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Hamid Dabashi: Iranian Green Movement part of regional uprising of the youth against autocratic regimes

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Iran on Sunday, more protesters hit the streets to find walls of policemen attempting to stop any kind of demonstration. Still, people demonstrated in Tehran and across the country in various sizes of protest. Now joining us to talk about what happened in Iran and the bigger question [of] how Egypt is affecting–the uprising in Egypt is affecting the politics of Iran is Hamid Dabashi. He’s a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. He’s host of The Week in Green, a weekly online program about the Green Movement in Iran. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.


JAY: So start with what happened on Sunday.

DABASHI: Well, this was a rally that was called for, for the first time, by a committee that is associated with Mr. Mousavi but is no longer based in Iran, in fact is based–nobody knows–in the Internet. It was called to commemorate the seventh day passing of two young men, Sane Jaleh and Mohammad Mokhtari, who were murdered point blank on February 14, when Mr. Mousavi and Mr. [Mehdi] Karroubi had called for a demonstration in solidarity with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It was an exceedingly brilliant move, because it forced the hand of the Islamic Republic that evidently supports these revolutions, but the fact is that it represses its own people. On February 14, masses of tens of thousands in Tehran and other cities participated and faced brutal repression by the security and military apparatus. And then on Sunday, the same event happened, but this time it was not concentrated on any major square or highway or street, but it was actually scattered throughout the city of Tehran. But most significantly, people in Shiraz and Isfahan and Rasht and Kurdistan in particular joined the demonstrations.

JAY: So talk a little more broadly. What’s your sense of how the Iranian people are receiving the news of what’s happening in Egypt, and their own president’s support for it, supposedly?

DABASHI: Exactly. You know, if you recall, Paul, this movement began back in June 2009 and went through a succession of massive rallies until February 2010, and then it was eventually brutally suppressed domestically. And because the strength of Islamic Republic is in the region, and because of the hypocrisy of the United States and Israel in dealing with the Palestinian question, and also in Iraq and in Afghanistan, all of these geopolitics of the region has strengthened, up until this month, the position of the Islamic Republic and gave it a carte blanche to repress this domestic movement. But in the aftermath of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, a new blood was given to this Green Movement in Iran, and young Iranian people were looking and asking themselves, how can we have started this, and it succeeded so magnificently in Tunisia and Egypt? What about us? So beginning with February 14, we have a synergy that is generated in the region. It’s like a block party, and Iranian kids want to be part of it.

JAY: What’s happening in terms of the economic situation in Iran? Is the crisis there deepening on the economic side? ‘Cause certainly that is what greatly spurred the Egyptian and Tunisian situation.

DABASHI: As you know, 85 percent of the Iranian economy is oil-based. And so far in the second administration of Ahmadinejad, he has had to cut on governmental subsidies so deeply that in fact you have to go back to pre-Islamic Revolution, back in the 1970s, for such a deep cut. Not since the oil [shock] of 1973, the Arab oil embargo of 1973, when Iran was the recipient of massive millions of petrodollars and as a result governmental subsidies went up, did we have such deep cuts in the subsidies. And the only distinguished Iranian economist, Fariborz Rais-Daana, who came out and said that this is plunging Islamic Republic into neoliberal economics and forcing its hand in the bogus anti-imperialist gesture that it makes, was immediately jailed and silenced. But the fact of the matter is that Ahmadinejad’s government cannot afford these governmental subsidies and has had to turn to neoliberal economics.

JAY: Now, his support for the Egyptian struggle was kind of interesting, in the sense that a lot of the accusations against the Green Movement was that, in terms of Twitter and Facebook, they were using Western technology, maybe connected with some groups in Europe or the United States that helped advise them on this. And there’s lots of evidence that’s exactly what was going on in Egypt as well, although I saw [Hassan] Nasrallah came out, the head of Hezbollah, and said, you know, no one should accuse the Egyptians of being anything but a genuine revolutionary upsurge, in spite of this. So it must be another kind of weird contradiction for Ahmadinejad to have to deal with.

DABASHI: Listen, Paul, it is a magnificent revolutionary uprising that exposes the hypocrisy of all of these figures–Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and the rest of them–that have been operating on a politics of despair and abusing the ideals and aspirations of the causes that they falsely represent. As you know, in the Egyptian case, in fact, the role of Wael Ghonim, the executive who worked for Google, was in fact far more central in mobilizing demonstrations in Tahrir Square and in bringing masses of millions of people into Tahrir Square and causing the Egyptian Revolution. And, in fact, when Wael Ghonim addressed the Tahrir Square, there were masses of thousands of Egyptians responding to him precisely because of his role. This is a global phenomenon. When the Green Movement happened in Iran two years ago, I was on Empire program with Marwan Bishara in Al Jazeera, and I told them, if I were in a position of authority anywhere from Morocco to Syria, I will watch what is happening in Iran very closely because it’s coming their way. It’s a young generation, and the demographic composition of Iran, Paul, is identical with the demographic composition of the rest of the Arab and Muslim world: 80 percent under the age of 40; 70 percent under the age of 35. And none of the versions of neoliberal economics–Tunisia was the ideal, the poster of neoliberal economics so far as European Union was concerned, and Mubarak’s Egypt was doing precisely what US government wanted it to do in terms of liberalization and so forth. So the other thing that this exposes is the false notion that neoliberal economics and democracy go on in–hand-in-hand, because, lo and behold, [inaudible] neoliberal economics, both in Tunisia and Egypt, is in fact the desperate suicide of a young Tunisian that set this revolution on fire. So demography and economy remain at the heart of what we’re witnessing today.

JAY: In Egypt, one of the things that made the upsurge there successful–I mean, they’re still under military dictatorship, but it’s yet to see how successful. But certainly it’s a great victory to bring down Mubarak and his closest gang, anyway. But, still, for that to have happened, there were cracks in the regime. You know, Mubarak simply couldn’t order, it seems, the army to fire on people, and we don’t know where that would’ve led if he did, but in Iran it seems different. It seems the Armed Forces, the regime, has less cracks in it. Is that true? And are there any signs that such cracks are developing?

DABASHI: There are different cracks. First of all, in the Egyptian case, you’re absolutely correct that the revolution is not–is far from over. And in the upper echelons of the army there are many, many mini-Mubaraks still there. Second, because of the masses of millions of dollars that US gives to Egyptian army, I believe President Obama’s administration micromanaged a transition, forced–I mean, Mubarak said in so many words, forced Mubarak out of office for a, quote-unquote, “peaceful” transition. Now, we have been witness to this peaceful transition. Of course, thousands of Egyptians were brutally attacked by Mubarak, his security apparatus. But nevertheless, the same success makes us worry about the upper echelon of the army that remains entrenched in US military aid. And as a result, the cause of democracy is far from over, and we may yet again see Tahrir Square back where it was. But the cracks that you mentioned in the Egyptian army, we have it in the political apparatus of the Islamic Republic, in fact, over the last year and a half, that we have been witness to an implosion of the Islamic Republic, so far as it’s–if you consider Mousavi was the prime minister for eight years, Khatami was president for eight years, Karroubi was the speaker of the House, and when you have chants of “death to Mousavi, death to Karroubi, death to Khatami” from the Iranian Parliament, what–you are witness to the implosion of the Islamic Republic, even within the security apparatus and the [inaudible] apparatus. But most importantly, in the ideological apparatus of the Islamic Republic I think we are witness to this crackdown.

JAY: So, finally, looking forward, what would begin to be a game-changer in the balance of forces in Iran?

DABASHI: I think the game-changer happened back [on] February 14, that for the first time the Green Movement began to initiate its own calendar, as it were, and not wait for specific dates, such as the Student Day or the Jerusalem Day or anniversary of the Revolution, because then the security apparatus was ready to crack down. Beginning with last week, the Green Movement has become more creative, more radical, more in tune with what is happening in the region, and as a result there is a synergy with the region. Things that are happening in Bahrain or in Yemen, they have catalytic effect on the Iranian development. And beginning with today, they have entered a new strategy, because if you compare Egypt with Iran, there is no presence of Al Jazeera in Egypt to have its cameras on Tahrir Square and 24-7 report it. And as a result, we have the newest–we witnessed a new strategy of smaller-scale demonstrations in various streets and venues, and then they take video clips of this on their mobile phone and send it through the Internet and make it available. So in Egyptian case, we had a different strategy, and I believe in the Green Movement we have the emergence of a new strategy, but all in tune with what is happening in region. It is crucial to keep in mind that what is happening is not Pan-Arabism, is not Iranian nationalism. It’s really a global and regional phenomenon. The Egyptian–the Tunisia and Egyptian revolution ennobled the Green Movement by taking it away from the hypocrisy of American neocons who give lipservice and as a result discredit the Green Movement, whereas what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt are doing precisely the other way and restoring dignity and credibility to it.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.

DABASHI: Thanks, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And don’t forget the donate button, ’cause if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.

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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.