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Interview with Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Iran Freedom Movement

Jehangir Pocha

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Ebrahim Yazdi is the leader of the Iran Freedom Movement. Since his days as a student activist protesting the Shah’s regime, Yazdi has agitated for a multi-party democracy in Iran. In 1979, Yazdi served as foreign minister in the provisional government set up by Ayatollah Khomeini and headed by Mehdi Bazargan, founder of the IFM. After Bazargan’s death in 1995, Yazdi became the leader of the IFM, and today he is one of Iran’s most prominent pro-democracy activists. The following interview was conducted by Jehangir Pocha during his visit to Iran in November.

What concrete steps would you like to see Iran take toward establishing a real multi-party democracy in the country?

The first step toward multi-party democracy is the full implementation of our present laws, such as Article 26 of the Constitution and Political Parties Act [which allows the formation of political party elections in Iran]. The second step is to nullify the authority of the Guardian Council in the election of MPs. The third step is to change Iran’s election system. The current system, which allocates parliamentary seats on the “first past the gate” basis, needs to be replaced with one that allows for proportional representation. This would allow political minorities to be presented in the parliament and decision-making bodies. Equally important is to develop a legal definition and clarification of “political offenses” and implementation of Article 168 of the Constitution regarding the trial of press and political offenses.

As Iran becomes a democracy will it remain an Islamic state, or must it find new ways of defining itself as a nation?

With 97 percent of its population being Muslim, Iran is a Muslim country. Islam has 1,400 years of history in Iran. But Iranian identity has two components: nationality, which is Iranian, and religiosity, which is Islam. Two decades of experience with a government that rules in the name of God and Islam has created a negative impact on our people, particularly the new generation. Now the question is two-fold. First, there is the question of demarcating a line between religion and state. Second, there is the relation between the institution of religion, the Guardian Council, and the institution of government. We do not believe any special rights or privileges for the clergy in the government. Being an Islamic state does not mean being controlled and run by the clergy.

What will it take for the United States and Iran to develop a positive working relationship?

The United States has failed to understand the deep impact of the military coup it carried out in 1953 in Iran. This coup actually suffocated the development of democracy in Iran in its embryonic stage. The United States also failed to understand the depth of Iranian revolution and to respond positively toward Iran after September 11, when we were presented with a historical opportunity for reconciliation. There was great sympathy for the American people in Iran and our government cooperated fully with the United States in Afghanistan. Still, Bush chose to brand Iran as an “axis-of-evil” nation.

To reconcile with the Iranian people, the United States should openly express regret for the military coup of 1953 and announce its readiness to compensate for that interference. The tragedy of Palestinians is another dark spot on the face of U.S. government. Iranians, like many people all over the world, are very sensitive to the suffering of the Palestinian people.

You have said you do not believe the United States can bring democracy to Iraq even if it fights and wins a war against Saddam Hussein. Why is that?

Democracy is not a commodity that can be imported at will by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. One cannot learn democracy in a classroom, and certainly not by the invasion of a foreign army. The United States will probably topple Saddam, but it will not establish democracy in Iraq.

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Jehangir Pocha is the Asia correspondent for In These Times.
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