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Exiles and Defectors Express Different Visions for Change in Iran

The older expatriate, Marina Nemat had served a sentence as a political prisoner in the early years of the Islamic Republic, at which time she bore witness to mass executions. The younger subject of the story, Saeid Vafa, participated in the Green Movement protests in 2009 and witnessed the government crackdown, but fled the country before being sent to prison.

The former echoes the sentiments of Iranian exiles like those affiliated with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which publically decried claims in the international media regarding victory for “moderates” and “reformists” in Iran’s parliamentary elections in February. Vafa, by contrast embraces the prospect of gradual reform through the existing system, noting that it is not a perfect solution but that he considers it to be less potentially destructive than foreign intervention or another revolution.

Despite their differences, the stories of these two exiles highlight the fact that people with defined views on how to change Iran’s future are continuing to engage in political discourse and activism regarding the Islamic Republic, from their new homes in foreign places of asylum. What’s more, the numbers of these individuals appear to be growing steadily as various news reports emerge detailing Iranians’ efforts to flee from political imprisonment or other forms of persecution and violent repression.

One interesting example was reported by The Tower on Wednesday. It highlighted the case of a former Iranian helicopter pilot who had been barred from leaving the armed services as he protested of his fundamental disagreements with the ideology and religion of the ruling authorities. These protests led to coordinated surveillance and monitoring of Ahmad Reza-Khosravi and his family.

Last year, the former Iranian Security Service Major responded by defecting to Turkey, and since then has reportedly taken a particularly hardline stance against the regime, not only rejecting the prospect of gradual reform but threatening to seek asylum and prepare for the possibility of conflict with his former government if the regime does not cease to harass and intimidate his family.

Such stories seem to highlight the depth of animosity that is still engendered by the regime in its subjects, even since the election of supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Many of his former supporters have proven to be severely disappointed with the lack of reforms in his more than two and a half year rule, and that sentiment is perhaps even stronger among exile communities. Many of those who reject the notion of his reformist credentials also reject the possibility of better outcomes following the victories for candidates affiliated with him in the February elections.

According to the Associated Press, the results of those elections have now been ratified by the Guardian Council, which is tasked with vetting Iranian legislation and candidates to high office. But the council was previously credited with preventing the vast majority of reformist candidates from standing for election in the first place, and in at least one case it blocked a female reformist candidate from claiming her the seat in parliament that she had legally won after being included on the ballot.

Opponents like the National Council of Resistance of Iran are quick to highlight these and other indicators to say that the “reformist” victors are reformists in name only, and can be expected to perpetuate the status quo in all areas that are important to the essential future character of the regime.

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