Iranian Opposition Member on Tehran Protests 'There Could Be a Bloodbath'

Do reform forces in Iran really stand a chance of new elections, and can the West help in any way? Mehran Barati, a prominent member of the Iranian opposition in exile, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the allegations of election fraud, the protests in Tehran and Europe's problematic strategy for dealing with the regime.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Barati, 19 million votes for Mir Hossein Mousavi, 13 million votes for Mehdi Karroubi: Those are figures you cite as a member of the Iranian opposition to claim that the reform camp clearly defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Where are you getting those figures from?

A demonstrator shows a picture of Mir Hossein Mousavi during a rally in support of the former presidential candidate in Tehran on Monday.

A demonstrator shows a picture of Mir Hossein Mousavi during a rally in support of the former presidential candidate in Tehran on Monday.

Foto: REUTERS

Barati: They come from religious people inside the Interior Ministry who also believe in the truth. And they were also passed on in the same way to Mousavi after the election. I also know that he told Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who is known in the West and has direct contact with Mousavi, on the night of the election that he wouldn't immediately go public with his election victory. Shortly afterwards, 20 thugs occupied his office, and a short time later it was totally surrounded. Eventually, the Interior Ministry declared Ahmadinejad the election victor. Apparently after the votes were counted, the Revolutionary Guard and spiritual leader Ali Khamenei intervened.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This story and these figures are also circulating like wildfire through blogs on the Internet. Why should the world believe your information and not that of those in power in Iran?

Barati: The information is absolutely credible and some of it comes directly from Mousavi. He hasn't taken the news of his election victory public, but he did send it to his confidants by e-mail and text messages. I am in contact with representatives of the reform camp in London and Paris. They are telling the truth. The way things look right now, Khamenei planned this variant of election fraud in the event of an Ahmadinejad defeat from the very beginning. This was no spontaneous action.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Khamenei's fate now tied to that of Ahmadinejad?

Barati: No, Ahmadinejad is replaceable for him. But with a reform camp victory, Khamenei's hour would nevertheless come. He may be Iran's religious leader, but he has also become isolated within the clerics' camp. That's why he has entered into an alliance with the Revolutionary Guard and the militias. The only question is this: How far is Khamenei ready to go? Is he ready to risk tens of thousands of human lives?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you mean? Do you really fear a bloodbath on Iran's streets?

Barati: One cannot rule out the possibility. Further developments depend on two things: The extent to which the protests spread and Khamenei's reaction to the continuing protests. What is clear is that there hasn't yet been a true confrontation, even if we, regrettably, have had a number of deaths. But if it comes to things being decided on the streets, there could be a bloodbath. I still maintain the hope that Khamenei and his allies will come around.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you seriously believe new elections could be held?

Barati: That is what I would hope for, but I don't believe it will happen. I could, however, imagine the Guardian Council acknowledging irregularities in the election and holding a revote in some precincts. Unfortunately, though, that wouldn't change the result.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Bahman Nirumand from the Iranian opposition once called Mousavi a "pocket-sized version of Ayatollah Khomeini." Is the ex-prime minister really in favor of opening up the country?

Barati: Naturally Mousavi and Karroubi are not from the opposition. They also belong to the circle of the clerical political leadership. But even there they have done a lot in recent years. The Internet, more than anything, has opened up Iran. This way of thinking also applies to Mousavi and Karroubi. One can also see this in the fact that Mousavi's wife is now much closer to the secular, non-religious reformist camp than her husband. In addition, for the vast majority of Iranians, Ahmadinejad has simply crossed several lines -- on the one hand, with his rhetoric against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust, on the other hand, with his attempt, which makes no economic sense, to equip Iran with nuclear weapons in the form of outdated technology. In that regard, he could have got modern technology for nuclear energy with the West's help -- and at a significantly cheaper price. The majority of Iranians do not want any risky adventures.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What should the West -- especially the European Union and the United States -- do in response to the situation in Iran?

Barati: Unfortunately, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said that the EU will hold a dialogue with Iran. Hence, the EU is effectively stabbing the opposition in the back. I would prefer it if Brussels stayed out of things as far as possible -- and instead asked United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to go to Tehran to mediate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what about Barack Obama? 

Barati: For him, the situation is somewhat different. He needs Iran if he wants to solve the problems in the Middle East, so the US president now needs to be very careful.

Interview conducted by Florian Gathmann
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