Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mousavi Rising

I haven't seen polls in awhile, and am unsure how reliable they would be anyway, but coverage strongly suggests that Mir Hussein Mousavi is on course to become Iran's next president. This impression comes primarily from anecdotally focused news reports, but it is overwhelming. One example is in Scott Peterson's trip to Birjand, which in 2005 was Iran's most pro-Ahmadinejad city. In 2009, it just witnessed a huge pro-Mousavi rally:
"But in Birjand, new Mousavi adherents are angry over Iran's tanking economy, the president's failure to fulfill extravagant promises, and, finally, disgust over a head-to-head debate last Wednesday in which Ahmadinejad's knifetwisting criticism exposed past regime deeds, corruption of top leaders, and even dragged Mousavi's wife into the mix...

"The result in Birjand was an opposition rally in which thousands of wildly cheering supporters draped in green welcomed their candidate in a sports arena with deafening cries of support and 'Death to the dictator.'

"The political electricity was as palpable as it was unexpected, and the steaming temperature a stuffy 15 degrees hotter than the warm night outside...

"Iranian journalists who regularly travel with Mousavi say the uptick in energy at rural political rallies can almost be measured day by day in recent weeks."

In addition to the debate, Mousavi's nationally-televised speech also won accolades. Zahra Rahnevard, Mousavi's wife, is also publicly campaigning for him, and almost certainly helping to draw in the votes of young, professional women. Finally, high turnout is supposed to favor the reformists, and the excitement is remarkable (1, 2).

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi looks at the machinations with Iran's establishment helping enable this surge:
"Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West...

"They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box maneuver by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud...

"In addition to protecting their own considerable financial and political interests, which include control of key segments of foreign trade, private education and agriculture, Ahmadinejad's behind-the-scenes opponents fear that a win by the incumbent will further isolate Iran internationally, weaken the middle class and give more power to the military and the Revolutionary Guard...

"The effort is emerging from deep within the Iranian state, and includes some of the most prominent conservative names, including Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri and Ali Akbar Velayati, both close to Khamenei, Iran's highest political and military authority.

"But if there's a brain behind the push against Ahmadinejad, it's former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's longtime kingmaker and chairman of both the powerful Expediency Council, which mediates disputes between other government bodies, and Assembly of Experts, which oversees the office of the supreme leader."

I question a couple of its claims, but that whole article is worth reading to understand the dynamics at play within the Iranian establishment. The point about establishment opposition to militarism is also crucial; even conservative challenger Mohsen Rezai is calling for a less confrontational foreign policy and less military influence. (I wonder if rumors that he ran just to play spoiler for Ahmadinejad are true?) My read is that Ahmadinejad is trying to turn this situation to his advantage with his anti-corruption rhetoric, but it doesn't seem to be working.

The election is just a little over four days away.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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