Iran: What Can the Opposition Win?

Hamid Dabashi1 points out that, whatever the truth on the elections, the “fix” has become a “social fact” inasmuch as millions of Iranians are staking their lives on that very belief.  He also pointedly satirizes Orientalist assumptions of the Reading-Lolita-in-Tehran variety and takes the opportunity to remind people that solidarity, not “democracy promotion,” is what is required.

Unfortunately, his excitement about the possibility of a mass civil disobedience campaign arising leads to an astonishing final sentence: “Mir-Hossein Mousavi has the make up of an Iranian Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr. in him.”  The idea that Mousavi could be a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King beggars belief.  In fact, the more one learns about Mousavi, the more unsavory he seems, and the more it becomes clear that his candidacy is essentially an enterprise of the plutocratic Rafsanjani family.2  And, as the Angry Arab3 has pointed out, when Mousavi was prime minister the Iranian state was much more repressive than it is now.  In fact, it’s hard to go along with Dabashi’s wholehearted support for the “reformists” who have yet to demonstrate that they are worthy of leadership of such a movement as this.

The movement is still in its earlier stages, but there is an interesting document circulating that purports to be a “manifesto” 4 of the Iranian opposition.  I don’t know how reliable this is: one has to make allowances for the possibility of it being a forgery, or e-mail spam, or some NED bureaucrat’s wet dream.  Still, it does seem to summarize the main thrust of the protests — put Mousavi in charge, review the constitution, free political prisoners, and disband the apparatus of repression.  If the main goals are to be achieved, it looks as if the movement will have to move way beyond Mousavi in ideas and practice.  If the protest movement were to die down following a recount in which Mousavi won, the result would probably be a few blunted reforms coupled with a more aggressive neoliberal policy.  If a dozen deaths are to mean anything, the movement must surely acquire an independent organizational backbone to sustain it when the inevitable disappointments come.


1  Hamid Dabashi, “Diary of a Defiance: Iran Un-Interrupted,” Payvand (15 June 2009).

2  Simon Tisdall, “Rafsanjani: Shark or Kingmaker?” (Guardian, 15 June 2009).

3  As’ad AbuKhalil, “Iranian Developments” (Angry Arab News Service, 15 June 2009).

4  “A Manifesto,” posted in “The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan” (The Atlantic, 15 June 2009).

Richard Seymour is the author of The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, 2008).  Visit his blog Lenin’s Tomb: <>.