Amir Abbas Fakhravar, 35, is a “graduate” of the infamous Evin prison in Tehran. His friendly and youthful exterior hides a painful period of torture and isolation — five years, with eight months in solitary confinement. But ask Amir about his state of mind following his harrowing experience and he shrugs:
They broke my wrist, my knee, a few bones, but never broke my spirit.
Fakhravar arrived in the U.S. four years ago and found no coherent voices speaking for the Iranian opposition movement:
I thought that the Iranian opposition had an organization here, but nothing existed in 2006.
And when he gathered some of the opposition figures, he quickly learned that they had little information about the real situation in Iran. Even more dismaying, according to Fakhravar, was the ignorance of U.S. policymakers regarding Iran.
With mentoring from Richard Perle — former assistant secretary of defense (1981-1987) and currently resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute — and with critical help from Philadelphia’s Craig Snider — who has dedicated himself to fight for freedom and democracy for the Iranian people — Fakhravar established the Iranian Freedom Institute (IFI).
The IFI, a Washington, D.C., think tank, looks to inform and educate American policymakers and the public in general regarding the real state of affairs inside Iran. Utilizing the latest technology, the IFI hopes to influence U.S. policy towards Iran and simultaneously educate the freedom-loving people of Iran who are living under a brutal dictatorship.
Affiliated with the IFI is the Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS), created by Fakhravar and Arzhang Davoodi. Davoodi is a teacher and writer currently in an Iranian prison (he has been held for six years, with nine remaining on his sentence). In 1994, while in medical school (he subsequently graduated from law school), Fakhravar helped establish the independent student movement in Tehran. Fakhravar and Davoodi proceeded to form the nucleus of an independent worldwide student organization. In 2002 they organized a student conference, and three years later they launched CIS, which today has a membership of 6,200 students.
The Confederation of Iranian Students should not be confused with the Islamic Republic’s student organization, cautions Fakhravar. The latter was created by the mullah regime, paid for by them, and run by them.
One of the CIS goals is to bring down the Islamic Republic dictatorship. “We have a three-step plan,” he says. First is to show the Iranian people and the world that the ruling Iranian regime is not democratic, but rather a brutal dictatorship. “We have already succeeded on that part of the plan,” Fakhravar added.
The second step is to “cut the lifeline of the mullahs in power” by pushing for a worldwide embargo on Iranian oil. The $83 billion Iran earns from its oil sales annually is the only revenue that enables the Islamic Republic to pay for the nuclear program and provides the Revolutionary Guard (RG) — the regime’s praetorian defenders — with high incomes, which ensures their loyalty:
If the regime fails to pay the RG salaries — which are three times the national average — the RG, who have long lost their revolutionary fervor and have gotten used to the “good life,” are more than likely to abandon the regime.
Oil revenue is also used by the Islamic Republic to fund Hezbollah and Hamas operations against Israel, to subvert the Sunni Arab regimes, and to build cells in Latin America:
Our aim is to request that the governments of the U.S. and Canada impose sanctions on North American and European companies who buy oil from the Iranian regime. … We also plan to present such proposals to the G-8 and the G-20 to place sanctions on their respective companies.
The third step is to build a free, democratic, and secular Iran:
We need, in addition to our existing website, to set up internet, satellite TV, and radio stations in order to educate the Iranian people inside of Iran and the opposition parties outside of Iran.
According to Fakhravar, the Iranian opposition groups “are confused and they don’t know what they want.” He quickly adds: “We wrote a manifesto … a constitution for a new Iran.” Fakhravar recruited lawyers from the Green movement, as well as a number of judges, to draft the document.
The Green movement in Iran brought 4.5 million demonstrators into the streets of Tehran last June, and Fakhravar is confident that the people of Iran, especially the younger generation, want a change: “The Iranian people have been repressed for over 30 years, and they want freedom.” Many of the young people in Iran are turned off by Islam, as a result of the corruption and abuses by the Islamic regime. In Iranian schools, Shiite Islam is presented as superior to all other religions, and they are taught that killing Jews — who are presented as subhuman — is permitted.
Fakhravar has no doubt that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime would use a nuclear bomb on Israel.
Iran is a nation of young people. Seventy percent of Iranians are under the age of 35, and these young people respect Israel and love America. At recent demonstrations, they used posters with a modification of the regime’s slogans: instead of “Down with Israel,” they crossed out “Israel” and replaced it with “Russia.”
During last year’s demonstrations in Tehran following the sham elections which gave Ahamedinejad a second term, the Green youth demanded an answer: “Obama, are you with them (the regime) or with us?” Obama’s decision to continue to negotiate with the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime gave them legitimacy, according to Fakhravar.
Asked about where he sees Iran in five years, Fakhravar replies: “We will have a free, democratic and secular Iran. It will be a friend of Israel and an ally of the U.S. ”