This weekend I attended and spoke at The Iran Democratic Transition Conference in George Washington University. The conference was organized by The Institute of World Politics and The Confederation of Iranian Students.
I attended as an independent activist and with an open mind; because I believe that if we want to promote democracy we have to start practicing it today! Although this was a very controversial conference, and I had received numerous calls from various political activists urging me not to attend, I decided to attend and judge for myself.
While this conference had the potential of accomplishing something very useful and positive, unfortunately it fell very short of that goal. Overall the goal of the conference seemed to be the self promotion of “The Confederation of Iranian Students” as well as an undertone of reformist propaganda.
The following are my observations and thoughts on various panels and speakers:
Panel 1: New Generation: Demands, Abilities and Political Vision
One of the speakers on this panel was Mr. Amir Golparipour, a former secretary general of Islamic Student Association in Tehran University, and a member of Mousavi’s central campaign. While Mr. Golparipour did not openly support Mousavi, he stated that “the people in Iran are leading and Mousavi is following.” He also stated that young people were interested mostly in their own individual rights such as the right to dress the way they want, or be able to see their boyfriend/girlfriend without the fear of repercussions. He minimized the political demands of the younger generation and tried to reduce it to simple individual demands.
Others on the panel included Jane Kokan, Nahid Kalhori and Amin Karimian.
Panel 2-Oppositions Leadership: In Exile or from Within?
The speakers on this panel included Amir Shajareh from Pars International Television, who was one of the few speakers at this conference who took a clear stand against the Islamic Regime.
Another speaker was the well know reformist Alireza Nourizadeh who spent most of his speech trying to convince the audience “not to bring up Mousavi’s past, not to say that thousands of political prisoners were executed during Mousavi’s time as the prime minister, because this would prevent unity and would not allow the movement to move forward. He also attacked the term “secularism” by stating that 60% of the Iranians were afraid of the term, and perceived it to mean “someone would come and rip of their daughter’s skirt.” Mr. Nourizadeh did not indicate where he had gotten his statistics from...
Panel 3-Transition to Democracy: Challenges and Opportunities
Speakers in this panel included Ivan Marovic, one of the founders of Otpor, the Serbian political student movement, Jamie Tronnes, International Republican Institute’s Deputy Director for Africa and Robert Benjamin, National Democratic Institute’s Director of Central and Eastern Europe.
Panel 4-New Constitution- Reform or Regime Change?
I was one of the speakers on this panel and I will be posting the text of my speech on a separate post along with pictures.
Another speaker was Amir Fakhravar, who discussed the necessity of a new constitution (which he along with his colleagues have conveniently written.)
Panel 5-Secularism: Alternative Meanings
One of the speakers on this panel was Mr. Afshin Ellian, a professor of law and philosophy from Netherlands. Mr. Ellian was another speaker who stated that it did not matter what Mousavi had done in the past, that he was currently doing a good job and that people had “chosen” him as a leader, therefore we should not create division and we should stand together.
Mr. Ellians speech was difficult to swallow and I asked him the following during the question/answer period:
“As a law professor you know that in Western countries even if someone slaps someone in the face they are criminally charged, have a trial and if found guilty punished. How can you suggest that we should forget about Mousavi’s past and the execution of thousands of political prisoners while he was the prime minister? How do you answer to the families of those political prisoners, and aren’t you giving a free pass to those who are currently involved in the oppression of people, like the Basij, Revolutionary Guards and Government officials, by saying it doesn’t matter what they have done?”
Mr. Ellian did not answer my questions directly, instead he talked about how difficult it would be to prosecute these people, how most likely they would destroy all the evidence and how it would cost millions of dollars... Mr. Ellian also denied having said that we should forget about Mousavi’s past.
I was forced to get up once again and remind Mr. Ellian that in fact he had said that very thing, and that he had not in any way answered my questions.
Panel 6-New Media: Cyber Revolution and Individualism
I did not attend this panel, but the speakers included Roozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, Mehdi Saharkhiz and Behnam Nateghi. (According to the conference program)
Panel 7-Sanctions: Behaviour Change or Regime Change?
One of the speakers on this panel was Abolfazl Eslami a “former” Counsellor of the Islamic Regime in Tokyo Japan. Mr. Eslami who had worked for the Regime for many years “resigned” after the protests and uprising of people after the June 2009 presidential [s]elections. Mr. Eslami claims that it was the violence used by the Regime that caused him to resign. The question that comes to mind is “was Mr. Eslami not aware of the violence and brutality used by the Regime prior to June 2009?”
The reality is that millions of Iranians were pouring into the streets and protesting, the movement was becoming more and more radical and the end of the Islamic Regime was and still is in sight. What better way or time for an Islamic Regime diplomat to “resign” in order to guarantee his safety, and to protect himself from any possible future prosecution after the Regime is overthrown? These types of resignations are at best self serving and opportunist, however it seemed like I was the only one at this conference who felt this way... Mr. Fakhravar was busy praising Mr. Eslami at every opportunity and the audience were clapping for him at every opportunity, treating him like a hero, rather than a self serving opportunist who had quit his post, at a very convenient time.
Another person who attended the conference, but did not speak was Mousavi Khoeini, a former reformist member of parliament who currently lives in Washington DC. Mr. Fakhravar was also quick to praise Mr. Khoeini for following up with the demands of the students, while he was the Member of Parliament, and once again applause followed.
For me the most alarming part of this conference was not only the presence of these former Islamic Regime officials, but the way they were constantly praised and treated like heroes. The fact that some Islamic Regime officials are resigning is no doubt something useful and positive for the peoples movement, but let us not have any illusions. If people, who have been working for the Regime for so many years, without any cause for concern for the rights of people, are resigning today, it is because it benefits them first and foremost. It takes their future into guarantee and allows them to live in a safe third country, which they would not be allowed to do, if they were still working for the Regime when the Regime is overthrown. These individuals are not hero’s and should not be treated as such; at best they are opportunists who should help the people’s movement and beg for forgiveness, rather then being treated like heroes.
Overall, the focus of the conference was more on the Confederation of Iranian Students with a reformist undertone. I for one was not able to stomach a third day among individuals such as Mr. Eslami or Mr. Khoeini and did not participate in the last day of the conference.
I hope in the future we can have conferences with a focus on Regime Change without a reformist agenda.
Down with the Islamic Regime in Iran
Long Live Freedom in Iran