The House Arrest of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard Can Determine the Future of Rouhani’s Administration

The House Arrest of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard Can Determine the Future of Rouhani’s Administration May 1, 2014

Mousavi has been hospitalized, undergone angiography and has heart problem. Karroubi underwent knee surgery a little ago. Rahnavard is reported to be weakened. There are many worrying signs about the health of these three people, and for good reason – under house arrest, they have less rights and healthcare than even ordinary prisoners. A while ago Karroubi was in a house with painted windows and no access to the sun. They don’t get the news or telephone or internet. Mousavi’s heart problem kept getting worse and he received no care from his prisoners. It is reported that he could not meet his daughters in the hospital, and the doctors were not allowed to install the devices, They are completely isolated. They have not been tried, even in a show trial.

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But the important question is – how this will affect our situation in today’s Iran? The answer is, greatly. This house arrest is the single most important thing facing Iran in the internal politics, and it can determine the fate of Rouhani administration.

The History of the House Arrest

Now, a bit of history if you already don’t know – both Mousavi and Karroubi were among those very close to Khomeini, were very active in the revolution, were critical in founding the Islamic regime, both were leftists, supporters of a more socialist economy and were the enemies of the United States, Mousavi was Prime Minister when Khamenei (the current Supreme Leader) was president, but they were enemies, as Khomeini forced Khameni to accept Mousavi as Prime Minister. Since Mousavi ran the country at a time of war very efficiently, he was extremely popular among people. He opposed things like Iran’s terrorism program in countries like Lebanon and the mass murder of political prisoners, unfortunately not in public though, wanted to resign but didn’t Khomeini asked him not to, and left power completely after Khamenei became the Supreme Leader. Karroubi remained active and became one of the major political leaders of the reformists. The former leftist party became the reformists, incorporating values like democratization and freedoms and human rights, and changed their position on USA, embracing normalizing relationship with the world.

A young Mousavi as the Prime Minister of Iran
A young Mousavi as the Prime Minister of Iran

In 1997 the reformists, led by Karroubi, invited Mousavi to run for president. He, unwilling to return to power, refused. They asked Mohammad Khatami to run, and in a shocking development he won. Karroubi went on to become the Chairman of the Parliament in the only term that parliament was controlled by reformists. After Khatami, Mousavi refused again to run, Karroubi ran but he was cheated out of his place to go to the second round by some misconducts and fraudulent actions, and Ahmadinejad became president.

Karroubi as the Chairman of the reformist Parliament
Karroubi as the Chairman of the reformist Parliament

Four years later, Mousavi and Karroubi both ran for presidency. Now, no other election was the same in our history. Both opposition candidates really went as far to the left as it was possible, Karroubi especially was almost openly hostile to Khamenei, and even asked for women to have choice in the matter of hijab and other taboo subjects. The election was really won by Mousavi, but the regime completely ignored the election and threw the results away. This caused people to riot.

Mousavi and Karroubi during presidential debates.
Mousavi and Karroubi during presidential debates.

The movement went on, and it transformed Mousavi and Karroubi as national heroes representing the democratic aspirations, uniting all democratically leaning people from seculars to reformist. Iran had two opposition leaders now, who became more and more democratic and tolerant. Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife and a woman already famous for advancing women’s right, represented the demand for equality. The regime used every method to silence them, but to no avail.

Mousavi among protestors
Mousavi among protesters

And they were finally put under house arrest in February 2011. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had just ousted the dictators, and they had asked people to show up in protests to show solidarity, and that finally ended the regime’s tolerance, the members of conservative parliament shouted “Mousavi and Karroubi must be executed”, and they were put under house arrest.

Their house arrest, coupled with economic sanctions and the stagflation, created a very depressing two years for Iranians. Rouhani made a campaign promise to free them, mentioning that he was crucial in freeing another reformist leader (Ayatollah Montazeri) from house arrest, and he made this promise multiple times. Add to that Khatami’s endorsement, and the supporters of Green Movement joined a broad coalition of reformists and moderate conservatives who brought Rouhani to power. When Rouhani was elected, people celebrated in the streets, but they were shouting Mousavi’s name.

In his first press conference after being elected, Rouhani implicitly repeated his campaign promise, and since then there has been silence from his administration. The news about their health is getting more and more worrisome, while many regime officials, from the head of the judiciary to others say that ending the house arrest requires them to recant their previous positions and ask for forgiveness, something that is not going to happen. It seems that there is an impasse right now, although there are many signs that the house arrest might end soon, or at least, people are trying really hard to end it.

Things that We Know for Certain

  • We know for certain that Supreme Leader himself is behind this house arrest. The head of of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani (a radical conservative cleric), has said so clearly. The commander of the police, Esmail Gerami Moghaddam, has said that “We took a list of twenty people we were going to arrest to the Supreme Leader, he took their name out and said put them under house arrest”. This is important. First of all, it’s a very frank confession that there is no justice in Iran and that trials are meaningless and everything is decided by Khamenei. Second of all, this shows putting them under house arrest is such an unpopular move that even radical conservatives want to distance themselves.
  • We know that – based on what all officials of the regime have said – that if Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard give up and “repent” they will be freed, and we know that they will not be doing so. Supposedly, the hold up is that the regime really wants to get something out of them before freeing them, but they are relentless.
  • We know that – despite the near-absolute media silence – that Rouhani administration is lobbying hard to have them freed. The signs depend on what people supporting him say, like Mohammad Khatami, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Nategh Nouri. We also can rely on spare statements by Rouhani’s spokesperson, Mohmmad Bagher Nobakht, who said “The administration is pursuing this matter diligently, but informing people doesn’t help”, after Mousavi’s hospitalization.
  • We know that even among conservatives there is a strong support for releasing them. Not many conservatives have spoken up and asked for their release, but those who have are very powerful voices. Habibollah Asgaroladi who recently passed away asked for their release, and he was very prominent among the bazaar wing of conservatives, Mohammad Javad Larijani who is very radical and has a very prominent position in the judiciary as well, and so did Ali Larijani in an implicit fashion who is now the Chairman of the Parliament. And to these you can add many names of moderate conservatives. These are conservatives who want the country come out of this mess, and they know it can’t be done without Mousavi and Karroubi. Point is, only the most radical and warmongering conservatives, military elements like the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, plus the Supreme Leader are against freeing them.


Things We Don’t Know

  • Exactly how good or bad is the situation? Have they gotten stuck on an impossible impasse, or are they few steps away from achieving it?
  • Who’s pressuring Khamenei to free them among his close circle? Who’s pressuring him not to?
  • What is the position of the clergies in Qum – the ayatollahs who are very powerful but not necessarily part of the regime? Are they pressuring them to be released?
  • What is the role of the nuclear negotiations? Are they waiting for it to be over?


Possible Outcomes and How They Will Affect Rouhani

They will be released approximately close to the final nuclear deal: This is the best case scenario for Rouhani, signaling that two of his greatest projects have become successful. People will be very happy, and they will rally behind Rouhani with a renewed zeal, with Mousavi’s and Karroubi’s support his administration will be able to pursue reform very aggressively. Rouhani will be known as a successful and very popular president. Since Mousavi and Karroubi represent people in a way no one else can, their support will reinforce his legitimacy and democratic appeal. Ultimately, maybe that is why they are so reluctant to free them.

They will be released years after the nuclear deal: No one knows how the situation of Iran will change two or three years from now. It’s very unlikely that they can wait 7 years for Rouhani to finish his presidency, so they are either freed during that time or they might have passed away (Karroubi is 77 years old, Mousavi 72, and Rahnavard 68), but whenever it happens during his presidency, it will reinforce Rouhani. Montazeri was in house arrest from 1997 to 2003, for 6 years. Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard for 3 years now. But there are many things that depend on the situation: how has the nuclear deal worked out? Who controls the parliament? What is the economical situation? The perfect situation would be if the nuclear deal is working and Iran is amending relationships with the West, the parliament is in the hand of reformists, and the economy is improving. But that seems to be too perfect to wish for. But anyway, whenever they are freed, it is a victory for Rouhani. Will it be a perfect one?

One of them dies under house arrest: There will be anger, disappointment, and an international and internal crisis. Many of Rouhani’s supporters will desert him. Protests might break out, which will be certainly repressed violently, their funeral would be a very huge pain and the regime might bury them in a clandestine fashion. This is the worst case scenario, as it will make things very difficult for reformists in general. While the regime is reluctant to free them, it surely doesn’t want this either, because they want to avoid crisis, and that is why they let Rouhani come to power in the first place.

Khamenei dies before them: I have absolutely no idea what will happen if this happen. A cloud of uncertainty obscures everything about post-Khamenei Iran.


Well, this is a recap of the situation that is very crucial to the well-being of Iran, and shouldn’t be obscured by nuclear deal as it is equally important, if not more.

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