Expert: Iran Isolates Opposition Factions

The opposition movement in Iran includes students, women, exiles, and others. Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations describes the Iranian government's "quarantine" strategy for curtailing opposition in the country rather than a sledgehammer strategy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

This week, we've been giving time to the opposition. We've been learning about opposition groups first in Myanmar, and then in Egypt.

Unidentified Man: Egyptians are afraid of protesting, afraid of becoming politically active because they face severe repression by the regime -intimidation, imprisonment.

AMOS: The opposition has more freedom than the country we'll hear about next.

INSKEEP: But in that country, Iran, the government still works to keep protests limited. Just this week 100 students protested a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They called him a dictator, which must have caught the attention of authorities who know students play the role in Iran's last revolution in 1979.

But Ray Takeyh, author of a book called "Hidden Iran," noticed the government's response was subtle and the protest did not spread.

Mr. RAY TAKEYH (Author, "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic"): Lately, what the regime has been trying to do is confine the student protests within the university as opposed to having it sweep in the street. And as a matter of fact, the government has announced that there were no arrests as a result of this week's demonstrations. So as long as it takes place within the narrow confine of the university, it prefers to have a quarantine strategy as opposed to a sledgehammer one.

INSKEEP: Does the opposition in this country where women face many restrictions include women's groups?

Mr. TAKEYH: Yeah. There are women groups, NGOs and so forth. The reform movement has been paying a particular attention to that because they do recognize that some of their political triumphs in previous presidential and parliamentary elections had a lot to do with a strong female vote.

INSKEEP: A colleague of mine handed me a list of prominent women leaders in the opposition movement. It includes woman who was described as a key member of the campaign against stoning. What kind of country needs a campaign against stoning?

Mr. TAKEYH: A country that still practices stoning for the charge of adultery. It is part of the Islamic penal code. It is a practice that is rare in Iran but it still happens.

INSKEEP: So you've got student groups. You've got some opposition politicians of various stripes. You've got women's groups. What about exiles and their role in the opposition that's actually takes place in and around Iran?

Mr. TAKEYH: In that particular sense, the exile opposition plays less of a role within Iran than they do outside Iran. I think largely their impact on the political trajectory of Iran is likely to remain limited.

INSKEEP: Who was the leader who's been recently exiled? Akbar Ganji is the name.

Mr. TAKEYH: He was a - investigative journalist that did some remarkable reporting on some serial killing of intellectuals and opposition forces by the Islamic Republic. And he attributed those serial killings to former President Rafsanjani and his intelligence services. His most immediate cause of arrest was his participation in a conference in Berlin that dealt with human rights and so forth.

INSKEEP: What was the crime? Talking about Iran in a bad way at the conference?

Mr. TAKEYH: I think it was working against the national interest, which is a very amorphous crime - to the extent it is a crime - but it was just an excuse for his apprehension. I had an occasion to meet with him a number of times and I asked him about prison life and how he has adjusted to solitary confinement, hunger strikes. And he was just saying that his spirit was very strong, he believed in his cause and he is capable of adjusting to his environment, and he will do so again.

INSKEEP: So this opposition is trying to get more organized, I assume, over time, and the government is trying to be more sophisticated in the way that it deals with the opposition. Who's gaining?

Mr. TAKEYH: Well, at this point, I will say the regime has largely consolidated its power. The regime's approach is to create a situation in an environment that leads to de-politicization of the Iranian youth and Iranian middle class by suggesting to them, your demonstrations and even your participation in political activities aren't going to be affective. And that has actually in the past couple of years provoked some degree of disenchantment from politics.

INSKEEP: You mentioned the disinterest in politics. Are you saying...

Mr. TAKEYH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...when students get tired of politics and don't participate, or when the middle class doesn't participate, the regime is happy?

Mr. TAKEYH: Yes, indeed. And that's one of the tragic ironies of Iran. In most other states, the government is actually trying to get greater popular participation in politics. This is sort of a deliberate policy of the regime to alienate and essentially provoke some degree of disinterest in politics.

INSKEEP: Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Hidden Iran.

Thanks very much.

Mr. TAKEYH: Thank you.

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Paradox And Power in the Islamic Republic

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