Sunday, June 14, 2009

Protests & Clashes Continue over Disputed Presidential Election in Iran

Mir Hossein Mousavi

UPDATE (2:17 a.m., June 14): Excellent new article on the protests and the regime's crackdowns, which included jamming cell phones, shutting down pro-Mousavi web sites, and cutting off access to Facebook. Many Iranians turned to Twitter to express their views. Read the article HERE.

UPDATE 2 (3:24 a.m., June 14): Arrests of Reformist politicians confirmed by Al-Jazeera English. See HERE.

Mass street protests continue in cities across Iran following the official government declaration that incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won Friday's hotly contested presidential elections, allegedly scoring nearly 63% of the ballots cast, with an estimated 85% turnout of eligible voters. His main rival, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, allegedly garnered only 33-34% of the ballots cast, according to the statements from the sitting administration of Ahmadinejad. Police clashed with pro-Mousavi crowds, while pro-Ahmadinejad celebrated their candidate's possibly tainted "victory."

Reactions from world leaders are mixed, with some taking a diplomatic "wait-and-see" approach, such as the U.S. administration of Barack Obama, to a congratulatory approach, such as that taken by Indonesia, to a war-mongering tone, such as that take by the spokesman for the rightwing government of Likud prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

An overview of the four presidential candidates and the Iranian political system can be found HERE.

The Facebook profile of al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, a former two-term president of Iran and leading reformist and progressive mid-ranking (Hujjat al-Islam) Shi'i religious scholar, is now reporting (yesterday) that Mousavi has been placed under "house arrest by the Ministry of Intelligence," and said to his followers that "he has not left you alone."

Khatami at a rally for Mousavi before the election; More Photos HERE.

Continuously updated photographs from the protests can be found HERE.

A pro-Mousavi protestor holds up a picture of former two-term Reformist president Hujjat al-Islam al-Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, who backs Mousavi.

There have been numerous reports of regime and government mischief before, during, and after the election, including:

(1) Shutting down SMS (short message service) which prevented Mousavi supporters from communicating with each other about voting irregularities that Mousavi has alleged occurred (such as severe shortages of ballots, polls in pro-Mousavi districts closing early, etc.);

(2) Interference with Mousavi's campaign by government agencies;

(3) Explicit warning to Mousavi and his supporters from Yadollah Javani, the senior political officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), just before the elections. The IRGC is a kind of "second" military founded after the triumph of Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni and his supporters in Islamicizing what was a broad-based social revolution against the autocratic shah, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Ahmadinejad is a former IRGC officer. Javani warned that any "velvet revolution" that sought to undermine the Khumaynist system would be crushed;

(4) Reports of severe shortages of ballots in districts known to be leaning toward Mousavi, such as in areas with large populations of ethnic Iranian Azeris/Azerbaijanis, who in the past have supported Azeri candidates (Mousavi is an Iranian Azeri/Azerbaijani);

(5) Mousavi's representatives were not allowed in to polling stations to monitor the elections, and Iran does not permit international NGOs, such as the Carter Center of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, which monitored the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections and the Palestinian legislative elections of 2005, to operate in the country;

These are just a few of the issues in debate.

In an act of compassion, some supporters of Mousavi participating in the protests protect an injured policeman.

Ahmadinejad and his backers in the IRGC and the Basij paramilitary, along with the country's supreme leader, al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, have predictably denied allegations of wrongdoing and have called the elections "free" and "fair." Equally predictably, they have blamed "foreign meddlers" for causing the controversy, a claim which is easily disproved by the anti-Ahmadinejad protests that have erupted across the country's cities. Khamenei issued a statement today that said, "the president elect (sic) is the president of all Iranians." [A link to the Persian language version of the statement was not working, as of the time of posting.]

Some analysts however say that the incumbent's victory may be genuine, though there may also have been some fraud, since U.S. and European ("Western") journalists often discount the rural areas and poorer sections of the cities, areas where Ahmadinejad is still popular despite his lackluster first term. Ahmadinejad also enjoys strong support among the IRGC, Basij paramilitary, and pro-regime student activists (hizbullahis).

There has unfortunately also been a misleading trend in reporting, particularly in the U.S. media, about the social groups involved. A great deal of authority in Iran ultimately rests with a segment of the country's 'ulama (religious scholars), namely those allied to the supreme leader, Khamenei, and those who support the system established in late 1979-1980 by Khumayni and his allies. There are, however, a growing number of progressive 'ulama who have criticized the regime, such as mid-ranking scholars (Hujjat al-Islam) Mohsen Kadivar, Hasan Yusefi Eshkevari, and Mohsen Sa'idzadeh. The divisions between the conservatives and Reformists are not as clear-cut as many American rightwingers or allegedly liberal journalists and politicians allege. Khumayni's one-time key supporter and student, Grand Ayatullah Husayn Montazeri, was even removed from his position as Khumayni's heir as the supreme guiding jurist (faqih) when he wrote a private letter to him about the shortcomings of the revolution. Montazeri was under house arrest for many years, and he is often insulted and harrassed by pro-regime thugs.

The courageous Grand Ayatullah Montazeri

Professor Juan Cole of the Department of History at the University of Michigan, an expert in modern Middle Eastern history who is fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, wrote a relevant post today in which he presented the top pieces of evidence that point at election fraud and mischief by the incumbent and his backers in the regime, like Khamenei.

Khamenei & Ahmadinejad

It is worth reposting in full:


"Stealing the Iranian Election

Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen

1. It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense. In past elections, Azeris voted disproportionately for even minor presidential candidates who hailed from that province.

2. Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment. That he should have won Tehran is so unlikely as to raise real questions about these numbers. [Ahmadinejad is widely thought only to have won Tehran in 2005 because the pro-reform groups were discouraged and stayed home rather than voting.)

3. It is claimed that cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, received 320,000 votes, and that he
did poorly in Iran's western provinces, even losing in Luristan. He is a Lur and is popular in the west, including in Kurdistan. Karoubi received 17 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in 2005. While it is possible that his support has substantially declined since then, it is hard to believe that he would get less than one percent of the vote. Moreover, he should have at least done well in the west, which he did not.

4. Mohsen Rezaie, who polled very badly and seems not to have been at all popular, is alleged to have received 670,000 votes, twice as much as Karoubi.

5. Ahmadinejad's numbers were fairly standard across Iran's provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations.

6. The Electoral Commission is supposed to wait three days before certifying the results of the election, at which point they are to inform Khamenei of the results, and he signs off on the process. The three-day delay is intended to allow charges of irregularities to be adjudicated. In this case, Khamenei immediately approved the alleged results.
I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad's upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation. But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime.

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose. They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts. This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran. The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election.

This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.

More in my column, just out, in "Ahmadinejad reelected under cloud of fraud," where I argue that the outcome of the presidential elections does not and should not affect Obama's policies toward that country-- they are the right policies and should be followed through on regardless. The public demonstrations against the result don't appear to be that big. In the past decade, reformers have always backed down in Iran when challenged by hardliners, in part because no one wants to relive the horrible Great Terror of the 1980s after the revolution, when faction-fighting produced blood in the streets. Mousavi is still from that generation. My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers. So, there are protests against an allegedly stolen election. The Basij paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will break some heads. Unless there has been a sea change in Iran, the theocrats may well get away with this soft coup for the moment. But the regime's legitimacy will take a critical hit, and its ultimate demise may have been hastened, over the next decade or two. What I've said is full of speculation and informed guesses. I'd be glad to be proved wrong on several of these points. Maybe I will be."


Many reports note that while anger is widespread among Mousavi's supporters, who hoped for an end to their country's diplomatic limbo due to Ahmadinejad's idiotic ahistoricity and provocations, combined with his failure to address the country's economic problems, there is no real symbol or individual for them to coalesce around. The one possible symbol, Mousavi himself, has now reportedly been placed under house arrest, which is perhaps a sign that Khamenei and the regime, together with the incumbent administration, view the softspoken painter as a very real potential challenger. It is of course too early to make any reliable predictions about the outcome of these recent events, but one can hope and pray for the success of those Iranians who are willing to openly struggle against a reactionary autocracy that cloaks itself, falsely, in religion.

A Mousavi supporter at a rally for him holds up a poster of the candidate and former president Khatami (left).

Please note the religious scholar in the white turban at this rally for Mousavi at which Khatami spoke. Dispel any idiotic notions implanted by mediocre to subpar U.S. media and politicians of there being a uniform "clergy" in Iran.

No comments: