Opposition leader risks arrest as he raises stakes with hardliners, and tension builds towards anniversary of shah's overthrow.
Mousavi: the Iranian revolution has failed to eradicate tyranny
Iran's main opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, declared yesterday that the 1979 Islamic Revolution had failed to "eradicate the roots of tyranny and dictatorship" that marked the shah's era.
His scathing remarks represented his strongest challenge to the Tehran government in months and came at an acutely sensitive time - as Iran marks the 31st anniversary of the revolution. "Dictatorship in the name of religion is the worst kind. The most evident manifestation of a continued tyrannical attitude is the abuse of parliament and the judiciary. We have completely lost hope in the judiciary," Mr Mousavi said in an interview on his website, Kaleme.org.
The government's hardline supporters will be infuriated by Mr Mousavi's suggestion that Iran is labouring under the yoke of a dictatorship similar to that under the ousted, western-backed shah, and his remarks will increase the risk of his arrest. As if to underline Mr Mousavi's very point, however, the Iranian judiciary announced yesterday that it would soon hang nine more "rioters" over the unrest that erupted after the re-election of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in June.
With neither side blinking, the momentum is fast building towards a showdown on February 11, the climax of the anniversary commemorations that mark the shah's overthrow. Mr Mousavi and his fellow opposition leaders in the "green movement" have called for peaceful, anti-government protests on that day. But a Revolutionary Guards commander, Hossein Hamedani cautioned yesterday that "under no condition will we let the 'green movement' show up - it will be firmly confronted by us".
Mr Mousavi, the former prime minister, said: "In the early years of the Islamic Revolution, the majority of the people had been convinced that the revolution had destroyed all the structures that could lead to tyranny and dictatorship, but we don't believe so now." The opposition leader's comments carry particular bite and resonance because as a founder of the Islamic Republic he has impeccable revolutionary credentials.
Referring to the mass arrests and show trials of pro-democracy protesters in recent months, Mr Mousavi said: "One can identify both the elements and foundations which produce dictatorship as well as resistance against returning to this dictatorship." He continued: "Stifling the media, filling the prisons and brutally killing people who peacefully demand their rights in the streets indicate the roots of tyranny and dictatorship remain from the monarchist era - I don't believe that the revolution achieved its goals."
The expected street protests next week will be the first since hundreds of thousands demonstrated during Ashura, when at least eight people were killed in a violent crackdown by security forces. Hundreds were also arrested. Among those killed was a nephew of Mr Mousavi, who, days later, proclaimed his readiness to sacrifice his life for justice and reform. At the same time Mr Mousavi offered the flailing regime a way out of its self-inflicted crisis. He insisted he and the opposition's other main leaders were loyal to the state but wanted an end to authoritarianism and force.
Mr Mousavi reinforced that message yesterday by appealing to opposition supporters not to press for reforms that go beyond the constitution. Such demands would only damage the movement, he said. Mr Mousavi and other opposition leaders have made clear they will strive to rein in their more radical supporters. They have criticised chants by some protesters who have called for an end to the Islamic government and who have ridiculed the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But rather than investigate the possibility of reconciliation within the framework of the Islamic system offered by the opposition's heads, the regime appears to believe it can bludgeon its critics into submission, which has only deepened the movement's anger and resolve. Mr Mousavi proclaimed yesterday: "The 'green movement' will not abandon its peaceful fight - until people's rights are preserved. Peaceful protests are Iranians' rights."
He took particular aim at Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an influential hardline cleric who insists that concessions to the opposition will be viewed as weakness and that only brute force alone with crush democratic dissent. The cleric last week hailed the hangings of two alleged dissidents - the first since June's post-election unrest - and demanded more executions. Mr Mousavi said: "The cruel cleric praises the judiciary for the hangings despite serious concerns over the methods used for getting confessions from detainees."
Mr Mousavi, whom millions of Iranians believe was the true winner of June's elections, suggested he was only the nominal head of an opposition movement that has "risen from the people and it belongs to the people".