- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

ISTANBUL | Three decades ago, Moshen Sazegara quit his studies at the University of Illinois to join Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return from exile to lead Iran’s Islamic revolution.

A close aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, Mr. Sazegara was a founder of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but an eventual falling-out with the clerical regime sent him back to the United States as an exile.

Today, he has become a global leader for Iranian dissidents who have risen up in opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the clerics who have endorsed his disputed re-election.

Mr. Sazegara’s image now appears on many Iranians’ computer screens every day, all over the world, against a green background seared with a V for victory sign.

The Washington-based dissident’s wardrobe of green T-shirts and the green ribbon permanently tied around his right wrist adhere strictly to the opposition’s color scheme. Sometimes, the color branding is so strong that only Mr. Sazegara’s pale complexion swims out from a sea of green.

“Everyone in this green democratic wave that starts from the alleys of Tehran and stretches to Australia and California has a role to play,” he said in a recent broadcast dedicated to avoiding fragmentation and uniting the disparate protesters behind the person of presidential candidate and de facto opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

“No one has the right to walk either in front or behind Mr. Mousavi,” he said. “We only have one rahbar [supreme leader], and that is engineer Mousavi.”

In his 10-minute videos, the balding Mr. Sazegara encourages the demonstrators in well-enunciated conversational Persian to continue taking to the streets. Almost every broadcast contains new suggestions for fighting the regime — such as turning soccer games, religious events or pro-regime rallies into public protests.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, used Mr. Sazegara as one of his closest advisers. As Iran bubbled in pre-revolutionary fervor in 1978, Mr. Sazegara dropped out of school and flew to Paris to join the ayatollah, translating his speeches for an English-speaking audience.

Once Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, Mr. Sazegara became a close aide and set up the Revolutionary Guard, an ideological army entrusted with safeguarding the principles of the revolution.

But in an example of revolutions devouring their children, he was arrested in 2003 and fled to the United States soon after his release. He remains one of the highest-ranking Islamic Republic officials ever to have switched sides. Now, he is using his inside knowledge in hopes of hastening the collapse of the same Islamic republic he helped build.

“You have to peel away the people around Khamenei like the skins of an onion until he remains with his four sons and basic supporters like Mr. Ahmadinejad,” Mr. Sazegara said of the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Although isolating Ayatollah Khamenei is improbable by supporting regime mainstays such as Mr. Mousavi, a former two-time prime minister and Khomeini protege, Mr. Sazegara and others with an anti-Islamic Republic of Iran agenda advocate supporting him for the time being.

“The ‘opposition’ in Iran has largely advocated peaceful and nonviolent protests,” said Alireza Nader, an analyst at the Rand Corp. “Even these key figures realize that violent protests may lead to the undesired destabilization of the Islamic system.

“So there may be some room for ‘civil disobedience,’ but not so large that it may result in the downfall of the Islamic Republic, which the opposition does not want to see happen,” Mr. Nader said.

Story Continues →