Trading the National Rights of Iranians for Factional Gain


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I miss the good old days before Shirin Ebadi’s fame drew a wave of partisan allies to her who politicized her honorable struggle for prosecutorial reform in Iran.  Since she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, Ebadi’s rights campaign has taken on the added function of inviting Western interference in Iran’s factional politics.  Sadly this is also a period when there is an abundance of crusading foreign powers mobilized to take advantage of every political detail in the country.

Heedless to the mounting dangers, Ebadi has in recent years called on unelected international lending bosses, like the World Bank, to help make Iranian elections more competitive with lending restrictions.  She has also urged Western powers to isolate the Islamic Republic unless her allies in the underdog reform faction are given a share of state power.  Lately she is calling for Iran’s capitulation to the US-led assault on the country’s nuclear rights.

On November 19 this year, Ebadi called a press conference in Tehran to call for a citizens’ “National Peace Council” to mobilize Iranians against a looming attack by the United States.  The central demand and partisan co-promoters as well as the timing of her new campaign leave little doubt that this, too, is an attempt to open Iran’s internal power struggle to foreign manipulation.  Arguing that the nation’s right to “safety and welfare” is more urgent than Iran’s right to enrich uranium, Ebadi told reporters that Iran must give up nuclear fuel production in order to save Iranians from a U.S. attack.  She mentioned in passing that such aggression would violate international law, but did not comment on the illegality of the UN Security Council demand that uranium enrichment be stopped.  Nor did she call on Washington to moderate its policy.

Other Peace Council promoters at Ebadi’s press conference referred obliquely to “extremists” who endanger the nation by provoking the United States, a thinly veiled reference to president Ahmadinejad.  The rivalry between Ahmadinejad’s faction and his opponents, led by ex-president Rafsanjani, has intensified in recent weeks in advance of Iran’s parliamentary elections in March.  Ebadi’s organized supporters overwhelmingly rallied to  Rafsanjani’s side in the 2005 presidential elections after the first round of polling left him as the only viable challenger to Ahmadinejad.  They are now mobilizing to make up for Rafsanjani’s loss by capturing a greater share of seats in the parliament.

Lately the factional attacks and counterattacks have become dirtier as they have made a political battleground of Iran’s nuclear rights policy.  On November 12, Ahmadinejad publicly branded domestic critics of his nuclear strategy as “traitors,” a reference to a Rafsanjani ally who was detained on charges of nuclear espionage.  Prominent opposition leaders Ezzatollah Sahabi and Ebrahim Yazdi, who endorsed Rafsanjani’s bid for the presidency in 2005, were at Ebadi’s side at the November 19 press conference and seconded her call for nuclear fuel production to stop.

The political nature of Ebadi’s peace initiative is evident also in the timing of its announcement.  The Nobel laureate’s big splash could not have come at a better time for the Bush Administration, which makes no secret of its solidarity with Iran’s dissident faction.  Only four days earlier, the International Atomic Energy Agency had certified that Tehran was on schedule clearing ambiguities in its nuclear reporting, thus helping ease Western pressure on Iran.  The leadership in Tehran hailed IAEA’s report as a vindication.  But the UN nuclear watchdog’s much-anticipated finding once more embarrassed the White House, which has for years sought to browbeat and discredit the UN agency for its un-alarmist monitoring work in Iraq and Iran.

Along with Britain, Germany, France, and (in the background) Israel, the United States desperately needed in the days after November 15 to deflect attention from IAEA’s positive report and re-incriminate Iran.  They needed to put the spotlight arbitrarily back on the enrichment of uranium, which they claim and Iran denies, is intended for a secret nuclear weapons program.  Ebadi’s daring public challenge to the enrichment program handed Washington the weapon of mass distraction that it needed.  She has previously declared that nuclear weapons stockpiles in Western countries need not be feared because they are “democracies.”

Ebadi is certainly aware that submitting to Washington’s demands did not save Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from utter devastation.  She no doubt realizes, too, that Iran’s late prime minister Mohammad Mosadegh was toppled by the CIA in 1953 in part because he trusted the Americans.  Yet she is telling all Iranians that ending uranium enrichment would satisfy the Bush administration and buy Iran peace.

Ebadi could have promoted any combination of alternative paths to safety from war for her nation instead of (or in addition to) advocating surrender under pressure.

  • She could have called on Washington to negotiate with Iran without insisting that uranium enrichment be halted first;
  • She could have called for the entire Middle East to become a nuclear weapons-free zone, an option that the U.S. and Israel have opposed;
  • She could have demanded that the U.S. naval fleet, including nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, leave the Persian Gulf in order for tensions to subside;
  • She could have called on Western publics to actively counter military preparations against Iran; or
  • She could have urged Iranians by the millions to pray for peace as a show of solidarity and sign petitions against war, petitions that she would personally deliver to the UN.

But Ebadi is well aware that her political allies expect nothing short of confrontation with Iran’s governing faction from her.  She also undoubtedly knows that blaming anyone but the Ahmadinejad administration for the nuclear crisis would displease her Western admirers.  She’s due in the United States in April, following Iran’s parliamentary elections, for yet another round of interviews with adoring American journalists and yet another speaking tour.  Since Ebadi has ranked the U.S. among model “democracies” that Iranians must copy, I wonder if she thinks a roving career critic of Israel’s nuclear program or elections would get the same welcome as she gets in America.

Majeed Naghdi campaigns for human rights and teaches development economics in Mumbai, India.

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