba Boom Bam:



Thank you for the support

by IRANdokht on

Thank you for the support of the Iranians' green movement. This is a very nice article, clear perspective and above all very realistic.

Good job!




by shushtari on

I'm glad that, finally, you guys have come around to speaking the truth....better late than never!

I do have to make a point though, that the utter barbarism and the hollowness of khomeini's promises(lies) were evident from even when he was on that plane.....

The fiasco of '79 was NOT iranians' urge for democracy....but rather a carefully orchestrated event which there were many players, including the akhoonds and many foreign entities. Khomeini was a buffoon who could have never imagined or planned the overthrow of the shah....

the careful set of events, like the burning of cinema rex at the hands of the mullahs, the nonsense about jaleh square, were all important in fanning the flames of hatred.

this time around, however, they brave, young iranians want to take back their country and have a free, secular democracy, that is for sure.


I pray that they are successful, and iran can soon join the world community as a proud democracy! 


Iranian Republic

by Ahura on

The authors state that “A Green victory will not automatically lead to democracy, but it will keep the path open to a gradual, controllable transition toward democracy.”  The first part “ will not automatically lead to democracy” is obviously right, but the latter assertion “keep the path open to a gradual, controllable transition toward democracy” has been proven wrong by the two term presidency of the reformist Sayyid Mohammad Khatami, from August 1997 to August 2005, who prolonged the IRI theocracy or the “Rule of Islamic Jurist.”, in spite of the populace vote for change.  Like the current nominal green movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, president Khatami considers Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomaini as infallible and remains committed to IRI constitution which makes the “Rule of Islamic Jurist” permanent and not appealable by plebiscite or vote of people.

Consequently there is absolutely no possibility of transition toward democracy within the present IRI constitution. The only possible way to attain a secular democracy in Iran is the overthrow of this religious dictatorship by the coalition of opposition forces inside and outside Iran. The so called green movement inside Iran has evolved beyond the agenda of the safety valve reformist leaders of this theocracy, but has adapted to survive and grow within the ruthless and murderous IRI rule of terror.

The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran authorizes the supreme jurist, the viceroy of God, to uphold the laws of God which are above the laws of men, including the rules and mandates of the United Nations. IRI performance during the past thirty one years is replete with suppression of basic freedoms of its citizens, execution of thousands of political prisoners, support of international terrorism, political assassinations inside and outside Iran, sabotage of the peace process in Middle East, active pursuit of nuclear weapon, overt lies and denials in international arena, and more.

The USA government should not be misled by erroneous analyses of  partial pundits like present authors who prophesize that the reformists will be a more reliable negotiating partner than the present hardliner fundamentalists.  The reformists and fundamentalists are indeed the two sides of the same coin. USA will have no reliable partner and the Iranian people will attain no freedom with a possible reformists take over of the IRI theocracy.


Good analysis. Green movement is here to stay. Good job.

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.


What you both have failed

by alimostofi on

What you both have failed to say, is that each and every Iranian has had it on their minds, to conscientiously stand firm and non-violently, against any effort by the mullahs, to wipe out our culture ever since 12 Feb 79

Greens have nothing to do with it.  They want Islam First.



Ali Mostofi




The lively-yet-flawed

by Fred on

In the context of the Islamist Rapist Republic with its multilayered vetting process and the only hardcore Islamists need to bother to apply for the position, yes position, of candidacy of the election show the two Parsies say:

  “In the flawed-yet-lively Iranian electoral system, ….”  

It is like saying except the long record of conviction for pedophilia; the emcee is doing a fantastic job of overseeing a lively party for the kids.