Two years after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fraudulent re-election to the Iranian presidency, it would be fair to say that Iran's pro-democracy reform movement is on the ropes. Key leaders of the Green Movement have vanished from public view, confined to house arrest or simply "disappeared" by the regime. Protesters, having been systematically bloodied at the hands of Iran's basij militia, have retreated to the Internet for virtual dissent. The authorities have followed them there, erecting an increasingly draconian web-filtering system aimed at isolating dissidents from each other and from the outside world.
But Iran's beleaguered democrats are starting to show heartening new signs of life. A number of Green Movement intellectuals in Tehran recently published a manifesto on the Century Foundation's InsideIRAN.org website. In it, they lay out the most detailed agenda to date for the country's reformists to retake the offensive in the ongoing struggle for Iran's soul.
"Greens inside and outside the country alike need to develop new tactics and strategies in order to utilize and channel effectively the ever-rising economic, political, and social discontent within our country and to ensure that the movement does not split or falter," the document declares. To do so, its authors contend, Iran's anti-regime activists need to concentrate their energies on three things.
First, they must emphasize their common core value: democracy. "The principles that unite all Greens are the goals of rule of law, respect for human rights, and the supremacy of popular sovereignty over all state and government institutions, including the post of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Revolution," the document proclaims. That call constitutes a direct repudiation of the doctrine of velayat-e faqih (rule of the jurisprudent), which makes Iran's clerical elite the ultimate arbiters of politics and justice. The manifesto makes the Iranian Greens' message clear: They believe the nature of Iranian governance needs to be fundamentally altered, and power restored to the people.
Second, the manifesto calls on Iran's disparate opposition elements to demonstrate something that so far has been sorely lacking in their struggle: a real sense of cohesion. To that end, the document proposes the creation of a central "Green Council" of leading political leaders and intellectuals, and the formation of individual Green "cells" throughout the country. The goal would be to establish a national network through which the movement can propagate its ideas—and more effectively mobilizes masses when circumstances require.
Finally, the manifesto maps out what amounts to an ambitious agenda for anti-regime activism. "Strikes, boycotts, silent demonstrations" and other forms of civil disobedience are now back on the table. So is bolstering "propaganda" actions aimed at exposing regime corruption and human-rights violations, to include "naming and shaming" the officials responsible for such abuses. These plans bear more than a passing resemblance to the tactics that Cold War-era dissidents used in their efforts to discredit the Soviet leadership a generation ago.
Still, whether this blueprint can translate into a real agenda for strengthening Iran's opposition remains to be seen. The manifesto's authors have been quick to stress that their document is simply a "set of suggestions" intended to improve the Green Movement's long-term viability and prospects against the regime in Tehran. Moreover it's not even clear whether the manifesto itself will find broad resonance among Iran's various opposition camps, divided as they are at the moment in both outlook and objectives. The regime, meanwhile, is sure to redouble its hard- and soft-power efforts to ensure that the Green Movement remains both marginal and divided.
But for perhaps the first time, there does appear to be a game-plan for Iran's anti-regime activists, should they choose to follow it. For the rest of us outside Iran who believe that the country's destiny is democratic rather than theocratic, it offers new reason to invest in the idea of freedom within the Islamic Republic.