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Cablegate: Iran's Green Party Opposition: Its Birth and Evolution (1/3)

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DE RUEHDIR #0013/01 0121439
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O 121438Z JAN 10
FM IRAN RPO DUBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0038
INFO IRAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI IMMEDIATE
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 RPO DUBAI 000013

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/01/12
TAGS: PGOV IR PREL
SUBJECT: IRAN'S GREEN PARTY OPPOSITION: ITS BIRTH AND EVOLUTION (1/3)

CLASSIFIED BY: Alan Eyre, Director, DOS, IRPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Iran's Green Path Opposition (GPO) came into being
as a result of the fixed June 12 Presidential election. What
started as a movement to annul the election now gives shelter both
to those seeking the full set of rights guaranteed them by Islamic
Iran's Constitution and others seeking a new system altogether.
Although the numbers of those publicly willing to march under its
banner have decreased in the face of regime brutality, its current
core group, mostly college-age urban youth, have shown no sign of
giving up the fight. But like the regime that seeks to crush it,
the GPO is not monolithic and there is a clear gulf between the
opposition's elite leadership and the popular movement protesting
in the streets. Remaining outside the umbrella of the GPO is an
array of unsatisfied groups whose willingness to join the GPO is
unclear. These groups clearly oppose President Ahmadinejad but do
not yet seek, as do many GPO elements, to overturn the entire
system. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) NOTE: This is the first in a series of three cables
examining the Iranian Opposition since the June 12 Presidential
election, what might happen in the short-term, and what the most
effective levers of US policy have been so far and what combination
may have the most impact in the coming months.

I. BIRTH OF THE GPO

---------------------------

3. (C) ELECTION BUILD-UP AND ORIGINS OF THE GREEN PATH OPPOSITION:
Iran's current unrest began in June 2009, when Iran's lackluster
Presidential campaign became energized by a (first-time) series of
televised debates among the four Presidential candidates: former
Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi (reformist), former Speaker
Mehdi Karrubi (reformist), Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen
Rezai (moderate conservative) and President Ahmadinejad (hard-line
conservative). President Ahmadinejad's accusations that former
Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami were 'plotting' against his
government and, along with Mousavi and other reformists, sought to
undermine the Revolution and to enrich themselves, galvanized
ordinary Iranians. Incivility and accusations at odds with
obligatory Persian politesse left many observers with the
impression (discomforting for some, energizing for others) that the
elections might actually be more of a true contest than past
elections, and that Ahmadinejad might actually be vulnerable to an
upset.

4. (C) These Presidential debates sparked popular interest in the
election, and in the last week or so before the June 12 vote
reformist candidate Mousavi, with active and behind-the-scenes
support from Khatami and Rafsanjani, increasingly gained momentum,
with his supporters for the first time beginning to speak publicly
of a 'Green Movement.' Part of his support were young, first-time
voters; part were revitalized older 'Second of Khordad' reformists
who had turned out in record number to support Khatami in 1997 and
2001, but who had subsequently sourced on politics due to Khatami's
inability to effect change. Another large group of first-time
voters were from the ranks of the "Khamoush" ('silent') - ie,
Iranians who had never voted but who were inspired by prospects for
positive change and had hope that this election would be genuine.
Mousavi may have even drawn some support for older and more
conservative voters who remembered his steady stewardship of Iran's
economy during his stint as Prime Minister during the 1980's
Iran-Iraq War.

5. (C) ELECTION DAY: IRIG elections have never been 'free and
fair,' but until June 2009 most electoral machinations consisted
primarily of the conservative Guardian Council screening out
ideologically undesirable candidates, plus vote manipulation at
relatively low levels, including using the Basij to 'get out the
vote.' Conventional wisdom going into June 12 was that a high
turnout -- representing energized young and urban voters -- would
favor Mousavi, who would need a few million vote 'cushion' in order

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to either win outright or to get into a subsequent two-man runoff
with Ahmadinejad. While we don't know nor might not ever know the
real June 12 vote count, it is clear that the turnout was at record
high levels and that there was systematic vote count fraud (if in
fact the votes were even counted) to ensure that Ahmadinejad 'won
big' in the first round.

6. (C) Why the fix? In retrospect, many of the reasons seem clear.
Part of the answer could relate to SLK's desire to have unified
control over the three branches of government to strengthen Iran's
hand, and his hand personally, in expected upcoming negotiations
with the West and the US over nuclear issues. More certainly, part
of the answer is that after the 1997-2005 Khatami Presidency,
Supreme Leader Khamenei (SLK) was determined to prevent any
reformist, especially his former political opponent Mousavi, from
heading the Executive Branch. SLK considers Rafsanjani his most
serious rival, and is also intimidated by Khatami's popularity.
Therefore, that both Rafsanjani and Khatami supported Mousavi may
have led SLK to conclude that a Mousavi victory would consolidate
power in the hands of those bitter rivals and leave him
unacceptably vulnerable to marginalization. And part of the answer
relates to the increasingly powerful IRGC hardline faction that had
supported Ahmadinejad (AN) in 2005, whose support AN strengthened
over the subsequent four years by using government funds and
patronage to increase this faction's power and wealth. As such,
this hardline IRGC faction, composed mostly of high-level officers
with a shared intelligence-security background, wanted 'four more
years,' despite mixed support for AN from within the IRGC ranks.
Anecdotal information indicates that this hardline faction had
convinced SLK that the election could be fixed with minimal
backlash.

7. (C) They were wrong, as shown by the unprecedented sight of
millions of ordinary Iranians pouring into the streets chanting
'where is my vote.' On June 19, SLK abandoned his carefully
cultivated pretense of non-partisanship and took the first steps
down the long road of post-election suppression when he lauded the
'epic' June 12 vote and told those disputing the results to stop
protesting and fall in line or face the consequences. In response,
what started as the pre-election 'Green Movement' slowly began
changing into the 'Green Path of Hope' Opposition (GPO), as
reformist leaders Mousavi, Karrubi and Khatami signaled that they
would not stand down.

8. (C) REGIME RESPONSE: Regime reaction to ongoing post-election
GPO activity was swift, conducted at both the popular and elite
level:

- At the elite level the regime began a widespread intimidation
campaign to include Stalinesque show trials, rounding up not only
'all the usual suspects' (i.e. first-tier reformists, primarily
those associated with Khatami's 'Second of Khordad' movement), but
also their family members, in addition to second-tier reformists,
political and human rights activists, and reporters. Many if not
most of these detained, to include those arrests that garnered the
most publicity in the West, played no significant role in either
promoting Mousavi's candidacy or in engendering post-election
protests. However anecdotal evidence indicates there have been
extensive arrests of younger, lesser-known activists more active in
the GPO. Within the regime, SLK acted quickly to bring into line
as many key power brokers as possible, including traditional
conservatives like Majlis Speaker Larijani, former IRGC commander
(and defeated Presidential candidate) Mohsen Rezai, and Tehran
Mayor Qalibaf - all of whom oppose Ahmadinejad and would have been
happy to see him go, but whose loyalty to the System and to the
Leader trumped concerns they may have had about the extent of the
voting fraud.

- At the popular level the regime increasingly resorted to force on
those public holidays when GPO supporters took to the streets. The
following were the key dates on which the GPO took to the streets:

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-- 20 June 2009: The day after SLK's gauntlet-throwing Friday
Prayer speech saw several hundred thousand Iranians march in Tehran
to protest, and also witnessed the first significant use of regime
force against protestors. The killing of one young marcher, Neda
Agha Soltani, captured on video, focused global attention on the
protests and gave the GPO a tragic but iconic image of martyrdom to
wield against the regime.

-- June 28, 2009 (7th of Tir): The first time the GPO used the
cover of an officially sanctioned ceremony to rally against the
government. GPO supporters, led by a key Mousavi aide, caught
security forces off guard by taking over an annual ceremony to mark
the 1981 bombing that killed several leaders of the Revolution.

-- July 17, 2009: The first and only time since June 12 when
former President Rafsanjani, in many ways the main target of
hardline regime animus, was allowed to give the Tehran Friday
Prayer sermon. Rafsanjani's much anticipated speech, in which he
did not acquiesce to the official election results, energized
opposition supporters and led to street clashes.

-- September 18, 2009 (Ghods Day): The government-orchestrated
event to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians was co-opted by
hundreds of thousands of GPO supporters flaunting green and
chanting anti-government slogans. Ghods Day was the zenith of the
GPO's ability to bring significant number to the streets, and the
last time when security forces by and large eschewed violence;

-- November 4, 2009 (US Embassy Takeover Anniversary): The GPO
hoped to replicate Ghods Day during the first large-scale protest
since university campuses reopened. Increasingly ominous warnings
from the security forces and revelations of detainee abuse resulted
in smaller GPO turnout, and more violent clashes than previously;

-- December 27, 2009 (Ashura and 7th Mourning Day for Grand
Ayatollah Montazeri): Ashura witnessed the most violent clashes
since June 20, with at least nine killed. Violent clashes also
took place in major cities outside of Tehran.

II. WHERE WE ARE NOW

----------------------------------

9. (C) WHAT IS THE OPPOSITION: Up to now the GPO's most significant
tool of resistance is popular turnout in the form of peaceful
marching and civil disobedience on those holidays when the regime
cannot prevent people taking to the streets. However, ongoing
regime violence against protesters has decreased GPO turnout, from
the millions of June 15 to a smaller committed core of (at most)
hundreds of thousands. Much if not most of them are young,
college-age Iranians, and understandably the vast majority of
opposition turnout appears to have been in Tehran, although other
major urban centers have also seen sporadic unrest. Although the
number of GPO'ers willing to take to the streets has decreased from
the days immediately following the June election, those remaining
on the streets seem to have radicalized, with at least some
opposition animus from AN to SLK: the new emblematic chant is no
longer 'where is my vote' but 'death to the dictator (i.e. SLK).'
At the elite level, not only are Mousavi, Karrubi and Khatami the
focus on hardline regime pressure, but former President Rafsanjani
is under ongoing attack by these same forces.

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10. (C) The GPO has a strong 'brand' - green, freedom, peace signs,
silent marches, stolen election and martyrs like Neda Agha Soltani.
But like the regime that seeks to crush it, the GPO is not
monolithic. To characterize the GPO's active core as now primarily
(but not exclusively) university students and university-age youth
in a country so demographically young (for example, approximately
one quarter of the population is in its twenties) is not to
belittle its potential. Outside of the active GPO core group there
is a larger, relatively passive group, whose support now mostly
manifests in the anonymous shouts of 'God is Great' from night-time
North Tehran rooftops or who scrawl or stamp anti-regime slogans on
ten thousand Toman currency notes. Presumably many of them have
fled the field due to fear of regime reprisal but might be drawn
back into the fray if the prospects of a GPO victory, however
defined, became more real to them than the prospect of blows from a
Basiji baton.

11. (C) OTHER OPPOSITIONS: Stepping back, it is wrong to assume
that the GPO is the logical equivalent of 'the Iranian opposition,'
and indeed it is more accurate to speak of many different Iranian
oppositions, each with different constituents and goals, to include
the following:

- BUREAUCRACY: AN has effected vast bureaucratic top-down Executive
branch personnel changes, ignoring the technocratic cadre that was
the recruitment pool for the Rafsanjani and Khatami presidencies.
Given his preference for ideology over expertise ('mota'hed' versus
'motakhasses'), he has staffed his government largely from within
the current and former IRGC ranks. Many of these former ministers,
deputy ministers, office heads and other senior bureaucrats have
not been pleased with their professional fates. At lower
government levels, there is anecdotal evidence of widespread
disgruntlement with if not opposition to AN.

-MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE: AN and his hardline IRGC backers have
extensively purged the Intelligence Ministry on the grounds of
partisan loyalty, creating a significant cadre of disgruntled
former Intelligence Ministry officials. Similarly, there is
evidence of at least some IRGC opposition, both within the rank and
file and also the upper ranks, at SLK's handling of the election
and post-election events.

- INDUSTRIALISTS: AN's massive economic mismanagement and the
ongoing economic power grab of 'IRGC Incorporated' has engendered
much ill will among Iran's affluent and influential industrial
leaders.

- RAFSANJANI/CLERGY: Rafsanjani's institutional power is minimal,
but as part of his strategy he seeks to retain/expand his support
within Iran's clerical class, although this class itself is
increasingly impotent and dependent on government favor . As one
element of the regime's efforts to limit the pro-GPO clergy's
influence, it has taken steps in recent weeks to challenge the
religious titles and credentials of at least one top-level
reformist cleric ("Grand Ayatollah"). This move will not likely
endear the regime to many if not most Iranian traditional
seminarians who take matters of religious credentials, learning,
and hierarchy very seriously, especially given SLK's own lack of
qualifications for his religious title.

- 'MODERATE' PRINCIPLISTS: Within the ruling conservative
'Principlist' ('Osulgarayan') grouping there is a significant
faction opposing AN, though still quite loyal to SLK and the
concept of 'Supreme Jurisconsulate.' One of this faction's leaders
is Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, with the Majlis as a whole in an
ongoing battle with AN's increasingly 'imperial' Executive Branch.
Other major Principlist opponents are Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher
Qalibaf and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai.

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GPO LEADERSHIP- STREET

---------------------------------

12. (C) The GPO has promulgated a new mode of oppositionist
organization for Iran. Anecdotal evidence indicates that GPO
leaders, especially Mousavi, have from the start favored a
horizontal, diffuse, decentralized GPO structure as opposed to a
more hierarchical one. Indeed, part of the GPO's resilience stems
from this defuse and decentralized nature, frustrating a regime
that has come to rely on the two-step of identifying and
decapitating leadership as its main tool for extinguishing dissent.
In this regard communication technologies such as the Internet and
SMS technology have been a significant 'force multiplier,' with
virtual space in many ways playing the same 'information-center'
role now that the networks of mosques played in the 1979
Revolution. GPO leaders Karrubi, Mousavi and Khatami play a role
both symbolic and also operational, with anecdotal evidence
indicating that they are playing at least a limited role in
coordinating with if not leading the GPO masses. Additionally,
for the first time since the Revolution elements of the Iranian
Diaspora seem to be playing a role within events in Iran,
coordinating with GPO leadership elements inside the country.

13. (C) Distance between the titular GPO leadership and the street
may yield tactical advantages, though it also reflects a gulf
between the leadership and the popular opposition. Mousavi,
Karrubi, and Khatami are longstanding fixtures of the Islamic
Republic, making them ill suited to lead a radicalizing movement
calling for the overthrow of that system. Certainly they retain
support from the broader opposition, but many, and particularly the
more radicalized elements, do not look to Mousavi et al for
leadership. In particular, IRPO contacts in their 20s and 30s
discount the notion that anyone previously associated with 'the
Nezam' ('the System') could accurately represent their interests
and aspirations. The regime, however, has proved particularly
effective at neutralizing emerging leaders from the post-Revolution
generations.

14. (C) Within the GPO there is no consensus on its goals. What
started as a movement merely to annul the election results now
gives shelter both to those seeking the full set of rights
guaranteed them by Islamic Iran's Constitution and others seeking a
new system of governance altogether. Much like the ambiguity in
its leadership, the unspecified nature of its goals allow it to
have a 'bigger tent.' Mousavi's recent five point declaration
calling for restoring press freedom, creating a fair and
transparent election law, freeing all political prisoners, and
recognizing the peoples' right to gather and to form political
associations and parties, was however an attempt by the GPO
leaderships to to begin to delimit the scope of their ambitions.

15. (C) Heretofore the GPO has yet to adopt any sort of an economic
agenda or set of grievances as part of a core opposition message,
and perhaps the absence of one partially underscores the relative
'bourgeois' leanings of the GPO. Anecdotal information indicates
that unemployment and a potential spike in inflation (expected with
the recent decision to end subsidies) increasingly concern a large
number of Iranians. IRPO contacts and Iranian press reporting also
indicate another spike in labor unrest, due to the parlous state of
Iran's factories and their inability to pay their workers on time.
One would think that a message that capitalizes on these economic
concerns juxtaposed against President Ahmadinejad's (and by
extension the Revolution's) economic mismanagement and continued
corruption would attract a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups
to a more broad-based GPO. However, for whatever reason, in
contemporary Iran it has been political and not economic themes
that have been more effective in mobilizing the Iranian people, and
economic concerns on their own have rarely drawn large protests in
Iran's thirty-year post-revolutionary history.

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16. (U) COMMENT: The June 12 election and its subsequent
protests/crackdown was a tectonic shift in Iranian domestic
politics. At the elite level it destroyed Khamenei's non-partisan
veneer, placing him securely in the center of a no holds-barred
political fray. It also redefined the sets of insider ('khodi')
and outsider ('qeyr-e khodi') so that not only were Second of
Khordad Reformists on the outs, but so was former President Hashemi
Rafsanjani and those aligned with him. In this regard, at the
elite level the central dynamic in many ways can be seen as Supreme
Leader Khamenei, AN and the hard-line intelligence-security IRGC
faction on one side and former President Rafsanjani on the other,
with all of Iran's political elite being pressured to openly take
sides (NOTE: there is a substantial economic element to this
dynamic, as in many ways Ahmadinejad's ascension to power coincides
with attempts by a new cohort elite, largely composed of hardline
IRGC 'intelligence-security' elements, to secure positions of
wealth and influence formerly occupied by Rafsanjani loyalists).
Certainly many hardline regime elements see Rafsanjani and his
eldest son Mehdi as the 'head' to the GPO 'body,' and assume that
if Rafsanjani were neutralized then the GPO's threat potential
would be far less.

17. (C) COMMENT (CONT): According to IRPO contacts close to the
Rafsanjani circle, Rafsanjani is still unsuccessfully seeking to
persuade Supreme Leader Khamenei that AN and his crowd are a far
greater threat to the Islamic Republic than any threat that
Khamenei might feel from Rafsanjani, and that SLK should withdraw
his support for them. For their part, the regime continues to
pressure Rafsanjani through (inter alia) judicial and other
pressure on his family, such that his eldest son Mehdi has fled
abroad and cannot return. A weakened Rafsanjani has minimal
institutional power, given that the Expediency Council is
subordinate to Khamenei and that the clerics in the Experts Council
are too cowed or beholden to the government to oppose them. As
such, Rafsanjani keeps a low public profile while at the same time
trying to rally elite support, to include moderate conservatives
and influential IRGC commanders. The regime is unlikely to more
directly target Rafsanjani unless and until Rafsanjani were to
become more confrontational.

18. (C) COMMENT (CONT): At the popular level, June 12 has revived a
popular reformist movement largely quiescent after the eight
Khatami years while also bringing large parts of Iran's youngest
generation into the fray. This opposition, however, is not
unified. The GPO now is a bifurcated movement, coupling a largely
student-dominated mass following with a titular, elite leadership,
and the two parts are not a cohesive whole. This rather diffuse
organization may be a key to its staying power and simultaneously
an impediment to building an opposition movement that could
challenge the viability of the current government. Beyond the GPO
is an array of unsatisfied groups whose willingness to join the GPO
is unclear. These groups clearly oppose President Ahmadinejad but
do not yet seek, as do many GPO elements, to overturn the entire
system. END COMMENT.
EYRE

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