Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ahmadinejad's "Crushing Victory" in Iran

"Crushing?" Yeah, you better believe it! This was definitely the right choice of word for the way Iranian Ayatollahs and their military clamped down on the progressive forces gathering under the "green" banner of the Mousavi campaign, which began to seem like a real threat to the status quo. Mir Hossain Mousavi was being touted as "Iran's Obama." His wife was out on the campaign trail with him, promoting women's rights. Students were out campaigning, just like in America. Now Mousavi is under house arrest--for urging his backers to resist a government based on "lies and dictatorships." Iran is in shambles, with protesters eaten up by rage, their candidate thrown to the dogs.

As one Iranian blogged from Iran, "They didn't rig the vote. They didn't even look at the vote." They just made up a number and wrote it next to Ahmadinejad's name.

All signs indicate that Obama's speech in Cairo galvanized hope for change, and in a great feat of socio-acupuncture, liberated a youth movement that was unanticipated--and caught the Mullahs off guard, with their robes down. Not so fast, they countered with their coup d'etat. We're not stepping over the edge into that brave new world of freedom. We've got the upper hand, and old Slyboots Ahmadinejad--whose mongrel face, it's true, could launch a thousand beaded belt buckles--is still in mock charge. It's a fatwa. You know about those, don't you?

"It's far too early to make sense of what is happening, and what just happened in Iran," Andrew Sullivan writes on his blog, The Daily Dish. "It could be another episode of tragic suppression of stirrings of democracy and reform in that theocratic state. It could be a new, more significant marker in the regime's loss of legitimacy among its educated classes. It could possibly lead to real unrest, as riots today revealed, and a much less stable regime. It could lead to an even more disturbingly aggressive and know-nothing government, threatening the world and the region with weapons of mass destruction, precipitating awful conflict. Or it could mean that many of us have been deluding ourselves in thinking that there is not widespread popular support in Iran for hardline religious conservatism."

I've been following the Iranian election story as it unfolds, mainly through Andrew's blog and that of Marc Ambinder, also an AtlanticMonthly blogger. They have best access to sources in Iran whose posts are being translated from Farsi. I've collaged together some of the material I've found on these sites, and one from the Huffington Post as well. The first excerpt comes from Andrew's blog, quoting Gary Sick, the second from Marc Ambinder's.

Gary Sick:
On the basis of what we know so far, here is the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12.
Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad. Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole at the title link)
Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.

Andrew adds: "All of this had the appearance of a well orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise – the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people."

@marcambinder I've been following the coverage of the Iranian elections all day on Twitter; that'll continue tomorrow. I've got links to some of the best Iranian-based sources, and to the courageous American journalists, like Bill Keller and Jim Scuitto, who are finding ways to break through the Iranian coverage ban. I'm @marcambinder. Sign up -- you won't get spammed, and you will get unfiltered insight.

Questions for the next week include: did the American media stand down? (I say no, but lots of other people say yes.) What are Khameni's intentions? How foreseeable was the plan to rig elections? Is it AT ALL possible that Ahmadinejad actually won by, say, 51%, but that his totals were inflated? Is the outpouring of protest (Green Revolution) more of an important development than the "re-election."?

And lastly, this from the Huffington Post, reported from Cairo by Brian Murphy:

Whether this is enough to spawn a sustained opposition movement remains an open question.

Much depends on how much they are willing to risk. The heartland of Iran's liberal ranks is the educated and relatively affluent districts of north Tehran. It's also the showcase for the gains in social freedoms that began with the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997: makeup, Internet cafes, head scarves that barely cover hair and satellite dishes that are technically illegal but common.

The ruling clerics tolerate all that to a point _ part of a tacit arrangement that the liberties stay as long as reformists remain politically meek. A real protest movement could threaten their coveted Western-looking lifestyle and risk a brutal response from groups vowing to defend the Islamic system.

The political chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard has warned it would crush any "revolution" against the Islamic regime by Mousavi's "green movement" _ drawing parallels to the "velvet revolution" of 1989 in then-Czechoslovakia.

...Authorities also called foreign journalists with visas to cover the elections, including members of The Associated Press, and told them they should prepare to leave the country. Italian state TV RAI said one of its crews was caught in the clashes in front Mousavi's headquarters. Their Iranian interpreter was beaten with clubs by riot police and officers confiscated the cameraman's tapes, the station said.

"The massive demonstrations of police and army presence on the streets was designed to show that they were quite ready to kill protesters if they had to in order to impose order," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "On the whole, these guys in north Tehran who are terribly upset about what is happening are not ready to die.

...Ahmadinejad addressed a crowd in Tehran, but did not mention the unrest, saying only "a new era has begun in the history of the Iranian nation."


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