Iran update and editor’s comments – June 15

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei orders inquiry into vote-rigging claims in Iranian poll

The turmoil following Iran’s disputed presidential election intensified today, after the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered an investigation into claims of vote rigging and an opposition protest rally was cancelled amid fears protestors would be fired upon.

The government declared on Friday that the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had won in a landslide victory, a claim disputed by his rivals headed by the moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose supporters took to the streets and clashed with police.

Iran’s leaders spent the weekend urging people to accept the result but today Khamenei ordered an investigation into claims of vote-rigging and fraud.

Iranian state television said Khamenei had told the guardian council, the clerical body that oversees elections, to examine Mousavi’s claims of widespread vote rigging in Friday’s poll.

The guardian council was reported to have said it would take no more than 10 days to hand down its ruling, following complaints from Mousavi and another candidate, Mohsen Rezai. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Some of the headlines are describing this as a “stunning reversal”. It could be. It could mean there’s a counter-coup in the making. Much more likely though is that Khamenei is following the well-practiced tradition employed by democratic governments around the world: use an inquiry to deflect pressure from the opposition. Once the critics have lost their political momentum, the inquiry can then absolve the government. Ten days should probably be long enough for all the protests to fizzle out.

Message from Mousavi


The Iranian people speak

The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — A lot happened in the three weeks between this poll and the election. Mass rallies for Mousavi, the makings of a color revolution and the impact of the internet might not have tipped the balance but it’s hard to over-estimate how much the population could have been swayed by witnessing Ahmadinejad get trashed in live televised debates. That was the point at which the Revolutionary Guard stepped in and warned that a “velvet revolution” would get “nipped in the bud.”

Iran election protester details encounter with riot police, militiamen

Trained as a graphic artist, Anousheh makes an unlikely political activist. She lives with her parents. She stayed home on election day, unlike her brother and parents, who voted for moderate candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has accused Ahmadinejad of vote fraud. But she believes Mousavi should have won.

“I don’t accept any of them,” Anousheh, who asked that her last name not be published, says in steady voice. “None of them can do anything.”

She’s driven, she says, not by politics but by a heartfelt sense of the injustice of it all, and a strong commitment to her country, her city and her neighborhood, called Jordan, among the Iranian capital’s most urbane districts.

Jordan was a target of the Islamic revolutionaries who took control of Iran in the late 1970s, a symbol of all that was decadent about the toppled regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Authorities re-designated Jordan Boulevard, named after American educator Samuel Jordan, who established a high school here, Africa Boulevard in a showy sign of solidarity with the Third World, and a slap to the district’s cosmopolitan pretensions.

Analysts sometimes describe a great rift in Iran between rich and poor, between the pious downtrodden masses and the wealthy Westernized elite. But many say Iran’s divide is more about culture than class, more about cool than cash.

Plenty of the bazaar merchants who bankrolled the ayatollahs and became fundamentalist pillars of the Islamic Republic were rich, and many of the young working stiffs in menial jobs in wholesale districts listen to made-in-L.A. Persian pop music and sip homemade vodka with their friends on weekends.

And among the so-called north Tehran elite are many of modest means: government employees or teachers who treasure the arts, travel abroad and, above all, believe in a good education for their children.

The revolutionaries were resentful of the north Tehranis not so much for their money but for their schooling and worldliness, for what they viewed as a pretension that they could meld East and West instead of just being content with Iran’s traditions.

The late intellectual Ali Shariati, who once inspired Iranian revolutionaries, came up with a term for it: gharb-zadeghi, meaning struck or poisoned by the West. [continued…]

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