Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi: The Two Forgotten Men

Mousavi and Karroubi may soon be a distant memory. If they are allowed to be forgotten, the hope for change that so many Iranian people placed in them after the 2009 elections may soon disappear as well.
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Life is going on as normal in Tehran and other cities in Iran, with most residents occupied with concerns about inflation and the escalating cost of living. But aside from economic anxieties and worries over shortages of electricity and basic goods, the summer has been a time of confrontation for the Iranian people with the government's "Outfit Police." In western countries, the term "fashion police" is an adopted name for respected experts in fashion who have the authority to "correct" the fashion and stylistic errors of celebrities and other folks. But in the Islamic Republic, the fashion police is the exact opposite; they must "correct" residents if they are fashionable, and they do so by force, with minibuses available to take any offenders away to detention.

With such an oppressive atmosphere in most of Iran's big cities, few ordinary Iranians have had time to think or care much about the fate of opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who along with their wives, have been living under house arrest for more than five months.

Both Mousavi -- a former prime minister and Karoubi -- a former speaker of Parliament -- are well-known "revolutionaries" of the Islamic Republic and neither of the two men, nor their wives, were ever taken to trial or formally found guilty of any crimes against national security. Yet few local activists or individuals are any longer calling for their release or publicly questioning the legality of their situation.

Few high-ranking politicians have cared to address Mousavi and Karroubi's condition as well. And that was former president Mohammad Khatami and a small group of clerics in Qom called in an open letter last June for their release. Most recently, Ayatollah Dastgheib, a senior member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, expressed concern about the health of the two opposition leaders, who are both in their 70s. "We may wake up one day to hear that both men have died of natural causes," Ayatollah Dastgheib warned, before calling for students to support Mousavi and Karroubi by voicing their concerns to local religious leaders. Meanwhile, powerful clerics such as Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ayatollah Vahid Khorasani and many others who are established, influential and can unify other clerics have chosen to remain quiet and uninvolved.

The reasons for this apparent apathy are multifold: perhaps public expectations for reform went way beyond Mousavi and Karoubi's major focus, which was primarily just the outcome of Iran's 2009 elections. Iran's public wanted fundamental reform, such as changes to the Iranian constitution -- particularly the elimination of the supreme leadership -- and the freedom and right for all Iranians, regardless of religion, sect or ethnicity, to participate in politics.

Demands such as these were never addressed by Mousavi and Karoubi, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recognized the climate for what it was, heard the peoples' words and acted faster than the opposition. Ayatollah Khamenei simply decided to eliminate the opposition figures from public life. Their contact with the outside world has been virtually shut off because they acted unfashionably against the Supreme Leader.

When public excitement was at its peak in the months following Iran's contested 2009 presidential elections, and Iranians were willing to risk their lives and safety to protest on the street, anything seemed possible. The people were willing to take part in the movement for reform that opposition leaders were asking for. But the Iranian peoples' expectations from Mousavi and Karoubi were much higher than what the two opposition leaders actually produced. Their weak leadership was eventually crushed, leaving a disheartened and frustrated public in its wake. Time went by and a valuable opportunity for fundamental change was lost, leading to a decline in public enthusiasm. Today, Iranians have reached a point where they are almost apathetic towards the welfare of Mousavi and Karoubi.

Will it be possible for these two leaders to breathe a fresh air of hope into Iran's reform movement -- a movement which ultimately influenced other Muslim nations, but now seems to have died in Iran? Maybe Iran at a time like this needs a more charismatic leader who is more daring and focused in his objectives, such as Mohammad Mossadegh, the former prime minister who mobilized the Iranian people and lead them towards nationalizing Iran's oil or even Ayatollah Khomeini the founder of the revolution is a great example.

Only a few days into Ramadan, a month of fasting in the Islamic calendar, daily societal activities have slowed down, and any thoughts about Mousavi and Karoubi will likely wane even more. After the summer will come the UN General Assembly meeting, which will steer attention even further away from Mousavi and Karoubi towards President Ahmadinejad and his struggle with Iran's hardliners as the Parliamentary elections approach. The various political factions and clerics are busy planning their moves to win parliamentary seats, and this will likely dominate news headlines.

Neither the Supreme Leader nor the head of Iran's judiciary wants the status of Mousavi and Karoubi to be formally addressed. The regime will leave the issue unsettled until it is sure the Iranian public no longer has any interest in the fate of the two opposition leaders and their existence is no longer considered a threat.

Life will go on in Iran. The people will continue to argue in the streets with the government's fashion police, and conservatives will keep fighting with Ahmadinejad and his allies over their loyalty to the Supreme Leader. Mousavi and Karroubi, two men who shocked the nation thirty-one years after the Iranian revolution, may soon be a distant memory. If they are allowed to be forgotten, the hope for change that so many Iranian people placed in them after the 2009 elections may soon disappear as well.

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