EXCLUSIVE: Iranian Dissident Akbar Ganji on the Iranian Uprising and Obama

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Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I’ve just conducted a phone interview with Akbar Ganji, one of the leading Iranian dissidents and most prominent voices in the international community for a more liberal Iran. He knows its brutality in a deeply personal way: the regime imprisoned Ganji for five years after he wrote a series of articles exposing its human rights abuses. Although the Bush administration sought to fund Ganji’s efforts in the hope of encouraging his fellow dissidents, Ganji took a high-profile stance against American support, arguing that even the suggestion of U.S. backing would set back the cause of human rights in Iran. We spoke through a translator. This is the first interview he’s given to an English-language news outlet since the Iranian uprising broke out last weekend.

Naturally, Ganji hailed the opposition movement, but was cautious about claiming that Iran was in a revolutionary situation, as some have contended. “So far, the people have stood their ground really well. I’m hopeful that with everyone’s support, they can actually keep this movement going forward,” Ganji said.

“It’s very difficult to predict where this is going to lead to right now. The main point is that the government is very powerful. The regime is very organized with its intelligence forces, and the entire military apparatus, including the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij are included in this. These guys are really well trained.

“[Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamanei is a massive dictator, whose first and foremost interest is to maintain power and stay in power. The other point is that the Iranian people 30 years ago had a major revolution, the 1979 revolution, and following that, were involved in an eight-year war [with Iraq] and after that was the reformist movement. In the past 10 years, we’ve had varying experiences. So in one way, they’re not really looking for a revolution because it’s very expensive and very costly at the end. But altogether, the people are extremely unhappy with the regime, and they have a lot of hate for the regime.

“So the current situation is dangerous. One outcome is the regime might use extreme violence, with all the powers at its means to suppress the movement. The other option is that the regime will not accept the people’s request and the people will continue demonstrating. And the people’s requests and their aspirations will get larger and larger, which will lead to a revolution, whose outcome is really unknown.

“But there is another solution, a middle ground where Khamanei will accept the people’s requests. Khamanei will not like to accept the people’s requests, and will feel that if he will give ground, that will leave to more requests from people, and having to give more ground.”

What does Ganji think of President Obama’s statements about Iran? “From my perspective, Obama has so far said he won’t meddle in Iran’s internal situation, and that’s a good, good approach,” Ganji said, but he added, “He cannot stay silent on human rights issues.” Clearly, Ganji thinks the Obama administration isn’t striking the right balance between non-intervention and humanitarian concerns. But that’s not to say that more active American support is welcome:

“Bush’s policies toward Iran and the Middle East were completely wrong. The result of Bush’s policy, it led to Iran gaining strength. Mr. Obama is trying to change the policy. If we can separate two points, we can actually drive to a good policy. First, Iran’s path to democracy and the people’s movement to democracy is for the people of Iran. No foreign country, either America or any other, should get involved in that process.

“Secondly, human rights is an international condition. When a country denies human rights for its own people, the entire world should punish that government. So the people of Iran will not want anyone to get involved in that. But what they expect from the world is to protest an Iranian regime from a human-rights perspective. This is a policy which I stand by.

“The Iranian people are saying the Ahmadinejad government is a coup d’etat government. They’re asking that no government accept the legitimacy of his government. This is what most people want, for no government to work with the Ahmadinejad government.”

Should the United States continue diplomatic outreach toward Iran, as the Obama administration is seeking?

“Not with the government of Ahmadinejad, a government that people consider a coup d’etat government.”

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Comments

14 Comments

Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy
Pingback posted June 18, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

[...] recent developments in Iran. Ganji expressed excitement over the opposition movement, but was guarded about talk that another revolution may be brewing. In particular, Ganji worried about how the regime, which he views as well-equipped to put down [...]


Michael Tomasky: Leading Iranian dissident speaks | A Great President
Pingback posted June 18, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

[...] Ackerman cadges an exclusive interview with Akbar Ganji, a leading Iranian dissident. It’s a big deal and worth a read. On where [...]


Photomaniacal » Blog Archive » Michael Tomasky: Leading Iranian dissident speaks
Pingback posted June 18, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

[...] Ackerman cadges an exclusive interview with Akbar Ganji, a leading Iranian dissident. It’s a big deal and worth a read. On where [...]


Aburjubur.com » Iran Election Live-Blogging (Thursday June 18)
Pingback posted June 18, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

[...] PM ET — Can Obama separate Iran policy from the human rights question? Spencer Ackerman: “I’ve just conducted a phone interview with Akbar Ganji, one of the leading Iranian [...]


zh
Comment posted June 19, 2009 @ 2:26 am

The US will have to wait till the elections are resolved, regardless. Who in the Iranian government now has time to deal with anything else? This is not going to fizzle out. Once again, it's not always all about us!


What Our Fundamental Values Demand | America Watches Obama
Pingback posted June 19, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

[...] the manner in which it maintains power is a kind of absurd hyper-realism — and it is rejected by the very dissidents in whose interest the left claims Obama is [...]


The American Spectator : AmSpecBlog : Obama's "Deeper Wisdom" on Iran
Pingback posted June 19, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

[...] Personally, I think there is worthwhile debate to be had over the proper U.S. response, and earlier today, I linked to Spencer Ackerman’s interview with noted Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, who [...]


John McCain needs to shut up about Iran « Transitionland
Pingback posted June 25, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

[...] dissident has called for the US to take a stronger approach at this time, and several, including Akbar Ganji, have long argued that any support the US government tries to lend dissidents will only undermine [...]


mirhashemziai
Comment posted July 24, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

Dear Independent N.N.
I am very disturbed to see that Mr. Ganji has been regarded so highly by your establishment. You cinsider him as “The leading Iranian dissidents and most prominent voices in the international community for a mor liberal Iran.
Sadly, I have to say that Mr. Akbar Ganji is nothing but an agent for Iranian Mullahs. He has an extensive criminal record in torturing and killing many innocent Iranians. Mr. Ganji is strongly supporting the criminal and the most oppressive regime in the world- Islamic Republic of Iran. He has duty in abroad to fulfill- to penetrate foreign media, as he has done it very successfully. Your article is the best evidence to my statement.
I would suggest you investigate his political background as well as his personal record to find out his treacherus, vicious, and criminal personality.
MH. Ziai


Iran Election Live-Blogging (Thursday June 18) | linkthe.com
Pingback posted July 30, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

[...] PM ET — Can Obama separate Iran policy from the human rights question? Spencer Ackerman: “I’ve just conducted a phone interview with Akbar Ganji, one of the leading Iranian [...]


Name
Comment posted December 11, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

I would not trust Akbar Gangi, because he has been an effective member of Islamic revolutionary guard, and on the other hand, I know that there are too many Iranians living abroad as a businessman, student, refugee and even oppositions that in fact they are working for Iranian Intelligence Ministry (VEVAK) or the Government. Even among Iranian prisoners, there are number of prisoners that are working for Intelligence Ministry. Is Akbar Gangi working for living? Does it cover all his expenses? If not, where is all this money coming from?


Name
Comment posted December 11, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

I would not trust Akbar Gangi, because he has been an effective member of Islamic revolutionary guard, and on the other hand, I know that there are too many Iranians living abroad as a businessman, student, refugee and even oppositions that in fact they are working for Iranian Intelligence Ministry (VEVAK) or the Government. Even among Iranian prisoners, there are number of prisoners that are working for Intelligence Ministry. Is Akbar Gangi working for living? Does it cover all his expenses? If not, where is all this money coming from?


Neil Hicks: What Can the Obama Administration do about Iran? | BlackNewsTribune.com
Pingback posted October 3, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

[...] In an interview with Spencer Ackerman, published yesterday, leading Iranian dissident and former political prisoner Akbar Ganji, who was a critic of the interventionist pretensions of the Bush administration, makes a useful distinction between U.S. government support for human rights and what he views as illegitimate efforts to influence the democratic process. Ganji urges the Obama administration to stay out of the “democratic movement of the Iranian people,” but to speak out against violations of human rights that take place. [...]


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