October 06, 2009

VOA Newstalk - 30 September 2009


Thursday, October 1, 2009
Protests despite crackdown, Assembly of Sleepers, and the insatiable Revolutionary Guards - VOA Newstalk - 30 September 2009

Jamshid ChalangiThe following is a translation of highlights of last night's Newstalk on VOA. It is not a full transcript.

You can view Newstalk, September 30, on Windows Media - on Real Player.

You can view Newstalk, September 30, on Windows Media - on Real Player.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Wednesday's episodes of Newstalk are very popular in Iran (8 PM to 9 PM). Wednesday's popularity is because of the two regular guests: Alireza Nourizadeh and Mohsen Sazegara. Nourizadeh is the director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London. Sazegara, a founder of the Revolutionary Guards, became a regime opponent and runs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, the most important news is tomorrow's 5+1 meeting. But let's talk about the student demonstrations [of Monday and Tuesday]. What's your take on them?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
After employing all its forces against the people, the regime thought that everything was over. IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari told Khamenei, The country has been pacified. But I believe that Ghods Day (NB Friday, September 18. Annual event in support of Palestinians and in opposition to Israel. Greens exploited the official rallies to take their protest back to the streets. For an overview of that day go here.) changed everything. Over 1.5 million protesters hit the streets and chanted their own slogans as opposed to those of the regime. They shouted, 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran.' This restored hope in the hearts of people. It showed that this movement could not be stopped with murder, rape, or torture. The people realized what power they have and this power has been intensified by the events in the universities. I see this strength in the people's actions, in blogs, in web sites... Let's not forget that they have replaced university security chiefs with people whose hands are bloody. They've threatened the students, but despite everything the green wave crashed forth from the first day of the academic year.

Ahmadinejad was supposed to go to a university to mark the beginning of the academic year, but he was so terrified, he stayed away and cited jet lag.

When Mr. [Gholam Ali] Haddad Adel (NB Former Majlis Speaker and member of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution) went to Tehran University [on Monday] he thought... this is a man who said, The country shouldn't come to a standstill because three people died in Kahrizak [detention center]. Haddad Adel has a child, his daughter is married to Khamenei's son Mojtaba. He doesn't understand you can't say such things to parents who have lost their children. After Haddad Adel made that insulting comment, the students immediately paid him back in the university and made him leave with his head down. They made it clear that such people are no longer welcome in universities. (NB For footage of Monday's demonstration in Tehran University and chants against Haddad Adel go here). Ahmadinejad was supposed to go to a university to mark the beginning of the academic year, but he was so terrified, he stayed away and cited jet lag. We also saw how Education Minister Karman Daneshjou was greeted [at Sharif University on Tuesday]. We really have to applaud the students in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan...

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, how is this academic year different from last year?

Mohsen Sazegara:
In the past four years, Khamenei and his cohorts have tried to silence universities. Past and present student leaders have been arrested. Iranian universities have been the fonts of popular movements in the past 70 years. The coup plotters were extremely worried about the start of the academic year, as we've seen in secret documents which have made it out with the help of green supporters inside the regime. The regime has sought to instill a climate of fear. The previous days of unrest occurred during registration. Classes haven't even started yet. Many student Basij forces are falling apart. These kids don't want to be associated with murder and rape.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, bring out your supporters. Let's see them!

I'm amazed at the gall exhibited by Ahmadinejad. He was on Charlie Rose the other night. He just prattled on about how he'd won the election and the minority had to submit to the majority. Rose just laughed. In the past three months, we've consistently said, Mr. Ahmadinejad, bring out your supporters. Let's see them! If you have so many supporters, why are you afraid to show your face in universities? They sent Education and Science Minister [Kamran] Daneshjou to Sharif University and the kids called him 'Sub-diploma minister', because as you know Daneshjou has some problems with fake academic degrees (NB Nature magazine has proved that Daneshjou plagiarized scientific articles).

Mohsen Sazegara

I think that universities and high schools will be the scenes of demonstrations this year. They did a funny thing with Javad Larijani NB Another brother of Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani. Last week, Javad Larijani accused Mir Hossein Mousavi of resembling MKO leader Massoud Rajavi.) The students calmly filled the hall where he was to give a lecture. As soon as he started speaking, they got up and left.

The movement is going to seep out of the universities into the general public. The other day, cars outside Tehran University started honking in support and this stretched all the way to Ferdowsi Square.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, there's talk of a plan [formulated by Rafsanjani, Haddad Adel,...] to find a resolution to this crisis. [Opposition leader and Etemad Melli Party chief Mehdi] Karroubi wrote a letter to Rafsanjani, as head of the Expediency Council... I mean Assembly of Experts... Rafsanjani has so many jobs I get them mixed up sometimes. Karroubi asked Rafsanjani why he wasn't carrying out his duties as President of the Assembly of Experts (NB whose constitutional role is to name the Supreme Leader, oversee his actions, and replace him if necessary. The Assembly convened last week and Rafsanjani lauded Khamenei in his opening statements]. Did Karroubi mean Khamenei should be replaced?

In the past 20 years, the Assembly of Experts has become a council of sycophants...

Alireza Nourizadeh:
Even in Khomeini's time, the Experts didn't say much, but at least a few had some dignity and occasionally voiced personal views. But in the past 20 years, the Assembly of Experts has become a council of sycophants who get together twice a year and engage in a competition to see who can cozy up the most to the Supreme Leader. This statement that they released on the last day is shameful! Is this possible? Why did you complain about the Shah so much? The Senate and the National Majlis in those days never flattered the Shah so much! They linked Khamenei to the Heavens, called him 'the surrogate of Imam Zaman (NB Messiah)', said that 'the Supreme Leader's garb was sewn for him'... One is truly amazed... A man with a meter-long beard, 85 years old, close to death... How much are these privileges worth for a person like Ayatollah Khazali to disgrace himself like that at 90? Or look at that Mesbah Yazdi who falls at Khamenei's feet! It is unprecedented in the history of Shiism to fall at a marja's feet (NB Marja: 'source of emulation') There was a story: When [Ayatollah] Haj Hossein Ghomi returned to Iran from Iraq, people would run after him and his donkey and collect the donkey's droppings. But no one kissed his feet. Mesbah Yazdi kissed Khamenei's feet.

Alireza Nourizadeh

I believe that, once again, Mr. Karroubi has shown his courage by writing this letter to Rafsanjani. Some people say, Don't do anything to upset Rafsanjani and push him to the other side. No one's pushing Rafsanjani. But when he walks backwards for 60 km, what are you supposed to do? Rafsanjani led one Friday Prayer (NB July 17. Protesters again exploited the event and turned out in large numbers.), mild to the extreme, and the people really acclaimed him nevertheless. So many people told me, This isn't the Rafsanjani of yesterday, leave him alone. Ok, I left him alone. But he doesn't allow you to leave him alone! When he opens the Assembly with those words, it shows that some backroom agreements are being reached. You and I know that Mr. Khamenei will not concede. He's tasted absolute power and he's being goaded on by the IRGC: 'Pull out your sword! The world is awaiting you! The world of Islam and the world of the deprived love you!' Khamenei can no longer form a partnership with Rafsanjani, but Rafsanjani still harbors hopes.

Karroubi has lived up to his national duties. He's told the Experts that their heads are in the sand. I believe that this letter will be remembered in our history. In comparison, Mr. Mousavi's letter was a bit too moderate. Mr. Mousavi should not be afraid of being accused of seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic. He should stop harping about the Islamic Republic. People are going to ask, 'Did our children die, did we suffer so we could return to June 12?' No! A fundamental change is required. Mr. Mousavi enjoys the respect and the love of the people, but if he wants to be a popular leader, he cannot move slower than the society.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, we spoke of the crisis facing the regime. What are the solutions that the officials have proposed to resolve it?

Looking back on history, I don't think that a more useless council has ever existed.

Mohsen Sazegara:
I have to also praise Mr. Karroubi's courage.

As far as the Assembly of Experts (majleseh khebreganeh rahbari) goes... you know, people have been coming up with new names for it on the Internet: The Assembly of Sleepers (majleseh khoftegan), the Assembly of the Flatterers of the Leadership (majleseh chaplousan rahbari)...

Looking back on history, I don't think that a more useless council has ever existed. In the Shah's day, the National Majlis and the Senate at least did something. This Assembly of Experts has one duty: To appoint and oversee the Supreme Leader. As Mr. Karroubi said, If you're going to release statements that look like they're coming from Khamenei's secretariat, why spend all that money to convene. Just stay at home and release the statement.

For three months, the country has been ablaze: Crisis, killings, torture... Organizations under the supervision of the Leader have committed whatever crimes they could, and the accusation can also be leveled at the Leader himself... Then you have this Assembly releasing such a statement. They don't even dare name the people who have signed it or how many they were? One person, Ayatollah Dastgheib, voices a criticism, then you hear people saying, He should be dismissed! This Assembly should be dismissing the Leader, but instead the Leader says, No, Dastgheib can stay in the Assembly.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
So you're saying that the solution to this crisis--

Mohsen Sazegara:
Hashemi Rafsanjani said that he has consulted with some people who are concerned about the country to find a solution. It appears that they are all members of the Expediency Council. The fundamental demand of the people is that the coup government which is supported by Russia must come down and be judged. The legal government, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi, must be brought to power. Then the people can talk to the legal government and voice their other demands. You can no longer tell the people to live within a constitutional framework where some Supreme Leader does what he wants, but that has to be a later demand.

The regime keeps trying to convince people that everything is back to normal. But as soon as two demonstrations took place earlier in the week, the regime rushes its troops and henchmen to the streets. The regime knows full well that the crisis is deep-rooted. No one is investing, no one is building anything...

The way to come out of this crisis, as Mohammad Reza Khatami (NB Opposition figure, brother of former President Mohammad Khatami) said in a interview, is to lift the heavy weight of the Ahmadinejad government from the shoulders of this society. That's the minimum demand of the people. No solution will work unless the people's rights are restored.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, can we expect such a solution to become reality? Will, for example, Mr. Khamenei accept such an outcome? Many have said that the next demand may be the abrogation of the position of Supreme Leader.

The minimum demand of the people is the annulment of the election. Can Mr. Khamenei accept this?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
The rift between the people and the regime is so wide and Mr. Khamenei is so determined to continue on this faulty path, that I believe that we have reached a point of no return. Mr. Khamenei thinks that if he succumbs to the will of the people, it will diminish his grandeur. And on the other side, the people who have lost their children, who have paid a heavy price and suffered, well they won't take a step back either. When you talk to young Ebrahim Sharifi (NB alleged victim of prison rape) and discover the horrors that he has experienced, when you see the pain of so many others, you can't expect them to just go back home if Mr. Rafsanjani declares that an agreement has been reached.

As Mr. Sazegara said, the minimum demand of the people is the annulment of the election. Can Mr. Khamenei accept this? Bowing to the will of the people is heresy to Mr. Khamenei! But he doesn't consider his illegal actions and those of his president to be heresy. I have no optimism whatsoever about these old, white-bearded individuals finding a solution. Is Mr. Mahdavi Kani going to find a solution? Or Khazali? Which one? Their solutions always revolve around safekeeping their own interests.

Despotism of the ugliest kind has taken over our country and until this tyranny is eradicated, the people will not stand down.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Many people have advanced the idea of free elections under the supervision of international observers.

Mohsen Sazegara:
The Majlis can impeach this government with a two-thirds majority. Khamenei can call for this.

But if there are new elections, no one will trust this Interior Ministry [which organizes elections] or the Guardian Council [which confirms the results]. Civil organizations in Iran and abroad can supervise and observe free elections. As a friend said, Our problem is over the ballot box and reconciliation can be found in the ballot box.

The regime will be demolished if it does not bow to the people's will.

These gentlemen of the regime have rigged the elections, carried out a coup d'├ętat, killed and tortured people... And they keep swearing that they obtained the majority of the vote. If you had the majority, why did you have to arrest people, jail them... there are still people in prison... Today they released Saeed Hajjarian after three months, God knows in what condition. Where are the other prisoners? There's no trace of them.

Even this little talk of a solution has created turmoil in Ahmadinejad's camp and in newspapers like Keyhan. They're worried that Khamenei might agree with some kind of agreement. Khamenei is incapable of controlling his own camp.

As for the solution... The gentlemen will bow to the will of the people, otherwise... this nation has been put to the test. The people will paralyze the country. It is impossible for such a regime -- forget about the Islamic Republic, even the worst Stalinist government would not be able to stand up to the people. The IRGC is behind everything and tried to confront the people, but now [its chief ] Jafari is scrambling to get out of the way. The regime will be demolished if it does not bow to the popular will.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Miracles have occurred in ballot boxes in some countries around the world. We won't name them. Let's get back to Mr. Karroubi, whom you mentioned. Here's some footage of the protest at Sharif University and a slogan that was been chanted there...

(Video of student protesters shouting, 'Montazeri, Saanei, the true clerics!')

Montazeri and Saanei are the true clerics. But where are the others? Some clerics like Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani have spoken out, but where are the majority of clerics? We should also mention Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi who believes in the separation of church and state, and who was arrested several years ago and is still in prison. Where are the majority of clerics, Mr. Nourizadeh?

If you shake any of these senior clerics, billions in cash will fall out of their clothes.

Alireza Nourizadeh:
They're busy getting their religious alms. A friend told me recently that one of the ayatollahs just paid for the weddings of a thousand seminarians. I thought, how wonderful! I was told that the representative of Ayatollah Sistani (NB Considered the most senior Shiite cleric, lives in Iraq) has built a residential complex for seminarians -- singles on one side and married ones on the other. I think they live in another world, Mr. Chalangi. They don't care about the majority of the people, just the hajis who can give them tithes. They just care about the Bazaari who pockets 5 billion and throws 200 million their way.

At the same time, Khamenei has destroyed the senior clergy and disgraced it. He made most senior clerics dependent on his regime.

When Ayatollah Behjat passed away, he left 140 billion toumans (NB about $140 million). According to his will, he wanted the money to be buried with him so that the Messiah could use it during his Coming. As soon as Khamenei found out, he sent two people to go and get the cash for own office. 140 billion toumans!

Ayatollah Lankarani left 94 billion toumans (NB about $94 million). If you shake any of these senior clerics, billions will fall out of their clothes. Did any of these senior ayatollahs take any steps to help the families which had lost their children? Perhaps that child had been the breadwinner of the family? Did they help any of these poor kids who were compelled to escape Iran? No!

Unfortunately this clergy which used to bring comfort to the people... Mr. Chalangi, these clerics used to accompany us from birth to death. We used to go to them to resolve issues. The clerics used to help the people. They used to have funds to lend to people in need. Now they just want to take. Have you ever seen a mullah give 5 toumans to anyone now?

Now they have power and money. Even the ones who have opposing views don't speak out, because they are afraid. The regime has evidence against them or their sons or kin.

We would like to see some of these clerics exhibit at least a speck of the kind of honor Ayatollah Montazeri has shown! From the day Mr. Montazeri said no to power, he has not taken one false step. (NB Ayatollah Montazeri was pegged to be Ayatollah Khomeini's successor until he complained about rapes and mass executions in the Islamic Republic's prisons in the late 1980s.) Everyone is now waiting for Montazeri to determine the future of the supreme leadership which he himself helped create. He has come very close to this issue, but he must now clearly state that this guardianship of the jurisprudent must come to an end. I truly believe that this is Mr. Montazeri's historical role.

Others like Mr. Bayat Zanjani and Mr. Saanei are looking at Montazeri for their lead. Many traditional clerics like Ayatollah Razi Shirazi or Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad never really subscribed to the notion of a supreme leader. If Mr. Montazeri announces that he made a mistake, that he thought that the guardianship of the jurisprudent was feasible, but that such guardianship only belongs to the Innocents, then that's the end of the story.

Ayatollah Boroujerdi has suffered so much because he doesn't accept the notion of supreme leadership. He always said, let religion stay in its place, away from politics.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, are there any historical accounts of what the first Imam (NB Imam Ali) left behind after his death? You spoke of Ayatollah Behjat's will earlier.

Alireza Nourizadeh:
Of course. Imam Ali's home was a mud hut. He didn't have any wealth. You can't even compare those imams with the current senior clergy. How can you compare some sugar-peddling ayatollah (NB Some senior ayatollahs have the monopoly on sugar imports in Iran) with Imam Ali? These clerics are sitting on billions. And their children... Look at the financial corruption. They're unfortunately pillaging the country and discrediting religion at the same time.

Unfortunately, the IRGC which was martyred in the first decade after the revolution, turned to business in the second decade, and has become a murderer in the third decade.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, in all this turmoil, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has bought the Telecommunications Company of Iran (For a report on this buyout, go here). Many have described this kind of behavior as that of an occupying force.

Mohsen Sazegara:
Unfortunately, the IRGC which was martyred in the first decade after the revolution, turned to business in the second decade, and has become a murderer in the third decade. Many of the old Guardsmen were war heroes. I still have many friends who were disabled in the war, some because of chemical weapons. But these people do not play any key role in this IRGC. The levers of power within the IRGC are mostly in the hands of upstarts, people like Ahmadinejad who didn't do anything special during the Iran-Iraq War. The strange thing they're doing... like an invading army, as you so aptly put it... They appear insatiable. They've poked their nose into politics, into state security, and the economy.

They're involved in making tractors, shipyards, rice imports, cigarette imports, trafficking... Anywhere you go in Iran, you see the hand of the IRGC. They have the Gharargah Ghorb (NB Gharargah Sazandegi Khatam ol-Anbia (Khatam ol-Anbia Construction Base), also known as Ghorb, is the main contracting arm of the IRGC and employs some 25,000 officers, engineers, and civilian contractors according to IRGC General Sattar Vafai.), oil contracts... The latest foray into business was the buyout of Iran's telecom. Sarmayeh newspaper had an excellent report on this. The Mehr Fund, which is the war chest of the coup plotters and was previously known as the Basij mutual fund, and the IRGC mutual fund have even bought the largest mine in the country outside of any competing bids, for a sum not even equal to the mine's six-month production. Nowhere in the world do you see the military buying the country's telecom. And the buyout was mired in questions. A private company was disqualified from making bids, then the Mehr Fund apparently pulled out in favor of the IRGC mutual fund.

In the context of the people's struggle, I'm happy about this. This huge company is linked to the population in numerous ways -- from phone booths to private lines -- and the people can express their opposition to the IRGC more easily by targeting the telecom.

The IRGC has run many of these companies into the ground. You need experience to manage a factory. Production in their tractor plant has fallen from 130 a day to 13, for example. They're bringing the economy to its knees, as they dilapidate billions of the nation's money.

My real concern is that the IRGC will try to divert attention by engaging in adventurism beyond Iran's borders. Firing missiles, adding to the problems of Iraq or Afghanistan...

The IRGC was engaged in the Iran-Iraq War and is now getting war reparations, except that it is Iran that is paying and not Iraq!

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
It's said that the IRGC was engaged in the Iran-Iraq War and is now getting war reparations, except that it is Iran that is paying and not Iraq! How true is this analysis?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
This is not the IRGC of the war years. You now have a bunch of employees with uniforms, not war veterans. Their mission is to oppress the people. They don't know anything about the war. They're into the stock exchange and taking money to Dubai. They're submerged in corruption. They don't feel anything for their homeland or future generations. They're firing missiles to scare their own people. You think Israel is worried about their Seijil missile? They fired a missile from Astara to Sarbaz, but it came down near Kerman. That's 300 km off course! Iran is a large country and deserves a powerful and modern army. The Emirates just bought 70 of the latest US fighter jets.

Let me just mention the nuclear installation near Ghom. They take the IAEA and the 5+1 countries for fools. What did they have to build that for? Natanz had the capacity for another 60,000 centrifuges. They wanted to tell the US, this is near a holy site, don't attack it. Ghom is home to Massoumeh's shrine, but it also has sewers and the gentlemen of the regime engage in corrupt activities in some parts of it. Not every part of Ghom is sacred. There's also Saleh Abad and Manzariyeh, where they train terrorists.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, tomorrow the 5+1 discussions will begin.

Mohsen Sazegara:
Russia has apparently changed its position. One reason is that the Iranian people have started chanting 'Death to Russia!' in the streets. The other reason is that the Obama administration has extended a hand to Moscow and modified its missile shield project. Russian President Medvedev said in New York that sanctions are on the table. As for the Chinese, well the US has put pressure on Saudi Arabia to limit oil exports to China if Beijing's position on Iran does not change. If Ahmadinejad retreats, it will be because of Russia's new position because the gentlemen of the regime depend on Moscow.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
The green movement has announced that it does not favor nuclear weapons.

Mohsen Sazegara:
The regime has tried to pretend that the Iranian nation supports nuclear weapons, so if the people declare that they do not want such arms it will have a good effect on the international stage.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Thank you and good evening.

October 6, 2009 12:10 AM

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