It is perhaps an understatement to say that the 2009 presidential elections was a pivotal moment in Iran’s recent history; the effects of those events are still being felt today. The demonstrations that erupted were in protest of the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Iranian Presidency, and in support of the candidate du jour, Mir Hossein Mousavi. A former Prime Minister of Iran, he was politically allied with former President Mohammad Khatami, and was a favourite of Iranian youths and professionals who sought change and reform in their country. This mix of politicians and their supporters became known as the Green Movement, with their distinct green headbands, wristbands and t-shirts.
For many months following the eruption of demonstrations, the Green Movement was at the forefront of political hope: what started as a protest against the election results quickly became a cry of revolution. The pictures of the demonstrations seemed no different from the images of 1979. Cries against an oppressive regime were being shouted, rallies were organised not just in Iran but abroad, placards of a popular leader (in this case, Mousavi) were displayed, and people were killed. The shooting and killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young female protestor, became a rallying point for many international organisations, including Amnesty International.
However, the ensuing crackdown by the government stifled any potential the reformists could have had. Activists were forced underground or were given no option but to leave the country. It was just not activists who were intimidated, but their families, associates, colleagues and friends. The regime rounded up many activists; sometimes even just people associated with the movement were imprisoned for months (some, years). Its leaders, including Mousavi, have been placed under house arrest or have been effectively forced into political silence.
Say what you will, but the Iranian government has somewhat successfully taken the wind out of the Green Movement’s sails. Now, with the current infighting between the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, it seems that political conflict in Iran has taken a different turn. Furthermore, with the Arab Spring, it seems that attention from Iran’s Green Movement (and perhaps rate of “success” seeing that the Arab has lost four of its dictators) has somewhat been diverted.
So, where are they today? Despite the crackdown and the lack of mainstream media attention, it would seem that the Green Movement continues on, albeit clandestinely or from outside Iran. The movement has been forced abroad with the new Iranian political émigrés now becoming activists in foreign countries. A small group of supporters have remained in Iran, to keep the movement as alive as possible, and in order to maintain a connection with its members who have fled the country.
However, like all movements, the Green Movement is riddled with infighting and conflicting ideas. Khatami and his supporters have taken a less extreme approach and do not look to topple the regime, but rather suggest working with it. Recently, the members in Iran produced a document listing and detailing the changes they want to see in the country. The members abroad did not accept this blueprint, and this is reflective of the conflict between the two groups. Each has their own influences and work within their own limitations. Unfortunately, instead of cohesion, this has produced conflict. Those within Iran are forced to keep the movement alive under trying circumstances with constant intimidation while those abroad are arguably too distant to participate or contribute effectively, or risk exposing their families and friends in Iran.
The Green Movement, for now at least, has been successfully muted enough for it not to pose any dire threat to the regime. When once we thought it could bring down the regime, it would seem that the Islamic government itself is going through its own internal crisis, with the conflict among the conservatives themselves. The Green Movement has however shown its potential as a political and social movement. It may not have been successful in 2009, but knowing the patterns of Iran’s history, change takes a while to gestate.