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Why people power won't reform Iran

  • 23 June 2009

Is Iran in the grip of a colour revolution? Are we witnessing people power and the prospects of regime change? Reports and public declarations on the events can be misleading.

There are two very different objectives being pursued by those who reject the official outcome of the 12 June election.

The reformist candidate, Mir-Hussein Mousavi (who is reported to have received 34 per cent of the vote against the 64% of the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad) has not called for a revolution. As a matter of fact he is among the founders of the Islamic regime.

Mousavi was Iran's Prime Minister for eight years while Iran was engaged in a bloody war with Iraq. Some of the most aggressive foreign policy initiatives which won Iran a pariah status were carried out under his watch, including military and training support for Hizbullah in Lebanon. He was an ardent advocate of the hostage taking of US personnel at the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 which sent US-Iran relations into a nosedive.

People change, and Mousavi has clearly modified his views. He no longer advocates a confrontational course with the United States and has pointed to Ahmadinejad's foreign policy faux pas as an embarrassment to the Iranian nation. Mousavi's measured and dignified statements on Iran's international standing and social liberties have resonated among the population. But has Mousavi promised anything more than the past president Khatami had achieved?

Mousavi has not advocated any fundamental change. He has not questioned the supremacy of the Supreme Leader, who is the Head of the State and Commander in Chief of the armed forces and can overrule the three pillars of the state. He has not hinted at any change in Iran's nuclear policy or a rapprochement with the United States (or with the vaguely-defined international community). All he has promised is a more pragmatic approach in foreign and domestic policy making.

Given the choice between pragmatism and revolutionary idealism, it is no surprise that many observers and the Iranian electorate have become excited about Mousavi. But this does not explain the intensity of the street demonstrations in his support and the casualties that green-band protestors have suffered.

The explanation for the intensity of the riots and its underlying dynamics may be found in the pent-up energy and aspirations of the Iranian youth.

Mousavi's electoral campaign offered an opening for disenchanted youth to challenge the Islamic