Protests rock Iran as Ahmadinejad claims re-election landslide
The streets of Iran are now quiet after thousands of protestors took to the streets there for a second day after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed a landslide victory in last week's presidential election. The results, which put Ahmadinejad ahead of his rival, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi by a margin of 67 to 34 percent, have sparked widespread charges of voting irregularities. Voter turnout was reportedly as high as 80 percent; analysts had thought a high turnout would benefit the opposition.
The results dashed hopes of both reform-minded Iranians and many outside observers who had hoped the Mousavi would make good on campaign promises to improve Iran's standing in the international community, expand women's rights, and loosen restrictions on the press.
In a press conference Sunday, Ahamadinejad defended the election process, called for Iranians to unite behind him and called protestors "hooligans." Later, throngs of Ahmadinejad supporters showed up for a victory rally where he again asserted that the elections had been free and fair.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Mousavi has lodged a formal complaint challenging the vote, asking the nation's Guardian Council to invalidate the results. Phillip Weiss has what he saysare English translations of Farsi reports that Mousavi had been told that he had actually won the election, and that he had subsequently been placed under house arrest.He is also encouraging his supporters to peacefully protest. His protest letter is here.(h/t Juan Cole)
The Iranian government appears to be cracking down on dissent the flow if information. Ahmadinejad told reporters at his press conference that some opponents had been arrested for traffic violations. The al-Arabiyah television network says its bureau in Iran's capitol city of Tehran has been shut down byt he government for a week. On Thursday, Global Voices Online reportedthat SMS messaging from Iran had been blocked and several political blogs were unavailable. They had previously reported on a Harvard University study of the Iranian blogosphere that found greater support for Mousavi than Ahmadinejad among bloggers.
Despite these efforts by the government, protestors are getting images and sounds of protest out via blogs, Twitter, and Flickr. International supporters of the protests mounted demonstrations in several cities in the US, Canada and elsewhere, many chanting, "Where's my vote?" The Iranian-American blog NiacINsight has running updates. Tehran Bureau is another good running source of information, especially about opposition activity. On Facebook, my friend Ila Griffith Forster suggested that this could be a watershed moment:
My Iranian friends here on FB have been posting YouTube clips of protests and other incidents on the ground. YouTube may indeed be the "Emmett Till open-coffin" image for Iranian voter outrage...
Emmett Till was the 15-year-old murdered by racists in Mississippi in 1955. Historians say that Till's mother's decision to allow news organizations to publish photographs of his mutilated body in an open casket helped mobilize civil rights protests against Jim Crow.
CNN's Christiane Amanpour, a reporter of Iranian and British descent who spent part of her childhood in Iran and who has covered the country many times since the Iranian revolution, has been provided coverage from the streets. Here she is questioning Ahmadinejad at today's press conference:
Here is some recent video on YouTube.
Are the election results plausible?
Meanwhile, there's an active online debate about the plausibility of Ahmadinejad's victory. One YouTube poster defending the results put up a video reporting on a poll taken before the election that put Ahmadinejad ahead of Mousavi by a 2-1 margin. In the notes accompanying the video, the poster wrote:
"[T]his poll actually shows that Ahmadinejad landslide victory is reliable. This source did indeed questioned the biased reporting of Media before 12 june 2009. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the election results are fraud. We need hard evidence, don't we? This is how we learn and do research. Please be critical! You do not have to agree, but being biased and uncritical to what we hear or read is not good for world society! We need facts supported by evidence. The media has forgotten this simple rule!
According to a June 8 report from Voice of America, the telephone survey was commissioned by "two Washington-based public policy institutes," Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America foundation. Indeed, the study, which is available here, notched support for Ahmadinejad at 34 percent, while only 14 percent supported Mousavi. Respondents also expressed a desire for better relations with the US and the opportunity to elect the nation's Supreme Leader, who actually has more power than the President in the Iranian political system. However, 27 percent said they didn't know who they would vote for. The survey's sponsors said it was difficult to assess the reliability of the results, since public opinion polls are not common in Iran and respondents might not have felt safe speaking freely due to real or suspected government monitoring of their communicatiions.
Political science professor Juan Cole compared the reported results from the 2009 elections to those of 2005 and concludes that there is good evidence that the election was stolen:
I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad's upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation.
But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene.
The Election and the Obama Administration
Pres. Obama has not issued a formal statement on the election results, but on Friday, he responded to a reporter's question by saying,
"[W]hoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways."
However, Vice President Joe Biden expressed "real doubts" about the legitimacy of the election results in an interview Sunday with NBC news. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was quoted in the London Times as hoping that the outcome reflected "the genuine will and desire of Iranian citizens."
Still, Cole maintains that the election results should not deter Obama's efforts to seek detente with Iran. Still, an anonymous administration official was quoted in the New York Times on Saturday as saying that it's still possible that Ahmadinejad will see the wisdom of pursuing greater cooperation with the US:
"Ahmadinejad could feel that because of public pressure, he wants to reduce Iran's isolation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the delicacy of the matter. "That might also cause engagement to proceed more swiftly."
Some observers say that Pres. Obama's overtures to Iran specifically and Muslims generally might have affected the results. A number of news reports and blog posts were looking for an "Obama effect" on the election similar to what was observed in the recent election in Lebanon where moderate candidates gained ground against those backed by Hizbollah. In her London Times article, Sarah Baxter reported this accusation by Lawrence Korb from the Center for American Progress:
"The mullahs were afraid that if they went 2-0 down, the United States and Europe would have taken a tougher line with them on the nuclear issue," he said.
Korb argued that the regime had rigged the vote in response to Obama's success in reaching out to Muslims on a visit to the Middle East this month. "It shows how concerned the regime is about his popularity in the Muslim world. They didn't have to fake the results of the previous election."
Rannie Amin is among those who dismiss the very notion of an "Obama effect' as an arrogant Western media fiction:
"Of note was how the American media's coverage of the race seemed to be continuously punctuated by mention of the "Obama Effect" and how it might influence its outcome.
Completely ignored were the vigorous, contentious and often downright nasty campaigns of the two major candidates and their supporters or the multiple, lively televised debates conducted during it. In a country purported to be a regional threat, this was never contrasted with the sorry state (or non-existence) of elections among the U.S.-allied Arab regimes, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (the latter recently cancelled municipal elections)."
Woman and the Iranian election
It hasn't been easy to find reporting and commentary on the elections from women, especially given the government crackdowns on media. That's especially striking because women were more visible in this election than in any previous vote since the Iranian revolution of 1979. All of the candidates' wives campaigned in this election, and the candidates made a particular appeal for women's votes. Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahvanard, was a particularly visible and popular figure that some observers likened to US First Lady Michelle Obama -- a characterization she disputed. Ahmadinejad singled Rahavanard out as a particular target, claiming that her graduate school credentials were bogus.Rahvanard, who has two master's degrees and a Ph.D., threatened a defamation suit against Ahmadinejad. Rahavanad had promised supporters that women would have a place in a Mousavi administration, and that the cases of women prisoners would be reviewed. Assuming that Mousavi's challenge to the election results is rejected, the push for womens' rights in Iran will, once again, be at a daunting crossroads.