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Mehdi Kouhestaninejad: The destabilization of Iran is not coming from outside forces

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GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Hi. I’m Geraldine Cahill with The Real News Network. This autoworkers story is a part of a series we are doing to understand the problems and solutions facing people most affected by the economic crisis. But we can only do this work with your financial support. The economic crisis has hit us hard too. Please become a member today so that we can continue bringing you stories like this.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Thanks for joining us again on The Real News Network. I’m coming to you from Washington, DC. And in our Toronto studio is Mehdi Kouhestani. He works with Iranian trade unions and various international unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress. Thanks for joining us again, Mehdi.


JAY: So in the first segment of the interview we talked a bit about what’s happening on the streets. And just to sum up, if I have it correctly, while there’s a struggle going on amongst the elite for power, what you were saying is that the most important thing that’s happening is people struggle for their rights, including their right to elect the person of their choice, their right to free assembly, and that you think this is the most important part of what’s happening. Have I summed up correctly what you said in the first segment?

KOUHESTANI: Yes, exactly what you said is correctly what I said.

JAY: So, that being said, let’s talk about what is happening in the Iranian elite. And there seems to be at least two basic camps, if not more. One is mostly associated with Rafsanjani. And then, of course, there’s the candidate, Mousavi, who many people have rallied around, either because they believe he’s the better candidate, or simply because he’s become the focus for this resistance. On the other side, you have the supreme leader, you have Ahmadinejad, and you have the Revolutionary Guard. So can you break down these camps for us, first of all? What are the differences between them? And, of course, what are the similarities?

KOUHESTANI: I think majority of what they believe and what they’ve done is the same, but they have a minority difference. But I want to add: another camp is more important than these two camps is the people’s camp. This people’s camp is the majority, I think. But if I tell you that 90 percent of the Iranian is outside of this camp, they are the people. They have their own way of dealing with the politics. And I believe that. And we know by the fact what’s going on in the street of majority of the big city in Iran, the millions people is coming out. They are in the—we call them the “third camp”, and they are not call themselves with each one of those camp, because basically they don’t believe these two camps. These two camps, they are—maybe they have a fight right now; they’re—it’s a very, very tough fight, fundamental fight; but the end of the day, both camps talking about keeping the revolutionary base what Ayatollah Khomeini said at. They both of them accept his version of interpretation of the government state religion, and both of thems basically wants to say that we are a supporter of Khomeini and Ahmadinejad.

JAY: Mehdi, you have to acknowledge, I think, that millions of people did vote for Ahmadinejad, and millions of people did vote for Mousavi, and certainly the people on the streets we’re seeing, many of them seem to be saying they think Mousavi won and they want him to be the president. Is that not the case?

KOUHESTANI: As I said that before, the information [that] came out says that close to 6 million voted for Ahmadinejad, and that’s natural. I said that 90 percent—we are talking about a country with 72 million people. If he doesn’t have that 7 million supporter, where he’s—how he can survive? For sure he has 7 million supporter. But that third, 19 million, voted for Mr. Mousavi is not necessarily those people they supporting Mousavi’s politics. This vote basically was to say no to Ahmadinejad era. It’s not saying that, oh, we’ll go following what Mr. Mousavi wants to bring it to us. Mr. Mousavi’s politics is basically supporting what Ayatollah Khomeini said for the first eight years of Iran’s revolution.

JAY: Now talk about the condition, the state right now of the trade unions in Iran, its leadership, and what’s been the character of the struggle for the last couple of years.

KOUHESTANI: The state of the trade union in Iran is it’s getting up and down. Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it’s worse. As we talk, the majority of the leadership of the trade union, they have a charge against them, and some of them, they were in prisons, some of them waiting for the—spending in the present sentences. This is the—every kind of the activity by the trade union movement was harshly suppressed by the state, and with their agent in the workplace, Workers’ House, and the Islamic Council. But they continue their struggle, and they keep growing, and they have support. In last few months, every day it’s—we didn’t have a day off without a strike, without wildcat, without the action by the workers. And there is close to 600 strike, last year’s. And people, they didn’t receive their wages; 3 million people, they didn’t receive their wages for the last two years, between three months to two years. And the situation of the workers is very hard on top of the news in Iran. And it’s basically the weakness of the Iranian government is the labor movement. And they don’t know what’s going to happen if they open the forum for the labor organization, they have their own organization in the workplace. They don’t know that. That’s why we see, every day, they arresting them, they’re threatening them, they’re harassing—all those things is happen in the workplace, and the trade union movement in Iran is continuing their struggle. They create their new leader, and those leader is basically continue that work.

JAY: When you talk about the third camp being the people’s force or the people who are disenchanted with the whole regime—the whole elite, I guess you’re saying—is there any political expression of this? Like, where does this struggle go in the short term? Is there a demand in the short term? For who? Like, who would lead this government in the eyes of, for example, the trade unions in the short term? Is there any other kind of political party or formation other than Mousavi or someone else that’s in that kind of oppositional role?

KOUHESTANI: That’s what I said before. This third camp, we are not looking for the overnight something’s happened and they have—they’re forming their own government. This third camp, they’re building their confidence, they’re building their work, and they are getting—get together. And the streets of Tehran is full of them. What I said in the yesterday interview, when I mentioned that we shouldn’t codify with the black and red, because those people, they are in the street right now, they are the son and daughter of the blue-collar workers in Iran. And this generation, this movement, they find their own leader, they find their way, they find what they can do together. But we are not talking about overnight changes and we are not expecting that change happen over in the night. But who knows? Maybe it happen. Nobody knew that in the 1978, a year after the Shah is—government’s collapse. Who knows? Anything can happen in the politics. But in that moment, we thought the third camp, they are working and they are trying to see what’s a future they can have. And both other camp, as you said, that Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Ahmadinejad trying to see how they can come up with a exit plan, at least to have the government for the future, who knows? They try to make them self to come back to legitimacy be the people. But I don’t think it’s that easy to bring their legitimacy to the people eyes very soon.

JAY: Now, the power behind all of this, certainly behind the supreme leader, in an alliance with him and Ahmadinejad, is the Revolutionary Guard, which has taken more—if I understand it correctly, more or less taken over the army and controls significant sections of the economy. What is the role of the Revolutionary Guard? And looking forward into the future, what’s the relationship of the Revolutionary Guard to the Iranian working class and the trade unions?

KOUHESTANI: Unfortunately, as you said that, we are Iranian living in the military camp. As you correctly said, the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere. That’s—they are—they follow people yesterday. Fortunately, with the new system and technology—YouTube and Twitter, all those things—you receive every minutes what’s going on in the street of Iran. But the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere, and they don’t give up their power easily. And this military camp, how much they can continue this kind of way, who knows? It’s not going to last long, because of they have their family, they have their kids. Their kids is not the same as they were 30 or 20 years ago. Majority of them, their son and daughter, they are modernized, they believe the equity. They are not look at the world like their fathers 20 years ago. And this Revolutionary Guard, yesterday we hear that so many of their leadership were arrested because of they are denying what they’re been told to do so in the street of Tehran to oppressing people. Some of them, they said no, we cannot, and this is against our ethic. Sooner or later, some of them, they’re wake up and they are supporting this movement. And Revolutionary Guard as a whole, and ideologic Revolutionary Guard, they continue to do what they have done for the last 30 years. But can they continue? In the so many experience—in Chile they didn’t, in Iran they didn’t, and even in—and there are so many of the Middle East coups, they didn’t continue what they done to people, and sooner or later they give up.

JAY: We talked about this question about US and Western involvement in the first segment of our interview. But let me just ask you once again: there’s a lot of people pointing to the different forces that are supporting the people on the streets. And I’m talking about the prime minister of Israel, the son of the former Shah of Iran, some of the neocon, right-wing pundits in the United States, and of course the US government. They also point to the CIA, which apparently had an enormous budget to try to cause trouble in Iran. And some of the critics of what’s happening are saying this is really just a destabilization program coming from the US. What do you say to those people?

KOUHESTANI: I just want to tell you that this is—the money cannot bring the change, and destabilization of Iran is not coming from outside. As I said before, Iranian is not the people. You can’t buy them or you can’t change them with propaganda. If there was any segment of those monarchy supporter or those people they are talking in those TV in Los Angeles, if we have to have some kind of evidence inside Iran, people of Iran believe them or support them. To be honest with you, this piece is missing. And, unfortunately, our colleague and our comrade, instead of to look at what’s going on in Iran, basically their assessment be by the what’s going on inside the Iran, hearing the leftists inside and outside Iran. Their analysis is not coming from what the left organization talks. Most of them, they are reading what’s the media of the West they want to tell us. And by the fact there is very minor supporter—I don’t want to say there is no supporter of any kind of what you said in Iran. For sure, it may be there, but it’s not the factor to big factor. We have so many organization, they have so much analysis, and I think those comrade we have, instead of to looking only negative side of this movement, look at the positive side of this movement. This movement, if it’s happen, and if the change happen, I am sure it’s going to change whole region, because of anythings happen in Iraq, we know some part of it’s coming from Iran; anythings happen in Afghanistan—. And they said that. It’s not something hidden. Ahmadinejad always said that if you want to stabilize the region, you have to talk to us. We are the big factor. And if our comrade or colleagues wants to know what’s going on, instead of to look at the media of the West, look at the people of Iran. They have the organization, they have so many article, so many Web sites. Read those group and assess the situation. To changes happen, Iranian people, it’s not the way it was 30 years ago. When I compare myself, my age, with those people they are in the street of the—in Tehran or Isfahan, Mashhad, Qom, any [inaudible] city. And I’m surprised, I’m really—I believe when I was in their age, I totally—I was so naive about the politics, about the future. I was a dreamist. But these people, they know what they want. They know what they don’t want, but they don’t know how they can achieve what they want, because of they were dealing with a government for the 30 years, every angle of their life, they were—they’ve been watched by the government. If you want to go to university, you have to pass the ideologic test. If you want to get married, you—. Everything was the—ideology was involved. And they are fed up with this ideology and rhetoric and the government, run by the religious ideologues, and the majority of them, they don’t want to be changed, and they don’t want to accept this is the 21st century and it’s not the 18th or 17th or 14th century.

JAY: Right. Thank you very much, Mehdi.

KOUHESTANI: Thank you for having me.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you would like to see more of this kind of coverage of Iran, we need you to support us. We depend on members and their donations. So please click “donate”. And thank you again for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mehdi Kouhestaninejad is currently responsible for worker and union affairs in the Middle East and Asia through the International Department of the Canadian Labour Congress.