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October 18, 2010

Majd Reflects on Civil Rights, Sanctions and the Iranian Challenge for Democracy


Washington, DC – Hooman Majd describes his new book, The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, as not an academic piece, but rather a play that describes what happened in the 2009 election crisis and reveals the perspectives of top government officials and members of the opposition in the weeks and months that unfolded after June 12.

Majd, who previously authored “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ,” similarly wrote his new book based on firsthand accounts from his travels in Iran. Speaking at the New America Foundation on Thursday, he explained why he was one of the first commentators to publicly call the Green Movement a “civil rights movement” rather than a “revolution.”

Calling the movement a “revolution,” Majd says, “plays right into the hardliners in Iran who want to portray the Green Movement leaders and the Green Movement itself as a revolution, as sedition.” Majd stressed that “the ultimate conclusion from 2009 is that we made a lot of mistakes on the outside, in terms of our analysis, our thoughts; in what we were thinking was happening in Iran. And as such, we harmed, in my opinion, the so-called ‘Green Movement’.”

When the topic of sanctions was brought up, Majd assessed that the Iranian government has proved relatively impervious to the “threats” of the past 30 years. Though the recent sanctions may hurt the government, he said, they will not bring the government’s downfall and will not change Tehran’s foreign policy. Iran may become even more radical, especially if military action is taken against the country.

Majd emphasized that the future of the green movement depends on the release of foreign pressure. “The Green Movement has recognized that as long as there are external issues, it’s going to be very hard to focus on civil rights and to even fight for their rights. It’s hard to even criticize the government on their economy,” Majd explained. If nuclear pressure, sanctions, and support of Hamas and Hezbollah were resolved, this would allow for Iranian domestic issues to be confronted and more light would be shed on the green civil rights movement. Majd stressed that the people’s voice can be heard “if you take away that distraction which the government can use, saying ‘we’re under threat, we may be bombed, we have to unify, we can’t have internal dissent’. Because if you think you’re under attack, there is a good chance people are going to unify.”

The future of the Green Movement is unknown, says Majd. Through his observations on the ground in Iran, he said it seems most people spend less time thinking about the Green Movement and more time thinking about jobs and how to provide money for their living. “The Green Movement is still alive, and the leaders are still working to make their civil rights heard, but they are working in ways that are not obvious to the media or government.”

When explaining the title of his book, Majd stated that “it’s hard to say what an Islamic democracy is, because even inside Iran, even among the ayatollahs, they can’t agree what an Islamic democracy is…but what most Iranians agree on is that they will have a democracy in the future and it will have an Islamic veneer.” He explains further that “it is impossible not to have an Islamic veneer, in the same way that there is a Judeo-Christian veneer in our democracy.”

“When I wrote this book, I was thinking it was important for Americans to understand the political culture of Iran, which is very complex,” explained Majd. “I have always felt it’s not my place to be activist, but it’s my place to observe. I also try to talk to all kinds of people, not just supporters of the system or just opponents of the system, but all kinds of people.”




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