Representations of Mir Hossein Musavi in Iranian Conservative Media (1997-2011)

By Amirhossein Teimouri
Submitted to Session P5285 (Parties, National Dialogues and Elections In Contemporary Middle East Politics, 2018 Annual Meeting
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The Iranian Green Movement of 2009, largely a response to the disputed presidential election of June, 2009, disturbed the establishment political agenda-setters in the country, and shifted the political positionality of Iranian reformists within the country’s polity. Not only were some conservative factions pushed to the far right, but also a few reformist players became radicalized. Former prime minister of the country in 1980s, Mir Hossein Mousavi became the de facto leader of the most radical movement that Iran had ever experienced after the 1979 revolution. This paper analyzes the changing perceptions of Musavi in Iranian conservative media from the rise of the Reform Movement in 1997 till the Green Movement of 2009 and beyond. Right after Mohammad Khatami’s ascent to presidency in 1997, far-right periodicals (i.e., Shalamcheh and Jebheh) started disseminating Musavi’s left-leaning public talks, which had targeted newly elected reformists’ liberal economic and cultural policies. The nostalgia of 1980s and Musavi as a leftist prime minister in that decade was at the heart of far-right’s romance with Musavi in the early years of the Iranian Reform Movement (1997-2005). These perceptions, however, drastically changed when Musavi became the rising leader of the Green Movement in 2009. To Iranian far-right and center-right elites, 2009 Musavi had become an existential threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since 2009, Iranian conservatives have been framing the Green Movement of 2009 as the “sedition” (Fitnah) and Musavi as the leader of this sedition. These shifting perceptions of Musavi in right-wing media help us to further our understanding of the changing positionality of political elites within the polity, as well as the fragility of alliance-formation and pact-making, in Iran in the past two decades. This research is mostly built on Iranian conservative media’s (newspapers, periodicals, and online news websites) stories about Musavi from 1997 till 2011.