“We are in need of serious changes. If you, as the leader of society, are unwilling to make these changes, eventually other things would happen, as we can see. For how long oppression, killings and prison? Ultimately, the prisons will fill up and will overflow. To save the country, to save Islam, we must act sooner than that.”
This is part of a recent message to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, former member of the parliament and a civil activist, and also the daughter of the late president Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In her message, the audio of which was published by BBC Persian, she asks for fundamental changes in the country: “I want to use the same language as Mr. Khamenei himself does and say that if you do not believe in democracy, in human rights, in sound management and in meritocracy for Iran and for Iranians, then at least do something to save Islam.”
Implicitly pointing to Ayatollah Khamenei’s 30 years of leadership, she asks him to bring Gorbachev-style fundamental changes to Iran’s political system: “Enough is enough! Even in the best of worlds, if a ruler rules for 30 years, changes are needed after 30 years. We must bring ourselves up to date. But we are insisting on policies that were set at the beginning, and were wrong even then.”
Faezeh Hashemi has a long record of explicitly criticizing the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic and, in return, has been a target of the hardliners’ ire and insults. Her speeches, criticisms and interviews have led the judiciary to open many cases against her. In 2012 she served a sentence of six months at Evin Prison, was sentenced to another six months in 2017 for “propaganda against the regime” and is banned from leaving Iran. But this is the first time that she has directly addressed the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic; this has enraged so-called “value promoters” on social media, users who have been trained by the Islamic Republic to promote and defend the regime’s policies, beliefs and moral values.
Faezeh Hashemi’ds direct criticism of Ayatollah Khamenei, however, is not the only topic in her message that stands out. Her father, the late president, was a well-known figure in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a founder of the Islamic Republic. But in this message Faezeh Hashemi has implicitly turned her back on the regime and asks the Iranian people to take matters into their own hands.
“Nowhere does the fate of any people change unless the people, the nation and society themselves move and take action,” she says. Her message was posted at the same time that Iranian cities saw fresh scenes of protest after the general staff of the Armed Forces said that Iranian authorities took responsibility for shooting down Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.
In her message, Faezeh Hashemi emphasizes the importance of civil disobedience in bringing about change. Referring to the emigration of athletes from Iran and Iranian women athletes who appear without hijab at international events, she says that “recently we have seen our athletes either emigrate or represent Iran but compete without hijab. Civil disobedience is crucial for [making changes] even if it only spreads in sports and everybody gets involved.”
“Sentimentalism” changes nothing
Faezeh Hashemi says the crowds at funeral services for General Ghasem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander killed in Iraq in an American airstrike on January 3, were not necessarily supporters of the government; some were there just because they believed in Soleimani, rather than the regime, having bought into propaganda that mythologized Soleimani and his record as a military commander.
“When I saw the crowds [for Soleimani’s funeral] I was reminded of what history books say about the time of Mosaddegh,” Faezeh Hashemi said, referring to the nationalist Iranian prime minister who was toppled by a CIA-led coup in 1953. “One day people were shouting ‘Hail Mosaddegh!’ in the streets; and the next day they were shouting ‘Death to Mosaddegh!’ and then Mosaddegh was overthrown.”
The government had previously presented the size of the crowds at funeral services for General Soleimani as a testament to support for the regime. Opposition activists believe that many who are otherwise critical of the government were influenced by state propaganda and saw Soleimani as a patriotic solder who died for his country. In her message, Faezeh Hashemi advises people to take a more realistic approach because “if our approach is sentimental this system with all its faults will continue and nothing will change.”
In an interview published before General Soleimani’s death, Faezeh Hashemi had openly said that she did not have a favorable view of him [Persian video].
In years past, Faezeh Hashemi was an ally of the reformists; in this latest message, she sharply criticizes them as well.
“Another problem is the situation of the reformists,” she says. “Unfortunately, we see that our reformist parties or reformist individuals are worse than the [hardliners]. They compound the regime’s mistakes through their senseless statements, by avoiding talking about real problems and by a lack of realism. It seems that this [obsession] with remaining in power or remaining safe has become a contagious disease. Some [reformists] have a government position and want to remain there. And some are worried that action will be taken against them if they do otherwise.”
Hashemi goes on to explain that any major change driven by popular protest will unavoidably be costly to the protesters themselves – and she offers a suggestion for lowering the toll on protesters.
“If government officials had wisdom, sense and good judgement, they would bring themselves up-to-date and move forward on this basis,” she says. “If this does not happen then I, the protester, must pay the price [for change]. There is no other way. But if the protests become universal then the costs are distributed and are therefore reduced” for individual protesters.
Faezeh Hashemi’s message was praised by critics of the Islamic Republic on social media as much as it was attacked by the regime’s online “value promoters.” Opposition figures also praised her courage in daring to voice her beliefs. She is no stranger to doing so.
“Heresy may persist, but oppression will not,” she said several times in an interview with IranWire in 2015. Now she has gone even further and has directly addressed the Supreme Leader, telling him that, as things stand, there is no option other than civil disobedience and the widening of the protests.
Faced with Repression at Home, Iranian Athletes Choose to Migrate, 13 January 2020
Soleimani Was a Murderer, So is his Leader, 12 January 2020
50 Iranian Women you Should Know: The Rafsanjani Women, 8 January 2017
Rafsanjani's Daughter: Tyranny Can't Last Forever, 27 August 2015