(Corriere della Sera) | February 26, 2010

Mehdi Karroubi, 73-year-old cleric and politician, has become a leader of the protests against the Iranian regime. A disciple of Khomeini, since the age of 24 he fought at his side against the Shah (and paid with six years in prison) in order to create the Islamic Republic. Since 1979, he has had relevant roles, such as speaker of the Parliament. He challenged Ahmadinejad for the presidency in 2005 and again in 2009. Both times he accused the authorities of fraud during the elections. During the last street protests in Iran on February 11, one of his sons, Ali, was arrested. He was beaten for hours in a mosque by members of the basiji militia and threatened with rape, before being freed at 11 P.M. A selection of questions and answers from the following interview also appeared in Italian on February 22 in the paper edition of “Corriere della Sera” newspaper.

How is your son now?

«Physically, my son Ali is feeling better. In the first days, his condition was terrible. Now we are worried about his mental state. The damage Ali suffered is a small example of all that is happening to the children of this nation. But the regime is already paying for this».

What happened on February 11?

«The repression was violent, no doubt. There was an unprecedented conflict with the population. This time, the regime didn’t want to allow any gathering of protesters (of the Green Movement, ed.) and it used all its strength: it gathered its forces from all the different governmental organs. They arrested our friends and family members, and they threatened the others. But their mobilization and organization didn’t stop us. I knew how it would end, but I went to demonstrate anyway. I will go again if there will be other demonstrations, even if the outcome is worse than the last one. The newspapers wrote that the people prevented the conspirators (this is how the regime defines Karroubi and Mousavi, ed.) from entering the square. I would like to ask those newspapers, which are controlled by the regime and the government: do you think that ordinary people use tear gas? Do you think ordinary people use metal bars and knives? The masters need to know that these days will pass but their sign will remain».

The events of these months have often been compared to the Revolution of 1979. You compared the violence of the repression to that of the Shah’s time, but you said that his army had shown more restraint. Do you see other similarities between our times and those?

«The Shah’s regime was corrupt at its core, but he didn’t behave like this with the people. What do the armed forces have to do with the election’s results? Why did they treat the people like this on the 22nd of Bahman (in the Persian calendar it corresponds to February 11 ed.)? During the reign of the Shah there were rules; they did not take the people arrested to the mosque to beat them to death even before they appeared in front of the judiciary. These people make arrests without a warrant, beat them and keep them in detention. Not to mention the rest (Karroubi has denounced the rape of the protesters after their arrest, ed.)».

Under what conditions would you be ready to find a compromise with Ahmadinejad and recognise him as the legitimate president of Iran? Do you consider yourself to be a leader of this Green Movement?

«I don’t consider myself the leader of the popular Green Movement. I consider myself a member of this movement and of the reformist movement. My actions aim to a return to the will and the ideals of the people, that is to say to the people’s sovereignty. I don’t have a personal conflict, nor a reason to reach an agreement or make peace with Ahmadinejad. We consider Ahmadinejad’s government an established government that has to answer for its actions, but not a lawful or legitimate government. I am nobody: it’s not up to me to find an agreement or a compromise. It is the people who have to decide whether or not they want a compromise with the government. It is the people who are in conflict with the government, and who do not accept its management of the country. The people don’t agree with the strategy that puts us in conflict with the world taken on by Ahmadinejad, and we are a part of this same people».

You said that chanting slogans against the Supreme Leader and for a secular state is wrong. What slogans should people chant?

«The things should be kept separate. We are not trying to make the regime fall. On the other hand, the Constitution is not a divine revelation and therefore is not unchangeable. But, at the moment, not even this Constitution is applied in this country».

Before the election could you imagine that the Iranian people would go so far in asking for their rights and that their anger would grow so much?

«I did not imagine or foresee that the Iranian regime would go as far as rigging the popular vote as it did. On the other hand, the regime has adopted an obstinate and non conciliatory attitude with the people, which is the cause of the current problems. In the first days (after the elections, ed.), the people said: “Where is my vote?” The people are still the same. So what happened that lead them to adopt the current slogans? The people want healthy elections and to see their votes counted».

As a student of Khomeini, I read that you were extraordinarily absorbed by him. Is he still a model for your actions?

«I loved the Imam and I still love him. Yes, he is a model and an example for me. He was a devout cleric, he had insight and far-sightedness. My love for him increased after his death because of what happened. The Imam lead the country in its most difficult time: the first decade after the Islamic Revolution. The country was at war, prominent figures and other important politicians were killed in attacks and in the war. In that situation, perhaps some special and sometimes excessive measures were taken. I don’t say that he was a perfect model. But actions and decisions have to be evaluated taking the times into account».

What is the worst thing that has been done in the name of the revolution? What were the most joyful moments of the revolution? Why do you still believe in the Islamic Republic?

«The Islamic Republic consists of two concepts: republicanism and Islam. The worst thing is the damage done to both those concepts and principles. I’m not saying that nothing is left anymore, but the damage done is very serious, both to Islam and to the concept of “republicanism” which means “the opinion and the vote of the people”. The Imam said that the final decision is up to the people. He always considered the public opinion and never allowed, even under the worse conditions, ambiguity and lack of clarity during the elections. What was damaged were the promises that we made to the people. The issue is not to make the regime fall, but to reform it. I still believe in the Islamic Republic, but not in this kind of Islamic Republic! The Islamic Republic that we promised the people had the support and the vote of 98% of the population: it was the Islamic Republic of free elections and not of rigged elections. I believe in modern Islam, an Islam full of kindness and affection, not a violent or fanatic Islam».

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi pledged to reduce the business with Tehran and to support new international sanctions. Do you think these measures would help the opposition in any way? What effects do you think UN sanctions will have on the government and on the people?

«When I was the speaker of the Iranian parliament, the relationship between our parliaments was excellent. My official visit to Italy at that time, and the visit of two presidents of the Italian House to Iran are a sign of the good political relationship between the two countries. Even the letter sent by the presidents of the Italian House and Senate to the chiefs of the Iranian regime regarding the consequences of my (possible ed.) arrest is a demonstration of the good relationship we had at that time. For this, I am grateful to the presidents and to the members of the Italian parliament. But I am absolutely against sanctions; they increase the economic pressure that the people already suffer because of the wrong policies of the government».

Do you think that the Islamic Republic can have a dialogue with the United States?

«We said more than once that the only country we will not have a relationship with is Israel, because this country violated the rights of a people. A fair relationship (with the United States ed.), which is based on reciprocal respect and takes into account the reciprocal rights is desirable. But this government created a peculiar situation and does not allow a return to a relationship with the United States. On one hand, the Iranian government writes to the American government; on the other hand, it uses strong and harsh words and expressions against the American government. Contradictory behaviour does not work in foreign policy».

Viviana Mazza
26 febbraio 2010