Iran at the Cross Roads – What should the US Do - Part 1
By Mirza A. Beg
Part I – Iran at the Cross Roads
The tenth presidential election in Iran was on the 12th of June. A few months ago, it was widely thought to be an easy win for President Ahmadinijad. Though his popularity had some what declined, because of the economic pressures on an average Iranian, but his very simple unostentatious life style and his strong stand against the tirade of the Bush administration were very popular. It was a matter of national pride. The very fact that Iran was able to withstand the massive American pressure, made Iran look strong and the US appear weak.
The most popular person to challenge President Ahmadinijad was the former two-term President Khatami, who was very popular when first-elected in 1997. Considered a reformer, but by the end of his second term his followers were disappointed. On the domestic front he failed to loosen the grip of the clergy on the levers of power. On the international front his friendly overtures to United States, including his offer of support against the Talibans in Afghanistan were rebuffed by the Bush administration. Instead of taking the hand of friendship, the Bush administration inanely branded Iran to be a part of the Axis of Evil. Mr. Ahmadinejad won the presidential elections of 2005, by painting the reformers as ineffective appeasers of the United States.
The dynamics of the presidential election changed when in March 2009 the former President Khatami, having problems even getting the approval of the Guardian Council to run, withdrew and threw his support to Mr Moussavi.
The other important factor was the end of the Bush era and the election of President Obama, along with the change in the US foreign policy from belligerency to diplomacy. Mr. Obama’s overtures for a civil dialogue with Iran left President Ahmadinejad without an easy mark rail against. Mr. Moussavi, a loyal supporter of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was approved by the clerical establishment. He started gathering the support of all who were dissatisfied with the status-quo. It included the intellectuals, liberals, young people asking for the easing of what they considered onerous regulations, but most of all, many average Iranians suffering the economic hardship because of the western embargo on Iran and fall in oil prices since last November.
In this contentious election, almost 40 million Iranians, eighty percent of the electorate voted. The pre-election polls indicated a very close race, with a chance of Mr. Moussavi winning. The election results started trickling in even before the polls closed. Surprisingly, President Ahmadinejad won by a thumping majority of 62% to Mr. Moussavi 33%. To the shock of many, Mr. Moussavi, as well as the other candidates lost by big margins even in their hometowns.
Those who had voted for Mr Moussavi, strongly felt that the elections had been rigged. In Iran the system did not allow observers from the campaigns to monitor the voting and tabulation. It fed the dissatisfaction. The authorities refused to entertain any doubts. Within a week the dissatisfaction burgeoned to wide scale protests and civil demonstrations. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenie first rejected the demand for recount, then accepted partial recount, again without the monitors.
In the mean time, the government arrested an untold number of people. Many well known names from the 1979 revolution, such as the daughter and some family members of Ayatollah Rafsanjan, and and many others former ministers have been detained.
The strong arm suppression of hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters was beamed the world over, including the beating and killing of silent marchers. According to the Iranian government 17 people have been killed, the opposition and other sources claim hundreds killed.
In this budding revolution, many supporters of the Iranian regime see the hand of the CIA, as it had overthrown Prime Minister Mosaaddeq in 1953 to restore the Shah to the throne. There concerns are legitimate, as the Bush administration had left no doubt that it would use any means to change the regime in Iran. It is quite possible that the Bush policies and spies in place in Iran may have a hand in stirring up the pot.
It is also possible that the election was very close and President Ahmadinejad may have won the election by a small margin, but it is becoming clearer by the day that there was wide scale rigging to ensure the results. On the 22nd of June, the 12 member Guardian Council, that oversees the election, accepted that three million votes may have been miscounted and there were 50 places, where the number of votes cast exceeded the eligible voters. Yet it declared the elections to be fair, allowing only a limited recount. Once people loose faith in the honesty of the process, they can not be satisfied by the promises of unsupervised rectification by the same people.
From the fast changing scene in the past twelve days, it is evident that the CIA may have had its designs, but this wide spread movement was neither planned, nor controlled by any one including its reluctant leader Mr. Moussavi. The wide spread pent up frustration of a large populace has found an avenue to express itself. Mr. Moussavi finds himself at the head of a budding revolution that he did not plan. He is in no position to contain it without loosing face and his leadership.
Ayatollah Khamenie is in a precarious position. By taking a strong stand against a total and open recount, he missed a great opportunity to control the events peacefully and to incorporate the opposition. One great advantage of democracy is that it allows change to take place without tearing up the fabric of the society. It tolerates a certain level of corruption, nepotism, even small irregularities in vote counting. By taking a strong stand Ayatollah Khamenie is in danger of loosing control or suppressing and closing the country, harming Iran and the people of Iran to retain power by the force of arms. Iran may lurch from a theocratic democracy to a dictatorship.
Iran is finding it difficult to run a system as part democracy. Half free responding to the will of the people, such as popularly elected president and the Assembly (Majlis) albeit allowing only the candidates approved by the Guardian Council, and half controlled by the Supreme leader, indirectly elected for life, by an elected Assembly of Experts.
When the fog of the fast moving events clears, Iran would have changed no matter who wins. If the present structure of the government survives by closing the doors shut to the outside world, it would be detrimental to the Iranian people. If it incorporates the opposition, it will be a desirable change; otherwise it may turn out to be a bloody revolution that no Iranian wants.
The Iranian regime is trying to shut the news of demonstrations and repression, but inter-connective technology of the 21st century is proving to be an impediment. The cell phones are ubiquitous, more than 80 percent of the people, especially the young have it and can twitter the information and pictures world wide. The government cannot shut the technology portal to the rest of the world without severely wounding its own economy and communications.
One hopes that the rulers in Iran will remember that violent repression of the voice of the people exposes the bankruptcy of the government. The US may dislike and may have been helping elements opposed to the government within Iran, but the enormous uprising and peaceful demonstrations in support of the opposition is the voice of Iran and its future.