Rigged or not, vote fractures Iran

Mussavi supporters in the street
Mussavi supporters in the street

Hamid Dabashi is one of our truly valued friends, a man of integrity, courage and extraordinary genius. I consider him the true heir to Edward Said’s indefatigable spirit. Like us, he is clearly inspired by the determination of those protesting in Iran’s streets. However, unlike us, he appears somewhat cavalier in his dismissal of the preferences of the part of the population which voted for Ahmadinejad, even though he concedes that they may indeed be the majority. (See by comparison Seumas Milne’s comments on this subject).

(CNN) — In a recent article published both in the Washington Post and the Guardian, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty reported that according to their “nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote … Ahmadinejad [was] leading by a more than 2-to-1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election.”

That may or may not be the case, but the abiding wisdom of Aesop’s fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or its Persian version, “The Lying Shepherd,” has now made any such Monday-morning quarterbacking an academic exercise in futility.

The assumption that the government has rigged the election has become a “social fact” that millions of Iranians believe. On the basis of that belief, they have put their lives on the line, with reported casualties of dozens injured and at least one, perhaps up to nine, people killed.

Chief among the slogans of supporters of presidential challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi is “With God’s help victory is at hand/Death to this deceitful government!” Such a significant and sizeable segment of Iranian society has lost its trust in this regime in general, and in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency in particular, that, even if this time around the authorities are telling the truth, they have “cried wolf” too many times to be trusted.

What we are witnessing is a pent-up anger some 30 years in the making, from the very first inception of the Islamic revolution. The inner contradictions of an “Islamic republic” seem finally to have caught up with it.

What is unraveling in Iran is not a mere reaction to the result of a presidential election, the tabulation of which may or may not have been accurate. We must place this massive outpouring of pro-Moussavi, anti-Ahmadinejad sentiments among a sizeable segment of Iranian population in a larger context.

At least since the presidential election of 1997, which resulted in the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, but with its roots in even deeper sentiments, a vast cross-section of the society has continuously demonstrated its dissatisfaction with the Islamic republic.

Soon after the election of President Khatami, in summer 1999, a major student uprising led to yet another massive movement against the government, at a time, in fact, that an exceedingly popular reformist president was leading the country.

Immediately after the tragic events of 9/11 in the United States, a sizable group of Iranian youth were rare among Muslim countries in organizing a candlelight vigil commemorating the victims of 9/11 in evident and obvious defiance of their government.

Even beyond these sporadic or symbolic events, we have a far more sustained record of inborn and grassroots movements in Iran for human rights, civil rights, and above all, women’s rights, which in many instances have taken the very tenets of the Islamic republic to task.

It would of course be a misrepresentation of Iranian society to presume that the regime in general or Ahmadinejad’s government in particular lacks any degree of popular support or legitimacy. Iran is a society that is deeply fractured along class, social and gender lines.

The day after the initial demonstrations against Ahmadinejad, his supporters staged a major rally on his behalf. To be sure, these are state-sponsored, well-orchestrated and carefully staged events, widely broadcast on national TV to fabricate the impression of a far more massive support than he actually enjoys. But nevertheless they do represent a significant segment of the society as well.

What we are witnessing since the presidential election might very well emerge as a major civil disobedience movement not just against Ahmadinejad, but in fact for more civil liberties, economic opportunities, human, civil and women’s rights — so far all within the constitutional boundaries of the Islamic republic. But this may in fact extend to target the nondemocratic institutions within the Islamic republic, such as the office of the supreme leader and that of the Guardian Council.

The militant supporters of the regime are of course wary of the movement and think it a “velvet revolution,” and have warned that they will nip it in the bud. There is already an evident discrepancy between the deep-rooted demands of the movement that this election has unleashed and what Moussavi or the entire reformist movement can actually deliver.

In the days and weeks ahead, we will have to wait and see how the dialectic between Moussavi and the volcano he has unleashed will work itself out — but it is false to think that he is all that this movement wants, or that he is in complete control of the movement, or that the ruling clergy will just pack and leave like the shah did.

Moussavi himself has quite a number of nasty skeletons in his closet, from his years as the prime minister during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), with his brutal suppression of dissident movements, ideological purging of the universities, and so on. He and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, are indeed emerging as widely popular among a significant constituency. But that does not mean that this social unrest is just about him.

The only thing that is crystal clear: Out of a population of 72 million and a total of 46 million eligible voters, some 40 million, upward of 80 percent, voted in this election, and a significant segment of them are against the draconian doctrine and policies of the Islamic republic, the economic calamities (double-digit inflation and endemic unemployment) of Ahmadinejad’s domestic policies, and his belligerent positions on a range of issues, from the inanities of his denial of the Holocaust to his vacuous and flamboyant positions on a number of regional issues.

Neither can the world at large disregard that collective democratic will and have the delusion of a regime change imposed from outside; nor can it be brushed aside by the future president of the Islamic republic, whoever he might be, legitimate or illegitimate. As Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has just said, this movement is challenging the very legitimacy of the Islamic republic.

That the elections might or might not have been rigged is now a completely moot and irrelevant question.

Hamid Dabashi is the author of “Iran: A People Interrupted.” He is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

2 thoughts on “Rigged or not, vote fractures Iran”

  1. The humble, humble President Ahmedinejad….what a guy

    The FoxNewsTV (USA) asked the Iranian President Ahmedinejad, ‘When you look into the mirror in the morning what do you say to yourself’?
    He answered: I see the person in the mirror and tell him ‘Remember’ you are no more than a small servant, ahead of you today is the heavy responsibility, and that is to serve the Iranian nation’.
    Ahmedinejad, the Iranian President who astonished many when he first reached to the office of the Presidency by donating all the high valued Iranian carpets to one of the mosques in Tehran by replacing them with the low cost ordinary carpets. He observed that there was a huge extravagant lounge for receiving and welcoming the VIPs and he ordered it to be closed and asked the protocol office to arrange for an ordinary room only with wooden chairs.
    On many instances he joins the cleaning staff of the municipality for cleaning the streets in the area where his home and the Presidency are located.
    Under his authority whenever he appoints any minister to his post he gets a signed document from him with many points particularly highlighting that he shall remain poor and that his personal and his relatives accounts will be watched and the day he leaves the ministry shall be with dignity, and therefore it is not lawful for him or his relatives to take any advantage of his office. First of all he declared himself for all the ‘Big’ wealth and the property he owned was a Peugeot 504 car, model 1977, an old small house inherited from his father 40-years ago in one of the poorest zones in Tehran . His accounts with a zero balance and the only money comes in to his a/c was from his salary from the university as a lecturer with an amount of US$ 250 only.
    For your information the President still lives in that same house. This is all what he owns; the president of one of the world’s important countries; strategically, economically, politically and with regard to its oil and defense. He even doesn’t take his personal salary with the argument that all the wealth belongs to the nation and he is the safeguard over it.
    One of the things that impressed the staff at the presidency is the bag the President brings with him every day, which contains his breakfast; some sandwiches or bread with olive oil and cheese prepared by his wife and eats and enjoys it with all happiness.
    One of the other things he changed was his personal carrier ‘the President’s Aircraft’ to a cargo aircraft in order to save the spending from the public treasury and he ordered that he will be flying with the ordinary airline in the economy class. He organizes meetings every now and then with all the ministers to know their activities and efficiency and he closed down the office of the Manager of the president and any minister can enter to his office without any permission. He also stopped the welcome ceremonies like the red carpet, the photo session or any personal advertisement or respect of any kind while visiting any place in the country.
    Whenever he has to stay in any of the hotels he asks them to make sure not to give him a room with any big bed because he doesn’t like to sleep on beds but rather likes to sleep on the floor on a simple mattress with a blanket..
    Refer to some of the attached photographs which also confirm the above. The Iranian president is sleeping in the guest room of his house after getting away from his special guards who follow him wherever he goes and photo is taken by his small brother according to the Wifaq Newspaper which published this photo and the next day the photo was published in most of the world’s newspapers and magazines and particularly the Americans. During the prayer you can see that he is not sitting in the first row. And the final photo is of his dining room where the president is busy eating his simple meal.

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