Karrubi, a Politician Who Walks on a Tight Rope
The Iranian authoritarian factions’ media policy is to keep the Green Movement’s leaders silent and to strip them of the public’s trust. The main strategy is to discredit them by showing the double standards or hypocrisy in the leaders’ actions and statements. The ideological and intellectual developments in the leaders’ positions provide the authoritarian and totalitarian factions with the opportunity to use these statements against them. The government run media have focused on this strategy to show the contradictions in the reformists’ positions in the last three decades.
As an experienced politician and someone who followed Khomeini in the 1980s, Karrubi has never talked about returning to the Khomeini era. His statements about Khomeini are meant to challenge Khamenei’s legitimacy in contrast to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
An interesting case is the succession of three pictures of Karrubi’s house meetings with his supporters. These pictures were posted on a blog (Ali Ashgar Shafi’ian, quoted in Alef, June 22, 2010). The authoritarian media used these pictures in a row (below) to show that Karrubi no longer believes in velayat-e faqih (guardianship of jurist), while he continues to praises Khomeini in his statements. In these three pictures, we see Karrubi with a picture of Khomeini alone, Khomeni and Khamenei paired together, and with no picture.
There is also an alternative reading of these three pictures, they could be read as a sign of Karrubi’s readiness to take risks and a shift in his views in spite of his seniority. How have his views changed?
Politicians do not make blood signed pacts
The change in the pictures is not only a sign of rapid political change in Iran but a further token of Karrubi’s bravery and cognizance. Karrubi, as a revolutionary politician and close ally of Khomeini, cannot deny his past while he is eager to move ahead based on current necessities. Karrubi could no longer recognize Khamenei as a legitimate leader because Khamenei confirmed a fraudulent election, and Karrubi’s votes counted less than unacceptable ballots. If Khomeini’s public figure is to drive a wedge between a politician such as Karrubi and his constituency, the politician takes the people’s side and not the buried leader.
The 1980s-merely one criterion for criticizing the status quo
As an experienced politician and someone who followed Khomeini in the 1980s, Karrubi has never talked about returning to the Khomeini era. His statements about Khomeini are meant to challenge Khamenei’s legitimacy in contrast to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Karrubi does not owe his political character to Khomeini and does not define himself by taking the founder’s side. By keeping silent about what happened in the 1980s (atrocities and massive human rights violations), Karrubi, as a high ranking officials of that era, shows that he is not willing to criticize or appraise that decade because of political rather than ideological reasons.
The main difference between Karrubi on one side and other members of the Militant Clerics Association (such as Mohammad Khatami, Mohammad Musavi Kho’iniha, and Majid Ansari) and the leaders of reformist parties on the other is his will to take risks. In his recent positions, such as defending Baha’i rights and disclosing rapes in Iranian prisons and detention centers, Karrubi broke some taboos in the Iranian official public sphere. As a former presidential candidate, he made the government pay a huge price for mistreating political prisoners. After declaring the rapes in detention centers, he was in a very difficult position but nonetheless, even as he was walking on a tight rope, he made tremendous scores against the military and security establishment. Thus, due to his ability to take risks, the regime’s propaganda machine has been insulting and slandering him as “ignorant, arrogant, and being a chatterbox.” (Alef, June 23, 2010)
The Shi’i clergy’s agenda has been to wipe off the Baha’is from the face of the earth. Baha’is do not even have the right to retain a cemetery to bury their loved ones. When Karrubi talked about Baha’is’ civil rights during his campaign, he in fact denied the discriminations against religious minorities and emphasized religious freedom. Among Shi’i clerics, only Husein Ali Montazeri had defended Baha’is’ civil rights before Karrubi. Montazeri defended the minorities when he was out of official political society but Karrubi was a presidential candidate when he stated his position on this issue.
Moreover, Karrubi supported Iranian dervishes’ grievances when nobody in the Shi’i clergy circles was ready to support them, another clear sign of his ability to take risks. For this reason, the majority of dervishes voted for him, votes that were never counted.
His trips to Qom and Qazvin and attendance at public ceremonies over the past twelve months are clear indications of his bravery. Meanwhile the militia’s mission is to attack him wherever he goes and at any time. Even before the beginning of the Green Movement in 2009, Karrubi used to write very critical, open letters to the ruling clergy, knowing full well their ability to use the militia against him and his family members.
Karrubi’s move to launch a satellite television station after the 2005 presidential election proved him to be a present-day politician. Other opposition leaders did not dare suggest such a move. Etemad Melli (Karrubi’s party official newspaper), compared to Aftab-e Yazd (Official newspaper of the Militant Clergy Association) or Salam (Musavi Kho’iniha’s newspaper), was more up-to-date and projected Karrubi’s understanding of his time. Etemad Melli was under more pressure working under the Ahmadinejad administration’s watch compared to other newspapers that were published during the Khatami and Rafsanjani administrations.
Consequently, Karrubi has challenged the regime and its leader in many cases. When Khamenei called the regime “the ark” (i.e. Noah’s ark), Karrubi called it a “rescue boat,” a term signifying the small political caste that is now ruling the country. Karrubi has always compared Khomeini’s understanding of velayat-e faqih and how it is depicted in the constitution to Khamenei’s. According to him, Khamenei is playing God’s rule on earth (Sahamnews, June 20, 2010).
In spite of making a crisis every nine days during his presidency, Khatami never challenged Khamenei who was behind all these crises. He even remained silent when Kayhan published slanderous articles against him and when he was denied a trip overseas after the 2009 election. After their trials and indictment, Abdullah Nuri and Mohammad Musavi Kho’iniha continued to keep their silence.
Karrubi also challenged the regime in picking his advisors during the campaign. Most of his team members (such as Emaduddin Baghi, Gholam Husein Karbaschi and Abbas Abdi) had been political prisoners during Khamenei’s rule. Musavi’s campaign was not even ready to work with the reformist parties who supported him and they even had their own independent campaign offices.
Crossing the government’s red lines
Karrubi considers himself an opposition leader, while Mir Husein Musavi presents himself as someone who is worried about where the nation is headed. For this reason, Karrubi, in addition to his own news site (Sahamnews) gives interviews to foreign media, while Musavi only publishes statements on his own website. Accusing Karrubi to be an agent of Americans and Israelis has not changed his political behavior as he does not take these accusations and labels seriously.
In contrast to some other opposition clerics, he does not talk to make the government happy and to simply come back to the power. In his interviews with the foreign media, Karrubi does not try to compete with other opposition forces or send signals to the government as the Green Movement’s leader. He does not try to present himself as a moderate politician to satisfy both the government and the opposition. Indeed, his main audience is the people, not the rulers.
Karrubi does not copy the ruling clerics’ positions to gain political capital. He does not change the protesters’ slogan to pretend to be an anti-Israeli leader, he does not insult foreign media and their hosts to pretend to be independent, he does not cry anti-imperialist slogans to justify his conversations with foreign media correspondents or avoid pro-Israeli accusations, but fifty years of political activism and career have rather taught him to make his points, without insulting his allies or losing point to his enemies.