I conducted this interview with Manuchehr Hezarkani after his departure from Iran in October 1981. He is a medical doctor trained in France, and has been among the founders of three important Iranian political forces: the Confederation of Iranian Students, which led the opposition in Europe to the Shah in the 1960s and 1970s, the Writers’ Association of Iran, and the National Democratic Front, an independent socialist coalition established immediately after the revolution and driven underground in August 1979 after organizing protests against the imposition of censorship. Since this interview was given, the NDF has officially associated itself with the National Council of Resistance set up by Bani-Sadr and the Mojahedin.
What is the situation of writers in Iran today?
Pressure on the writers has been mounting over the past year. All those I know are now underground. Around ten are in jail and one, Said Sultanpour, has been executed. People move from house to house, staying with friends, and occasionally those members of the committee still at liberty meet and issue statements. They do what they can.
When did things get so much worse?
There was already pressure before the fall of Bani-Sadr as a result of statements signed by members of the Association published abroad. But after Bani-Sadr’s fall the Association’s offices were occupied by the Islamic Guards and all our files were seized. One gets the impression that an order has gone out to arrest all those who have signed statements denouncing censorship.
When talking of the Writers’ Association, how many people are we discussing?
There are more or less 250 writers involved. In the last election 120 came to vote. Among those elected to the committee were Sultanpour, who was already in prison; Homa Nateq, the sociologist, Ismail Khoi, a poet; Golshiri, a novelist; Hassan Hezam, another writer of short stories; Bagher Parham, a sociologist; and Ahmad Shamlu, one of Iran’s best-known poets.
At the time of the revolution, the Association also included supporters of the Tudeh Party, including the prominent writer Behazin.
Behazin and his people were expelled from the Association about two years ago. There are about 50 of them, and they set up their own organization, the Council of Poets and Artists of Iran.
How do you evaluate the situation in Iran now? Can the Mojahedin overthrow Khomeini?
The problem is mobilizing the population, not just having their support. The Mojahedin have shown amazing heroism and do what they can. But it is difficult to get the population involved. People open their doors to the Mojahedin and hide them, but they do not feel able actually to participate in the opposition.
What about strikes?
They are very difficult. First of all, so much of the economy and administration is already paralyzed that strikes do not have the same effect as they did under the Shah. Secondly, the regime has begun liquidating opposition elements in the factories. In September 1981 this process became much more evident — some opposition members were executed. Others were just thrown out of their jobs.
Is Bani-Sadr a credible opposition leader, especially now that he has left the country?
His leaving the country is not an issue. Everyone knows that if he had not left he would have been arrested a day or two later. The government had found the house where he had previously been staying, and it was only thanks to the Mojahedin that he was saved. What people hold against Bani-Sadr is that he himself was one of the architects of the regime: There is a lot of hostile comment on that score. My personal view is that Bani-Sadr was never in power and he always tried to help the opposition and did what he could.
How can the Mojahedin actually topple this regime, given the obstacles they face?
I don’t know how it will come, but I feel they will make it. The only serious obstacle is the presence of Khomeini himself. Without him, there would be no Islamic Republic — it would not last a week. Many who believed in Khomeini no longer do so. The bomb in the Islamic Republican Party’s headquarters was done by people who were high up in the security apparatus and were once trusted by Khomeini and his advisers. This spreading disillusionment is especially beneficial to the Mojahedin, since all Muslims who abandon Khomeini go to the Mojahedin. If the Mojahedin have made a mistake it is not in opposing Khomeini, but in taking such a long time to adopt a clear stance.
What about the army? What are its political loyalties?
This army is not like the Shah’s. It is politically divided in the same way that the population as a whole is, and all political groups have sympathizers there — Khomeini, Bani-Sadr, the Mojahedin, independent Marxists and Tudeh. lt will not obey any one authority. A coup is not possible: who would it be against? There is only Khomeini. Nothing else in the regime matters. The result of the recent conflicts has been to intensify the contradictions within the army, especially among the top commanders.
The dictatorial nature of Khomeini’s regime is beyond doubt. But why do you feel that the Mojahedin would be more democratic once they came to power? They are, after all, a highly centralized political organization.
I have worked very closely with them and I know them. They are democrats. But the real guarantee is that the Mojahedin cannot rule on their own. They will have to share power with other groups and be democratic enough to respect the views of others. It is perhaps natural that all of us should have despotic tendencies in our hearts, but the Mojahedin are less despotic than others.