The Green Movement
In this article, we shall discuss the Green Movement in Iran from 2009 onwards. We shall examine the origins of the Green movement, the reasons for the political movement, the government and military response to the movement, as well as the current state of the Green Movement.
What is the Green Movement?
The Green Movement was a democratic movement initiated in Iran in 2009. At the time, then President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was running for re-election against opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. And while the elections the took place were expected to be close between the two candidates, the government came out saying that Ahmedinejad won the elections by a wide margin.
As Milani (NPD) explains, “The day after the June 12 election results were announced, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto Tehran’s streets to protest. The regime was caught off guard by the Green Movement’s demonstration. Security forces were initially paralyzed by the numbers. But then the regime unleashed security forces, including Revolutionary Guards, units of the Basij paramilitary units, and plain-clothed paramilitary forces called Lebas Shakhsi. Thousands of protesters were beaten, hundreds were arrested and dozens were killed by snipers.”
Along with this, Milani (NPD) goes on to explain that the religious clerics also supported the elections, which led to further frustrations by many protesters, who directed their anger towards the religious-political establishment. Speaking about this, Milani (NPD) explains that
“On June 18, Khamenei delivered a Friday prayer sermon that dismissed the protesters’ complaints and endorsed the election results. It reflected the regime’s formal announcement that it would not tolerate the Green Movement—and would do whatever it took to suppress it. The new confrontation was symbolized by the death of 26-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, an aspiring musician, on June 20. She was shot by a sniper, as she stood at the edge of a Green Movement protest. A cell phone video that captured her dying on the pavement was circulated around the world. Neda and pictures of her blood-spattered face became symbols of the Green Movement.”
However, these were far from the end of the protests. For example, activists continued to go to the streets to speak out against the government and the electoral corruption that they saw happen with the announcement of the presidential results. For example, many came out on June 25th, asking “Where is My Vote” to the government (Dabashi, 2013). In fact, “[f]or the next six months, an array of groups under the Green Movement umbrella used public holidays and national commemorations to rally on the streets of several cities. In the past, the government had bussed in people to attend events and used them to claim popular support. In 2009, however, it dispatched security forces to get the people off the streets. With each new round, the government grew more repressive, yet also appeared increasingly vulnerable” (Milani, NPD).
In addition, the citizens would use national holidays, such as Quds Day (or Jerusalem Day) on September 18th, 2009, on National Student Day (December 9th), among other holidays to voice their concern with the state (Milani, NPD). However, the security forces often responded with violence against the protesters. For example, this was evident during the protests on December 27th, 2009, which was Ashoura, a holiday in Shia Islam. On this day, “Hundreds of thousands turned out in mass protests. In response, government forces opened fire on unarmed civilians in the streets. Turmoil spread to at least 10 major cities. There were several confirmed deaths, scores of injured and hundreds of arrests. The fact that a clerical regime had opened fire on peaceful demonstrators on the day of Ashoura was a serious departure from a long tradition of non-violence on that day” (Milani, NPD).
The protests ended after the government arrested a number of top figures in the Green Movement. As Dabashi (2013) explains, “[t]he nominal leaders of the uprising were systematically arrested, subjected to kangaroo courts and jailed. But Mir Hossein Mousavi, who became universally recognised as the symbolic leader of the movement, valiantly stood his ground, and in a series of public statements that culminated in the Manshur-e Jonbesh-e Sabz [the Charter of the Green Movement] joined the Iranian people in writing a new chapter in their long and tumultuous struggle for democracy. “
Hamid Dabashi (2013), speaking on the Green Movement and its goals, as well as future, argues that
“the Green Movement is not a revolution in the classic sense of the term – it is not violent, and it is not targeted to dismantle the ruling regime. It has neither the ideological nor the militant wherewithal of such aims. It is calm, it is quiet, patient, gentle, and it will outlast all its militant nemeses and obstacles with temperate tenacity.
The Islamic Republic may or may not fall from under the pressure of its own inner contradictions, or under the encroaching pressures of the geopolitics of the region. But whether it stays in power or falls, it makes no difference to the expansive success of the Green Movement, in which “Where Is My Vote?” will stay the course as the measure of its once and future successes.
Hooman Majd, writing in 2010, stated that we have to be careful as to how to define victory for The Green Movement. He wrote that “What is evident is that if we consider Iran’s pro-democracy “green movement” not as a revolution but as a civil rights movement — as the leaders of the movement do — then a “win” must be measured over time. The movement’s aim is not for a sudden and complete overthrow of Iran’s political system.” He goes on to say later that “Seen in this light, it’s evident that the green movement has already “won” in many respects, if a win means that many Iranians are no longer resigned to the undemocratic aspects of a political system that has in the last three decades regressed, rather than progressed, in affording its citizens the rights promised to them under Iran’s own Constitution” (Majd, 2010).
Challenges Regarding the Green Revolution
Despite the public protests in 2009, the Green Revolution was not able to sustain their protests in Iran. There are many reasons for the “decline” of the Green Movement, which include:
- Lack of any real and tangible accomplishments by the Green Movement during the years when it attempted to gain mass support from the public.
- The success of the regime to root out the Movement ideas, by adopting a zero tolerance approach that saw brutal repression. This saw the Movement lose its ability to influence the structures of the state.
- The failure of the Movement to maintain an Iranian-based leadership, that saw externally driven leadership of the Movement from outside the country. Protesters on the street resented that calls made by them would not see these leaders stand and up against the regime and bear the brunt of the regime’s security structures.
- The Movement’s focus and core constituency being in the large cities and not the poorer, rural areas that was Ahmadinejad’s constituency, whose support he had utilised to challenge reformists (Tafesh, 2012).
However, many have argued that there were also some problems with regards to the message (or the lack of particular message) within the Green Movement itself. For example, one glaring problem with the Green Movement was the lack of attention to economic issues in Iran. Tafesh (2012), writing on this issue, says that “[u]njustifiably, the Green Movement’s discourse hasn’t focused on economic issues but broader political issues. The movement was unable to justify its failure to deliver a new discourse based on an economy-centred strategy rather than a political one.” According to some, this includes the lack of attention to the increased economic sanctions from the West (Tafesh, 2012).
But, despite this problem of a lack of attention to the economic plight of Iranians, the Green Movement still did accomplish some things. With regards to their accomplishments of the Green Movement, Habashi (2013) goes on to argue that despite being suppressed by military forces, the Green Movement already won a great deal, particularly with regards to calling out the regime, as well as opposition leaders, along with corruption in Iran (Dabashi, 2013). Ganji (2014) seems to concur, saying that “The Green Movement may have been repressed, but it was only seemingly defeated.” He goes on to say that the Green Movement exposed the brutality of the state, and the willingness to use violence against civilians. In addition, the Green Movement also allowed the issue of the problematic elections of 2009 to still be a point of concern. Moreover, they not only have brought attention to the arrests of opposition leaders, by the state, but, according to Ganji, “[o]ver the the Green Movement has created connections and trust among manny millions of people, hence creating a potentially powerful social force that can re-emerge, given an opportunity.”
Thus, the Green Movement is still vary prevalent in Iran, despite deciding not to be involved in the 2013 elections, given the level of government repression of the group (Fassihi, 2013). It will be important to examine developments in Iran, and how the Green Movement continues to work in the political and civil society space in Iran.
Dabashi, H. (2013). What Happened to the Green Movement in Iran? Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/05/201351661225981675.html
Fassihi, F. (2013). Iran’s ‘Green Movement’ Attempts a Return. Wall Street Journal. June 7, 2013. Available Online: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324069104578527613830386792
Ganji, A. (2014). Iran’s Green Movement Five Years Later–‘Defeated’ But Ultimately Victorious. The World Post; Huffington Post. 06-09-2014. Available Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/akbar-ganji/iran-green-movement-five-years_b_5470078.html
Majd, H. (2010). Think Again: Iran’s Green Movement. Foreign Policy. January 6th, 2010. Available Online: http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/01/06/think-again-irans-green-movement/
Milani, A. (NPD). The Green Movement. United States Institute of Peace. Available Online: http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/green-movement
Tafesh, A.Q. (2012). Iran’s Green Movement: Reality and Aspirations. Al Jazeera Center for Studies. Monday 05 November, 2012. Available Online: http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2012/11/20121159103533337.htm