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The Iranian Election a ‘Legacy of Martyred Flowers’

category western asia | repression / prisoners | opinion / analysis author Thursday June 18, 2009 02:59author by Farah - WSM Jack White branch (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

The Iranian government’s campaign to mold ‘model’ Islamic citizens has not only fashioned a profound crisis of loyalty to the religious ‘ideals of the revolution’, it has nurtured action that many have silently prayed for - as the public sphere, the last bastion of the religious elites grip on power, was shot open by their own guns Sunday.

Legacy of martyred flowers committed me to life,
Legacy of martyred flowers,
Don’t you see?
--Forough Farokhzad, Only the Sound Will Last

Since the close of polling late Friday, and the hasty confirmation of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s second term in office, protests have broken out across Iran. Many Iranians, who consider the landslide victory for Ahmadinejad a symbol of their country’s deeply corrupt political system, have endeavoured to force the government to nullify the results and hold another election.

In what can only be considered a classic case of state-repression, police and Revolutionary Guards have soaked the streets in blood; shooting into crowds of peaceful protestors, arresting scores of demonstrators, and targeting constituencies known for their criticism of the government. Just yesterday, the Guardian conservatively reported that as many as twelve students from universities throughout the country lost their lives as they courageously and openly opposed state forces.

In a brash attempt to validate the legitimacy of the political structure in Iran, those in the Guardian Council and Ministry of Interior (its civic counterpart) confirmed Ahmadinejad’s ‘win’ and congratulated ‘democracy’. Ahmadinejad seized the opportunity to describe his ‘election’ as a ‘mandate from the people’, before the people unequivocally mandated a recount!

The Western-language media would have us believe that the crucial issue concerning the recent election ‘results’ in Iran centers on the question of whether or not the election was rigged. While general curiosity and speculation around this issue is a healthy aspect of the debate, it cannot moderate the far more profound lessons to be learned from the mass protests throughout the country.

Were the elections rigged? Probably. It is more than likely that the higher voter turn-out for this election came in favor of change. This was not true in the 9th Presidential Elections, four years ago, where an unknown, conservative, Tehrani mayor, Ahmadinejad, was ‘challenged’ by the highly controversial cleric-turned-businessman, Rafsanjani. The election was mostly boycotted or dismissed by many reformists minded voters, and the aspect of its ‘rigged results’ by way of the candidates having been hand-picked the Guardian Council (as is policy), was ignored in Western-language press.

This new eruption of protest over the still hotly contested election outcome has animated the already decades long debates within Iranian politics over civil and political rights, participation and inclusion. Just like many other countries, specific issues and rights in Iran are held like hostages to particular names on the ballot.

For example, a vote for Mousavi is a vote for greater freedoms for women. A vote for Ahmedinejad is a vote against the liberalization (privatization) of Iran’s economy. Though many Iranians remain sceptical of all the candidates that were allowed to participate in this highly contested and unusual style of electoral engineering, the elections are not entirely hollow, as the protests demonstrate. Iranians, like many of their counterparts throughout the world, were made to choose between issues and candidates that did not represent the broad spectrum of their politics, concerns, or aspirations.

However, it is not the engineered outcome of Iranian elections that is at the heart of the protests, though this is certainly a concern. These protests, dissimilar to the swell of similar outpouring in the late 1990’s, are made up Iranians from many different backgrounds, and varied political, religious and social opinions. This is precisely the reason the executive levels of the Iranian government have, with its decades of training in repression of domestic discontent, met the protesters with the full force of state power.

Though the validity of the elections is disputed, what protesters, Ahmadinejad and the Guardian Council seem to all recognize is that the immediate future of the Islamic Republic of Iran remains insecure. The ‘democratic dilemma’ that the state has ensured through its dubious electoral processes is kindling increased opposition not just among the ‘parents of the Revolution’, but most pronouncedly in those twenty-somethings born after 1979 who represent the manifest ‘success’ of the Islamic Revolution.

It appears clear the government’s campaign to mold ‘model’ Islamic citizens has not only fashioned a profound crisis of loyalty to the religious ‘ideals of the revolution’, it has nurtured action that many have silently prayed for - as the public sphere, the last bastion of the religious elites grip on power, was shot open by their own guns Sunday.

This is not to make the mistake that Iran is moving towards, or desirous of, a secular revolution, very much the opposite! However, the iron-clad grip on power that many of the religious elites have enjoyed since the Iran-Iraq war is gradually unravelling at all ends.

Today, reformist-minded voters in and outside of Iran, who watched as their political aspirations were dashed time and again by during Khatami’s tenure, vigilantly braved the vast, violent and manipulative forces of the state and dared not be silent once again in the ballot box. Those who bravely opposed the regime objected to the misuse of religion for political ends – and so the protests continue.

In the thirty years since the fall of the Shah and the gradual instillation of an Islamic theocratic government in Iran, opposition movements have bravely attempted to reclaim spaces in the political landscape of the country. These movements have nurtured democratic ideals in an attempt to assert the human and political rights of the poor, ethnic minorities, and women amongst others.

Over the past two years Iran’s women’s movement most commonly known as the One Million Signatures Campaign has sought to amplify the disparities felt by women on every level of Iranian society. Prior to the Saturday protests, this campaign was the largest and most vocal dissident movement in Iran.

For those of us concerned over securing some notion of ‘the truth’ about what happened in Friday’s elections, or who continue to be confused over the myriad of political mud-slinging in the media over ‘what the protests are really about’, we can be assured no easy answers.

Iran is a country struggling to sustain vast differences of opinion over political allegiances, social policies, and the fine lines that govern the ‘morals’ of their state system. Do not mistake the events currently taking place in Iran as a fight for democracy, or even a ‘better representation’ of the will of the people. What is happening in Iran is a fight for a slightly fairer electoral process. If political pundits, Western-language journalists and solidarity activists wish to support Iranians in their fight for freedom, they should take notice of the few who have been executed and exiled, whose lives have committed the many you see in the streets today to life.

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author by chilegooglepublication date Fri Jun 19, 2009 06:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

New impressive videos from Iran, Green revolution, and updated news

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author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Fri Jun 19, 2009 17:12author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That's a bit too much to call it a revolution... certainly it is an important sign to see the extremely authoritarian regime of Iran face some sort of unrest (as unrest always opens the door for people to think alternatives), but there has been no explicit challenge of the power structures, let alone the economic model, as the so-called "green revolution" demands little more than a fair process of elections and is a personalized attack on Ahmadinejad (the Theocratic clique remains literally untouched). If anything, this is a way to liberalize the system (in the neo-liberal sense) quite in tune with what happened in Ukraina and Lebanon -no surprise the Western Media stands behind it and although Obama's words were cautious, the US is trying to see the way in which the erosion of the Iranian regime can play into their project of controlling the region.

By the way, in the analysis put forward in this article, I miss two things:

a. A description of the pro-Ahmadinejad protests. The situation is far more complex as appears in this article or in all Western media coverage of what is actually going on in Iran. Pro-Ahmadinejad supporters are coming in huge numbers to the streets, probably in similar or even bigger numbers as the opposition. What are the forces here at play? As the author states it may be the case that politics are personalised and that Ahmadinejad is seen as the anti-neo-liberal man. But there has to be more at play, particularly because the working class and the poor tend to mobilize for conservative reasons in the absence of clear and strong left wing alternatives.

b. Linked to the above: what is the class composition of the protest? Ahmadinejad came to power as the "ordinary man" (as stated above, the workers and the poor tend to be conservative except for those times when there is a clear strong revolutionary alternative) while Mousavi tend to appeal the middle classes that feel they need more of a political space. This latter statement is the feel I get from reading the papers and actually seeing the photos of the supporters of Mousavi, but in no way represents a thorough analysis and if someone knows of a good class analysis of the composition of the protest, I would appreciate it.

author by Dimitri - (MACG - p.c.)publication date Fri Jun 19, 2009 20:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There are liots more to describe it as a real revolution, as a real challengeto the regime. And, yes, I too wanted if someone knows to tell us about the class composition of those participating in the demos etc. Is there any (say) antiauthoritarian perspective or so? Because I don't think that mass media have offered us a clear image of the events there.

author by revolushawnpublication date Wed Jun 24, 2009 03:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We need to understand revolution is not an event but a process, and get beyond the question of whether to label an event a "true revolution" or not.

Revolution is the process of awakening, of breaking chains of oppression in all its forms. It can happen at every level, at any moment, for anybody. The process view of revolution enables us to recognize the limitations of ANY action while at the same time recognizing the power inherent in ANY action as well. Instead of dismissing the actions of others we view as "not revolutionary enough", it allows us, in solidarity and empathy, to celebrate everyone's steps towards liberation.

To the extent people are struggling against fear and oppression, to the extent people are standing for liberation and justice, they are walking the path of revolution.

author by mazen kamalmazpublication date Mon Jun 29, 2009 04:45author email mazen2190 at gmail dot comauthor address syriaauthor phone 00963115142190Report this post to the editors

I agree fully with jose , the demonstrations do indicate two things , a conflict between the factions of the Iranian state , and the increased feelings among middle class of the impact of the crisis , the local system's one and the international one , and their desire for change , but towards a version of what was called by Gey Debord "the Spectacle" , a duplicate of a world of pictures , the globalized capitalist show , where everything transformed to an icon , external show . I think this is exactly what stimulate iranian youth there to the streets , it is just a form of false consiousness

author by Rami Zuraykpublication date Thu Jul 02, 2009 01:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

On one level, what we are seeing is the unfolding of an old rivalry between two poles within the Mullahs group: Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on one side and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the other. Rafsanjani is the richest man in Iran (and that's beaucoup) and he controls the pistachio trade (hence the food and farming connection to this blog) as well as the oil contracts. He is the head of the Assembly of Experts which has the constitutional power to appoint (and depose) Khamenei. Rafsanjani never digested his defeat in the 2005 elections when Khamanei brought an unknown Revolutionary Guard leader, Ahmedinajad, to the post of President through a combination of (probable) rigging and en masse voting at the last minute by the Baseej (the youth incubator for the Revolutionary Guards) and the Revolutionary Guards. Rafsanjani was humiliated as much by the defeat as by the "quality" of the winner (read "class"). He vowed revenge, and championned Musawi, not wanting to risk another humiliation. I gather he figured it would give him more freedom of movement should "The People" decide to reject the outcome of the elections, as has happened.

But "The People" are apparently not players in this power game. Most are genuinely seeking Change, but many differ on the nature of this Change. While the 2005 elections were met by populat apathy, with a turn out of around 50%, these elections had a reported turn out of 85%. Clearly, many were fed up with Ahmadinejad and sought something else. This explains in part the general feeling of frustration that drove them into the streets.

But one has to cautiously qualify "The People". Iran is a country where 60% of the population is under 30 years old. Contestation is common, even under the regime of the Mullahs. My brother told me of incidents he witnessed where young people would argue with policemen in the street about right of way and then beat the policeman, the symbol of the State's authority. It is also a country where many youth are very branché on the West and where there are 30 million internet users (about half the population). After high school in Iran, you can go generally in one of 2 directions: to the free University where the programs are excellent and very Westernized, or to the Baseej. I am told the bright go to University.

So the protesters are a heteroclite assemblage of small groups and individuals ranging from bourgeois who would like to see Iran join NATO, to extreme leftists. But many if not most of them are not demanding the overthrow of the regime. According to my bro, what they would settle for is better economic policies to address unemployment and to stop the Ahmadinejad' s demagogic disaster, and the removal of dress restrictions for women: veil and coat. Basically people want to live better. Austerity is not the modern youth's favored mode.

The Baseej, of course, are on the other side. They support Ahmedinejad and they also form a significantly large group of young people. There are regional differences in the distribution of the relative importance of the two groups, but, unlike what has been implied, not one group has the monopoly of the rural or the urban fabric, or of the provincial cities versus Teheran. There is everything everywhere.

An issue of relevance to Palestine and Lebanon is that dislike (not to say repugnance) of Ahmedinejad and of his policies is spilling over on what he is seen as political choices he has imposed, especially in regional politics: Palestine and Lebanon. So while it was Musawi who had institutionalized the Iran-Hizbullah relationship when he was president (and this was during Hizbullah's darkest days), support to Palestine and to the Lebanese group is now being seriously criticized by those who are contesting the results of the elections. This is where support to the protests gains increased importance for the US-Israel agenda in the region. A nuclear Iran wouldn't be that bad if it was chummy with Israel. Remember the Shah?

author by Mark Weisbrot - co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Researchpublication date Fri Jul 03, 2009 06:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Since the Iranian presidential election of June 12, allegations that the announced winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was stolen have played an important role in the demonstrations, political conflict, and media reporting on events there. Some say it does not matter whether the elections were stolen because the government has responded to peaceful protests with violence and arrests. These actions are indeed abhorrent and inexcusable, and the world's outrage is justified. So, too, is the widespread concern for the civil liberties of Iranians who have chosen to exercise their rights to peacefully protest.

At the same time, the issue of whether the election was stolen will remain relevant, both to our understanding of the situation and to U.S.-Iranian relations, for reasons explained below. It is therefore worth looking at whether this allegation is plausible.

According to the official election results, the incumbent president Ahmadinejad won the election by a margin of 63 percent to 34 percent for his main competitor, Mir Hossein Mousavi. This is a difference of approximately 11.3 million votes. Any claim of victory for Mousavi must therefore contain some logically coherent story of how at least 5.65 million votes (one half of the 11.3 million margin) might have been stolen.

This implies looking at the electoral procedures. There were approximately 45,000 polling locations with ballot boxes, not including mobile units. If these ballot boxes were collected by a central authority and taken away to a central location, and counted (or not counted) behind closed doors, this would be consistent with an allegation of massive vote theft.

However, this does not appear to be the case. After searching through thousands of news articles without finding any substantive information on the electoral process, I contacted Seyed Mohammad Marandi, who heads the North American Studies department at the University of Tehran. He described the electoral procedures to me, and together we interviewed, by phone, Sayed Moujtaba Davoodi, a poll worker who participated in the June 12 election in region 13 (of 22 regions) in Tehran. Mr. Daboodi has worked in elections for the past 16 years. The following is from their description of the procedures.

According to their account, there are 14 people working at each polling place, in addition to an observer representing each candidate. Most polling places are schools or mosques; if the polling place is a school then the team of 14 people would include teachers. There are 2-4 representatives of the Guardian Council, and 2 from the local police. After the last votes are cast, the ballots are counted in the presence of the 14 people plus the candidates' representatives. All of them sign five documents that contain the vote totals. One of the documents goes into the ballot box; one stays with the leader of the local election team; and the others go to other levels of the electoral administration, including the Guardian Council and the Interior.

The vote totals are then sent to a local center that also has representatives of the Guardian Council, Interior, and the candidates. They add up the figures from a number of ballot boxes, and then send them to Interior. In this election, the numbers were also sent directly to Interior from the individual polling places, in the presence of the 14-18 witnesses at the ballot box.

Each voter presents identification, and his or her name and information is entered into a computer, and also recorded in writing. The voter's thumbprint is also put on the stub of the ballot. The voter's identification is stamped to prevent multiple voting at different voting places, and there is also a computer and written record of everyone who voted at each polling place.

If this information is near accurate, it would appear that large scale fraud is extremely difficult, if not impossible, without creating an extensive trail of evidence. Indeed, if this election was stolen, there must be tens of thousands of witnesses -- or perhaps hundreds of thousands - to the theft. Yet there are no media accounts of interviews with such witnesses.

Is it possible that, in most of the country, the procedures outlined above - followed in previous elections - were abruptly abandoned, with ballot boxes whisked away before anyone could count them at the precinct level? Again, many of the more than 700,000 people involved in the electoral process would have been witnesses to such a large-scale event. Given the courage that hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in taking to the streets, we would expect at least some to come forward with information on what happened.

Rostam Pourzal, an Iranian-American human rights campaigner, told me that it is common knowledge in Iran that these are the election procedures and that they were generally followed in this election. Professor Marandi concurred, and added: "There's just no way that any large-scale or systematic fraud could have taken place."

The government has agreed to post the individual ballot box totals on the web. This would provide another opportunity for any of the hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the precinct-level vote count to say that they witnessed a different count, if any did so.

A number of other arguments have been put forward that the vote must have been rigged. Most of them have been refuted. For example, the idea that the results were announced too quickly: How long does it take to count 500-800 ballots at a polling place, with only the presidential candidates on the ballot? It could easily be done within the time that it took, as it was in 2005.

The New York Times' front page story on Tuesday, June 23 begins with this sentence: "Iran's most powerful oversight council announced on Monday that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million, further tarnishing a presidential election . . ." This was widely interpreted as the government admitting to some three million fraudulent votes.

Here is the Guardian Council's statement: "Candidates campaigns have said that in 80-170 towns and cities, more people have voted than are eligible voters. We have determined, based on preliminary studies, that there are only about 50 such cities or towns. . . . The total number of votes in these cities or towns is something close to three million; therefore, even if we were to throw away all of these votes, it would not change the result."

The letter from the Guardian Council also offers a number of reasons that a city or town can have a vote total that exceeds the number of eligible voters: some towns are weekend or vacation destinations, some voters are commuters, some districts are not demographically distinct entities, and Iranians can vote wherever they want (unlike in the United States, where they must vote at their local polling place). On the face of it, this does not appear implausible. Contrary to press reports, there is no admission from the Iranian government that any of these votes were fraudulent, nor has evidence of such fraud been made public.

The only independent poll we have, from the New America Foundation and conducted three weeks before the election, predicts the result that occurred. And a number of experts have presented plausible explanations for why Ahmadinejad could have won by a large margin.

Does it matter if the election was stolen? Certainly there are grounds for challenging the overall legitimacy of the electoral process, in which the government determines which candidates can compete, and the press and other institutions are constrained.

But from the point of view of promoting more normal relations between the United States and Iran, avoiding a military conflict, and bringing stability to the region, the truth as to the more narrow question of whether the election was procedurally fraudulent may be relevant. If in fact the election was not stolen, and Washington (and Europe) pretend that it was, this can contribute to a worsening of relations. It will give further ammunition to hard-liners in Iran, who are portraying the whole uprising as a conspiracy organized by the West. (It doesn't help that the Obama administration hasn't announced an end to the covert operations that the Bush administration was carrying out within Iran).

More importantly, it will boost hardliners here - including some in the Obama administration - who want to de-legitimize the government of Iran in order to avoid serious negotiations over its nuclear program. That is something that we should avoid, because a failure to seriously pursue negotiations now may lead to war in the future.

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