February 6, 2010

Unlikely Revolutionaries


How a former Iranian official and a U.S. foreign-policy guru are shifting Washington’s stance toward regime change in Tehran

By Lee Smith | 7:00 am Feb 2, 2010

Mohsen Sazegara is sipping tea at Starbucks to ease his flu. The temperature is below freezing in Georgetown, and the 55-year-old Iranian-rights activist has his sweater buttoned up to his chin. A compact and balding man in glasses, Sazegara came to Washington four years ago for heart surgery after undergoing an eye operation in London to repair the damage done to his body during a hunger strike he started after he was arrested by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in 2003. Now, he’s at the center of the cyberwar against the Khamenei regime in Tehran.

Despite his professorial appearance, Sazegara is one of the most important figures influencing U.S. policy toward Iran, a central player in the campaign of street protests that took official Washington by surprise and have increasingly been embraced by the “realist” foreign policy establishment as the West’s only hope of reducing the threat posed by an Iranian government intent on developing a nuclear bomb. His website, at Sazegara.net, is a virtual command center for Iranians who are risking their lives to confront the regime. The site, which gets up to 40,000 visits in a day, has been subject to repeated cyber-attack by the regime. It features daily videoblogs in Persian that provide analysis of recent events and answer questions coming in from the field, like “the security forces are tear-gassing us, how do we handle it?”