STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty ImagesNot easy being green: With Mousavi unable to speak to the press, his external spokesman, renowned filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, urges the international community not to recognize Ahmadinejad.
The world has watched in awe this week as protests have
continued to rock the streets of Iran. Opposition presidential candidate Mir
Hossein Mousavi and his green-clad supporters are demanding a rerun of last
Friday's election -- which they claim was rigged in favor of incumbent
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nearly a week after the vote, the conflict has
reached fever pitch. At least eight people have reportedly died in protests, and hundreds
of demonstrators, organizers, and reformists may have been arrested. The
Guardian Council, the powerful 12-member body that oversees Iranian elections,
has offered to hold talks with the candidates in hopes of resolving the crisis.
But there are signs that the Iranian establishment may be split over what to
The international community seems equally perplexed about the
best response. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, has been careful not
to be perceived as siding openly with the Mousavi camp, saying he didn't want
to be accused of meddling in Iran's internal affairs.
At the center of this story is Mousavi himself, who has been
present at many of this week's protests but has otherwise been muzzled by a
government crackdown on his press and other public appearances. Foreign
Policy sought out his external spokesman, renowned filmmaker and
reformer Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In an interview from Paris, Makhmalbaf speaks of
this week's protests as another revolution -- and Mousavi as Iran's Obama.
Foreign Policy: You
were involved in the 1979 Iranian Revolution as a young man, and your films
have touched on it extensively. What parallels do you see between then and today's
Mohsen Makhmalbaf: There
are some similarities and some differences. In both situations, people were in
the streets. In the [earlier] revolution, there were young people in the
streets who were not as modern as the people are today. And they were in the
streets following the lead of a leader, a mullah -- in those times Ayatollah Khomeini.
Now, the young people in the streets are more modern: They use SMS; they use
the Internet. And they are not being actually led by anyone, but they are
connected to each other.
These young people who are in the streets are looking for
peace and democracy. The previous revolution was a revolution of traditionalism
against modernism; but now this is a revolution of modernism against
traditionalism. The previous revolution had a frown; this one has a smile on
its face. The previous revolution was red; this one is green. We can say that
this is a 21st-century revolution, but the other was a 20th-century revolution.
That revolution was led by the people who were educated by the epoch of the shah,
and this generation was brought up by the mullahs inside the Islamic Revolution.
We have many young people, and maturity is killing the fathers. In each
generation, we kill our fathers. And our fathers [today] are the mullahs.
FP: There has been
growing criticism here in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama hasn't
said or done enough to support those demonstrating in the streets of Iran. Do
you think Obama is being too careful? Or even that he is helping Ahmadinejad by
said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like
it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama
and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama
FP: Would Mousavi
pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?
MM:As you may
know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the
moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad
talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between
We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning
President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States.
Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In
order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two
Obamas on the two sides. It doesn't mean that everything depends on these two
people, but this is one of the main factors.
FP: There have
been rumors that you might come to Washington. Can you tell us if these might
MM:If there is a
particular invitation that is important, I will be going, just like I have traveled
to Brussels to speak to the European Parliament. If there is an interview with
the Congress, the Senate, or the president, I would be going to the United
FP: In meeting
with European officials in Brussels Wednesday, what did you ask from them, and
what response did you get?
MM: I asked the
European Parliament to listen to the voice of the people of Iran who are in the
streets. They don't want Ahmadinejad. They don't want nuclear bombs. They don't
want atomic bombs. They want peace in the world and democracy in Iran.
In the two previous elections, one last week and one four
years ago, Ahmadinejad was elected with massive fraud. At those times, nobody
knew Ahmadinejad. Four years ago, people boycotted the election, and
Ahmadinejad was voted the president by a minority. This time, everybody decided
to vote to change Ahmadinejad. But when he didn't have the votes [that his
supporters in the government] were looking for, they had a coup d'tat. Friday
night, there were attacks to the principal headquarters of Mousavi. People
working there were attacked and injured. They destroyed the systems: the faxes,
computers, telephones, everything -- all the means of communication. And when
Mousavi was informed after counting the votes that he had the majority, the
army commanders went to him and announced the coup d'tat to him. He didn't
accept it and said that people would be going to the streets.
The secret police have been watching him all the time this
week. They do not let him speak on Iranian television. Nobody can contact him. The
people active in his campaign have been arrested -- all. But as long as people
are in the streets, they cannot arrest Mousavi himself. People are still in the
streets. They want another election with the observation of the international
The people of Iran do not want Ahmadinejad for three reasons.
First is the economic reason -- because he has made the economy worse during
his presidency. The oil money has been many, many times more than the oil money
during the time of Khatami's presidency. But the inflation has been
two-and-a-half times more than the inflation rates at the time of Khatami. The
second reason is the social freedom. People have been injured; people have been
under pressure in their social lives during the time of Ahmadinejad. And the
other reason is the face -- the international image -- of Iran, which has been
destroyed. In the time of Khatami, people talked about dialogue and peace. But
now, the people of Iran have the same image as Ahmadinejad: They are terrorists
and they are looking for wars. These are the three reasons that people want
FP: What are your
hopes for the partial vote recount that the Guardian Council is conducting?
think that the Guardian Council is legitimate itself. They are supporters of
Ahmadinejad. We don't recognize them.
FP: What's your
end goal? When will the demonstrations stop?
MM:If they act
rationally, [regime leaders] should accept people's opinion. Otherwise, there
would be repression, which would make the country go another way. Up to now,
the regime has [only] been [confronted by] groups of people, but now it is
confronting everybody in the country.
FP: Would Mousavi
be willing to accept some sort of power-sharing arrangement? Say, Ahmadinejad
remains as president but Mousavi becomes prime minister once again?
MM: This is not a
solution, because people do not want Ahmadinejad at any level. He is so
illiterate that -- the millions of people in the street -- he called them
trash. And now, people are telling him: You
FP: Does Mousavi
have a message that he'd like to deliver to the international community?
MM:[He asks] that
the governments [of the world] pay attention to the people in the streets and
do not recognize the government of Ahmadinejad as the representative of Iran --
[that they] do not recognize the government of Ahmadinejad as a legitimate
government. Iran is a very important country in the region, and the changes in
Iran could have an influence everywhere. So as a result, it's not only an internal
matter -- it's an international problem. If Iran could be a democratic Islamic
country, that would be a pattern, a role model, for other Islamic countries. And
even if Iran has a terrorist image [today], it would be a model for other
countries [in the future].
Mohsen Makhmalbaf is the
official spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi outside Iran. He is also an
award-winning filmmaker based in Paris.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted with the use of an interpreter.