On May 30, 2020, an interview with Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at Tehran University, was uploaded to the Iranian website etemadonline.com – a reformist site, founded by Mehdi Karoubi, one of the leaders of the Green Movement who has been under house arrest since 2009. Professor Zibakalam said that the Iranian government had seriously exceeded its budget even before the coronavirus crisis, and that in light of the economic and oil sanctions against Iran, the government has no way to pay for its expenses. He criticized the government's emphasis on military capabilities and said that there is a dangerous schism between the state and the Iranian people because the state ignores their beliefs and convictions. "In the long run, no regime can survive" such schism, he added.
Professor Zibakalam also said that he had never imagined that the regime would fire live ammunition at demonstrators, who took to the streets in Iran during the fall of 2019. The interviewer – editor-in-chief of etemadonline.com Mojtaba Hosseini – said he wished Iran could be more like Northern European countries, which have minimal involvement in global conflicts and provide social services and welfare to their people. Zibakalam answered that it took Western Europe 500 years to reach its current state, and that in Iran it should take less. He added that the protests of 2009 and 2019 are not enough to facilitate reforms and change in Iran. He said that the Iranian Guardian Council and the IRGC need to be held accountable and that the need for reform must be "inserted by force" into the minds of the regime.
Zibakalam referred to Iranian involvement in the Syrian conflict and said that the seven million Syrian refugees should be the judges of the actions of the Iranian regime. Furthermore, he said: "Show me one case in the past 41 years – just one – in which our anti-American attitude has achieved anything for us." Extensive parts of the interview were censored – apparently self-censorship by etemadonline.com to avoid repercussion. Out of the 2:20 hours interview, about half an hour was muted and the title "These moments of the conversation could not be aired" appeared on the screen." For more about Sadegh Zibalkalam's criticism of the Iranian regime see MEMRITV clips no. 1853, 2114, 5746, 5752, and 5874.
Sadegh Zibakalam: "If [the economic pressure] continues and the priorities of the regime continue to be what they have been - military priorities, missile production, presence in countries... [Strategic] depth..."
Mojtaba Hosseini: "Bolstering the country's military capabilities."
Zibakalam: "If the regime still wants to maintain this strategic depth, and refuses to accept the reality dictated by the economic pressure, what happened in the fall of 2019 may repeat itself, but on a much larger scale. [...]
"In 2020, the expenses of Mr. Rouhani's government is supposed to be 450,000 billion toman. This includes the defense costs, my salary, your pension..."
Hosseini: "The expense of running the country."
Zibakalam: "Right. 450,000 billion toman. Prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, the government was short by one-third of that sum.
"Currently, I believe that the coronavirus has turned this missing one-third into at least one half of the coming year's budget. Mr. Rouhani is short by 50% of next year's budget. The main question is: From where does the regime - not just Mr. Rouhani - want to bring this missing half? You have seen what happened to the price of oil. And even if the price of oil rises to $100 per barrel - if we cannot sell it, does it really matter if it's $100 or $10? From where do they plan to bring [the missing budget]?
"Our economy had gone bankrupt even before the arrival of the coronavirus.
"The most serious and dangerous crisis of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the schism between the people and the state.
"The schism was created in the Islamic Republic of Iran and it grows in a steady manner. In the long run, no regime can survive when there is a schism between the state and the people.
"For the first time, in Tehran and in some other big cities, the voter turnout in the Majles elections was 40%. This is not a good sign. One may claim that in America, the turnout is 30% and in Finland it's 27%, but we know that the 80% who did not show up to vote in Finland are very different from the 60% who did not show up in Tehran."
Hosseini: "What caused the schism between the state and the people?"
Zibakalam: "It is very easy to explain the schism between the state and the people. The state insists on its convictions. It has beliefs and assumptions which it insists are true and if anyone thinks that they are not true, that's his problem."
Hosseini: "So the regime's discourse has not retracted one iota of what it believes to be right for the country and the people."
Hosseini: "In addition, the regime does not care what lifestyle people want, what demands they make, what they suffer, and what they say."
Hosseini: "It ignores the people's voice, their protests their criticism, and their demands..."
Zibakalam: "Yes, this is the greatest danger.
"Even in my worst nightmares, I did not see in 1979, 1980, 1981, or 1982, that the day would come in the fall of 2019, when hundreds of thousands of people would take to the streets and they would be shot at with live bullets. But it happened."
Hosseini: "I - as a 40-year-old young man - want to live. I want my country to be a normal country. I want... When I watch the news from around the world, I see that a 35-year-old woman has become the Prime Minister of Finland, and five women, aged 30 to 35, have become members of her cabinet. I see that countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, Scotland - countries in northern Europe and Scandinavia - have undergone a process that makes them the least involved in global conflicts and [their people] enjoy more social services and welfare than elsewhere. Our religion is not only about the World to Come. I am a believing Muslim and I speak on behalf of my generation. I believe that building the world people are living in is no less important than paving the way for their World to Come. And then, I see that a non-Muslim country, where they do not mention Imam Hussein, they do not hold Arbaeen processions, and they do not care about strengthening their military power in this world - this country is respected, and you can travel with its passport to 200 countries. That country can have a dialogue with the various cultures around the world and [their people] can think and demonstrate their creativity.
"Ultimately, I see that these countries are run according to a method, not an ideology."
"Would you please explain to me and to our audience, once and for all, what the good attributes of the Islamic Republic are. Afterall, the Islamic Republic has not been all bad and ugly in these 41 years. It must have done some good, too. As a political [science] professor and as someone who was connected... After all, you belong to the generation of the Revolution. This regime is the outcome of actions taken by you and your generation. People with beliefs similar to yours have reached powerful positions in the Majles, the government, and in other bodies... But first tell me, Dr. Zibakalam, what have been the good points of the Islamic Republic in the past 41 years? And what have its defects been?
"Are we supposed to live lesser lives than others in this world? Are we supposed to live like in North Korea? Are we supposed to live like in Saudi Arabia? This is really scary. At one point... People with national sentiment say that the Arabs used to bury their daughters alive. What guarantees do you have that in 50 years, the same Arabs won't say: 'The world soccer cup was held in our country, whereas the Iranians would not let their daughters into the stadiums'?
"Give us a recipe, sir. Give us a recipe."
Zibakalam: "The easy way is to have a revolution – but were we successful in 1979?"
Hosseini: "I don't mean that. I mean a recipe for healing."
Zibakalam: "The recipe is democracy."
Hosseini: "Democracy is a very general term.
Zibakalam: "But I did go into details."
Hosseini: "Say something practical."
Zibakalam: "The regime must be held accountable. The Guardian Council must be held accountable.
Hosseini: "The IRGC, too? How can they or the Guardian Council be held accountable?"
Zibakalam: "Even if you continue to refuse to accept [that democracy is the solution]..."
Hosseini: "But we did want it. Excuse me. We did."
Zibakalam: "We did not. We did not want it."
Hosseini: "Of course we did, but it is like pushing a brick wall. If you push a brick wall, does it move back?"
Zibakalam: "We did not follow up on this."
Hosseini: "How should we do it? Give us a solution."
Zibakalam: "The people who think that this regime cannot be reformed need to be instilled with the belief that the question is not whether this regime can or cannot be reformed. The thing is that the need to accept reforms must be inserted by force into the mind of the regime, and [the regime] needs to realize that we have no other choice."
Hosseini: "What belief can be inserted by force into someone's consciousness, Dr. Zibakalam?"
Zibakalam: "It should be done through writing. [...]
"When there will be more people like us... If just one person says these things – for example you, Mr. Hosseini, the editor of etemadonline.com – he would be ripped to pieces. He would be summoned for investigation at the Culture and Media Prosecutor's Office and would be sent to Evin [Prison]. But how many people can they send to the Culture and Media Prosecutor's Office? How many people? How many journalists?" Hosseini: "But something big happened since the Revolution. In 2009. The February 14 procession from Imam Hossein Square to Azadi Square. Almost three million people who chanted no slogans. It was a silent procession..."
Zibakalam: "It was on June 15."
Hosseini: "Sorry. June 15. What did this lead to? Were we just a few people? Not enough people participated?"
Zibakalam: "In your... Your response... In the past 41 years, how many such processions have taken place? That is the first question. The second question is: In the 11 years that have passed since June 15, 2009, what paths have been taken in order to accomplish the demands that were made in that silent procession?"
Hosseini: "But all the paths have been blocked. Everything has been blocked." [...]
Zibakalam: "The Finland that you are talking about was not created overnight. It had begun in 1400 or 1500, and 500 years later it became that Finland."
Hosseini: "So if we started the constitutional revolution 120 years ago, we still need to wait 200-300 years..."
Zibakalam: "By no means do I say that it should take 500 years here, as well. Today, there are more universities and intellectuals. The virtual space was created. International relations have changed. Surely it should not take 500 years for us to turn into Finland. But we should not expect that with one Sadegh Zibakalam, one Mr. Hosseini, one etemadonline.com, one silent procession on June 15, 2009, and with the help of God, it will all be over. No.
"A lot of things have been said about Syria, but seven million Syrians live outside their country, as refugees. Three million are in Turkey, one million in Jordan, a million in Lebanon, and more than a million have moved to Germany. I believe that they should be the ones to judge the Islamic Republic of Iran and its actions in Syria.
"I hold many debates with conservatives and extremists. When we reach the topic of America, they start saying that America is our enemy, that it has done this and that, and so on and so forth, and that we should punch America in the mouth. There is one sentence I have been saying, and none of the regime people has had an answer yet: Show me one case in the past 41 years – just one – in which our anti-American attitude has achieved anything for us."