Two recent visits paid to Abdollah Nouri by Iranian student activists have generated a lot of buzz, and some media outlets have begun to refer to him as the reformist candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.
Leaving aside Nouri’s willingness or likelihood of entering the presidential arena — the willingness part seems to have already been refuted by Nouri in his latest statements — these visits are reminiscent of the meetings held every last Thursday of the month in the home of the first reformist minister, and the sessions dedicated to discussing theoretical and intellectual issues have led some people to propose that Abdollah Nouri run in the presidential elections. Nouri firmly rejected the idea and even refused to support or publicly endorse MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Principalists Welcome the Presence of Certain Reformists
Seyyed Mohammad Khatami has been both praised and criticized for his participation in the ninth parliamentary elections, which he justified as “keeping the horizons of reform open.” However, the former Iranian president, who had become the most prominent figure in the Green Movement since its leaders were put under house arrest, began to explain and interpret his controversial action and fell into a defensive mode.
After Khatami voted in the election, some began to speak of separating the Green Movement and the reformists, and the mainly principalist media — assuming that reformists would participate in the elections and endorse a candidate — began speculating on potential reformist candidates. Mohammadreza Aref, Kamal Kharazi, SeyyedHassan Khomeini and Eshagh Jahangiri were among the proposed names. However, the odd name among this group was that of Abdollah Nouri, the figure who resigned his place on Tehran city council to run in the sixth parliamentary elections and was tried and sent to prison for his role as director of the Khordad newspaper. Unlike the other figures mentioned, Nouri has no reputation as a moderate and flexible character. In fact, he was among those who criticized the reformist government for its willingness to compromise and its refusal to use all of its might and capacity. Although Nouri’s criticism of Khatami has remained in the territory of rumours, the different approaches of these two politicians are no mystery to anyone; that includes Sadegh Zibakalam, who described the president as a sedan and his interior minister as an 18-wheeler.
Even Ruhollah Hosseinian, the conservative Iranian MP and prominent member of the Resistance Front, touches on the topic and advises the reformists to choose Khatami as their leader.
This former senior judiciary and security official does not look favourably on Abdollah Nouri, saying: “I do not believe in him and do not approve of his previous methods. I do not think that Abdollah Nouri is suited for the leadership of the reformists.”
The efforts of the principalists to incite reformists to take a stance and become active participants in the coming presidential elections got a response from the reformist media. The Arman daily wrote “principalists are preparing a scenario for reformists.” He goes on to describe the principalists’ plan to create a division between Khatami and Nouri.
The Etemad newspaper also focused on this issue for two consecutive days, writing that: “It is interesting to realize that in the elections of 1997, Ruhollah Hosseinian defended Khatami and expressed his views on this issue on several televised panels. According to his own words, after that year’s elections a number of reformists called him and congratulated him. He even said that he was shown evidence by Saeed Emami indicating that: ‘Mr. Khatami is a good man, but the group that supported him was very dangerous, comprised of people that did not believe in the Islamic Republic regime, and if they took power, they would jeopardize the security of the country.’ Later, the chain murders put an end to Hosseinian’s warm regards for Khatami and made him reconsider the words of Saeed Emami.”
The Etemad daily writer suspects that “perhaps Ruhollah Hoseinian, with all his radical views against reform and Khatami, has now realized that the cycle of politics cannot turn without their presence” and, therefore, he prefers the kinds of reforms proposed by Khatami, “a man who is not a bad man himself but is surrounded by dangerous individuals”, since those individuals are now confined to some corner or another and are out of reach of Khatami.
In another article in the Etemad daily, the writer has made the following conclusions about recent statements from the principalists: “There is a fundamental reason to prefer Khatami to the other reformists. Khatami voted in the ninth parliamentary elections, showing that he is committed to the regime and its election procedures. They consider Khatami a moderate choice that would not pose a challenge to them but at the same time could prevent the complete omission of the reform movement.”
Nouri’s Doubts and Hopes
The publication of Abdollah Nouri’s statements from his meeting with some of the country’s student activists has revealed a number of main themes, which caught the attention of foreign media but were not published in Iran due to censorship. He emphasizes his idea to form a reform think tank, saying: “This proposal has never reached the stage of execution, and since I proposed it, it was assumed that it would lead to my candidacy in the presidential elections. Although I have had some meetings in this regard with some of our colleagues, it does not mean the reformist think tank has been already formed or that its membership has been set.”
These statements may be interpreted as Abdollah Nouri’s reluctance to run in the presidential elections; however, he goes on to express other ideas.
He says this think tank “should have a mechanism to become inclusive of all the reform movements… in order to rouse the reformists and their supporters as well as the Green Movement from their apathy and divisions, so they can try to plan, reconstruct and unite in a rational movement that suits current conditions.”
The former government official, who has already suffered incarceration for his views, is against separating the reform movement from the Green Movement. He say demands for such things as the release of political prisoners and of MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi (the opposition leaders who challenged Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 victory) should be placed side by side with the other issues and problems important to the public.
He even proposes that the Islamic Republic put the nuclear issue to a referendum, citing such precedents as the government’s change of direction on the war with Iraq and its relations with Saudi Arabia. However, such a proposal depends on accepting the machinery of elections and referenda, the very issue that triggered the birth of the Green Movement after the 2009 election protests. On the other hand, Nouri fails to detail how the reformist think tank could have an impact, or how it could be established and thrive in Iran’s political atmosphere, while reformist figures languish in prison and are banned from political activity and even the media is prohibited from publishing such discussions.
Will these efforts fall flat as they did in 2008 and 2009, with the reformists choosing division, or will Abdollah Nouri become an axis of convergence and a turning point for a new age of reform and the Green Movement?
photo: Abdollah Nouri and Mohammad Khatami
[translated from the original in Persian]