Iran's Green Wave
With impeccable establishment credentials honed during his stint as prime minister, Moussavi took sides in a left-versus-right split among the Iranian elite, including the clergy, that resulted in the creation of two broad factions at the end of the 1980s. The left-leaning Association of Combatant Clergy, also known as the Roohanioon, quit the more conservative Association of Militant Clergy, known as the Roohaniyat, which was loyal to the newly inaugurated Ayatollah Khamenei, who succeeded the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. Among the Roohanioon leaders were Moussavi, Mohammad Khatami and a group of relatively progressive, open-minded thinkers who became known as Iran's "reformists." In 1997, at the end of Rafsanjani's presidency, the reformists' first choice to run for president was Moussavi. When he demurred, Khatami ran and--to the surprise of everyone--won overwhelmingly. Moussavi was a key adviser to President Khatami.
The hard right, egged on by Khamenei, counterattacked. It used death squads, vigilantes, secret intelligence units, the Guardian Council and the judiciary to cripple Khatami's presidency. In 2005, with the backing of the IRGC, the hardliners rallied behind the candidacy of Ahmadinejad, who after his election promptly launched a political, cultural and economic reversal. The IRGC itself became Iran's most powerful institution. Alongside its military might, it acquired a vast economic empire, from oil and construction to cellphone technology. Suddenly its personnel were everywhere. "The IRGC commanders, both active and retired, act as a kind of fraternity or freemasonry, wielding power that goes far beyond their official positions by virtue of the informal network they operate," an Iranian insider told me, looking to his left and right to make sure he wasn't being overheard in a busy Tehran lounge.
When Moussavi decided to run for president this past March, almost no one believed he could get traction. Though his stewardship during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s gave him cachet with veterans, like Khatami he is relatively soft-spoken, with little charisma. Secular liberals, leftists and more militant reformists looked askance at Moussavi's premiership, since it was during his tenure that some of the worst human rights abuses, including mass executions, were carried out. Although it was Khomeini, Khamenei and the secretive intelligence ministry that directed the slaughter, Moussavi did not resign or protest.
Several factors combined to make Moussavi a viable candidate. First, with organizational and financial support from the Rafsanjani family and wealthy mullahs and businessmen tired of Ahmadinejad's cronies running the economy, Moussavi built a formidable countrywide campaign machine. Second, the brilliant Green Wave strategy, designed by a 27-year-old whiz kid named Mostafa Hassani, caught fire, and soon green ribbons, armbands, headbands, scarves and flags festooned Iranian cities. "I wanted something simple, something that could be replicated even by poor people in remote villages," the long-haired, lanky Hassani told me, sitting in Moussavi's cluttered campaign headquarters during election week. And then, on June 3, Moussavi electrified Iran during an unprecedented televised debate with Ahmadinejad. With the president sitting across from him, Moussavi called Ahmadinejad a liar and accused him of pushing Iran toward "dictatorship." The next day, green-wearing crowds began chanting, "Death to the liar!" and "Death to the dictator!" Nothing like it had ever been seen in Iranian politics.
Moussavi had another not-so-secret weapon: his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. A noted intellectual and sculptor, Rahnavard campaigned alongside her husband, sometimes holding his hand. Clearly a liberated woman, she called for an end to the much-despised harassment of women by the cultural police and backed equal rights for women. At a vast rally in downtown Tehran, I watched her mesmerize the crowd. "We are going to make a revolution in the revolution!" she cried. "We are going to make it modern and up-to-date!" As one, tens of thousands of people chanted: "Moussavi! Rahnavard! Equal rights for men and women!" Women in pink lipstick and with blond highlights in partly uncovered hair shouted beside women in black chadors.
And then there was the Obama factor. Countless Iranians watched his June 4 Cairo speech, and its transcript was parsed word by word. By offering to respect Iran rather than locating it in the "axis of evil," Obama appealed to secular nationalists, activists seeking greater individual freedom and businessmen hungering for an end to the sanctions strangling Iran's economy. Nearly everyone I spoke with during the ten days I was in Iran brought up Obama, whether I asked or not. At a frenzied Moussavi rally in the city of Karaj, west of the capital, I met a campaign organizer, Hojatolislam Akbar Hamidi, 48, a distinguished cleric who's known Moussavi for more than twenty years. "I listened to Obama's speech, and it made me very happy," he told me. "But we're afraid that some Iranian authorities do not understand the positive message of Obama." In interviews at polling places on election day, dozens of voters praised Obama's opening to Iran. At a Tehran mosque where hundreds of people were lined up to vote, several dozen crowded around as I asked an older woman why she supported Moussavi. When I suggested, "Perhaps Moussavi and Obama might meet someday soon?" the crowd, translating for one another, erupted in cheers, laughter and thumbs-up signs.
More prosaically, many plugged-in Iranians told me that nearly the entirety of Iran's business class is fed up with Ahmadinejad's bellicose rhetoric, and they want to put an end to sanctions. Saeed Laylaz, an economist and former official at the Ministry of Industry, said that as a result of sanctions critical sectors of the economy--including computers and information technology, oil and natural gas, and civil aviation--are suffering badly. "Ahmadinejad's is the first right-wing government since the revolution, and it has been a catastrophe," he said. "You cannot run the government with populism. You need experts. You need technocrats. You need planners." (Laylaz was arrested days after the election; he's still in detention.) To get a sense of what the business community thinks, during election week I attended a forum packed with executives at the offices of Etelaat, a liberal newspaper, where eight former ministers of oil, industry and mining slammed the government over its incompetence. Later, at Moussavi's campaign office, one of them, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, who was minister of industry under Khatami, told me that he'd put his business on hold to travel across the country working for Moussavi. "I'm a businessman, and I've been reluctant to get into politics," he told me over several cups of tea. "It's the desire of most of us in the business community to rebuild relations with the United States," he said. "It doesn't mean that we have to give up our independence or our dignity."