This post is the third in a series entitled: “The Mahsa Revolution: A Political Philosophy and Futures Studies Perspective”

The goal of this series is to offer readers reflections on the on-going grassroots, women-led revolutionary movement in Iran, to be continued until its completion or the mutual exhaustion of readers and author. I will analyze, for non-Persian speakers, debates and initiatives regarding the future of Iran from a philosophical and futures studies perspective. Every revolutionary moment unlocks the space of the politically and socially conceivable and enables the hopeless to exercise their rusted capacity for imagining better futures. It also reveals normative disagreements on desirable futures, inclusion and exclusion from those futures, and strategies suitable for realizing them. Although I am not an Iranologist, my hope is to give readers a candid glimpse of the burgeoning forward-looking democratic life of Iranians in Iran and the diaspora. 

Last month, the Iranian opposition and the Islamic Republic took parallel steps to restructure the political landscape and gather support. On March 10, China announced it had negotiated a deal between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia to ease escalating tensions; on the same day, the “Mahsa Charter” (available in English and Persian) designed to unite the opposition around a common minimal platform for a transition to a secular democracy was released. While international news outlets covered the diplomatic deal extensively, not a single article was dedicated to the Mahsa Charter in major American and European newspapers. This post’s goal is therefore to introduce readers to this charter and analyze it. Since the Mahsa Charter will be new to most readers and is very dense, this post will be quite lengthy.  

Who Wrote the Mahsa Charter? 

The Mahsa Charter is the brainchild of a group of opposition figures who, on February 10 at Georgetown University, announced that they were working on a charter to unite the opposition—a promising attempt after four decades of divisions. Their goal was to find common ground around what the Mahsa movement stands for (democracy, secularity, gender equality, the end of all discriminations) between republicans and monarchists, across the political spectrum, and between partisans of a unitary state and federalists. A month later, they created the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom for Iran (ADFI): “an alliance of individuals, organizations, political parties and other entities who are committed to the “Mahsa” Charter as a framework for cooperation….The ADFI is not a shadow government. We are not the leaders of the Iranian people, but we seek to reflect and pursue their demands.” The authors do not, therefore, pretend to play a leadership role from abroad in a self-organized revolution, they do not claim to represent Iranians, or to form a coalition between parties. The six initial signatories are listed on their website in alphabetical order, a significant egalitarian gesture to stress that the ADFI has no single leader— it is a collective. The signatories are: Masih Alinejad (journalist and feminist activist), Nazanin Boniadi (actor and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International since 2008), Shirin Ebadi (first Iranian female judge, human rights activist, Nobel Peace prize winner),  Hamed Esmaeilion (writer, dentist, and co-founder of the Association of Families of Flight PS752, the Ukrainian airplane shot down by the Revolutionary Guards in 2020, where he lost his wife and daughter), Abdulah Mohtadi, (General Secretary of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan), Reza Pahlavi (Crown Prince and advocate for a democratic and secular Iran since the 1980s). 

The Structure of the Mahsa Charter

The Charter of Solidarity and Alliance for Freedom (or Mahsa Charter) has two parts. It starts by enumerating priorities for activists outside and inside Iran. The diaspora should focus on advocating the isolation of the Islamic Republic by democratic governments through five action points, such as requesting that the ambassadors of the Islamic Republic be expelled. The second series of actions would involve citizens outside and inside Iran through the creation of specialized committees of experts to plan the transition period with a focus on “fair transitional justice, the formation of a council for the transition of power, and the means by which power is transferred to a secular, democratic government.” This points to the organizational goal of the Alliance.

The second component of the charter is a list of common values to which those who wish to join the charter are committed: democratic governance; human rights and human dignity; justice; peace and security; environmental sustainability; economic transparency and prosperity. Under each section, the authors list more specific value-based commitments and the endorsement or implementation of related UN or international conventions. Although the charter does not  explicitly specify the identity of the agent who will carry out the commitments, a charitable reading of the text suggests that it is a future transitional government: it would carry them out  prior to the creation of a constitutional assembly and a referendum on the form of the regime. They are therefore pre-constitutional normative commitments. 

There is another reason relying heavily on UN and international conventions: these are value-based, yet they transcend political partisanship. There should be an overlapping consensus around them. They form the moral and political core of modern values to which secular democratic Iranians are committed, no matter what else they believe; these are the very same values and conventions that the Islamic Republic has rejected, violated, or disregarded. While I lack the space to comment on each paragraph of the charter (17 in total), I will explain the most important ones. 

Analysis of the Main Sections of the Charter

  • Section on Democratic Governance

This section outlines principles of free and democratic elections around which there is a broad consensus. Its articles are compatible with a republican form of government and an elective monarchy. The form of government will be decided in a referendum under international supervision to avoid fraud and duress which were widespread in the 1979 referendum organized by Islamists. Importantly, the first paragraph of this section excludes hereditary monarchy (“all political and official members of the state shall be elected”) since Reza Pahlavi, the Crown Prince, is in favor of an elective monarchy, though his preferred option is a republic (see my previous post on this point). 

This section recognizes the “linguistic, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of Iran” and asserts that this recognition is compatible with its unity (“territorial integrity”). Because there is no consensus within the opposition about federalism (an option monarchists and many others reject) or a unitary state (that many defenders of minority rights criticize), its third paragraph proposes decentralization as a point of convergence between the parties: “Decentralization of power by deferring financial, bureaucratic and policy making affairs to elected provincial, city, and regional administrations.” This compromise should be acceptable to all parties, regardless of whether federalism or a unitary state will be chosen by Iranians, since most contemporary democracies are decentralized to some degree. The principle of subsidiarity is widely accepted in democracies and units at the sub-national level often have policy-making prerogatives, even in the absence of a federalist framework. In addition, the administrative levels mentioned in the document already exist in Iran: even the Islamic Republic has nominally accepted decentralization, although it does not in fact respect it.

  • Section on Human Rights and Human Dignity

The second section discusses three issues: non-discrimination and restorative justice; respect for human rights; respect for the rights of workers through the International Labour Organization’s conventions. The section insists on respect for women’s rights, but also the rights of disabled persons and the rights of children. In addition, the Charter defends the abolition of the death penalty and corporal punishment, which is a strong moral commitment to avoid a cycle of violence and revolutionary tribunals.           

Paragraph 6 states a commitment to the “acceptance of and respect for diversity and variety in Iranian society and efforts to remedy historic and current discrimination.” While the idea that women have been historically discriminated against is widely accepted, the recognition that minorities have been victims of discrimination, not only under the Islamic Republic but also during the Pahlavi era, is a novelty in mainstream Iranian politics. Ethnic minorities defend this view, and it is corroborated by historians; in contrast, nationalists often reject it and do not even acknowledge the existence of ethnic minorities—for them there is one single Iranian people. The recognition of past and current discrimination calls for restorative justice to compensate for past wrongs, heal some of the wounds of Iranian society, and preserve the unity of the country from the risk of secession.  

Paragraph 9 states the acceptance of “the position of native languages based on international Laws and Conventions”. This convoluted phrasing is meant to be compatible with the three main options to compensate for the historical linguistic domination of the Persian-speaking majority: (1) teaching local languages in addition to Persian; (2) teaching exclusively in local languages at certain or all educational levels; (3) bilingual education. It is noteworthy that while the UN special rapporteur on minority issues defends the linguistic rights of minorities and indigenous populations, he acknowledges these rights can be accommodated even in countries that have a single official language. For instance, article 4.3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)stipulates that “persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue”. Thus, the Charter’s strategy is to state the signatories’ commitment to respecting international conventions on diversity issues to enhance social cohesion.

  • Sections on Justice and Peace and Security

The section on justice affirms the right to “justice for all victims of the Islamic Republic” through adequate institutions. But it needs to be read along with the next section on Peace and Security, which discusses the problem of the Revolutionary Guards. Here, the Charter is in favor of abolishing the Revolutionary Guards, prosecuting those who were involved in crimes, but potentially integrating into regular armed forces members of the Revolutionary Guards who were not involved in crimes and have “necessary qualifications”. This gesture towards national reconciliation is supposed to encourage defection in the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards. It can be contrasted with the view that all 300,000 members of Revolutionary Guards should be prosecuted and cannot be integrated into the army. In addition, it states that “the military shall only be responsible to defend the territorial integrity of the country”, meaning that Iran will no longer be involved in offensive military operations abroad, for instance in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. To show that a new Iran would no longer be a threat to world peace, paragraph 15 is a commitment to “join and enact the International Convention on Nuclear Safety.”

  • Section on Environmental Sustainability

The section on environmental sustainability is very brief: “full compliance with the principles of sustainability and protection of the environment and to join relevant United Nations conventions.” This is disappointing because in interviews, the signatories mention a strong commitment to “environmental justice”—an issue crucial for Iran where poor regions are hit the hardest by the combined effects of the Islamic Republic’s disastrous environmental policies, climate change, the water crisis, and biodiversity loss.

  • Section on Economic Transparency and Prosperity

The last section discusses economic transparency and prosperity. Its focus is on the abolition of monopolies (at least 50% of the Iranian economy is in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and affiliated religious foundations), and on the integration of Iran into the global economy, including through facilitation of “international trade and investment opportunities.” It also affirms the need for “remedial politics and special economic provisions to empower marginalized provinces and regions.” Does this mean that the Charter takes a stance on the future economic system of Iran? Two readings are possible. According to the first one, the Charter is compatible with multiple capitalistic economic systems, but not with full-blown neoliberalism (insensitive to past wrongs and structural disadvantages), and non-capitalistic systems, such as market socialism, cooperativism, or mutualism, given its insistence on international investment opportunities. The second interpretation is that the Charter is not committed to a specific family of economic systems—its goal is to avoid the economic collapse of Iran during the transition period, and this cannot be done without foreign investments since those who are currently in control of the economy of the country will attempt to leave with their assets. 


In my view, the Mahsa Charter is an important and positive step towards unifying the opposition. Its success will depend on three factors. First, will Iranian activists, NGOs, and political parties be willing to take the road of compromise instead of sectarian partisanship? Second, will the ADFI be responsive to criticisms and suggestions for improvement of the charter and be more transparent about its consultations? Third, will it be able to mobilize Iranians inside and outside the country around common concrete actions, and avoid overreliance on technocratic committees?

I am an Iranian-American-French Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and an Associate Senior Scholar at The Millennium Project: Global Futures Studies and Research, a Washigton, DC-based global think-tank. From 2013 till 2018, I worked at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. I hold a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Georgetown University and graduate degrees in History of Philosophy (Sorbonne) and Medical Ethics (University Paris XII). My work focuses on the philosophy of anticipation and ethics/political philosophy applied to the digitalization of the justice system, food and agriculture, public health, and choice architecture.