Mirhossein Mousavi, whose dark-suited, bespectacled image has been plastered all over protesters’ posters in Iran, has become an icon of the Iranian green wave – the protest movement that arose after the re-election of Iran's ultra-conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within just a few days, this former prime minister (who served from 1981 to 1989), hailing from the inner circle of power, has become an unlikely leader for Iranians wanting more liberty.
Mousavi, who disappeared from the political scene for 20 years, and who is now 67 years of age, emerged from the shadows in April, when he announced he was running for president in the June elections. He presented himself as a “reformer attached to the principles of the Islamic revolution.”
His platform prioritised the economy, as did those of all the other candidates. Pointing to the catastrophic performance of the Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad's stewardship, Mousavi stressed the need to reduce inflation and create jobs.
As for his stance on the nuclear issue, he took the party line of the Islamic republic. Although he did say he was open to negotiations with the Six Nations (US, Russia, China, France, UK, and Germany), he has no intention of renouncing his nation’s nuclear programme. He did, however, seek to assuage Western concerns that Iran’s nuclear programme might be linked to a military agenda.
The liberal aspect of his campaign was largely in the social sector. During his campaign, accompanied by wife Zahra, he promised equality of the sexes, women in ministerial positions, more lenient “moral police” and private television broadcasts.
During a spirited televised debate with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 4, Mousavi justified his candidature by saying he “felt the danger threatening Iran” and said he wished that “Iran would play its role as a top power in the region.”
The father of the Iranian nuclear programme
During that debate, Moussavi, who had been known for his soft-spokenness, took a bold tone, telling Ahmadinejad, “You have compromised the dignity of the nation.” He also reproached Ahmadinejad for having led a foreign policy marked by “instability, extremism, exhibitionism, and superstition.” He said he intended to change the “extremist” reputation of Iran, a direct allusion to Ahmadinejad’s invective against Israel and the West.
Nonetheless, US President Barack Obama said on June 16 on the US news network CNBC that, despite the fierce opposition between pro-Mousavi and pro-Ahmadinejad protesters, "The difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised.”
Indeed, critics of Mousavi point out that he has repeatedly sided with the founders of the Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomenei, who seized power in 1979 after toppling Iran's ruling Shah.
Two years after the Shah's overthrow, Mousavi was named prime minister. At the time, Iran was at war with Iraq. The Iranian government gave no leeway to dissidence, nipping it in the bud with mass arrests and executions. This occurred at the same time that the Mousavi government approved the launch of a secret nuclear programme, the very same that has become such a point of contention with the US and its allies.
The period of the Iran-Iraq war also allowed Mousavi to play his hand in running the economy, an area in which he proved very determined, giving rise to a number of disagreements with Ali Khamenei, the then president of the Islamic Republic and current Supreme Leader.
66,000 'friends' on Mousavi’s Facebook Page
When the post of prime minister was abolished, Mousavi served as advisor to conservative and pragmatic president Akbar Hashemi Rafsandjani (1989-1997), then to the latter’s successor, reformist Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005)
His political comeback is partly attributable to the support of these two figures. Not particularly known for his charisma, Mousavi nonetheless enjoys a considerable degree of support among Iran's urban youth, some of whom are hoping for an end to the Islamic Republic -- or, at least, for more freedom.
Mousavi has also benefited from the Internet revolution. His Facebook page counts some 66,000 “friends.”
Having been propelled to the forefront of Iran's largest popular movement since 1979, Mousavi appears to be settling down in his new role of opposition leader. So far, he has proven unwavering in his stance. Now, his political future -- and indeed Iran's -- depends on just how far he is prepared to lead the green wave.