Unfortunately, I don't have the time to write a long "update" post today, but will try to discuss the major events today in Tehran, Iran. I also refer readers to the lengthy update(s) that added to yesterday's post (at the top, in orange), HERE.
A massive rally roughly estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands (though reliable estimates are difficult with such large crowds) was held in Azadi Square in central Tehran today. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, as did Reformist presidential candidate and mid-level Shi'i religious scholar (Hujjat al-Islam) Mehdi Karroubi.
The rally was held in defiance of a ban on unapproved public demonstrations, and was marked with some violent clashes between Mousavi supporters and members of the Basij paramilitary, which is connected to the conservative guardians of the revolutionary system, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the "supreme" leader of the republic (rahbar-e jumhur), al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei. One person was reported killed by Basij gunfire during an attack on one of the paramilitary's many offices in Tehran, and several others were wounded. Mousavi supporters and Basij members also clashed several times, and Basij offices were attacked. For summaries of today's major events in Tehran, see:
The Associated Press
Mousavi ally and former two-term Reformist president al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami criticized the government for banning today's rally, but repeated his calls for Reformists and their supporters to demonstrate peacefully, which most have, save for an unfortunately fringe. Pro-government Basij attempted to use violence to force the demonstrators to disperse, to little avail. Mousavi has also called for his supporters to demonstrate peacefully.
Khamenei, who endorsed the purported results of the recent Iranian presidential elections (twice), seems to have either caved to public pressure or adjusted his strategy, asking the powerful Guardian Council (read more about them HERE) to investigate claims of voting irregularities and fraud.
An article in the Irish Times claims that Hujjat al-Islam 'Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's who lost his bid for a third term as president to the former in 2005, is one of the leading supporters of the demonstrations and Mousavi. The newspaper even says that Rafsanjani is trying to see if there are enough votes in the Assembly of Experts, the body which elects the Rahbar, to dismiss Khamenei. Rafsanjani is the Assembly's chair.
Many photographs of today's rally for Mousavi and the Reformist movement can be seen HERE.
Two leading pro-Reformist religious scholars ('ulama) have issued statements supporting the demonstrators:
Hujjat al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar's statement can be seen (in Persian) HERE.
Grand Ayatullah Yusuf Saanei's statement can be seen (in Persian) HERE. If my much to be desired Persian skills have not failed me, he mentions support coming from the seminaries of the Iranian city of Qum, the most important and influential center of Twelver Shi'i religious education and scholarship in the world today. Verification and assistance in translation from readers who are advanced or fluent in Persian is welcome.
An English translation of reported election results, by province, is available HERE. Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan continues to doubt the numbers.
BBC News and The Washington Post have published two useful "guides" to the role of the Internet in the ongoing political crisis in Iran.
Continue checking the blog of the National Iranian American Council for live-blogging, and lots of translations of Persian language materials, HERE.
Andrew Sullivan is also linking to interesting materials, but he is often uncritical and overly-generalized in his comments. He falls into a growing camp of people who seem to want Mousavi automatically declared the winner, despite the unreliability of the election results, rather than new elections (the best solution, monitored by independent international NGOs). Sullivan has, for example, dubbed events the "Green Revolution," after the so-called "colored" revolutions in places such as Ukraine. These revolutions, of course, failed to bring up real structural changes. He also has dubbed the Basij the "SS" and "stormtroopers," in another hyperbolic analogy to Nazi Germany. John Stewart said it best, "You know who is like Hitler? Hitler." On the other hand, perhaps I am being too critical of Sullivan, as he's been doing a fantastic job providing a wide array of sources and links to the public.
Several rational analysts have also warned that news coming from Iran, or allegedly coming out of Iran, needs to be carefully evaluated and not passionately accepted without independent verification (as Sullivan often does). Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are useful tools, but materials uploaded to them often lack verifiable context. The viewer is guided by what s/he sees and is told they are seeing, when the truth may be very different. Such materials also do not take into account social, cultural, and class differences, e.g. are protests by middle class and upper class Iranians in major cities like Tehran truly representative of Iran's people, most of whom are not members of these two socio-economic classes, as a whole? Certainly much of what is being broadcast reflects reality, but these are wise words of caution for all of us to abide by.
See HERE and HERE for such analysis.
Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi, and their supporters are speaking of reforming the political system from within, arguing that they represent the true spirit of the 1978-79 revolution and of Islamic ethics, i.e. honesty and just governance. They have accused Ahmadinejad and his supporters of working against both. This makes many American talking heads uncomfortable, as they would prefer it if they got to chose what kind of political system existed in Iran, and other countries.
The color of Mousavi's campaign and of the demonstrations is green, the color traditionally representative of the Prophet Muhammad's family. Mousavi's family also claims to be a sayyid family, which for Twelver Shi'is (like them) means that they claim descent from a particular line of the Prophet's family, that of Imam 'Ali and his wife Fatima through their youngest son, the third Shi'i Imam, Husayn. Mousavi and the Reformists have also called for their supporters to chant "Allahu Akbar" or "God is greater (than all things)" every evening in a show of solidarity and support. Juan Cole thinks this is because the government cannot ban such a call. This may be part of the reason, but Cole unfortunately does not mention the well-known fact that Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi, and many (if not the majority) of the Reformists and their supporters are not militant atheists or secularists (say like Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens.) Nonetheless, Cole continues to post thoughtful and useful analysis of the ongoing situations in Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq. It is just unfortunate that he has recently been over-generalizing in his role as a public intellectual (this can be clearly seen in his last book, Engaging the Muslim World, as well.)
Some Republican propagandists and Neoconservative operatives have even tried to argue that Bush deserves credit for recent political events in Iran and Lebanon. I wrote quite a bit about the self-serving, erroneous attempts in the update(s) to yesterday's post, HERE.
Some expatriate Iranians and descendants of such expatriates, including the son of Iran's former British-installed and U.S.-backed autocrat, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (the shah), are trying to use the grassroots domestic resurgence of the Reformist movement for their own ends. Many of them worked for and supported (and some still support) the autocratic shah. The potential pitfalls of relying on expatriates and their descendants who have become far removed from their countries of origin can be clearly seen with regard to Iraq before, during, and after the March 2003 U.S. and British-led invasion and subsequent occupation of that country.
U.S. President Barack Obama commented on the ongoing events in Iran (see video below):
Successive U.S. presidential administrations and governments have, of course, continued to bless and support some autocracies, particularly in the Middle East, and not others. Obama recently visited two of the "good" ones, Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He maintains close contact with many others, including the Arab Gulf emirates and the Kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan.