- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The hard-liners are making the most noise in Iran’s domestic debate over the nuclear deal, but many of the country’s sidelined reformist politicians and human rights activists are quietly greeting the pact with relief and support.

Some leading voices in the so-called Green Movement, crushed in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 election and the political protests it sparked, say it is now only a matter of time before the deal — and the easing of Iran’s economic and political isolation — will lead to reforms at home, but others are skeptical.

The Green Movement arose in 2009 when divisive conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second presidential term under suspicious circumstances. Mr. Ahmadinejad defeated two reformist politicians, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Many thought Mr. Mousavi was the true victor.

Detained in 2011, both Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi remain under house arrest, but many of their political allies have spoken favorably about the nuclear deal. They are using the agreement to continue calls for human rights and the release of political prisoners.

Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a former mayor of Tehran and campaign manager for Mr. Karroubi, said he welcomed the deal.

“This is a new opportunity both for Iran and the world,” he said. Mr. Karbaschi also believes the deal will help with the domestic human rights issues in Iran.

“I don’t agree with some people who argue that the state will tighten its grip internally after the deal,” he said. “I actually think when our authorities feel at peace internationally and secure, they will also take steps to resolve internal political problems.”

When the deal was first announced, local press accounts in Iran reported that many who took to the streets in celebration wore green and chanted for the release of Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi.

Elias Hazrati, an outspoken journalist and close associate of Mr. Karroubi, largely agreed with Mr. Karbaschi’s analysis. Many in the reform movement argue that hard-liners have used the West’s hostility and the U.S.-led sanctions as excuses for Iran’s weak economic performance under Mr. Ahmadinejad and for the need for political repression.

“The West can benefit from Iran’s power in the region and Iran can benefit from the world,” he said, adding that the deal “might also lead to an opening in the domestic political atmosphere.”

Western analysts say the deal could boost the relatively moderate government of President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the chief Iranian negotiator in the talks, in the clash of factions that has long typified Iranian politics.

The president would enjoy “a lot of political capital,” Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the Rand Corp., told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview this month.

But the deal, facing a 60-day review in Iran’s parliament, also could spark a conservative backlash, Mr. Nader warned.

“What the conservatives fear is Rohani using his popularity to enact major changes in Iran,” he said. “So far, Rohani has been very cautious, but will his calculation change after a nuclear deal? While he may get a big boost from a nuclear accord, he still faces a political system largely controlled by conservatives. They are likely to push back hard against any attempts at reform, no matter how small.”

Akbar Ganji, a reformist journalist and former political prisoner, supports the deal. He thinks a transition to democracy is now more likely.

“National security and economic prosperity are prerequisites for the emergence of a democratic regime,” he said in an article published by The Huffington Post. “Destroying the infrastructure of a nation through harsh economic sanctions and war will not bring about a transition to democracy.”

Skepticism

But some in the Green Movement are more skeptical about what effect, if any, the deal will have on the domestic situation in Iran.

Fakhrosadat Mohtashamipour is a reformist and wife of political activist and reformer Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was arrested during the 2009 protests. She supports the deal but doesn’t believe it will improve the state of human rights within the Islamic republic.

“I fully support the nuclear negotiations and look forward to their fruitful conclusion,” she said this year. “However, personally, I do not see a direct linkage between improvements in human rights and nuclear negotiations.

Fariborz Raisdana, an economist and recently released political prisoner, shares Ms. Mohtashamipour’s apprehensions.

“This perception that after a successful nuclear negotiation there will be any change in the human rights or social and cultural civil liberties is a wrong perception,” he said. “Foreign governments are only interested in their economic interests.”

Reformer Abbas Abdi, who as a student helped storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 but went on to become one of the country’s best-known activists for greater political liberties and an adviser to Mr. Karroubi during his campaign, was pleased with the deal but not optimistic about a quick improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations.

“I don’t think there will be an American Embassy in Tehran in the near future,” Mr. Abdi predicted, claiming that bilateral relations have been “taken hostage by domestic political rivalries in both countries.”

Although there are some naysayers, the majority of the members of the Green Movement predict that human rights will improve after economic sanctions are lifted.

Isa Saharkhiz believes that once the nuclear issue is resolved, human rights inevitably will become the top priority for Iranians and the international community. Mr. Saharkhiz was a member of President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist administration and was arrested during the 2009 Green Movement protests.

“I believe it will have a widespread positive impact on the collective and individual lives of Iranians,” Mr. Saharkhiz said about the nuclear deal. “I believe resolution of the nuclear file will promote human rights concerns to the No. 1 priority and both domestic and international focus on these issues will increase.”

Many hope Iran’s willingness to negotiate a deal with foreign powers is indicative of trend toward greater openness and engagement by the Iranian government. They hope to capitalize on the progress with this issue by reiterating the demands made during the 2009 protests.

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