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Asia-pacific

Mirhossein Mousavi, portrait of a presidential challenger

Video by Katherine SPENCER

Text by Khatya CHHOR

Latest update : 2011-02-17

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main political challenger, Mirhossein Mousavi, has had a long career in Iranian politics. His defeat at the polls on June 12 sparked widespread protest and allegations of vote rigging.

As Iran's last prime minister before the post was abolished, Mirhossein Mousavi had a long career in Iranian politics even before he decided to challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election.

Mousavi served as a presidential adviser to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and then to Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). He has also been active on the Expediency Discernment Council, an arbitration body that mediates conflicts between parliament and the Guardian Council, which can thwart the passage of legislation. An architect and painter by trade, Mousavi is a co-founder and the president of the Iranian Academy of the Arts in Tehran.

After Mousavi announced in March that he intended to challenge Ahmadinejad in the June vote, former reformist president Khatami withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Mousavi. Sources close to Khatami said he dropped his candidacy to avoid the risk of splitting the reformist vote.

Mousavi’s campaign got some worldwide attention in late May when Iran's reformist-linked ILNA news agency reported that the authorities had blocked access to the Facebook social networking site to prevent Mousavi supporters from using it to campaign (access was reinstated a few days later). Mousavi has also marshalled the forces of Twitter and YouTube in his bid for the Iranian leadership.
 
And his media ambitions do not end there. Mousavi generally favours more freedom of speech and of the press, and has said he would seek to lift a ban on the private ownership of television stations.

He has also voiced his support for women’s rights and said he would consider disbanding Iran’s so-called morality police, who enforce Islamic dress standards for women and can arrest those they deem to be dressed inappropriately. Mousavi’s wife, academic and artist Zahra Rahavnard, has been promoting women’s rights during her husband’s campaign.

Mousavi’s relative liberalism has made him popular with the Iranian youth, among whom he enjoys high levels of support.
 
Regarding relations with the West, Mousavi seems more open to compromise than the confrontational Ahmadinejad. In an April interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, Mousavi said the rhetoric being used by the administration of US President Barack Obama was “refreshingly different from that of his predecessor". If Obama's actions are in keeping with his words, Mousavi added, "Why shouldn’t we negotiate?” He said Iran’s relations with Europe had always been fruitful.
 
But the former premier is not an answer to all the prayers of Western powers.
 
For one thing, he stands firm on Iran’s right to pursue nuclear energy technology. Israeli daily Ha’aretz cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report last week that dates Tehran’s black-market purchase of the centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium to 1987, during Mousavi’s premiership.
 
Mousavi describes his country’s nuclear programme as “transparent” and emphasises that it has repeatedly been opened to UN inspectors. “We have a right to enrich uranium,” he told Der Spiegel.
 
As for relations with Israel, the presidential challenger departs from Ahmadinejad’s wholesale denial of the Holocaust. “No matter who was responsible, we condemn them for it,” he told the German weekly.  
 
But he adds, “Why should the Palestinians have to pay for what happened back then in Europe?”
 
Asked by Der Spiegel if he recognises the Israeli state, Mousavi is unequivocal.
 
“No, I do not recognise it,” he said.

 

Date created : 2009-06-18

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