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The Soft Power of Iran’s Green Revolution

1 July 2009 2 Comments

Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold

Demonstrations have dwindled in size since Monday, when the Guardian Council declared Iran’s recent election a fair one, and Western media will soon shift their attention to other hot spots on the globe. Fortunately, the Iranian women we hear from are less easily distracted. So are women in other nations, who see these events as part of a long-term process with an impressive backstory and an exciting future.

The protesters themselves refer to their movement as the Green Revolution. This references not only opposition candidate Mousavi’s campaign color, but also the wave of “color revolutions” that crested in Eastern Europe in 1989 and splashed into the Middle East in 2005. (The “Blue Revolution” that won the vote for Kuwaiti women wasn’t a regime change, but it was powerful and peaceful: the essential characteristics of nonviolent social change.)

The gradual, “velvet” revolution that may be underway is exactly what the rulers of Iran fear most. Roxana Saberi, the Iranian American journalist who was imprisoned earlier this year, and Haleh Esfandiari, who was imprisoned for 110 days in 2007, were both charged with collaborating with Western governments to foment “soft revolution”―the kind that uses ideas instead of ammunition.

According to the US-based Population Reference Bureau, Iran has the ideal demographics for this kind of change. It has the world’s largest “youth bulge”–a third of the population are between 15 and 29―and a quarter of them are unemployed. It also has large numbers of educated and relatively liberated women. Their leadership and active engagement will be critical in keeping the movement peaceful. Confident, coordinated nonviolence can disarm the soldiers and police who are sent in to crush the resistance (as it did in Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1989) and engage solid international support.

If governments extend support to one side or another, though, it can easily be seen as meddling and upset the delicate balance. Governments aren’t good at soft power; their feet are too big. It’s exactly the right size for citizens like us. Our Sudanese friend Dalia Haj-Omar reports seeing these words on a protest sign: “Calmness, Hope, & Patience: The Keys to a Green Revolution.”

Do YOU believe soft power can change the world? What do you expect to see next in Iran? How can women outside of Iran be most effective in support? Please click on Comment below and share your views.

About the Author

Mary Liepold is the Editor-in-Chief at Peace X Peace. To reach Dr. Liepold, email
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2 Comments to “The Soft Power of Iran’s Green Revolution”
  1. Jannah bint Hannah says:

    For years I’ve been watching Muslim women gain their own voice, which they had been denied for many centuries. I have always said, when the power of Muslim women is finally unleashed it will transform the world as nothing else could. This is looking to become a good example of that.

  2. The power of gentle actions…the influence of soft power…is exciting. I agree with you that our future is dependent on our ability to recognize and appreciate each of us, as individuals, wield soft power. And, we need to better understand its strength.

    As an outsider to the Islamic world, I can’t unilaterally change values or practices within local communities in Yemen, Iran, or anywhere. But apathy isn’t a moral option either. What I can do as an outsider is to gently provide support—ideas, incentives, education, encouragement, respect—to opinion leaders (including men and women) who are uniquely qualified to influence on-the-ground practices within their own communities.

    In your comments, you question whether governments can act softly. I believe they can, and that they must learn to balance hard power and soft power. In his Cairo speech—A New Beginning—President Obama called on Americans to take a positive view of Islam, and called on Muslims to take a positive view of the United States. For me, it was the performance of a maestro orchestrating a breathing space between East and West, a humble sound that could resonate in the yawning silence between hubris and inertia. Obama’s overture shrewdly incorporated many staccato topics, including women’s rights, without losing its tone of humility.

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