Green is not dead

Tyrants are falling


Green is not dead
by Marian Brehmer

Hamid points out from the window of his flat. The 24-year-old student, Muslim, lover of classical Iranian music, turns into a witness when he recalls the events of 2009: "The whole road over there was occupied by the Basij, baring the protesters from escape." His apartment block is located in one of the calm sidelanes of Tehran's Azadi Street. This busy thoroughfare connects Azadi Square in the west of the city with the big Enqelab Square. "Azadi" means freedom in Persian and "enqelab" is the revolution. Hamid does not hide his interpretation of post-revolutionary city planning: "Freedom ends where the revolution begins."

More than one year after the tumultuous presidential elections in Iran you don't need to search long for witnesses who have something to tell. Hamid is 21 and thus belongs to the 70 per cent of Iran's population below the age of 30. Nobody amongst these young Iranians, irrespective of political conviction, was left untouched by the biggest protests in the history of the Islamic Republic. After the electoral fraud of Mahmud Ahmadinejad a movement driven by hope and united in support of reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi turned into the biggest democratic movement the Middle East has ever seen - almost two years before Tunisia and Egypt. In those days, millions of people took part in large demonstrations all across the country. Green was the uniting colour, the question "Where is my vote?" became a cry of rage.

The "green movement", how it came to be known, has ever since been discussed in the international media. Until lately, its survival was repeatedly called into question.

"Many even called it a 'green revolution'. But we prefer to use the word 'movement'!", Hamid says. He wants to distance himself from the revolution that seventy per cent of today's Iran only know from history. Those seventy per cent were not born in 1979 and never part of the anti-imperialist mass movement that turned against the authoritarian regime of the shah. They don't have anything but faint memories of Ayatollah Khomeini's charismatic leadership and the subsequent birth of political Islam in Iran.

Nevertheless, Hamid displayed an analogy with 1979 in one of the green nights. One evening, he climbed onto the roof of his apartment block and shouted "Allahu Akbar" into the sky, just like thousands of revolutionaries in 1979. On the eve of the Islamic revolution "Allahu Akbar" became a cry of joy for thousands witnessing the approaching fall of the shah. It voiced solidarity between the protesters and united them in their praise of God. This time, Hamid's father deemed it too dangerous and urged his son not to repeat it. His warning was not unfounded: In the summer nights of 2009 the Islamic Republic detained people for calling out "Allahu Akbar".

Not only the government was surprised by the unforseen intensity of the green movement. Even the oppositional leaders who suddenly found themselves at the forefront of millions, had in no way expected such dynamics. Other than the Islamic revolution, which was centred around the personality of Khomeini, the green movement is largely self-organized. The leading Iranian intellectual Ramin Jahanbegloo, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, calls it a "post-charismatic" and "post-ideologic" movement. He belongs to the three million Iranians in exile whose ideas have had a strong influence on the political articulation in Iran. In 2006, Jahanbegloo spent four years in Tehran's infamous Evin prison on charges of espionage.

Absent leadership as strength?

Wheras the absence of both a strong leadership and a clear uniting idea are often perceived as weaknesses of the green movement, Jahanbegloo interprets these characteristics as its strength: The movement evolved from the people, nobody imposed it on them.

As a matter of fact, the high degree of democratic participation manifested in the green movement is impressive. In the depths of his laptop, Hamid has kept a file with photos and clips of Mousavi's electoral campaign. In 2009, students called upon their peers to cast their votes and created a vivid citizen campaign on the worldwide web. After the elections, Iranians took to the internet to organize themselves, discuss political events, express their dissent and announce demonstrations. When the regime orchestrated its own narrative of the protests and expelled foreign journalists from the country, the world relied upon the young generation to cover the truth through their blogs and videos. After China and the United States, Iran has not only the biggest number of bloggers, but Persian has also become the second most popular language in the international blogosphere. A modern citizen journalism of such scale and power was new both to the Iranian regime and the world.

As opposed to the government that had more than seventy people killed and thousands imprisoned, the green movement until now has succeeded in not entering a spiral of violence. Jahanbegloo even mentions a "Gandhian side" of the movement and considers non-violence as the key to success: "Today, the most difficult challenge before Iranian civil society is to face violence of the dominant political system without itself descending into violence."

Unlike Turkey and the Arab world, Iranians do not observe opulent feasts on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. Nevertheless, this time, Tehran's "water and fire park" is riddled with families forming small picnic islands of their blankets and pillows. Every meter of greenery is occupied and huge amounts of home-cooked food emerge from baskets and are spread on the floor. Chatting and munching fills the air.

The water and fire park is the new popular meeting point of Iran's capital. It was opened shortly after the June protests in 2009 and is one of the projects of the mayor who wants to turn Tehran into a green and modern metropolis. In the background big metal installations tell the story of the prophet Ibrahim. Towers made from steel spit fire and water fountains provide a playground for dozens of joyful children.

The park also includes a tribune, where some boys are giving a show on inline skaters. Hundreds throng the ranks, people cheer and sing. Young women and men stand closely together and walk around the park in cliques or couples.

Nowhere in Iran but in Tehran's parks can such relative freedom be found. In a country without bars they are both meeting spots and an opportunity to escape the rules and restrictions which dominate the private lives of Iranian youth. Women seem to be in a competition how to wear the law-imposed headscarf in the most casual way. Colourful scarves lie loosely on the back of the head and make way for meticulously styled fringes. They willingly put themselves into the firing line of the vice squad which increased its raids under the presidency of Ahmadinejad.

The whole scenery of this park can tell a great deal about today's Iran. The regime cannot impose its interpretation of Islamic values on a youth that does not share these norms anymore. There are many indicators of this development: The percentage of girls willing to marry is decreasing, the average marriage age has increased, so has the divorce rate and the number of HIV infections among young people. In big cities unmarried women and men meet in their homes and entertain friendships or relationships.

In the green movement the two sexes protested side by side and abolished the otherwise strict separation of male and female in the public space. After the elections, young women were at the forefront of the protests and now fill the prison cells for political opponents just like their male counterparts. As equal protagonists in the movement they could catch a glimpse of their role in the future of Iran.

As a result of the constant increase in girls' and women's education during the three decades of the Islamic Republic, today more than half of Iran's 3.5 million students are female.

Gloomy perspectives are at the root of protests

Unlike this figure, the job opportunities look rather gloomy. A factor for Ahmadinejad's success in the presidential elections of 2005 was his economy-oriented campaigning. Threatened by unemployment, many urban youth voted for him. But disappointment was not long in coming. Only numbers can grasp its scale. Iran's unemployment rate is around 15 per cent, the inflation rate measures 25 per cent. Strikingly, almost 70 per cent of the three million unemployed are between the age of 15 and 29. Twenty per cent of these young unemployed come from a rural background, eighty per cent live in the cities. It is here that the green movement voiced its protest about the obvious electoral fraud.

Strikingly, many young Iranians still have a firm belief that an improvement of the conditions substantially depends on political change. You can call it idealism, but two things are hard to find: indifference and resignation.

By the order of Khomeini the last Friday of Ramadan became "Quds Day" in Iran: "Al Quds" is the Arabic name of Jerusalem. On Quds Day the opposition to the Israeli state and the solidarity with the Palestinian people is to be demonstrated. For this purpose the Islamic Republic creates its old bonds between the hate against the devil of USA/Israel and Islam. "Quds Day is the revival of Islam" it reads on the posters that have been put up in the streets for Ramadan. Some of them match the harsh rhetoric of the president: two arms are shaking hands, one of them wearing an American, the other an Israeli flag. Blood drips from the hands and forms stains on a map of Palestine decorated with pictures of the bodies of dead children.

People do feel for the Palestinians and condemn Israeli policy, but the extreme messages and activities of the government are ignored by most. "Few care about the rallies today", says Babak, 36, on Quds Day. Defying the risk of an employment ban, the doctor and family man joined street protests in 2009. But something is different on Quds Day: More websites are banned than usual and Babak cannot access his emails. One day later, the state newspaper "Tehran Times" states that millions of Iranians had filled the streets on Quds Day.

Ever since its foundation, the enemy image of Americans and Zionists has been a raison d'être of the Islamic Republic. Pictures of hate-filled masses, wishing death to the west, swiftly found their way into our TV channels. But are these pictures still representative of Iran in 2011? The influence of the diaspora, a modern internet culture and foreign television, that despite bans now reaches every Iranian home, have resulted in a neutralization of many of the ideological views propagated by the regime.

Paradoxically, the Iranian regime remains in firm oligarchic and theocratic hands, whereas the Iranian society has turned into one of the moste democratically minded in the Middle East. It also shows a generational conflict between the old guard that still holds power and the vast youth that does not get any share in the country's decision-making.

This ideological and sociological alienation of the young does not leave the relation to Islam untouched: Especially in the cities the spiritual is increasingly separated from the social norms. None of the main slogans of the green movement had an explicitly Islamic message, although many of its followers are believing Muslims. Islamic values have not lost their importance, but many young Iranians seem to long for a new interpretation. This connects them with the religious intellectuals who have often criticized the bad state of affairs in their sermons. The deceased Grand Ayatollah Montazeri was the spiritual leader of the green movement. Four of the seven Grand Ayatollahs have openly opposed the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini who backed Ahmadinejad after the elections. The fronts in the Islamic Republic are no more that clear as one might think.

Shirin skilfully maneuvers her car through the rush hour traffic of Rasht. The city in the north of Iran has not the chaos of Tehran, but driving here also needs a fair amount of experience.

Shirin has a charming smile and is full of energy. Her headscarf is loosely tied around the head, streaks of red-brownish hair fall into her face. She speaks flawless English and has lived in Leeds for three years when her father found work in England. As soon as her friend Sina joins, the conversation turns political. Among friends this can happen quickly in Iran. Often, guests are involved with a striking openness, although the omnipresent secret service and intimidation of the regime would rather suggest cautious silence.

It will take some more time, but it cannot be stopped anymore

Just like every other city of the country, Rasht was filled by protests in the summer of 2009: "Most of it happened in Tehran, but here we also took to the streets." Then, Shirin says what many of her peers think: "It will take some more time, but it cannot be stopped anymore."

Yet, for more than a year, there was enduring silence in Tehran and many of the cities that were shaken by the green movement in 2009. For the first time since the Shia day of Ashura in December 2009, followers of the green movement protested again in February 2011. Mousavi and his reformist colleague Mehdi Karroubi, in reaction to the events in Tunisia and Egypt, had called for new protests. Karroubi was put under house arrest and Mousavi's house was blocked by the authorities in order to bar him from taking part in the protests.

Mousavi, who was prime minister during the presidency of Khamenei in the eighties, has been condemned to silence since 2009. He is denied public appearances and the Iranian media must not report about him. One might doubt whether somebody who is so thoroughly a child of the political system of the Islamic Republic can really bring about change in the country. Many young people still remember the reformist efforts of Ahmadinejad's predecessor Khatami, which failed under pressure from the hardliners.

But meanwhile, things have also become difficult for the Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president not only has to face the resistance of the green movement, but also from his own rows. The conservatives in the parliament are divided, many of them call for a stricter control of the president through the parliament. Ahmadinejad receives most of his support from the revolutionary guards, who have gained vast influence in both political and economical terms during his leadership.

They seem to forget that Khomeini himself, in his political testament, emphasized that no armed organization is to interfere in the political affairs of the state. Many members of the Khomeini family, represented by the grandson Hassan Khomeini, sympathize with the green movement. Ironically, the heirs of the founder of the Islamic Republic have become a thorn in the flesh of Ahmadinjead's followers.

Ayatollah Khamenei's policy is disputed. The revolutionary leader denounced the green movement and has supported Ahmadinejad since his reelection. By the same token, he could curb the power of the president at any moment. History has shown that Khamenei repeatedly made use of this power.

In June 2010, one year after the presidential elections, Mousavi published the "Green Charter". Calling himself a "humble follower", he articulates the aims and values of the green movement. It becomes clear that not the abolition of the Islamic Republic is his goal - although this might be what many protesters had wished for. According to the "Green Charter", the movement "calls for the implementation of all articles of the constitution, particularly those that refer to the rights of the people." It also emphasizes the Shiite and traditionally Iranian roots of the movement. Although the green movement may be a hope of many foreign governments, the Green Charter categorically rules out any kind of foreign intrusion into Iranian affairs.

Ramin Jahanbegloo critizes the fact that the international public tends to focus only on the nuclear issue. According to him, the west should rather encourage the voices of the dissidents. "Any kind of military attack on Iran would result in nationalism and kill the green movement", he says.

A pioneer among the new movements

Interestingly, the Arab demonstrations of the past weeks show many parallels to the green movement of 2009. Much alike, the Arab movements were also driven by their followers, not by a clear leadership and succeeded owing to modern communication technology. Undisputedly, the green movement can be called a pioneer movement among the movements that now shake the whole political fabric of the Middle East.

For various reasons, political realities in North Africa and Iran do not compare. Other than the dramatically quick developments in North Africa, the green movement has not yet been politically successful. But it has brought about an essential change of Iran's political cuture. Never before in the history of Iran the legitimacy of its government has been so effectively dismantled. If you meet the protesters of 2009 in the second year after the elections, you cannot but notice one thing: The movement was and is being killed on the streets, but not in the heads of its followers.

Just go to Touchal on one of the evenings in Ramadan 2010. Touchal is a popular leisure destination overlooking the houses of Tehran. The government has put up some stands that offer children's makeup and pottery. One of them seeks to inform about the situation of the Palestinians. On the floor they have spread a white transparent on which visitors are expected to write their wishes and messages for the Palestinian people. Some of them have called for peace in the Near East and critized Israel.

But the majority of messages does not talk of the Palestinians, but about the hopes that were awaken in the summer of 2009. Somebody has drawn an image of a hand holding a rose. A green band is tied around the arm.

Image can say more than words. The unknown artist has shown that many in Iran long for political expression, not only in their homes and Facebook groups. "The green movement is not dead, because young Iranians are not dead", says Ramin Jahanbegloo. It is not the fate of the Palestinians that moves the youth of Touchal on this Ramadan eve, but the future of the own, suppressed movement. Iran is not Egypt and Ahmadinejad is not Mubarak, but the hope for change in Iran has never been so justified as since the birth of the green movement.

Some names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the respective people.



Massacre-loving hass is a

by vildemose on

Massacre-loving hass is a very disturbed individual. I hope he doesn't live in the US.


I don't believe a word IRI

by vildemose on

I don't believe a word IRI has to say about MEK prisoners. There should be a case by case review of every execution committed by the IRI. Labeling everyone as MEK has become too convenient. A 16- year old sympathizer of MEK handing out flyers does not deserve to be executed. It's this type of sickening logic by the IRI supporters that makes me sick to my stomach.


For Hass information

by Siavash300 on

 "You betrayed your country and should face the most extreme consequences imaginable"


Not all 30,000 people who were massacred in summer of 1988, according to lizard eater arab law called FATWA,  were MEK traitors. They were oppositions who were against stinky mullahs from different fractions. In fact, Khomainie in his speech frequently said that they betrayed Islam. The bastard never said anything about Iran. Now, you are misleading the speech by saying "you betrayed your country....". Khomaini's FATWA was for Islam, NOT for Iran. you got it all wrong buddy. Go back and listen carefully what your leader Khomaini said in justification of murdering our brothers and sisters in 1988. Nothing about "your country" or IRAN or "betraying your country" or "betraying Iran" as you were saying in your post. Nothing at all. Just Islam. Those people were against Islam and they had to die according to Khomanie's mind. Again that was not C.I.A or Israel speech or order. that was mullah Khomaini speech and his order.

 Not all our virgin sisters who were raped the night before their execution were MEK traitors. They were just against stinky mullahs. Darush forohar were stabbed 27 times in his house and his wife's breast was cut off by stinky mullahs according to lizard eater arab law called FATWAS in 1998. They were not traitors, they were nationalists and close friend of Dr. Mosaddeq. In fact, these people's efforts nationalized our oil in 1952.  In simple language, These people took oil money out of Brits pocket and put it in our father's pocket.  

Jafar poyandeh, mohammad mokhtari (chain of murders)  and other journalists or writers who were brutally murdered were not traitors, they were just mullah's oppositions. They were murdered by stinky mullahs, NOT C.I.A and NOT israel. Just by stinky mullahs. Neda who were shot in 2009 was not traitor. She was shot in cold blood by Islamic bastards. NOT by C.I.A and NOT by Israel. Just by stinky mullahs. Mullah contribution to Iran history is his sperms. Mullahs are promoting prostitutions by making segheh from our sisters. One mullahs has 16 seghehs. These are our sisters and one must be blind not to see it. Again C.I.A or Israel didn't make a Segheh, stinky mullahs did.

Marg bar vatan foroshan arab parast 

Payandeh our Aryan Land IRAN


More MEK needed to be shot

by hass on

Frankly, as far as I am concerned, not enough MEK traitor Islamo-Marxists were executed in 1988. You betrayed your country and should face the most extreme consequences imaginable.


Thank you!

by Rebecca on

Thank you, Marian, for the great post. We are all hoping for democracy and freedom for Iran...hope this happens soon.


C.I.A and Israel game is getting old. Don't you think so?

by Siavash300 on

Stinky mullahs paid agents keep bashing any voice of opposition and freedom fighters with C.I.A and Israel. Don't you think this game is getting a little old? The massacre of 30,000 of our brothers and sisters in summer of 1988 didn't take place by C.I.A or Israel. Stinky mullahs did it.

The rape of our virgin sisters the night before their execution in Prisons didn't take place by C.I.A or Israel. Stinky mullahs did it.

Torture, forceful disappearance of our brothers and sisters for last 31 years didn't take place by C.I.A or Israel. Stinky mullahs did it. Imposing barbaric laws of lizard eater arabs (such as lashing and stoning to death) to our nation didn't take place by C.I.A or Isreal. Stinky mullahs did it. I think this C.I.A and Israel game is getting old. At least to have decency to look for new execuse. But it is too late.

 Soon these mullash's paid agents will be fall and their paychecks will be stop. sorry folks. look for new job in our new establishment  Pay is much better. Finally overthrowing these monsters wouldn't take place by C.I.A or Israel, it will happen by uprising our people.  

If U.S and Israel like it, good for them. If they don't, nobody cares.

Payandeh our Aryan Land Iran



by IranMarzban on

people of iran vote for ahmaghinejad ?! :)) i was in iran in election times people hated him no body vote for him except bunch of sandis khor and vatanfroush oh and student movement is alive just like the green movement


Ahmadinejad WON. Get over it.

by hass on

Yeah sure! 10 years ago we were assured that the "student movement" of the 1999 riots was not dead either:


 When will you OGHDEI exiles stop imposing your own wishful thinking on the people of Iran, who by all accounts DID mostly vote for Ahmadinejad, like it or not?  So sit around for another 10 years, just as the exile Cubans have been sitting around for 50, hoping for the regime to fall and selling yourselves to the CIA and Israel in the meantime (note the "Support Israel" ad showing on  You COULD be doing something constructive but instead are too concerned with toppling the regime just to extract your own personal little revenge for 1979. And watch another 10 years slip by.

Maryam Hojjat

Marian, Thanks for great Blog

by Maryam Hojjat on

which instill hope in diaspra for change in IRAN by Green Movement.