Iran update – June 18

Thursday’s rally to mourn the dead in Iran

The march in teeming South Tehran, the poorest part of the capital, was intended to show a broad base of support for the opposition, which Ahmadinejad and his backers have denounced as reflecting the interests of more affluent Iranians in North Tehran. Witnesses said the marchers included people from all walks of life, from impoverished laborers to well-off businessmen. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — While the Washington Post went with the headline “Thousands rally in Tehran in protest of election results,” The Guardian‘s correspondent, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, reckoned there might have been as many as one million people there.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Press TV said:

“The government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says ‘the enemies of the nation’ are fomenting post-election riots across the country.

“Our enemies and their media have hired some opportunist and mischievous elements and have misused the simple-mindedness of some people to cause unrest,” the government said in a Thursday statement.

It further accused the Western foreign media of ‘spreading lies and rumors’ to create doubts over the health of Friday’s presidential election.

As Robert Tait reports, Ahmadinejad’s simple-minded opponents are apparently quite adept in throwing back his insults.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s taste for contemptuous putdowns has rebounded against him and energised his opponents after he dismissed those protesting against his re-election as “dirt and dust”.

The description has entered the folklore of street demonstrations against the official outcome of last Friday’s poll and inspired at least two pithy slogans throwing the president’s words back in his face.

“Dirt and dust is you, it is you who are the enemy of Iran,” one chant goes.

Another frequently heard slogan is: “We are not dirt and dust, we are Iran’s nation.”

Among those outside Iran who still express skepticism that the opposition to Ahmadinejad’s government stretches far beyond North Tehran, it’s noteworthy to see the size of the protest in Esfahan (200 miles south of Tehran) on Wednesday.

Iranian protesters’ slogans target Khamenei as the real enemy

Given the turmoil unfolding around him, the soothing call for peace and harmony seemed to belong to an alien planet. But if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sensed anything untoward in his words, he didn’t show it.

“Everybody should be patient,” he told a televised gathering yesterday evening convened to discuss last week’s disputed presidential election. “Tolerance is very difficult, whether for he who has won, or the one who is defeated. Increase the capacity for defeat in yourself.” [continued…]

Relatives: Iranian activist pulled from hospital bed, arrested

A former Iranian deputy prime minister who headed a group supporting increased freedom and democracy was pulled from his hospital bed and arrested Wednesday in Tehran, his granddaughter told CNN.

Ibrahim Yazdi, who is about 76 years old, is secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran, said Atefeh Yazdi of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has suffered from prostate cancer, and his condition must be closely monitored, she said. [continued…]

Iran arrests reformers as huge protests continue

Iran’s Interior Ministry ordered a probe into an attack late Sunday night on Tehran University students in a dormitory reported to have left several students dead and many more injured or arrested. Students say it was carried out by Islamic militia and police. Iran’s English-language Press TV said the ministry urged Tehran’s governor’s office to identify those involved. Iran’s influential speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, condemned the attack.

Students’ Web sites reported mass resignations by Tehran University professors outraged over the incident. One medical student said he and his roommate blocked their door with furniture and hid in the closet when they heard the militia’s motorcycles approaching. He heard the militia breaking down doors, and then screams of anguish as students were dragged from their beds and beaten violently.

When he came out after the militia had left, friends and classmates lay unconscious in dorm rooms and hallways, many with chest wounds from being stabbed or bloody faces from blows to their heads, he said. The staff of the hospital where the wounded students were taken, Hazrat Rasoul Hospital, was so shocked that they went on strike for two hours, standing silently outside the gate in their white medical uniforms. [continued…]

An insider turned agitator is the face of Iran’s opposition

His followers have begun calling him “the Gandhi of Iran.” His image is carried aloft in the vast opposition demonstrations that have shaken Iran in recent days, his name chanted in rhyming verses that invoke Islam’s most sacred martyrs.

Mir Hussein Moussavi has become the public face of the movement, the man the protesters consider the true winner of the disputed presidential election.

But he is in some ways an accidental leader, a moderate figure anointed at the last minute to represent a popular upwelling against the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is far from being a liberal in the Western sense, and it is not yet clear how far he will be willing to go in defending the broad democratic hopes he has come to embody. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The problem with casting Mousavi as an insider is that insiders are invariably loyal to their own interests. The key line in this article comes from a relative who says: “Mr. Moussavi says he has taken a path that has no return and he is ready to make sacrifices.”

Iran election turnouts exceeded 100% in 30 towns, website reports

Turnouts of more than 100% were recorded in at least 30 Iranian towns in last week’s disputed presidential election, opposition sources have claimed.

In the most specific allegations of rigging yet to emerge, the centrist Ayandeh website – which stayed neutral during the campaign – reported that 26 provinces across the country showed participation figures so high they were either hitherto unheard of in democratic elections or in excess of the number of registered electors.

Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141%, the site said, quoting an unnamed “political expert”. Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132% turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120%. [continued…]

Iran election fraud: Moaddel on Ballen and Doherty

In the June 15, 2009 issue of Washington Post, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty wrote that “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.”

However, scrutiny of the data posted at Terror Free Tomorrow ( fails to support Ballen and Doherty’s interpretations. Their findings, from a telephone survey conducted four weeks before the election, are based on the responses of only 57.8% of the 1,731 people who were successfully contacted by telephone from outside of Iran. Among these, 34% said they would vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 14% for Mir Hussein Mousavi, 2% for Mehdi Karoubi, 1% for Mohsen Rezaie, and 27% did not know. (These figures add up only to 78% in the Ballen report.) In other words, of 1,731 people contacted, well over half either refused to participate (42.2%) or did not indicate a preferred candidate (15.6%) While we cannot guess at the political preferences of this nonresponding/ noncommitting group, we do know from these data that just 19.7% of all those contacted indicated they planned to vote for Ahmadinejad. This polling figure is very low for an incumbent – particularly for a self-described populist candidate – and cannot be responsibly interpreted as representing a clear harbinger of election victory. [continued…]

Iran’s rural vote and election fraud

I just heard a CNN reporter in Tehran say that Ahmadinejad’s support base was rural. Is it possible that rural Iran, where less than 35 percent of the country’s population lives, provided Ahmadinejad the 63 percent of the vote he claims to have won? That would contradict my own research in Iran’s villages over the past 30 years, including just recently. I do not carry out research in Iran’s cities, as do foreign reporters who otherwise live in the metropolises of Europe and North America, and so I wonder how they can make such bold assertions about the allegedly extensive rural support for Ahmadinejad.

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock. The week before the vote had witnessed the most intense campaigning in the village’s history, and it became evident that support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s candidacy was overwhelming. Supporters of Ahmadinejad were even booed and mocked when they attempted rallies and had to endure scolding lectures from relatives at family gatherings. “No one would dare vote for that hypocrite,” insisted Mrs. Ehsani, an elected member of the village council. [continued…]

Mossad head: Iran riots won’t escalate into revolution

Mossad chief Meir Dagan on Tuesday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the riots in Iran over the election results will die out in a few days rather than escalate into a revolution.

“The reality in Iran is not going to change because of the elections. The world and we already know [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate [Mir Hossein] Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived internationally arena as a moderate element … It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister.”

According to Dagan, “Election fraud in Iran is no different than what happens in liberal states during elections. The struggle over the election results in Iran is internal and is unconnected to its strategic aspirations, including its nuclear program.” [continued…]

The narrow strategic thinking of pro-Ahmadinejad Israelis

The prize for this week’s most stupid remark has to go to the officials, officers and experts who described Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the candidate Israel prefers to win the election in Iran, and were even happy he did. It is hard to think of a more blatant manifestation of the narrow horizons of Israeli strategic thinking.

The claim of pro-Ahmadinejad Israelis goes like this: The president in Iran is a puppet of the real powers – the religious leaders, led by Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran’s nuclear plans have advanced and will continue no matter who is president and what that person’s positions are. Therefore, it is better for us that Iran’s most prominent spokesperson to be a Holocaust-denier who threatens to destroy Israel; that way it will be easier to garner support from around the world for pressure on Iran. [continued…]

Iran’s power struggle

As he surveys the aftermath of the rioting in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be assessing the crisis he faces. Referring the complaints from defeated presidential candidates for a ten-day enquiry — just 48 hours after detecting a divine hand in the result — may stymie protests and gain time.

But the deeper challenge facing Iran’s supreme leader is to assuage or break up a coalition against Mr Ahmadinejad that has taken shape since the first year of his presidency. The events of the past week have widened the division between the president and his opponents, making it harder for Ayatollah Khamenei to defuse the situation through finding common ground.

The anti-Ahmadinejad coalition began in 2006 as a group of reformists and pragmatic conservatives alarmed at the new president’s foreign policy pronouncements, which they felt imperiled Iran’s international position. The group was also concerned at the president’s reflationary economics — and the harm inflicted on businesses by tougher western sanctions they blamed in part on Mr Ahmadinejad’s bellicose approach.

The three co-ordinators of this group were Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the revolutionary veteran who holds important state positions, Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president, and Mehdi Karrubi, the former parliamentary speaker. [continued…]

The leaders of Iran’s ‘election coup’

The rigged presidential election in Iran — a coup d’etat, according to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a spokesman for the main reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi and other analysts — has prompted protests both inside and outside Iran. There is, however, little understanding about the ideology and motivation behind the operation.

The coup leaders represent the second generation of Iran’s revolutionaries. They tend to be in their early to mid-fifties, so they were young at the time of the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979. They all supported the Revolution, and most of them joined Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) almost immediately after the Revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s regime in February 1979. They fervently supported the young revolutionary government, and then fought two fierce wars in the 1980s under the command of their clerical masters — Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Hojjatol-eslams Ali Khamenei (the present Supreme Leader) and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (the former President), and others. [Hojjatol-eslam is a clerical ranking lower than an ayatollah.]

The young revolutionaries fought against far better financed Iraqi forces for eight years, expelled them from all of the Iranian territory occupied by Saddam Hussein’s forces, and ended the war in a stalemate, which was a great achievement for Iran considering its international isolation while Iraq was supported by the West and the Soviet Union. [continued…]

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