As the buzz about reformists’ participation in next year’s presidential elections picks momentum, former president Mohammad Khatami’s interior minister Abdullah Nouri, who was ultimately tried and removed from office, told a group of visiting activists from Fars province that the activities of presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi and Green Movement leaders, both of whom are under house arrest, in 2009 and subsequently were legal. He also said that there was congruity between the Green Movement and the country’s reformers.
Nouri pointed out that the regime’s red line for confronting opponents and critics was not clear and added that this was because of the multiplicity of security agencies in the country. “It is still not clear to us why immediately after the presidential election of 2009 a large group of political, university and media activists, including prominent members of political parties and reformist groups, were arrested through bizarre methods, an atmosphere of terror was created and security approaches were implemented, and why reform leaders continue to remain behind bars three years after those events,” Nouri said. He added that until the day of the 2009 elections the ctivities of reform leaders were within the framework of the law and were aimed at strengthening public participation for the elections. “At the election headquarters of Messer Karoubi and Mousavi – both reformist candidates approved by the regime – these dear people were doing their normal work when suddenly everything changed the day after the elections and the exciting atmosphere of election campaigning turned to a security atmosphere full of tension to the point that both of these two popular and prominent personalities in the Islamic republic were eventually put under house arrest,” he continued.
In his latest talk to the activists from Fars, Nouri also said there was congruity between the Green Movement and the reform movement on such issues as the centrality of reforms, work within the constitution, the pursuit of people’s rights and freedoms, and the rejection of all forms of violence.
Earlier in March, Nouri had criticized the reform movement for not having a plan and called for the creation of think tanks. In that speech he specifically said, “the biggest problem that current political forces faced because of extremist elements on both sides, was that they did not know what to call so that they would not lose their support base and at the same time create further distrust from the regime.”
Nouri’s recent talks and meetings come as more talk about him emerging as the central reformist personality are heard for next year’s presidential elections. In the 2009 presidential too Nouri was the first presidential choice of such organizations as the Advare Tahkim Vahdat (university students alumni organization), but who did not run because of Mohammad Khatami’s initial candidacy.
Last week’s comments by Mohammad Mousavi Khoeini, a member of the central council of the Majmae Rohaniyun Mobarez (the pro-reformist Association of Combatant Clerics) there has been more talk about the possibility of reformers participating in the next presidential elections. In that talk Khoeini made it clear that reformers had not yet discussed the issue of participating in the next presidential race. He referred to Khatami as the “head of the reformers,” throwing light on the status and popularity of the former reformist president and suggested that he should be talked to regarding the plans of the reform movement.
Khatami participated in the last parliamentary elections -to the surprise and criticism of many – but that event has expanded the talk about the possibility of reformers’ participation in the next presidential talks. For the parliamentary elections, he simply threw in his ballot for the “Islamic republic” rather than any of the candidates. Some of his closest aides then said that he did that to keep the reformers within the regime rather than allowing the regime to label them as outsiders.
Since those elections, a number of names have been flouted as possible presidential candidates from the reform movement which include Mohammad Khatami, seyed Hassan Khomeini, Mohammad-Reza Aref and Abdullah Nouri. Among them only Aref has already created an organization and has started work on the race. Rooz has learned that some members of Khatami’s cabinet had graveled to various cities and towns and discussed support for Aref with local political activists.
In the meantime, one principlist (pro-regime ideologues) website reported that the presence of reformers in the upcoming elections was the policy of the West to make inroads into the Islamic republic. “The West views the reform experience to be the most successful modern political experience in Iran,” it wrote. These comments were posted on Borhan website.
But despite these talks and activities, the reformers in Iran or the Green Movement in particular have not yet formally announced any specific plans regarding the 2013 presidential race. Mousavi and Karoubi supporters have criticized Khatami and other reformers for their participation the last parliamentary elections and argued that while most reform leaders remained behind bars or under house arrest, any participation was wrong.
Nouri however seems to take the line that not participating in the elections may be an extreme measure that can hurt reforms. He has said that at times reformists needed to show courage to choose one of two specific goals that they had been pursuing, i.e., commitment to their principals vs. meeting the calls of the public.
Some pro-reform personalities have completely different views on the presidential elections. University professor Sadegh Zibakalam for example argues that should Tehran’s current mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf run in the presidential race, reformers should throw their weight behind him. The split within the reform movement on whether to participate in the next presidential election or not continues and will be debated more as those elections get closer. Till then, it is wait and watch.