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Mohsen Sazegara

Regions : Greater Middle East : Iran

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Interviewed April 2010 and November 2010

Mohsen Sazegara is a former deputy prime minister of Iran and founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who now serves as a leading supporter of the Iranian Green Movement.

In the lead-up to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Sazegara served as a leading student activist against the Shah. After the Shah left the country in 1979, Sazegara traveled to Tehran from Paris with the Ayatollah Khomeini, joined the government of the Islamic Republic, and helped establish the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Sazegara then served as deputy prime minister and in several other senior positions.

Eventually, Sazegara became disillusioned with Khomeini’s regime and left government to study history. He came to the conclusion that Khomeini’s government was acting in ways that were incompatible with the principles of Islam. Following the publication of his numerous writings in reformist papers and his calls for a referendum on the Iranian constitution, Sazegara was arrested and imprisoned several times. He protested his imprisonment with hunger strikes, which severely affected his health. He eventually was allowed to leave Iran to seek medical treatment.

Sazegara now lives in the United States and is an active supporter of the Iranian Green Movement. He serves as president of the Research Institute on Contemporary Iran and as a visiting fellow at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. 

We have not only inspired by the struggle of-- nonviolent movements in other countries, but I can say that we have learned from them. We have tried to-- learn the main ideas of nonviolent movements from Gandhi in India to Mandela in South Africa, to-- Eastern Europe, to Chile, to Philippine, and many of other countries-- that they have tried, they have had liberation movements based on civil resistance, peaceful resistance, and nonviolent-- conflicts tactics.

Of course, like the other movements-- we have had our own innovations, too. Some tactics are unique-- in Iran, like shouting, "Allah Akbar" on the rooftop. In Chile, you know, people were banging on the pots and pans-- pans. But the-- in Iran they shout, "Allah Akbar," for instance, or writing slogans on the notes on money besides to the walls-- were writing on the notes was another thing which was used by Iranian activists.

And I think that the-- the next moves in Iran-- which I can talk about it now because it's going to be announced-- next week-- which people are going to practice to the price of the gasoline by filling the tanks only one gallon every time, less than one gallon and so make a long cues in front of the gas stations-- which is not illegal and government can't-- can't do anything to them-- is another innovation.

Because, for instance, in Chile they-- slowed down the traffic. But in Iran, because that-- the Green Movement wants to at the same time protest to the-- increase of the prices, this tactic will help the people that-- in every gas station, about 2,500 gas stations are all around the country, and there will be-- a potential for protest because four-kilometers calculation shows that if only ten percent of Iranian join the-- action then we will have four kilometers to five kilometers long cue of the-- cars-- in every gas station.

And-- lots of-- mess in the traffic, especially in big cities like Tehran or Mashhad, or-- Isfahan. And there will be demonstrations everywhere without any-- illegal action, which government can't do anything. So, I mean, these types of actions are-- Iranians'-- special situation. But the main ideas-- have been-- inspired by or-- or learned from other-- countries, especially some good and famous thinkers of and founders of nonviolent-- philosophy and nonviolent actions, like Gene Sharp, for instance. 

Iran is a Middle Eastern nation with a population of just over 77 million. Iran’s population is predominately Persian, and Persian is the official language. The Shia branch of Islam is the official state religion, and approximately 90-95 percent of the population belongs to the faith. The second-largest nation in the region, Iran contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves. The energy industry makes up a large portion of Iran’s economy, and the nation is one of the founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world's only remaining theocratic state, in which political leadership is vested in religious authorities. The Islamic Republic was created in 1979 following a revolution against the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although many elements of Iranian society led the revolution, ultimately Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his followers gained control of the country. In December 1979, the country adopted an Islamic constitution providing that “all civil, criminal, financial, economic, administrative, cultural, military, political and all other statutes and regulations be in keeping with Islamic [law].”

Following adoption of the new constitution, Khomeini became the “Supreme Leader,” the ultimate political and religious authority in the country. Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei has been Supreme Leader since Khomeini’s death in 1989. The Supreme Leader is selected by a body of Islamic scholars called the Assembly of Experts. The Supreme Leader is responsible for the military and security concerns of Iran and has the final say on all issues. The president of Iran, who is elected by the public from a list approved by the Guardian Council (a body comprised of clerics and jurists), is nominally responsible for administration of the executive branch and is subject to the authority of the Supreme Leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Ahmadinejad was viewed as an ultraconservative and his views a stark contrast from the relatively reformist policies of his predecessor, President Mohammad Khatami. Despite promises of equality and fighting corruption, Ahmadinejad and his administration cracked down on civil liberties and more strictly enforced religious-based morality laws.

Ahmadinejad was reelected in 2009 in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. Following the June 2009 election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in the largest protests in the country since 1979, which came to be known as the “Green Revolution.” The government responded to the peaceful protestors with a massive campaign of intimidation, violence, and limits on freedoms. Universities were closed down, media outlets and internet resources censored, and rights to assembly restricted.

In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected President and replaced Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has a reputation as a relatively moderate reformer and has promised additional freedoms and rights. It remains to be seen whether or not these promises will be fulfilled.

According to Freedom House, Iran is one of the least-free countries in the world. In its most recent report, Iran received a score of six in both the political rights and civil liberties categories, where one represents most free and seven represents least free. Iran has been the subject of numerous resolutions at the United Nations condemning the country’s human rights record. Among other things, the government uses summary arrest and execution against its political opponents. The death penalty is applied even for nonviolent crimes, including adultery. Radio and television broadcasting are under the control of the government and provide only government-approved content. Women are denied equal rights in marriage and other areas.

More from Mohsen Sazegara

Mohsen Sazegara: Nonviolence Outlines the inspiration and insight he draws from democracy movements in other parts of the world. Mohsen Sazegara: Green Movement and Technology The impact of technology on the Green Movement. Mohsen Sazegara: Role of Women in Iran The role of women freedom advocates in Iran. More + Mohsen Sazegara: Green Movement Begins The origins of the Green Movement. Mohsen Sazegara: Government and Technology The use of technology by the Iranian government to suppress dissent. Mohsen Sazegara: Reaction to Green Movement The reaction of the Iranian government to the Green Movement protests and the evolution of Green Movement tactics. Mohsen Sazegara: Prison Hunger Strike His hunger strike in prison and his decision to leave Iran. Mohsen Sazegara: Divisions Among Clerics Divisions within the Iranian clerical establishment. Mohsen Sazegara: Pro-Democracy Movements Sazegara describing his efforts to learn about the tactics of successful pro-democracy movements Mohsen Sazegara: Repressive Tactics by Regime The tactics used by oppressive governments to deprive human rights activists of their income. Mohsen Sazegara: Confronting Khomeini His decision to confront Ayatollah Khomeini.