Friday, June 26, 2009

BBC Persian

Given its importance as a media outlet in the current Iran crisis, readers might be interested in Paul Cochrane's profile of BBC Persian in the last Arab Media & Society. You should read the whole thing to see the channel's situation on the eve of the elections, but here's an interesting historical note:
"While VOA has been broadcasting Persian news and discussion programming into Iran by satellite since 1999, such forays by foreign powers into the Iranian television market are rare. The launch of BBC Persian TV comes some 69 years after the BBC Persian Radio Service went on air during World War II, when the news was firmly controlled by the propaganda department of Iran’s Ministry of Information. Ever since, the BBC has had a complex relationship with its Iranian audience, being viewed as a credible alternative to state propaganda at times and an agent of British meddling at others.

"BBC radio broadcasts were considered instrumental in turning the people against Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was forced to abdicate following the British and Russian occupation of Iran in August 1941, while the service carried out a similar function during the CIA-backed overthrow of Premier Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953. Conversely, in the lead up to the overthrow of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in February 1979, the Persian Service was accused of backing Ayatollah Khomeini when it ran interviews with the revolutionary leader and aired segments of his speeches.

"Nearly 30 years after the Islamic Revolution and just months before PTV was to launch, the BBC was again under fire."

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cohen on Larijani

Marsha Cohen tries to understand Ali Larijani:
"Speaking live on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Saturday (20 June), Larijani stated that 'a majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different from what was officially announced.' He criticized members of the country’s Guardian Council, which must certify the election results, for openly favoring Ahmadinejad and campaigning for him. 'Although the Guardian Council is made up of religious individuals I wish certain members would not side with a certain presidential candidate.'

“'The Guardian Council should use every possible means to build trust and convince the protesters that their complaints will be thoroughly looked into,' Larijani declared. Expressing his concern that the Iranian people had lost their trust in the country’s legal system, Larijani said it was up to the authorities to provide an atmosphere in which people feel free to express their opinions.

"Press TV has just released a report quoting an interview with Larijani, in which he 'urges ‘politicians and candidates’ to separate themselves from rioters and seek legal channels to prove their claims.' Larijani accused some of the rioters of not having voted, and 'taking advantage of the current mood by creating unrest and disrupting public security. They must be stopped.'

"Larijani 'is the quintessential opportunist' cautions Iranian-born security expert Shahram Chubin, the Director of Research at the Geneva Centre for Security Studies in Switzerland. 'Be prepared to see him on every side of a question, utterly without any scruple or principle, except self-advancement.'"

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Stolen Election

Juan Cole commentary on a Chatham House report brings together lots of threads that have led professional Iran watchers to almost unanimously reject the Iranian election results.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back on the Grid

I'm back on the grid, but have a lot of catching up to do. In the meantime...

1.) Someone commented on yesterday's post that Larijani has said most consider the elections fraudulent. This represents a break between him and Khamene'i, in contrast to what I said below. A break between Larijani and Khamene'i is huge.

2.) The use of the British Embassy here has historical resonance. On the one hand, the British are widely viewed with suspicion in Iran. However, in the Constitutional Revolution, the British did grant sanctuary to protesters, and this is remembered fondly.


Saturday, June 20, 2009


If Larijani and Tavakkoli aren't just working for their own advantage, it seems likely that they were acting in support of Khamene'i's efforts to reposition himself above the fray, move Ahmadinejad off center stage, and make the battle about the system of government rather than the election.

That sets the stage for this.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Khamene'i's Sermon

In his Friday sermon, a translation of which you can read here, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i had one major theme, and that was the importance of preserving the system of the Islamic Republic, one to which all four candidates are committed and which millions of voters legitimized by voting. This part leaped out at me:
"This was a response to many of your enemies' remarks expressed in their biased propaganda. If the people have no hope for the future they would not take part in elections. If they do not trust their own system they would not take part in elections. If they do not feel free, they would not welcome the elections. Trust in the Islamic Republic became evident in these elections. I will tell you later that the enemies have targeted this very trust. The enemies of the Iranian nation intend to undermine this trust. This trust is the biggest asset of the Islamic Republic and they want to take it away. They want to create doubt about elections. They want to cast doubt on the trust of the people.

"The enemies of the Iranian nation know that when trust is gone, participation will weaken. When participation and presence on the scene is weakened, the legitimacy of the system will be questioned. This is what they want. They want to undermine trust to weaken participation to deprive the Islamic Republic of legitimacy. The harm inflicted by this is far worse than setting fire to buses and banks. This cannot be compared with any other loss. The enemy wants to see the people come forward in such a move and participate so enthusiastically in elections and then get told that they have made a mistake in trusting the system, the system is not trustworthy. This is what the enemy wants."

Later in the sermon, he chided all the candidates, trying to appear above them as a wise spiritual leader, while extending a welcome to Rafsanjani and Nateq-Nouri (at least the former of whom was absent) as part of the family of the Islamic Republic. You could almost say he was trying to be Barack Obama, calling for unity even while sticking firmly to his own agenda.

On the immediate demands of the protesters, he gave nothing, standing by his earlier insistence that Ahmadinejad won the race fair and square. He also, however, made a point to the leading figures on the other side: Do they want to bring down the republic, and perhaps cause the chaos of another revolution? If and when a crackdown comes, it will be framed thusly - as a defense of the system against outsiders.

Finally, what was with the Branch Davidian reference? Is that the best he can do in criticizing "Democrat" governance?

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Thursday, June 18, 2009

On the Road

I'm on the road this weekend, so if something happens during the day, don't come here to read about it. I will check in during the evenings.


Ahmadinejad's Conservative Critics

Another name I've been keeping an eye out for has surfaced. This time it's Ahmad Tavakkoli, who ran for the presidency against Rafsanjani and 1993 and Khatami in 2001 and is close to (in fact, related by marriage, if I remember correctly) Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani. He is unhappy with the crackdown:
"Many prominent conservative politicians, including Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative critic of Mr Ahmadinejad and head of the parliament research centre, and Maryam Behrouzi, secretary general of the Zeynab Association – a politically conservative women’s group – have also protested over Mr Ahmadinejad’s attitude towards his opponents.

"In a live programme on the state-run television on Wednesday, Mr Tavakkoli said Mr Ahmadinejad’s tone was one of the main reasons for the present unrest in the country.

"'The 14 million who didn’t vote for Ahmadinejad and now have questions and feel insulted, rightly or wrongly, are not ‘motes and dust’ and ‘hooligans’. Motes and dust and hooligans are those who attacked university dormitories and students and committed those murders,' Mr Tavakkoli said."

Yesterday, I wondered what Larijani was up to with his criticism of Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry. Now I wonder if Tavakkoli is up to the same thing. Meanwhile, however, other Ahmadinejad backers are also speaking up:
"But the strongest criticism came from unexpected quarters – from a member of one the parties that had officially backed Mr Ahmadinejad’s candidacy in the elections.

"'A person who thinks of only himself and his associates as being right and all others as wrong, and looks at others as ‘motes and dust’, whatever his position, has ceased to be a servant of God,' Habibollah Asgaroladi, a prominent conservative politician, was quoted as saying by Farda News on Wednesday.

"The Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh), of which Mr Asgaroladi is a central council member, still considers Mr Ahmadinejad to be the winner of the elections."

The conservatives who dominate the government definitely aren't all on the same page.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


2004 Majlis Elections: When It All Began?

The other day, I mentioned that I wished I had a copy of Ali Ansari's Iran under Ahmadinejad at hand to see how it read in light of current events. I grabbed a copy in the library Tuesday, and was struck by his account of the 2004 Majlis elections (emphases mine):
"Few could have anticipated the sheer scale of the manipulation that was about to take place during the race for the Majlis, and Europe's subsequent silence in the face of what was a monumental exercise in electoral fraud was to damn them in the eyes of many Iranians...

"Few expected that the reformists would be returned with an extensive majority, and many argued that they would lose their overall majority. But the hardliners who dominated the Guardian Council, the powerful body charged with checking that legislation conforms to Islamic law and with vetting candidates for election, were taking no chances. They barred over 3000 candidates from running, many of them sitting deputies, in a process that took place entirely behind closed doors; barred candidates were not told the reasons for their disqualification, other than a sudden assessment that they were 'un-Islamic'. They also mobilised an enormous election management team of some 40,000 personnel to monitor voting stations. This monitoring was traditionally and indeed legally the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, but the Guardian Council contended, with no hint of irony, that the ministry had become politicised and was biased in favor of the reformists. The vetting in particular caused an outcry, and as the reformist leadership, including Khatami, vacillated and prevaricated over what to do, thereby losing what sympathy they might have retained in the electorate, appeals were sent to the Supreme Leader to arbitrate. Khamenei responded by asking the Guardian Council to review the process, which it duly did, restoring no more than a handful of candidates to the list. The Guardian Council calculated that the public was fed up with the internecine squabbling of politicians and would not take to the streets in protest at what one reformist politician called a 'parliamentary coup'.

"It was right."

This marked the rise to prominence of the principlist movement which Ahmadinejad represents. His own election in 2005 took place amidst reformist apathy with the process, and the Council of Guardians actually did try to ban reformists Mehdi Karrubi and Mustafa Mo'in from running. The 2008 Majlis elections were similar to 2004, in that they amounted to a battle between principlists and mainline conservatives. Viewed against this background, a number of the principlists around Ahmadinejad, Khamene'i, and in the IRGC probably felt like they could easily get away with a stolen election in 2009.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Another Live Iran Update Site

Talking Points Memo now has a site for live Iran updates.


Salafi Jihadism in Libya

The LIFG looks to back away from its merger with al-Qaeda:
"It has been more than two years since talks started between the Libyan authorities and the imprisoned leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya al-Muqatilah bi Libya – LIFG). As both sides acknowledge past mistakes, there are finally signs that the longtime antagonists may be getting closer to reconciliation, a process that will rely in part on the LIFG’s renunciation of its merger with al-Qaeda.

"Dr. Ali Sallabi, a Qatar-based Libyan Islamist and the main mediator between the imprisoned LIFG leaders and the authorities, has been quoted as saying the talks 'are very encouraging' after meeting the six Shura Council members of the LIFG in their Tripoli prison (Dar al-Hayat, June 15). The six leaders have for some time been allowed by the security services to meet freely with the rest of the Islamists in prison so they could consult with them regarding a review of LIFG policies and principles. The six are writing a religious study that is expected to be published in August. This study, similar to al-muraja’at ('revisions') released by other jihadi groups in the Arab world, will refute from a religious point of view the ideology and methods of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, according to Noman Bin Othman, a former leader of the LIFG (Dar al-Hayat, June 15).

"This positive news coincided with the announcement by another former leader of the LIFG outside Libya that he now supports peace talks with the government."

UPDATE: In the comments to this post, Alle, who actually knows North Africa, walks this story back a little.

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A Movement Evolves

This account, received over a professional list-serve, notes the evolution of the highly diverse protest movement in Iran:
"Fourth march – today, 18 June. As I am typing, cries of Allah-o Akbar are resonating all throughout my neighborhood, despite the stormy weather (this takes place every night between 9 and 11 in sign of protest). The fourth march started from Toup Khoune Square. Marchers took Ferdowsi Street until Ferdowsi Square where they swerved onto Enghelab Street and dispersed around Tehran University. The word given out was that this event was to be a strictly silent mourning march to commemorate and honor the people who have died in the last couple of days. Everyone was wearing black and black ribbons were being distributed to wear alongside the green ribbon, around the wrist or pinned to the chest, tied to a backpack or worn across the forehead.Little pieces of paper printed with slogans such as 'Blood? Why' were passed around for people to wear.

"As I mentioned in my previous email, today made it very clear that thedynamics of the movement are constantly evolving. From the first marchwhere the only focus was on Mousavi/ people’s vote to Mousavi, today’sslogans touched on issues of freedom/justice/innocent people dying for ajust cause. The posters of Mousavi of day one have given way to postersexpressing deeper themes, and the deeper problems that exist in thiscountry. 'Democracy does not equal Dead Student', 'Stop Killing Us', 'We are not rioters', 'Silence is not acceptance', 'The key to victory:Calmness, Hope and Patience'.

"About the march: it was entirely silent and peaceful. No riot police anywhere. Ferdowsi was entirely closed off but on Enghelab, cars were painfully trying to keep one lane open. The drivers were stuck in pretty bad traffic, but to the marchers waiving their V-signs to them, a great majority of them would smile and respond with the same. A bus driver was filming on Enghelab. When asked how far ahead and how far back the march stretched, he smiled and said: a long way. The crowd was mixed: young people mostly but a considerable number of parents with small children and elderly people, chadori women and even a mollah.

"On Enghelab, where the marchers were cut off from the sidewalks by tall metal railing, shopkeepers and passer-bys volunteered to take people’s empty water bottles and refill them with fresh cool water from the watering hoses. At one point, a motorcycle stuck on the sidewalk with an overheated engine started making weird noises. The elderly woman next tome immediately panicked and rushed to her husband saying: it looks like they’re shooting. Later on, a wave of panic went over the crowd and everyone ran for cover while ducking with their hands over their heads. No one knows why, it was over in seconds.

At the end of the march, a very emotional moment. At dusk in front of Tehran University, people lit candles in remembrance of those killed in the violence of the past few days, then dispersed quietly."
(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Afternoon Short Takes

This should not be taken as calling some sort of final result, but signs continue to suggest that momentum may be with the pro-Mousavi crowd. As shown by their PR moves and backtracking about "divine assessments," the government is on the defensive. Tehran Bureau is one source whose sources' sources claim some IRGC officers are not embracing the crackdown, while Nico Pitney reports some IRGC foot soldiers say they will refuse orders to fire on demonstrators. He also reports on a Parliamentary scuffle over the attacks on the Tehran University dorms and the adequacy of Larijani's "investigation."

If the regime is reacting, the initiative lies with the resistance, who today held a mourning protest that drew more people than Monday's event. Juan Cole ties the Shi'ite use of mourning protests to the Ashura commemorations for Imam Husayn. It's not directly relevant to what's happening in Iran right now, but I was in Bahrain for Ashura in early 2007, and posted about it here and here. Note that Mahatma Gandhi credited Imam Husayn: "I learned from Imam Husayn how to achieve victory while being oppressed."

UPDATE: Even Ahmadinejad is trying to make nice with the protesters.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Larijani vs. Interior Ministry

I'm not sure this means anything, but I'll note it just in case. On Monday, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani announced an investigation into the attacks on the Tehran University dorms. Yesterday, he also laid the blame on the Interior Ministry. The Interior Ministry is now mounting its own investigation:
"Iran's Interior Ministry has ordered an investigation into an attack on university students, which they say was carried out by Islamic militia and police.

"Iran's English-language Press TV said the ministry had 'called on Tehran's governor's office to identify those involved' in the June 14 incident. It did not make clear whether the ministry itself would also look into it.

"It came a day after Iran's influential speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, condemned the attack on the dormitory of Tehran University."
Part of this may go back to the image management issue, with the regime thinking either that it might have gone too far or that it needs to issue some fake expressions of regret.

Another angle, however, lies in that fact that within the constellation of people and groups involved the the regime, Larijani is close to Khamene'i, but has had an occasionally tense relationship with Ahmadinejad. During his speakership, the Majlis forced out Ahmadinejad's previous Interior Minister, Ali Kordan, and only narrowly approved the current minister, Sadeq Mahsouli. Given that background, how do Larijani's actions fit into the present situation in Iran? Is he sending a signal to Ahmadinejad to cool it? If so, was this signal coordinated with Khamene'i? Alternately, is Larijani just angling for more legitimacy for the legislature in the government if the current situation settles without a change in officeholders?

UPDATE: Nico Pitney on the regime's PR strategy:
"We see state-run TV repeatedly interviewing shopkeepers whose stores have been damaged. We see the plainclothes Basijis and even riot police committing indiscriminate acts of vandalism -- on houses, cars, and businesses (which of course the media never shows). We see top government officials refer to the demonstrators as 'rioters.'

"The PR campaign, in other words, is to convince the broad swath of the public -- the people who may sympathize with the Green Uprising but aren't yet motivated enough to join it -- that the Green movement isn't political at all. It's merely a group of hooligans who are causing chaos and committing petty crimes for the thrill of it."
If that's their plan, and it makes sense that it is, then they need a new one.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Militarization in Iran

While in the library yesterday, I grabbed a copy of Iran and the Rise of its Neoconservatives: The Politics of Tehran's Silent Revolution, by Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Mahjoob Zweiri. I don't like this as much as Ali Ansari's Iran under Ahmadinejad, but it does pay attention to the growth of military influence in Iranian politics. Here's the key graf:
"Many of the centres of power in Iran evolve around religious, political, economic and military figures. The IRGC and the security forces have emerged as the most independent, and prevail over all other centres of power in Iran. The U.S. military threats against Iran, nuclear confrontation with the West and the invasion of Iraq are among the fundamental causes behind this gain in power. Currently (2007 - BU), a group associated with the IRGC controls the major state-sponsored media. After gaining control of numerous city and town councils in 2003, many former members of the IRGC or its associates managed to enter into the legislative branch in the 2004 elections; the group had also set its sights on gaining control of the executive branch in 2005.

"Prior to taking on a higher political profile, the IRGC had established itself as an economic force in the country, controlling a vast array of financial and economic enterprises. To a large degree the businesses were seen as needed to finance IRGC security programmes. At the same time, the ventures were intended to build the Sepah's independent; in this the Sepah commanders sought to mimic their military counterparts in Pakistan and Turkey. (Sepah = IRGC - BU) In both these countries the army has tended to act as far more than an instrument to protect national interests: the armies have high-profile political roles and often define the respective nations' security interests. Since 1997, the Sepah in Iran has had a growing influence on foreign policy, strategic thinking and the economy. This 'Praetorian Guard' has been a cornerstone of the conservatives' survival and comeback strategy since 1997, and has been substantially rewarded by Khamenei. The IRGC also has a strong presence on the Supreme Council for National Security...

"By far the greatest demonstration of the Revolutionary Guards' political influence occurred in early May 2004, when the military abruptly closed down Tehran's new Imam Khomeini International Airport. In justifying its actions, the Guards' representatives said the fact that a Turkish consortium, TAV, was in charge of operating the airport terminal posed a threat to Iran's 'security and dignity.' Accordingly, the Sepah demanded that the TAV airport deal be voided before the airport reopens. Some observers suspect that an economic motive was behind the Revolutionary Guards' action in the airport row; when TAV won the tender to operate the airport, the losing bidder was reportedly a company with close ties to the Revolutionary Guards."

Before the election, RFE-RL previewed a potential role for the military, while Muhammad Sahimi has more on IRGC politics here. "Neoconservative" in the book's title is not a reference to American neocons, but a term occasionally used for the new generation of Iranian conservatives called in Persian usulgaran, usually translated as "principlists." There is, however, just a bit of parallelism between the two groups, as Ansari in his Ahmadinejad book claims that they were inspired by an "energetic, can-do attitude of the American 'neo-cons,'" as opposed to the ineffectiveness of Iranian leadership.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Yet More Short Takes

The scholar in me is trying to remain cautious, but I'm impressed by the fact the so far, the opposition has done everything right. Not only has Ayatollah Montazeri called for a mourning period for slain demonstrators, but now Mousavi is effectively generating mourning protests. The massive silent, peaceful protests continue, and according to Robert Fisk, some regular Iranian military forces are separating the Basij and protesters to the advantage of the latter.

My worry is still that the regime is holding back in Tehran only because it is a center of reporting. Andrew Sullivan's Twitter feed still shows intense violence in other cities. Demonstrators in Mashhad have taken shelter in the Shrine of Imam Reza, and nighttime cries of "Allahu Akbar" continue. The slogans merit some explanation. It is probably not Islamist, but anti-autocratic. As early as the Young Ottomans in the mid-19th century, Muslim intellectuals in the Middle East have cast absolutist rulers as usurpers of God's sovereignty. Part of the use of this slogan in 1979 was aimed at countering the Shah's absolutist claims, and I suspect something similar is happening now directed at Ayatollah Khamene'i. As I noted yesterday, Khamene'i has sought to gain through enhanced titulature and propaganda the type of authority Khomeini had through his credentials and moral authority, and this has alienated many.

Finally, Nico Pitney flags a report from Reza Aslan that there will be an emergency meeting of the Assembly of Experts, presumably to discuss the position of the Supreme Leader. Remember that in 2006, the mainline conservatives won at the expense of the Principlist faction surrounding Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi and with which Khamene'i has effectively allied himself through his support for Ahmadinejad. If they sense a threat to the regime, they will not feel tied to Ahmadinejad. I'm also intrigued what the idea that Rafsanjani has been rumored to support a conciliar model of paramount leadership. Implicit in the question of whether Khamene'i goes is what happens afterward, and he may have brought up this idea to persuade key players within the Assembly that if they join with him, they could have an enhanced status in a new regime.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Pro-Sponsorship Protests

Bahrain's business community is calling for demonstrations in favor of retaining the country's sponsorship system for guest workers:
"A Bahraini non-governmental society has threatened to launch a wave of strikes and rallies and issue calls for resignations to help reverse the decision to scrap the sponsorship system for foreigners.

"'The action threats were sparked by the decisions of the labour ministry and which are invariably targeting the economically-challenged sections of the society,' Waheed Al Dossari, the honorary head of the Bahrain Fishermen Society, said. 'However, our actions will this time be loud and clear, especially that our movement has already won the support of butchers and vegetable and fruit sellers,' he said.

"The society and its sympathisers will hold rallies in several areas in Bahrain to prove that the decisions by the labour ministry were imposed on the weaker sections, Al Dossari said...

"Last month, Majeed Al Alawi, the labour minister, said that Bahrain would scrap the sponsorship system, likening it to modern-day slavery. Under the system applied in all Gulf countries, foreigners cannot enter the country or take up employment unless they are sponsored by their company."


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Khamene'i and Montazeri

Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri is starting to become a presence in the ongoing Iran turmoil, both calling for three days of mourning for murdered demonstrators and saying the election results "cannot be accepted by anyone of sound mind." As others have noted, he has an interesting history, one which intertwines with that of Khamene'i in interesting ways.

Montazeri was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the 1980's, and a strong proponent of his version of the Islamic Republic. He was considered Khomeini's preferred successor until the late 1980's, when he became increasingly critical of the use of force against dissidents. Khomeini denied this was taking place, either for cynical reasons or because by his late 80's he was detached from day-to-day affairs and in denial over what had become of his experiment. As a result, he was fell from favor, and was forced to resign in March 1989. Shortly thereafter, and shortly before his death, Khomeini signaled that his new preferred heir was then-President Ali Khamene'i. Khamene'i did not have the proper clerical credentials, and it required a massive PR move to win some acceptance of him as an ayatollah. This is considered by many to have touched off one of the worst waves of "title inflation" in the Shi'ite world, which has devalued once-august designations and led to the creation of new ones, with "Grand Ayatollah" being the most recent.

After Khomeini died that June, the Assembly of Experts met and duly selected Khamene'i as his successor. Partly to enhance his status, however, they adjusted his titulature. In the constitution, the word "supreme" was inserted before "rule of the jurisprudent," and the same followed in the popular use with "Supreme Leader" gradually replacing just "Leader." Montazeri and many others objected to this change and its implications, as well, for which they were harassed and Montazeri eventually placed under house arrest. Khamene'i continued to accrue religious flattery, particularly when Ali Larijani was head of the state broadcasting company.

There's an additional angle that occurred to me while writing this, and that is that Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who moved from Speaker of Parliament to President in 1989, was rumored to prefer a council of jurists to a single powerful Leader. If he is, in fact, in Qom politicking among the Assembly of Experts to potentially remove Khamene'i, the issue of what to do after him will come up, and that may be a factor.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Quick Iran Takes

1.) Yesterday the livebloggers flagged a list of demands being circulated at the Tehran protest. This list should not be taken as a unifying agenda behind the protests, but rather an agenda which some, probably frequent anti-regime activists, wanted to get others to sign on to.

2.) I remain skeptical that there are Lebanese Hizbullah working with the government in Iran. As you can see from this handy chart, the regime has plenty of foot soldiers at its disposal. Arabic speech, which I saw mentioned on a couple of tweets, isn't that important, as there are Arabic-speaking Iranians, and perhaps Iraqis in Iran for IRGC training.

3.) Juan Cole is right about the potential for protests connected to the mourning cycle for those slain. Such protests formed an organizational backbone in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

4.) The offer by the Council of Guardians for a recount, as well as the expulsion of foreign media, both fit the pattern I suggested yesterday, in which the government is not so much backing down as trying to control it's image while offering minor concessions they hope will sap the protests of some of their energy. In this light, however, the recount offer, while it will undoubtedly lead to nothing, is a step beyond simply offering to hear complaints, and may keep protesters emboldened.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


A Tehran Story

Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney are the best places to go for continuously updated coverage of events on the ground. However, I just received this over a professional listserve with a request that it be widely distributed. The events described are yesterday's.
"I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. We went down Valiast Street which is the main northern-southern avenue in Tehran and entered the Evin Exp'way which leads to Enghelab Street. We knew that people are supposed to gather in Enghelab Sq. (Revolution Sq.) at 4 and march toward Azadi Sq. (Freedom Sq.). From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking down. Cars were blowing their horns and people were showing victory sign. We went to Navvab Street and parked our car at the end of the street. Then we took a taxi to bring us back to the Enghelab Street. On our way, near Jomhouri Sq. (Republic Sq.), I saw a group of about 20 militia with long beards and batons on motorbikes. My hand was out of the car window with a little green ribbon (the sign of reformists) around my finger. One of the militia told me to throw that ribbon away. I showed him a finger. All of a sudden, about 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and wanted to pull me out. My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and hold me tight. I also hold myself tight on the chair. They wanted to shatter the car windows. The driver went out and explained that he is a taxi and we are his passengers and he has no fault. After about 5 minutes,they left. My elbow hurts severely. Then, a young man from their group came and kissed my elbow! I told him: You know, I don't hate you. I am like you with the only difference that I know more and you are ignorant. He apologized and left. We joined the crowd in Enghelab Street.

"Read carefully: What I saw today was the most elegant scene I had ever witnessed in my life. The huge number of people were marching hand in hand in full peace. Silence. Silence was everywhere. There was no slogan. No violence. Hands were up in victory sign with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: Silence. Old and young, man and woman of all social groups were marching cheerfully. This was a magnificent show of solidarity. Enghelab Street which is the widest avenue in Tehran was full of people. I was told that the march has begun in Ferdowsi Sq. and the end of the march was now in Imam Hossein Sq. to the further east of Tehran while on the other end people had already gathered in Azadi Sq. The length of this street is about 6 kilometers. The estimate is about 2 million people. On the way, we passed a police department and a militia (Baseej) base. In both places, the doors were closed and we could see fully-armed riot police and militia watching the people from behind the fences. Near Sharif University of Technology where the students had chased away Ahmadinejad a few days ago, Mirhossein Mousavi (the reformist elect president) and Karrubi (the other reformist candidate spoke to people for a few minutes which was received by cries of praise and applause. I felt proud to find myself among such a huge number of passionate people who were showing the most reasonable act of protest. Frankly, I didn't expect such a political maturity from emotional Iranians who easily get excited. My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression. Placards that people carried were different; from poems by the national poet Ahmad Shamlu to light-hearted slogans against Ahmadinejad. Examples include: 'To slaughter us/ why did you need to invite us / to such an elegant party" (Poem by Shamlu).' 'Hello! Hello! 999? / Our votes were stolen' or 'The Miracle of the Third Millenium: 2 x 2 = 24 millions' (alluding to the claim by Government that Ahmadinejad obtained 24 million votes) , 'Where is my vote?', 'Give me back my vote' and many other. We arrived in Azadi Square where the entire square was full of population. It is said that around 500,000 people can be accommodated in this huge square and it was full. Suddenly we saw smoke from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshot. People were scared at first but then went forward. I just heard the gunshots but my sister who had been on the scene at that part told me later that she saw 4 militia came out from a house and shot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that 4 people were shot. At least one person dead has been confirmed. People arrested one of the Baseeji militia but the three others ran away when they ran out of bullet. At around 8 we went back on foot. On the way back people were still in the street and were chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great). I was coming home at around 2 a.m. In parkway, I saw about ten buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the street. Then I saw scattered militia in civil clothes with clubs in hand patroling the empty streets. In Tajrish Square, I saw a very young boy (around 16) with a club who was looking at the cars to see if he can find something to attack. I don't know how and under what teachings can young boys change into militia. I came home. Tomorrow, people will gather again in Valiasr Square for another peaceful march toward the IRIB building which controls all the media and which spreads filthy lies. The day before Yesterday, Ahmadinejad had hold his victory ceremony. Government buses had transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full coverage of that ceremony where fruit juice and cake was plenty. A maximum of 100,000 had gathered to hear his speech. These included all the militia and the soldiers and all supporters he could gather by the use of free TV publicity. Today, at least 2 million came only relying on word of mouth while reformists have no newspaper, no radio, no TV. All their internet sites are filtered as well as social networks such as facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication was also cut off during the demonstration. Since yesterday, the Iranian TV was announcing that there is no license for any gathering and riot police will severely punish anybody who may demonstrates. Ahmadinejad called the opposition as a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. He also called the western leaders as a bunch of 'filthy homosexuals'. All these disgusting remarks was today answered by that largest demonstration ever. Older people compared the demonstration of today with the Ashura Demonstration of 1979 which marks the downfall of the Shah regime and even said that it outnumbered that event. The militia burnt a house themselves to find the excuse to commit violence. People neutralized their tactic to a large degree by their solidarity, their wisdom and their denial to enage in any violent act. I feel sad for the loss of those young girls and boys. It is said that they also killed 3 students last night in their attack at Tehran University residence halls. I heard that a number of professors of Sharif University and AmirKabir University (Tehran Polytechnic) have resigned. Democracy is a long way ahead. I may not be alive to see that day. With eyes full of tear in these early hours of Tuesday 16th June 2009, I glorify the courage and bravery of those martyrs and I hope that their blood will make every one of us more committed to freedom, to democracy and to human rights. Viva Freedom, Viva Democracy, Viva Iran."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Too Early to Call

That's the title of this post by Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah with which I wholeheartedly agree:
"We believe this is an existentially important moment for Iran - perhaps the most important one since the Revolution. The odds are always with whoever has control of the army and airwaves. People can be forgiven for already assuming that the hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating today in Tehran will fail in contesting the election results. Perhaps they will. But then again, perhaps they won't. Mir-Hossein Mousavi has a lot of people on his side and we don't just mean the throngs in the street. He was accompanied today in his appearance in Tehran in front of his supporters with former President Mohamed Khatami and the other rival presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi. Even the right wing candidate (to the right of Ahmadinejad), Mohsen Razaee (a former leader of the Revolutionary Guard), has contested the election results. And these aren't necessarily soft touches.... Each was involved in the revolution that brought down the US supported monarchy and still remembers how that went.

"Of course, this is not a fight to overthrow the Republic - for many of the demonstrators, this is a fight to save the Republic, such as it were. It is an indicator of a strong level of support in Iran for the system of a constitutional republic, if not with the limitations that have been placed on it. It shows a remarkable politicization of the Iranian middle class that must be causing shudders throughout parts of the Arab world, just as the overthrow of the Shah did almost exactly thirty years ago. If for no other reason, this attempt to demand accountability by those convinced they were denied their vote is supremely admirable. It also shows that while there has been significant trust by masses of Iranians in the system itself (if in fact it is true that over 80% of eligible voters turned in their ballots), it also shows a significant lack of trust in those institutions which head the system."

(Crossposted to American Footprints, as is almost everything right now)


Books for the Crisis

If anyone has the interest and time for a little background reading on current events in Iran, there are two books in particular I would recommend.

The first is The Mantle of the Prophet, by Roy Mottahedeh. This fall at Shippensburg University I'm teaching a course called "Islam and Politics in the Modern Middle East," and this is the first book we'll read after the background material. The book is written in two voices. One is based on interviews with Iranian mullahs in the 1970's and '80's, and tells the life story of one of them and his circle of friends from their earliest education through the 1979 revolution as they react to the new ideas and changes in the world around them. Interspersed with this is Mottahedeh's highly lucid, scholarly (not mutually exclusive!) account of aspects of Islam and Iranian culture, as well as the historical developments which have shaped modern Iran. If you want to know what an "ayatollah" actually is, this book will tell you. The result is a excellent guide to the world of Iran's post-revolutionary ruling class, including the leaders of both sides of the present turmoil.

The other is Iran under Ahmadinejad, by Ali Ansari. In fewer than 100 pages, Ansari, who is both extremely well-connected and one of the top historians of modern Iran out there, places Ahmadinejad in a historical context and highlights the major issues, trends, and developments to paint a profile of the government at the center of today's crisis. I previously reviewed this here; I wish I had a copy to hand so I could glance through it again and see if I noticed any previously overlooked parts relevant to what's happening.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Larijani on University Attacks

In what I'm taking as a sign that the coup regime is engaged in a bit of retrenchment and shoring up of its propaganda position, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has announced a parliamentary investigation into the attacks on Tehran University. He upheld the election, but said the attacks were caused by, "hands (which were) in the midst of a plan to feed propaganda to foreign media."


Early Afternoon Update

The Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan are the two places to go for continuous updates about the events unfolding in Iran. The question for the day seems to be whether the hardline forces are starting to cave. To this I have no clear answer.

On CNN, Christiane Amanpour said that her sources tell her the government made a deliberate decision not to intervene in the huge Tehran protest. It was, in fact, aired on at least one government TV station. However, it could easily be that the government is trying to show how tolerant of dissent it is, and was thus deliberately putting on a show rather than holding off because it was intimidated by the numbers.

Certainly away from the media spotlight, Basijis continued cracking down on protesters. Sullivan notes RFE-RL reports of violent repression in Tabriz, Mashhad, and Ahvaz. Twitter traffic reports the same in Shiraz. As is well-reported, shots were ultimately fired in Tehran, which served to disrupt the protest there. My point with all of this is that we can't rule out the possibility that what we saw on TV this morning was an exception rather than a new nationwide rule going forward.

Another possible angle is the different responses among the Basij militias, IRGC, and riot police. Looking at Tehran, the first of that trio did the dirty work. Was that part of a deliberate plan? Are we sure all command structures are intact and functioning the way our models say they should?

Finally, a word about "youth." The median age in Iran is 27. As with much of the developing world, youth dominate the country demographically, and this is what translates into the prevalence of young people on both sides of the current turmoil.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


The IDF and the Basij

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out his vision for peace. He was quite eloquent in arguing Israel's case, and I imagine parts of this speech were extremely well-received by those schooled in Israeli versions of history. I'm not up for recounting a different story, one in which both Israel and the pre-state yishuv were frequently aggressors rather than victims, whether in 1920's land disputes, the Suez War, or 1960's conflicts with Syria over water rights. It's too easy to mock him for stating a willing to negotiate without preconditions in the same speech in which he lays out preconditions so radical they would make the Bush administration blush. I expect nothing from this government but delay and obstruction designed to subvert the peace process rather than advance it toward any vision; the goal will be peace through Israeli dominance.

I do, however, have a question. Is this really so different from this?

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Nate Silver posts the reported Iranian election results by province, brought to us by Daniel Berman and others at St. Andrews University. With apologies to Steve Hynd, I don't believe polls are that good an indicator in Iranian politics. Comparisons with previous elections are more important. What's more, given the fact that the reformist/conservative split over-simplifies things, I prefer considering the second round rather than the first from 2005.

The Ahmadinejad/Rafsanjani split from that vote roughly parallels that between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi this time around, but I that seems highly unlikely. Mousavi is a much stronger candidate that Rafsanjani, reformists actually came out to vote this year, and a certain percentage of the urban poor who voted for Ahmadinejad should have been turned off by soaring unemployment and other economic problems.

What would a fair result look like? I admit I'm not sure, but Ahmadinejad made it easy to call foul on this one, which is what discredits him going forward. This is the problem when an electoral system is illegitimate, and the only ways out of the impasse are for someone else to be declared the winner or for further voting, such as a run-off.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Khamene'i Orders Investigation

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i has ordered an investigation into election irregularities:
"Iran's supreme leader on Monday ordered a probe of Friday's presidential election, as protests over alleged voter fraud continued for a third straight day. But since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his apparent reelection, some observers dismissed the investigation as an attempt to diffuse the anti-government demonstrations...

"On Sunday, Mousavi met with Khamenei, a Shiite cleric who holds ultimate political authority in Iran. Ali Reza Adeli, a top aide to Mousavi, said Khamenei told Mousavi to use legal avenues to question the election outcome. The two leaders then jointly appealed for calm, Adeli said.

"Khamenei later asked the Guardian Council to examine the election and the allegations of wrongdoing, and issue a report within seven to 10 days. The council is a 12-member commission that must validate the election before an official winner can be declared. Council members are appointed by Khamenei and the head of the judiciary. The council vets candidates and has the power to veto laws deemed inconsistent with Islam."

This is first and foremost an attempt to defuse the protests. Khamene'i has already left no doubt as to his preferences, and is probably hoping to just come back and say, "OK, Ahmadinejad only got 55%." However, at this point I don't see anything that has the incumbent over 50% flying with protestors, who may see this as a sign that their efforts are paying off.

On the other hand, this plus an even harsher crackdown could persuade some to stay off the streets for awhile, allowing the hard-liners to assert themselves.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Sunday, June 14, 2009

How Secure is the Regime?

There are plenty of sites where you can see that the regime's crackdown has been brutal, on streets from Kirmanshahr to Tabriz, in Tehran University dormitories, and elsewhere. Now foreign journalists are being hustled out of the country, and the hotel where most of them stay is watched to prevent them from leaving. Tehran Bureau, which became an invaluable site with sources on the ground in Iran, has been shut down by a DoS attack which they blame on the Iranian government.

Andrew Sullivan passes along a message from Mir Hussein Mousavi to one of his BBC Persian contacts:

It is much harder to crush your enemies than it is to get them to admit they are beaten; in fact, the former is usually but an end to the latter. The regime wants Mousavi to buy in to their system because they lack confidence that they can otherwise control a popular uprising that many within Iran are now comparing to the revolutionary events of 30 years ago. They expel journalists because they don't want the images of their attempt beamed around the world.

There is also a silence amidst the din. It is the silence of well-known Iranian leaders such as Rafsanjani and Qalibaf who, if they wished, could signal their acceptance of the new order and have it trumpeted in the official Iranian media. Does the fact that it is not so trumpeted not mean that they see other possibilities, or at least a chance worth fighting for? What does it mean that word of Rafsanjani's alleged resignations is carried only on Arab satellite media, but not on Press TV or IRNA?

This election featured a rift in the establishment caused by a scheming Supreme Leader and an arrogant showman of a president who alienated both an old guard of kleptocrats and a population which has never been loathe to vote reformists into office. The kleptocrats in question helped keep the political space open for the Mousavi campaign, only to be thwarted by enemies who would brook no dissent. However, against the expectations of many, including me, it is the voices of the people, however, who with their voices and bodies demand the democracy the regime keeps insisting they have, who keep that space open, and Mousavi himself, a man who bridges several worlds, who appears to be the first in a generation with both the power and the will to lead them.

The Iranian system of government we have known for 30 years is no more. What will take its place, however, is not yet decided.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



During the 4 p.m. EST hour, someone on CNN said that if Mousavi is not granted a permit for his protests tomorrow, he will seek sanctuary in the shrine of Imam Khomeini. It was said hurriedly and I don't know the source of the information, but it seems unlikely enough to have been coughed up randomly as a rumor that it's worth considering a bit more fully.

I presume "sanctuary" refers to the old Iranian tradition of bast, by which someone can seek refuge in a mosque, shrine, or certain other sites and in theory remain free from government interference. This was used during Iran's 1905-06 Constitutional Revolution, both at the shrine of Shah 'Abd al-Azim, a Shi'ite martyr from the 9th century, and later at the British embassy, which became the site of a huge tent city.

I am unsure how this would work in a 21st-century political context, but the symbolism would be powerful.

Please note also that this is in contrast with information that Mousavi is under house arrest. Even if he is, however, there may be something to it, such as a call for others to gather at Imam Khomeini's shrine.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Farhi on the Fraud

I applaud those who are reluctant to view Iran's presidential election as stolen. Capital capture and the tendency to see all anti-American leaders as dictators are real problems, as is the tendency to take Westernized upper middle class professionals as representative of the Muslim Middle East. However, here's Farideh Farhi on why the Iranian results don't pass the smell test:
"The lovely folks at the Interior Ministry did not even try to make it look like it was not stolen. Aside from the clear irregularities in comparison to Iran’s own past elections in the way the results were reported (e.g., lump sum reporting instead of district reporting as mentioned by Ibrahim Yazdi, not announcing the number of voided ballots and so on), there is absolutely no way the numbers add up.

"Ahmadinejad is reported to have received 24 million (even more than Khatami they keep repeating) out of total voter turnout of 39 million voter. This presumes an increase of about 8 million votes for him from the second round of the last election and the unbelievable implication that the majority of the additional 11 million voters that usually do not vote and voted in this election cast their ballot for Ahmadinejad! The argument is simply not credible to anyone who knows Iran."

(Originally posted yesterday at American Footprints)


Ali Larijani

One thing I'd like to do is track down more information on what key leaders are doing within Iran, such as Rafsanjani, Rezai, Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf, and anyone else I can think of or run across. Earlier today I did spot a rumor that Rezai has asked to see the breakdown of votes by precinct, but I don't remember where I saw that or how strong the source was. Arab satellite networks report that Rafsanjani has resigned his posts; he's also been reported meeting with Khatami and Mousavi planning strategy. I've seen squat about Qalibaf.

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, however, has thrown in his lot with Ahmadinejad:
"Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday on his re-election as Iran's president.

"'Majlis will have a cordial cooperation with the new government,' said the Majlis speaker in a message to President Ahmadinejad who was re-elected as the Iranian president for another four-year term winning over 24 millions of the votes.

"Referring to the massive turnout of the Iranian nation in the June 12 presidential elections, Larijani said the voting has provided President Ahmadinejad’s government with the new grounds for solving domestic problems."

This is unsurprising. Larijani definitely isn't Ahmadinejad's best friend, but he is close to Khamene'i, to whom he was a long-time personal advisor. In fact, during his years heading Iran's official media, he became known for what even among conservatives was over-the-top praise of the Supreme Leader.

My sense of things is that the government is succeeding in taking over the streets, but that protests could re-emerge with new, centralized leadership.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Rahnavard Speaks

Tehran Bureau reports that Mousavi's wife Zahra Rahnavard appeared at Tehran University:
"Zahra Rahnavard gave a speech at Tehran University today, Sunday, June 14. To a large audience of students, Ms. Rahnavard announced the latest official statement issued by Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has pledged he will not back down from contesting the fraudulent 22 Khordad election results.

"Mousavi calls on all Reformist supporters to take part in a PEACEFUL MARCH & MASS DEMONSTRATION in 20 cities across Iran on Monday, June 15 (doshanbeh, 25 Khordad) at 17:00 to denounce the election results as fraud. He has applied for a license to protect the safety of protestors.

"The Tehran location is Valiasr Avenue, from Valiasr Square to Tajrish Square. The locations in other cities are listed below.

"Mousavi has also called for a NATIONAL STRIKE on Tuesday, June 16 (Khordad 26) and asked all those who contest the results to close their shops, businesses, etc. and for employees to not go to work that day.

"Communication is critical to success for a large turnout, so please forward this to every Iranian you know. The statement is verified on Ghalam News (, the official site of the Mousavi campaign (site rasmi setad)."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Ahmadinejad's Rally

BBC reports that tens of thousands of people attended Ahmadinejad's victory rally in Tehran:
"Crowds thronged the main thoroughfare, Vali Asr street, waving Iranian flags and chanting in jubilation...

"He told the rally that elections in the Islamic republic had never been healthier and that the people alone had decided the outcome.

"'Some people want democracy only for their own sake,' he said, referring to his critics both inside and outside of Iran.

"'Some want elections, freedom, a sound election. They recognise it only as long as the result favours them.'

"He said Iranians were united, but with 40 million people taking part it in the election it was natural for some to be disappointed."

Mousavi, meanwhile, has called for his supporters to continue protesting. That is actually significant, as members of the revolutionary generation have historically feared the chaos that could be unleashed by a new popular uprising.

UPDATE: There's also this:
"Ghalamnews (Mousavi’s newspaper) reports Mousavi is calling for a peaceful march along Valiasr street in Tehran and in 19 other cities on Monday and a national strike on Tuesday. Before the election, Mousavi supporters formed a chain down the entire 18 kilometer length of Valiasr."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pirates by Oman

Suspected Somali pirates have seized a ship in Oman's territorial waters:
"Suspected Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship off the coast of Oman, a spokesperson for NATO said - in an incident which appears to mark a significant expansion in the area where Somali pirates operate.

"A spokesperson for NATO's command in Northwood, Britain, said the MV Charelle, owned by a German shipping firm, was taken on Friday by eight pirates.

"The ship was flying under an Antigua and Barbuda flag...

"If the attack was carried out by Somali pirates, it will mark the furthest the criminal gangs have ventured from the Somali coast."

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Reformist Purge?

The invaluable Tehran Bureau has an "Alerts from Tehran" page rounding up small bits of information, analysis, and videos from a variety of sources mostly on the ground in Iran. Much of this is unconfirmed and sourced as rumor, but there's something from Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:
"In a sign of further escalation of the crisis in Iran, in the last few hours most reformist politicians from Mosharekat [Islamic Participation], and Mojahedin Enqelab, including Khatami’s brother have been detained. Ahmad Zaidabadi, secretary of Advar Org has also been detained. It looks like an all out purge of reformers is underway. There is no doubt a systematic coup is underway. Unconfirmed reports also indicate both Karrubi and Moussavi may be under house arrest."
A name which has been associated with coordinating the crackdown is Mojtaba Khamene'i, son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i.

UPDATE: See also this:
"Various reports indicate that many leading reformists, intellectuals, human rights advocates, and members of the opposition Nationlist-Religious groups have been arrested. Al Jazeera TV has reported that Mr. Rafsanjani has resigned from two powerful positions that he has held, namely, the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts (both constitutional bodies). Street demonstrations also broke out in many cities, including Tehran, Mashhad (in northeastern Iran) and Baabol (in northern Iran) with some casualties and many arrests."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Mousavi's Letter

Mir Hussein Mousavi has issued a letter objecting to the results. It looks rather toothless, however, as he doesn't say much about what he plans to do about them. One problem with reformists during the Khatami years was their fear of street confrontations and belief they had to get what they wanted by playing according to the rules to stave off revolutionary chaos. That's hard enough to do when the rules are rigged against you, much less when the other side has abandoned them completely.

UPDATE: Karroubi is vowing not to concede.


Rise of the Military

This account by Iranian film director and Mousavi spokesman Mohsen Makhmalbaf makes a great deal of sense:
"According to Mr. Makhbalbaf, in the early hours after voting had ended, the Interior Ministry had called Mr. Mousavi’s campaign headquarters to inform them that Mr. Mousavi would be the winner and, therefore, Mr. Mousavi must prepare a victory statement. Mr. Mousavi was, however, asked by the Ministry not to boast too much, in order not to upset Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters. Many of the president’s supporters are among the ranks of the Basij militia, and thus armed.

"According to Mr. Makhbalbaf, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also informed of the developments. He also recommended a 'good management' of the victory statement, meaning not boasting greatly about the victory, because that would be in Iran’s national interests and stability.

"At the same time, the reformist newspapers were also informed that they can prepare their Saturday edition to declare Mr. Mousavi the winner, but were not allowed to use the word pirouzi (victory) in their articles, in order not to upset Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters. One reformist newspaper prepared its front page with the title, 'People took back the flag of their country [from Mr. Ahmadinejad].'

"But, just a few hours later, a center that had been set up by Mr. Mousavi in Gheytarieh (in northern Tehran) for monitoring the election and vote counting, was attacked by armed security agents. They ransacked the center, destroyed computers, and attacked the staff. Supporters of Mr. Mousavi intervened and arrested 8 security agents. The police was called to take them to prison, but the police released the attackers.

"According to Mr. Makhbalbaf, the central headquaters of Mr. Mousavi’s campaign was also surrounded by security forces, as was the Interior Ministry building. Then, new data began to be released by the Ministry, indicating that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won the elections decisively."

A coup that originated with the military rather than the clerical or lay political leaders resolves what I saw the the main flaw with Juan Cole's reconstruction. It also dovetails well with Interior Ministry employees' warnings that Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, who is influential in the military, issued a fatwa authorizing manipulation of the elections.

A coup led by the military is also easier to explain than one ordered by Ayatollah Khamene'i. I had been thinking about the implications of a Mousavi victory, and concluded that, given the continuing conservative dominance of Parliament, the most important changes for Iranians would be a different economic policy and the replacement of someone hostile to the old revolutionary establishment embodied by the likes of Rafsanjani with someone who was actually a part of it. With that in mind, let's go to Walter Posch's election backgrounder:
"On the other hand, if Ahmadinjed wins, the relatively broad scope of political participation for various ideological and political trends will be dramatically reduced, as the reformists will be pushed aside and purged. This in turn will lead to an ideological monopoly for Mesbah-Yazdi and the Haqqaniye network, where a new generation of political clerics is trained. This also means a final legitimization of the Revolutionary Guards’ control over the economy, complementing the tax-free cash cows of the 'pious' foundations and further suffocating free enterprise. Finally, it would mean the strengthened indirect and direct control of the Revolutionary Guards over the executive branch. Former IRGC members already control most of the Parliament, are present in the government, and, of course, in the Higher National Security Council (HNSC)."

In other words, the often anti-democratic and militarily inclined forces which have been rising in Iran were threatened by the more traditional establishment, and acted to preserve their interests. We already saw, starting in 2005, how this movement had pushed together reformists and centrist pragmatists, resulting in Mousavi's alliance with the likes of Rafsanjani and Khatami's conservative 1997 opponent Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri. If so, this was not a coup perpetrated by the clerical establishment, but by a rising hard-line counter-establishment that did not want a repeat of the 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts.

UPDATE: Khamene'i's role in this affair is emerging as a key issue within analysis. Above, I followed Makhmalbaf's account, in which the Leader initially accepted the results. Gary Sick, however, credibly suggests that the Mousavi camp was lied to so as to make them complacent.

UPDATE: Just a quick clarification: "Military" above means the IRGC and basij militias.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Reconstructing the Crime

Juan Cole offers a possible reconstruction of events:
"But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime.

"As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

"The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

"They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

"This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landslide in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

"The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election."

The vote totals were definitely handled clumsily, as this graph shows. On the security side of things, however, it looks like there was definitely planning. Maybe it was a contingency plan all along?


A Fall of Night

One possible explanation for today's results is that the people of Iran voted Mahmood Ahmadinejad in for another term. Despite his mangling of the economy, they still liked his anti-corruption crusade and strong foreign policy stance. While there was some vote-rigging, his margin was convincing enough that he was the clear victor.

Given the build-up to the election, and particularly the rhetoric deployed in the days leading up to it, however, I'm inclined to believe that we have just witnessed a seizure of power by an axis consisting of Ahmadinejad, Khamene'i, and the elite military and paramilitary units. This has gone against not only the popular will, but other powerful figures within the establishment, such as Rafsanjani.

Now we have this from Laura Rozen:
"After a disputed election, the offices of two reformist candidates, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were seized and locked by intelligence and security forces. As the government controlled Interior Ministry is declaring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as victor, the security apparatus loyal to him have taken to the streets in an overwhelming show of force.

"According to unconfirmed reports, Mir Hossein Moussavi may have been detained by intelligence agents as he traveled to the Supreme Leader's residence to meet with him.

"By all indications, the government of Ahmadinejad, which is in charge of conducting the elections and counting votes, is using a combination of intimidation and military might to prevent any challenges to announced results of the election.

"'It appears that a coup has taken place in Iran overnight to force the results on other parties. These elections cannot be considered fair by any measure under such circumstances,' said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran."
As for the margin, she has this:
"He (Ghaemi) said opposition forces believe there was massive fraud in the vote count but cannot figure out where it occurred, perhaps in the computer system pre-planned in advance. He said that they are frightened."
The early returns are that the 2009 Presidential election has brought, not a new day of reform, but a night of repression.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Friday, June 12, 2009

A Bit on Confusion

Two stories are being reported on the Iranian election returns which should be kept separate. One is the fact that the official Islamic Republic News Agency is declaring Ahmadinejad the winner outright. Their source for this is simply "a statement received by IRNA," however, rather than some official.

The Interior Ministry has Ahmadinejad leading with 20% counted, presumably from rural areas that are easier to count.

For the time being, the safe course is to see the IRNA statement as an Ahmadinejad mouthpiece sounding with the same confidence as the two leading candidates. We won't have a clear picture of what's happening for a few hours yet.

UPDATE: I like this wisdom from al-Jazeera's correspondent:
"'Both sides are trying to outplay each other, trying to out manoeuvre each other in the media game,' Alireza Ronaghi, Al Jazeera's Tehran correspondent, said.

"'There has only been about 20 per cent of the votes counted and one thing I would like to attract attention to, what Mousavi has said - he has invited Iran's supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] to intervene with his wisdom and to no let wrong doing take place.

"'He is trying to refer to the possibility of governmental officials trying to take advantage of this course of events and taking everyone by surprise.'"

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Heavy Turnout, Rumors of Foulness

Heavy voter turnout in Iran has led polls to be kept open two hours later than planned:
"Iranians began lining up at polling stations as early as 90 minutes before the start of voting this morning to try to beat crowds. Officials late this afternoon extended voting by two hours until 8 p.m. or later. Official results may not be announced until Saturday...

"Voters in upscale northern Tehran neighborhoods such as Niavaran and Farmanieh lined up around the corners outside schools and mosques used as polling places.

"They reported waiting up to 2 1/2 hours to cast ballots, in what many described as a vote of protest against the Ahmadinejad era, characterized by increased Islamic morality patrols and a confrontational stance toward the West...

"In the countryside, voters dutifully showed up at the polls, many to cast ballots for Ahmadinejad, who has earned their popularity and trust with giveaways, low-interest loans and flashy construction projects as well as his tirades against the rich and elite.

"In the town of Varamin, 40 miles southeast of Tehran, trickles of voters showed up at polling stations. 'I didn't vote for 10 years,' said Hassan Hatami, a 27-year-old wholesale clothing distributor, proudly showing off the blue ink on his index finger. 'But I'm voting now to show my support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I see he's done good things for the people.'"

In addition to turnout, the thing to watch today is vote rigging and intimidation. Several days ago, employees at the Interior Ministry warned of a ruling calling upon election supervisors to ensure that Ahmadinejad wins. It was almost certainly issued by Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, whose followers include not only Ahmadinejad, but many among the Basij militias whose election-day maneuvers probably put Ahmadinejad into the second round in 2005. Yesterday, Mousavi issued an open letter claiming that Basiji and the IRGC were already interfering in the election. As of today, cell phone communication is blocked throughout the country, which reformists say is an attempt to hinder vote monitoring efforts. Pro-Mousavi web sites are also blocked, which pro-Ahmadinejad media justify as a prohibition of illegal campaigning on election day.

UPDATE: Rasmus Christian Elling, in this continuously updated post, reports:
"A violent attack on Musavi’s headquarters in Qeytariyeh, Tehran, has been reported by pro-Musavi web sites. Furthermore, pro-Musavi websites report of widespread vote fraud and manipulation in Esfahan."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Iran's Government

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Significance of Green

Green is Mir Hussein Mousavi's campaign color, and lots of sources have noted its prevalence in his campaign. Green is also the color of Islam, as you can read here. Shi'ites depict sacred figures as wearing it, as you can see in this picture from a Bahrain Ashura display.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

No! Not Vaclav Havel!

As noted in the previous post, Mir Hussein Mousavi's backers have just been called Nazis and Zionist sympathizers. An official from the Revolutionary Guard, however, has decided those analogies are inadequate, and is warning that they might be a new version of Czech anti-communists from the Velvet Revolution:
"The message from the Guards' political chief, Yadollah Javani, appeared to carry twin purposes: to rattle Mousavi's backers just before the polls and to warn that it would not tolerate the formation of a post-election political force under the banner of Mousavi's 'green movement' — the signature color of his campaign.

"In a statement on the Guards' Web site, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi's campaign and the 'velvet revolution' that led to the 1989 ouster of the communist government in then-Czechoslovakia.

"'There are many indications that some extremist (reformist) groups, have designed a colorful revolution ... using a specific color for the first time in an election,' the statement said.

"Calling that a 'sign of kicking off a velvet revolution project in the presidential elections,' Javani vowed that any 'attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud.'

"Javani also accused the reformists of planning to claim vote rigging and provoke street violence if Mousavi loses."

This article is using the framework of reformists opposed to an implicitly monolithic clerical establishment, which I've long argued is inadequate to understand Iranian politics. It's not clear to me that the IRGC itself is unified enough such that it could be an effective force if things got really dicey after the election. I agree, however, that Javani is trying to prevent Mousavi from becoming an Iranian version of Levon Ter-Petrossian, should he be considering that.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


After the Debates

Iran's presidential debates concluded last night with a clash between Ahmadinejad and conservative challenger Mohsen Reza'i. The main issue of contention was the economy, with the two sides clashing over statistics and economic data. There's no way to know how people are responding to all these dueling charts and tables. Some of Reza'i's critique would have come across as elitist inside baseball to an American electorate; however, Iranians respect technocrats and education, and Ahmadinejad has previously gone to great lengths to show that he's a deep thinker so the fate of experts within the administration and the technocratic elite outside of it could have greater resonance.

The most important aftereffects of these debates for the election at hand concern Ahmadinejad's continuing allegations about his opponents. I say continuing, because he's still not done: Today he accused his opponents of using Nazi-like tactics against him, comparing them to Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and Adolf Hitler, as well as threatening them with prison. In a TV address tonight, he also accused them of working with Zionists to undermine him.

In response to Ahmadinejad's allegations of corruption, former president and current Expediency Council chair Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani sent a letter of protest to Ayatollah Khamene'i. In the letter Rafsanjani asserted that Ahmadinejad was undermining the foundations of the Islamic Republic, criticizing by implication not only those he had named, for Ayatollah Khamene'i himself, and even revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This, he claims, has been a pattern going back to the accusations of Abbas Palizdar from last year, as covered on this site. Rafsanjani also asserted that he had nothing to do with the campaign (hah!), and even went so far as, in the course of insisting that Ahmadinejad could not continue to operate as he has, invoked Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr, Iran's first president, who was impeached by the Majlis at Khomeini's instigation and now lives in exile in Paris.

Rafsanjani closed by asking Khamene'i to ensure a free and fair election, and the Leader has apparently responded by naming Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri to monitor the voting process. Nateq-Nouri is not only an Ahmadinejad opponent, but one of those whom Ahmadinejad accused by name of corruption. This suggests exactly what I've been saying previously - that Khamene'i favors Ahmadinejad, but intra-establishment politics is running at a fever pitch, and Khamene'i doesn't want to alienate himself too much from other power centers.

It's far from clear to me that all this works against Ahmadinejad. This hornet's nest was stirred up because he crossed the red line of accusing specific bigwigs of corruption. The bigwigs in question are upset, but many average Iranians probably appreciate it. Ahmadinejad beat Rafsanjani once, and could do so again if enough people perceive this election through that lens.

UPDATE: Regarding how Iranians perceive the economic debate, I should have read Gary Sick noting that Iranians know their own microeconomic situations:
"President Ahmadinejad, never known for his caution or perspicacity, has used the unprecedented TV public debates with his challengers to create the image of a prosperous, growing Iran that is unrecognizable to most actual Iranians. They are suffering high inflation and unemployment, together with low job growth that keeps the talented and well educated younger generation out of the job market."

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Kayhan for Ahmadinejad

Iranian daily newspaper Kayhan, widely seen as an organ of Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, led today with the headline "A unprecedented tsunami of millions: The national work is being completed." (The exact translation might be a tad off.) According to Rasmus Christian Elling, who is making continuous updates at this post, it spoke of support for incumbent President Mahmood Ahmadinejad.

This confirms what many have been assuming: The the Leader, who likes to be called "Supreme Leader," is supporting Ahmadinejad, even while others in the establishment oppose him. Two possible reasons for this are a preference for a confrontational foreign policy or a desire to prevent others within the establishment from enhancing their own power bases. One possible rival is Rafsanjani, whose ambit has increased dramatically over the years, and who for many embodies the corruption Ahmadinejad routinely decries.

One of my doubts about this generally good article is that at least one source seemed to be someone from Rafsanjani's circle who seemed to want to inflate the role of his patron. I don't think, for example, that Rafsanjani needed to talk Khatami into withdrawing. However, the article does highlight the extent to which figures like Rafsanjani are supporting Mousavi, as well as the conflict among establishment figures which is partially manifested in the election even if the election is far from reducible to that conflict.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


Monday, June 08, 2009

Iran Election Notes

Newsweek reports on a secret poll conducted by Iran's government which shows a first-round victory for Mousavi.

Last night's debate featured Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. As described by Farhod Family, both candidates spent their time attacking Ahmadinejad, especially on economics. Family also again noted the strong public interest:
"As the debates wrap up tonight, public interest has soared. Many reports are predicting a record breaking turnout. The debates have stirred up plenty of interest in the past week, with people constantly taking to the streets every night, since the first debate. Last night was no different from previous ones. The rain was coming down stronger and stronger, but it did not stop people from coming out, and showing support for their candidate.

"I walked down Vali-asr again, to meet up with some of the crew, as they were filming out in the streets. I was getting increasingly drenched, with every step I took. The people around me were mostly supporters of the two candidates who took part in the evening's debate, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mir Hossein Moussavi. People were not going to let the weather dampen their moods, and kept to the streets, having a good time, into the wee hours of the morning...

"Crowds for both the president and Mir Hossein Moussavi have been in out in strong numbers. Both are holding various rallies that are being very well attended, as time ticks away, until Election Day. This has been arguably the most popular, presidential race the Islamic Republic has seen. The outpour of people in the streets supporting their respective candidates has been simply amazing. One of the main goals of the election is getting the vote out. This time around, it looks like that will have been greatly accomplished, with participation expected to be at record levels. The race has become an exciting drama with dirty laundry being aired out on live television, thanks to the debates. The country is very much caught up in the excitement, not knowing what to expect next."

Such public enthusiasm should serve as a corrective for those who confuse Iran's political system with that of, say, Egypt.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad has been trying to play the corruption card, but others are now turning it against him with information on how the incumbent's family has profited from his time in office.

RFE-RL looks at the campaign among Iran's ethnic minorities, who are in reality about half the population. Ahmadinejad, the only Persian candidate, has apparently learned Azeri.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)


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)