Iran II: Making sense of events

First, a few links this morning so you can get your bearings.

Laura Rozen continues her outstanding coverage of the aftermath of the vote in Iran at Foreign Policy's blog, The Cable.

I found this interesting:

"It's a disaster of course," an American reporter in Tehran told The Cable Saturday. "A few violent clashes in distant towns. People are angry, devastated. Crying. Streets in Tehran mostly quiet. Heavy security presence. Street in front of Interior ministry blocked off. People tell me Mousavi and Karrubi will join together to fight this. Rafanjani is really angry, so it's said. Big clampdown expected. I'm afraid people's hopes will be crushed."

Ahmadinejad is expected to hold a press conference and victory rally Sunday. Afterwards, the foreign press may be kicked out, Dayanim relayed; the Associated Press later said foreign press on visas to cover the elections were being told to prepare to depart.

That press conference was surreal. It's difficult to describe because obviously, Ahmadinejad is living on another planet :

Ahmadinejad, in a nationally televised victory speech, said that the election process had been "free and healthy," and accused the foreign media of coverage that harms the Iranian people. There was more rioting at night and fires continued to burn on the streets of Tehran.

"People voted for my policies," the conservative president said in his first post-election comment. "It was a free and healthy election," he said, without making direct reference to electoral violation assertions by Mousavi.

As he was speaking, supporters of Mousavi clashed with police in various places in Tehran, chanting anti-Ahmadinejad slogans, witnesses said.

"Everybody should respect people's vote ... we need a calm atmosphere to build the country," Ahmadinejad said. He also took a swipe at his opponents in the election, which was marked by unprecedented mudslinging.

Ahmadinejad, who swept to power in 2005 pledging to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution, accused his opponents of corruption during the campaign. They accused him of lying about the economy, which is suffering from high inflation.

"I named some people during the campaign. I was accused of insulting them, but it is not an insult," he said, referring to his comments about Rafsanjani. "Those who have revolutionary background are not allowed to have extravagant demands," he said.

It should be noted that Rafsanjani, a former president himself who was defeated by Ahmadinejad in 2005 in a runoff largely thought to have been fixed in favor of the former Tehran mayor, has resigned all of his posts in the government - including resigning from the powerful Assembly of Experts.

This is hugely significant as Rafsanjani - named by Forbes in the 1990's as one of the richest men in the world (on a government salary), is extremely powerful and was thought to be a favorite to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei upon the Supreme Leader's death. Resigning from the Assembly of Experts could mean that he is reading the tea leaves - something he has proven very adept at in the past - and determined that anyone associated with the clerics or government has lost all credibility anyway and if he is to have a political future, it will be from the outside looking in.

That same Yosi Melman story in Haaretz also reports that Ahmadinejad's top rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been arrested. We already know that his headquarters was trashed and his supporters beaten by paramilitary militias connected to the Revolutionary Guards.

Gary Sick,
and old Mideast hand going back to the Kissinger era, has an interesting timeline on his blog that not only shows pretty conclusively that the election was stolen, but that it was a sham from the start:

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.
Last night in Tehran, tens of thousands of people stood on their rooftops yelling "Allah o Akbar" - at 4:00 AM. Western press could easily hear the chant from their hotel rooms where most of them are holed up because the streets are a mess. The religious militia is riding around on motorcycles beating people with their batons and truncheons at random. Small groups of several hundred protestors try to set up road blocks using burning tires but are quickly dispersed by charging police formations.

In case you haven't noticed, Iran is a powderkeg. But those who are hopeful that a repeat of 1979 is in the offing can abandon such notions. What we are seeing is the young, the merchant class, and the nouveau riche who are internet savvy and given to thoughts of freedom reacting to the dashing of their dreams. The majority of the population does not live in the big cities and they may be a little disappointed but still believe in the principles of their revolution. Many of them voted  for Ahmadinejad anyway.

What we are seeing is the application of naked power. It may be a purge of the "reformers." It may be a military coup. It could even be, as this analyst wrote yesterday, that Ahmadinejad actually did win in a landslide, that we just don't understand the Iranian people and their real motivations regarding religion and politics.

That last I find doubtful. It is much more likely that the election was a sham all along and that they may use the violent aftermath as an excuse to arrest anyone not fervently in agreement with the government. That's what dictatorships do and that's what's happening in Iran.






 
First, a few links this morning so you can get your bearings.

Laura Rozen continues her outstanding coverage of the aftermath of the vote in Iran at Foreign Policy's blog, The Cable.

I found this interesting:

"It's a disaster of course," an American reporter in Tehran told The Cable Saturday. "A few violent clashes in distant towns. People are angry, devastated. Crying. Streets in Tehran mostly quiet. Heavy security presence. Street in front of Interior ministry blocked off. People tell me Mousavi and Karrubi will join together to fight this. Rafanjani is really angry, so it's said. Big clampdown expected. I'm afraid people's hopes will be crushed."

Ahmadinejad is expected to hold a press conference and victory rally Sunday. Afterwards, the foreign press may be kicked out, Dayanim relayed; the Associated Press later said foreign press on visas to cover the elections were being told to prepare to depart.

That press conference was surreal. It's difficult to describe because obviously, Ahmadinejad is living on another planet :

Ahmadinejad, in a nationally televised victory speech, said that the election process had been "free and healthy," and accused the foreign media of coverage that harms the Iranian people. There was more rioting at night and fires continued to burn on the streets of Tehran.

"People voted for my policies," the conservative president said in his first post-election comment. "It was a free and healthy election," he said, without making direct reference to electoral violation assertions by Mousavi.

As he was speaking, supporters of Mousavi clashed with police in various places in Tehran, chanting anti-Ahmadinejad slogans, witnesses said.

"Everybody should respect people's vote ... we need a calm atmosphere to build the country," Ahmadinejad said. He also took a swipe at his opponents in the election, which was marked by unprecedented mudslinging.

Ahmadinejad, who swept to power in 2005 pledging to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution, accused his opponents of corruption during the campaign. They accused him of lying about the economy, which is suffering from high inflation.

"I named some people during the campaign. I was accused of insulting them, but it is not an insult," he said, referring to his comments about Rafsanjani. "Those who have revolutionary background are not allowed to have extravagant demands," he said.

It should be noted that Rafsanjani, a former president himself who was defeated by Ahmadinejad in 2005 in a runoff largely thought to have been fixed in favor of the former Tehran mayor, has resigned all of his posts in the government - including resigning from the powerful Assembly of Experts.

This is hugely significant as Rafsanjani - named by Forbes in the 1990's as one of the richest men in the world (on a government salary), is extremely powerful and was thought to be a favorite to succeed Ayatollah Khamenei upon the Supreme Leader's death. Resigning from the Assembly of Experts could mean that he is reading the tea leaves - something he has proven very adept at in the past - and determined that anyone associated with the clerics or government has lost all credibility anyway and if he is to have a political future, it will be from the outside looking in.

That same Yosi Melman story in Haaretz also reports that Ahmadinejad's top rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been arrested. We already know that his headquarters was trashed and his supporters beaten by paramilitary militias connected to the Revolutionary Guards.

Gary Sick,
and old Mideast hand going back to the Kissinger era, has an interesting timeline on his blog that not only shows pretty conclusively that the election was stolen, but that it was a sham from the start:

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.
Last night in Tehran, tens of thousands of people stood on their rooftops yelling "Allah o Akbar" - at 4:00 AM. Western press could easily hear the chant from their hotel rooms where most of them are holed up because the streets are a mess. The religious militia is riding around on motorcycles beating people with their batons and truncheons at random. Small groups of several hundred protestors try to set up road blocks using burning tires but are quickly dispersed by charging police formations.

In case you haven't noticed, Iran is a powderkeg. But those who are hopeful that a repeat of 1979 is in the offing can abandon such notions. What we are seeing is the young, the merchant class, and the nouveau riche who are internet savvy and given to thoughts of freedom reacting to the dashing of their dreams. The majority of the population does not live in the big cities and they may be a little disappointed but still believe in the principles of their revolution. Many of them voted  for Ahmadinejad anyway.

What we are seeing is the application of naked power. It may be a purge of the "reformers." It may be a military coup. It could even be, as this analyst wrote yesterday, that Ahmadinejad actually did win in a landslide, that we just don't understand the Iranian people and their real motivations regarding religion and politics.

That last I find doubtful. It is much more likely that the election was a sham all along and that they may use the violent aftermath as an excuse to arrest anyone not fervently in agreement with the government. That's what dictatorships do and that's what's happening in Iran.