North Africa, West Asia

A call for sanity and tolerance in Iran at a time of national emergency

An open letter to Iran’s head of judiciary and deputy leader of Iran’s council of experts, Hojat-ol Eslam Ebrahim Raissi.

Mehrdad Khonsari
3 April 2020
Tehran, Iran. March 17, 2020
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Photo by Ali Shaeigan/Parspix/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved

I am sending you this letter at a time when, in addition to all the numerous problems which have for years plagued the lives of ordinary Iranian people in an unprecedented way, we and the international community are now confronted with the prospects of a deadly pandemic that has already taken so many lives while continuing to pose an on-going serious threat on a daily basis to the well-being of every Iranian.

I am, hopeful that all the people in the world may soon, in good health and full security, be able to put this disaster behind them. I wish all the doors of political and social relations in our country had been kept widely open so as to have allowed all patriotic Iranians to help with efforts to contain the crisis in our homeland.

This threat, nonetheless, provides a unique opportunity, which may never recur, to improve the fortunes of our nation’s citizens.

I am hopeful that your correct interpretation of underlying motives that prompted the writing of this letter will react positively and show all Iranians that you are also in search of a comprehensive national solution for ending the crisis that has placed the peace of mind, security, as well as the present and future health of our nation in such jeopardy.

I recall that in his ‘New Year’ (Nowrooz) speech to the nation four years ago when various socio-economic and international pressures on our people and country were a lot less than they are today, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic acknowledged that “true art is when opportunities are utilised in their literal sense by turning threats into new openings such that at the end of the year tangible differences are felt in the country.”

In my opinion, the "tangible differences" referred to by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic could have been that he wanted to provide reasonable and conducive conditions for the creation of an environment permitting coexistence, tolerance, rule of law, non-monopolisation of power and empathy between our government and the people of our country.

It was based on such a belief that I undertook to write a letter to the Supreme Leader in which I stressed the need for the implementation of a policy of ‘national reconciliation’ to save our country.

It is an undeniable fact that I have been a long-time critic of policies carried out by the Islamic Republic. However, I have at no time advocated policies that would destabilise our nation through internal chaos, civil war or an external conflict that, God forbid, risked the dismemberment of our country.

I am addressing this letter to you because of the solemn and important vow you made at the outset of your new assignment to combat the widespread corruption that has exacerbated the despair and mistrust of our citizens.

Everyone today is well aware of the serious problems threatening the national interest, the cohesion of our society and the territorial integrity of our nation.

From the inability to manage the devastating floods at the beginning of the year, to the chaos and fragmentation of managing the Coronavirus crisis at the end of the year, there has been a chain of inefficiencies witnessed not just by our people but by many in the international community. The lack of judgement and the ineptitude that was displayed in handling the Ukrainian passenger plane crash; events that led the country to the brink of war with the United States; violent suppression of protesters in November; the wholesale disqualification of numerous outspoken candidates from within the ruling establishment in the course of the recent Majlis elections, and the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, are examples of this continuous chain of calamities that has seriously eroded and questioned the credibility of everyone not just in government but throughout the entire system.

While various files pertaining to each of these incidents have been put on hold, not one of them has been resolved and, more importantly, the regime has failed to influence or convince public opinion on any of these matters. Therefore, if the system has so far prevented various popular demonstrations across the country from getting out of hand, such as last November’s protests against hikes in the price of gasoline, nonetheless, public dissatisfaction with these events, and general unhappiness at mounting economic difficulties for citizens living below the poverty line and facing injustice and corruption - an issue that you, yourself, have placed at the top of your own agenda - has given new impetus to public opposition.

Revolutionary speeches and slogans, and even violent clashes with protesters alone, are not a suitable response to the just demands of our people

In a society plagued by so many problematic issues that appear unsolvable by the current government, it is impossible to imagine any outcome other than a continuation of periodic protests by a distressed and desperate populace.

It is clear that revolutionary speeches and slogans, and even violent clashes with protesters alone, are not a suitable response to the just demands of our people. Moreover, in the absence of a radical cure for these various ailments, our society will continue being confronted with problems of internal stability as well as threats emanating from abroad.

You are certainly aware of the danger presented by interventions made by the security forces, the Revolutionary Guards and the ‘Bassij’ in successive clashes with our disgruntled and desperate people. Moreover, the unprecedented boycott of recent elections to the Islamic Consultative Assembly is yet another clear and unambiguous message from ordinary citizens who have emphatically turned their backs on the current leadership. This divergence clearly demonstrates the enormous chasm of credibility that has now come to dominate relations between the people and the ruling establishment.

The recently engineered ‘parliamentary majority’ supporting the policies of "hard core elements within the ruling establishment" in the course of the recent Majles election will succeed in securing neither the silence nor the confidence of our people who are disheartened with the regime’s inability to solve any of their problems. Hence, people are unlikely to have any faith or expectations from such an assembly.

Previous remarks from the Supreme Leader that "even those who have problems with the system should participate in the electoral process," first mentioned on the eve of the ‘Majles election’ 6 years ago and repeated again most recently, potentially conveyed the impression that while the government was unlikely to tolerate the presence of elements from the opposition inside the country’s legislature, nonetheless it was willing to accept that they have rights, and can live freely and without fear of safety among their people and in service to their country.

Such a hopeful interpretation of his words, during these turbulent times, could have provided the basis for announcing a "conditional amnesty" in order to change the current atmosphere of separation and discord to one of harmony and accord, thereby paving the way for the return and seamless participation of all Iranians interested in serving their country.

Additionally, such an outlook could have led to creating conducive conditions for the implementation of a policy of ‘national reconciliation’ aimed at securing the unity and integrity of the Iranian nation.

Such a project, in light of similar recent references made to it by a number of senior domestic figures, especially those made by the presidency, underlying the need for empathy and ‘national reconciliation’, could undoubtedly benefit all people during this critical period when our nation is at the centre of a dangerous storm.

It is beyond doubt that in the course of the recent ‘Coronavirus crisis’, certain decisions were made by the Judiciary, and certain bold steps were taken under your aegis, which until now many might have considered as totally unacceptable. But as result of these courageous steps many detainees, including a number of political prisoners as well as ‘dual nationals’, were given leave and released from detention. Therefore, if as a result of the Coronavirus a decision of this magnitude can be taken in order to curtail the spread of this disease, why is it not possible to apply such a remedy to other serious ailments? Why can we not have ‘conditional amnesty’ as a prelude to an all-encompassing call for national reconciliation? And why can't the widespread virus of mistrust and public dissatisfaction be eliminated?

Why can we not have ‘conditional amnesty’ as a prelude to an all-encompassing call for national reconciliation?

There is no doubt that ‘national reconciliation’ is the only sensible way to establish practical relationships between various elements in our society that have no motive other than to serve the people and reinvigorate the nation, while ensuring national security by averting the types of dangers that can lead to anarchy and instability.

But our homeland is also threatened by other serious dangers. At present, Iran and its current leadership are at a decisive crossroad that is confronting them with an unpredictable future. It is simply unacceptable to reject talks, ignore all international agreements dealing with money laundering; or to unceremoniously reject the helping hand of ‘Doctors Without Borders’ at a time when their intervention to support ordinary people facing the Coronavirus was badly needed, and still expect matters to improve.

In our interconnected world we can no longer live as an isolated island. Therefore, we are in need of a new path and a new road map before it is too late.

Our dejected society, in the course of its search for a peaceful, just and rational solution, may inadvertently lead to scenarios witnessed in Iraq and Libya, thereby subjecting not just our suffering people but the entire current leadership to a similar fate.

Therefore, the only viable option for avoiding violence and vengeance is to pursue the path of national reconciliation, so that it can heal and enable our damaged society to pursue a path in the direction of tolerance and compromise. In the recent past, adoption of such a course of action in Franco’s Spain and ‘Apartheid South Africa’ was able to peacefully pave the way for the needed transition. I strongly believe we are also capable of taking the kind of steps needed for the attainment of such an important objective.

For the ruling establishment in our country, and for those holding the key levers of power, the available options are not to maintain the status quo or to disappear quietly. Indeed, given the dire circumstances before us, the only realistic options available are either to remain in power and accept the participation and assistance of other forces, or to face an inevitable escalation of the present crisis with more nationwide violence and geopolitical uncertainty.

An escalation as such clearly benefits no one. I am hopeful, bearing in mind the responsibilities placed upon your shoulders, and not losing sight of the serious changes that have evolved in our society in the course of the past 41 years, that you can step forward and embrace the call for national reconciliation as the only viable option that in current circumstances is capable of driving the relationship between the state, the people and key actors in the international community in a different direction. Your intervention can create the conducive framework that is needed for integrating innovative, young and fresh forces into a process that can transform the present crisis of suffocation into a promising opportunity for a future that can make all Iranians proud.

In the end, I must emphasize that disregarding the contents of this letter will not solve any of the ever-increasing problems facing our nation and will only reinforce the belief amongst people, various political forces and key players in the international arena that only through the use of force and violence can Iran's destiny take a different path.

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