Mohsen Sazegara knows a lot about Iran's Islamic Revolution. As a founder of the Revolutionary Guard in 1979 who later became disillusioned with the direction of Iran's politics, he is in a unique position to talk both about the current Iranian regime and the nation that is increasingly rising up to resist it. His personal website has become a core destination for the protest movement and he contributes to that movement from his suburban Washington home.
In an interview Monday with The Cable, the former revolutionary and political prisoner spoke about what he sees as the looming tipping point in the struggle between the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an increasing part of the Iranian population. The upcoming protests this Thursday, Feb. 11, will bring that tipping point ever closer, according to Sazegara. Here's how he says the West should think about what's going on inside Iran and how that should inform U.S. thinking on the nuclear issue.
JR: What do you make of the news that Iran will increase its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent?
MS: I think that they are not able to get to 20 percent enriched uranium very easily... This is just something to show the world that they intend to go for higher enriched uranium. Inside Iran, President Ahmadinejad himself, he thinks that if he could have a deal that would be helpful for him inside Iran. But the other factions of power in Iran, including the leader and especially the Revolutionary Guard, they won't let him go there. It's a mess, anyway, and I think that nobody can sign any agreement in this situation with the P5+1, especially because of the situation inside Iran.
JR: How should the Obama administration react to what's going on inside Iran? What should he do?
MS: At the end of the day, the nation is fighting with the Revolutionary Guard for its human rights and freedom. The nuclear issue lies with the other conflicts between the international community and the Revolutionary Guard, like terrorism or the peace process in the region. The international conflict is with the Revolutionary Guard because these projects are controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. So I think that the best reaction is sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard and companies in Iran.... Sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard are something that can help, especially if they are connected to the democratic and human rights situation in Iran. At the same time they will help control the nuclear situation as well.
I hope that the Obama administration and other democratic countries will be more supportive of the struggle of the people of Iran for democracy and human rights. I can summarize it in four items. First, sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard. Second, technical support like satellite Internet for Iran and pressure on companies like Nokia which have sold devices to control SMS, cell phones, and Internet in Iran. Third, help asylum seekers. Some of the activists, journalists and freedom seekers are now out of Iran in Turkey, Iraq, or Dubai. We need to help to bring them to Western countries. The last one is, please everybody, help to prevent any military strike against Iran, especially from Israel, because it would be a gift for this regime. We believe that this regime will be overthrown by the people, and a military strike would be the only solution for this regime to save the government.
JR: Are there leaders of the protest movement that Western governments should engage with?
MS: The organization of the movement is a decentralized social, political network in Iran. Our slogan is "every soldier is a leader and every leader is a soldier," and that has worked so far... I think that the general support of the international community and the United States at this stage is enough. With this type of organization and the unity we have among all the opposition factions, now we are going ahead. There will be enough time after bringing down this government in a democratic Iran to talk to the politicians who will be in power.
JR: What are the goals and tactics of the protest movement?
MS: The goal of the movement is to bring down the government. To reach that goal there are four sub-goals, which are all based on peaceful resistance and nonviolence. First, delegitimization of the regime. Second, strength of the resistance and solidarity of the nation. Third, making rifts and cracks inside the regime. And fourth, paralyzing the regime. We have achieved several victories toward all four goals so far. On the other side, the regime has conducted a collection of brutalities, shooting people on the streets, imprisonment and rape of prisoners, beating the people on the streets, terrorist groups assassinating activists, and executions. They have tested all types of brutality that they thought would be useful to defeat the movement.
JR: What will happen on February 11 and after?
MS: On Feb. 11, the people of Iran will show they are not afraid of what the government has done in the last step, what we call the second wave of brutality of the regime. So after Feb. 11, the balance of power will be changed between the nation and the regime; the nation will be more powerful. After that, we think that we can go for the final action. I can't say when, where, or even how. What I can foresee is when you have a balance of power where the people are more powerful, any simple action, anything can happen, just by some accident the clock, the final action will start.
JR: What is the "final action"?
MS: In any movement like that, there is an action that the government can't return from. Many sources of its power will be overcome by the people.... We think the regime can rely only on 30,000 troops among the police, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij. They don't have any volunteers, they have lots of cracks now, and after Feb. 11 they will have less than that. They are melting gradually in front of the nation.
Some say that on Feb. 11, they may arrest Ahmadinejad in the square. I don't know, it may happen or it may not. The Revolutionary Guard is trying to bring 200,000 people from all around the country to Tehran to have a show. They are trying to overcome the voice of the nation... they want to send their own pictures of whatever they want to show. They want to shield the demonstration from the people and show they do have supporters. But this is a risk for them, to bring Ahmadinejad to the square.
People are now talking about going to have a gathering at the Evin prison. Maybe it will happen a few days later. But definitely on Feb. 11 there will be millions of people marching on the streets. It doesn't matter how hard they try to lie about the demonstrations. When people show they are not afraid of executions, then the balance of power is to the nation. So something will happen sooner or later after that.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.