Opposition Figures Urge Support for Iran’s Civil Society

Washington DC – “We must win the hearts and minds of the youthful Iranian Society,” Mehdi Jalali, political commentator and Iranian dissident, said at a Congressional hearing held on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Jalali argued that support of a free Iranian civil society, rather than military action, would open the door to freedom in Iran.

The other panelists, Ali Afshari and Akbar Atri, both members of the Iranian student resistant group Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office of Strengthening Unity, OSU), shared this view.
The three person panel at the hearing was put together by The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the support of Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) who sponsored the hearing.

Afshari, who consistently advocated for the “international community to offer practical and spiritual support for the people of Iran,” stated that the situation in Iran cannot be solved militarily. Instead, he emphasized international support as a necessary element of stability in Iran, the Middle East and globally.

The current tensions between Iran and the US are a “product of the urge of the [Iranian] regime to cause crises in the Middle East and beyond,” Afshari said.  He went on to say that the ascension of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime is a “product of the absence of human rights in Iran.”

Afshari referred to Ahmadinejad government as “a small greedy and profiteering” minority who “have shackled the Iranian people.”  Atri concurred and argued negotiations with the Ahmadinejad government is impossible “because of its militant ideology.”

The solution to this ideology does not lie in military action, however. Jalali stated that while an international showdown may be unavoidable, the conflict will only strengthen Ahmadinejad. He argued that should military conflict take place, Ahmadinejad would play the role of protectorate of the Iranian people against a hostile US and thereby gain the support of the Iranian people.

“If it [military action] happens, it will not solve the problem but will aggravate the situation,” said Atri. Rather, “the solution to [the] problems is to promote a free society in Iran,” Atri concluded.

The activists promoted a referendum which called for the creation of a new constitution in Iran that would reflect democratic values and protect human rights. They hoped that the referendum would gain support within Iran and within the international community through a cooperative effort of groups inside and outside of Iran.

In regards to the practicality of the recent proposal to set aside $75 million to promote democracy in Iran, Afshari declared that “me and my friends do not need funds.”  He did go on however to praise the proposal to promote interaction between Iranian and American students.

While speaking out against military action, Afshari reiterated that reaching a compromise with Tehran would only increase the power of the Iranian government and in time would lead to an even greater challenge for the world community.

NIAC’s mission is to promote Iranian-American participation in civic life. Iranians-Americans deserve to make informed decisions on matters that affect them, and NIAC aims to facilitate this by bringing transparency to these debates. Our intent is to report on policy conferences and pieces of legislation as objectively as possible. NIAC, itself, as an organization, has no position on these debates. Our function is to provide Iranian-Americans with the necessary knowledge and tools to be able to participate in decision-making according to their own views. Read more about NIAC's Washington Policy Watch Program.

About Author

NIAC StaffNIAC Staff
Connect with Me: