Monday, June 15, 2009

100,000 march in Tehran to protest election fraud

Huge pro-reform rally defies crackdown threats
TEHRAN, Iran – More than 100,000 opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defied an Interior Ministry ban Monday and streamed into central Tehran to cheer their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since elections that he alleges were marred by fraud.


The unrest also risked bringing splits among Iran's clerical elite, including some influential Shiite scholars raising concern about possible election irregularities and at least one member of the ruling theocracy, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, openly critical of Ahmadinejad in the campaign.


Overnight, police and hard-line militia stormed the campus at the city's biggest university, ransacking dormitories and arresting dozens of students angry over what they say was mass election fraud.

The nighttime gathering of about 3,000 students at dormitories of Tehran University started with students chanting "Death to the dictator." But it quickly erupted into clashes as students threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who fought back with tear gas and plastic bullets, a 25-year-old student who witnessed the fighting told The Associated Press. He would only give one name, Akbar, out of fears for his safety.

The students set a truck and other vehicles on fire and hurled stones and bricks at the police, he said. Hard-line militia volunteers loyal to the Revolutionary Guard stormed the dormitories, ransacking student rooms and smashing computers and furniture with axes and wooden sticks, Akbar said.

Before leaving around 4 a.m., the police took away memory cards and computer software material, Akbar said, adding that dozens of students were arrested.


After dark Sunday, Ahmadinejad opponents shouted their opposition from Tehran's rooftops. Cries of "Death to the dictator!" and "Allahu akbar!" — "God is great!" — echoed across the capital. The protest bore deep historic resonance — it was how the leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asked Iran to unite against the Western-backed shah 30 years earlier. [...]

Attacks and brutal beatings of protesters continue. Foreign journalists who are there to cover the election are supposed to leave today. It's predicted the crackdown on protesters will worsen when the press is gone.

The government is promising an investigation of the voting process, claiming it will take 10 days. Most likely they are stalling for time. They made the same claim in 2005, that they would "investigate" voter fraud, in order to quiet protesters. The results of that investigation were never made public; it was just a ruse.

Will it happen like that again this time? If they can get away with it, probably yes, but it will cost them. The seething resentment and unrest will still be there, and it will have long term consequences if not addressed.

The ironic thing is, Moussavi, the main opposition leader, is a conservative. He's a former prime minister, not a radical outsider, but an insider; one of their own. Yet they feel he is a threat? What does that say about the rulers of Iran? Here is some commentary on the subject:

Commentary: Iran's hardliners are the real losers
(CNN) -- With an apparent political coup in Iran by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters over the weekend, the ruling mullahs have dispensed with all democratic pretense and joined the ranks of traditional dictators in the Middle East.

The hardliners in Tehran, led by the Revolutionary Guards and ultra-conservatives, have won the first round against reformist conservatives but at an extravagant cost -- loss of public support.


Moussavi's warning to the mullahs that stealing the election would weaken the very foundation of their regime and ultimately bring about its collapse carries weight because he has been part of the political inner circle of the Islamic Republic, not an outsider.

Moussavi is a former prime minister admired for the way he managed the country's economy during the prolonged and bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, a conflict which cost Iran over $500 billion.

He worked closely with Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president and today supreme leader, and clashed with him over political authority and powers. Moussavi is a member of Iran's Expediency Council, which mediates between the parliament and the non-elected Guardian Council led by Ayatollah Khamenei.

Initially, many reformists were skeptical about Moussavi's reform credentials and feared that he was too conservative for their taste.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Moussavi labored hard to portray his proposals on social policy and foreign affairs as an extension of the Islamic system in order to disarm conservative critics, even denying that he is a mainstream reformist candidate in the hope of winning the support of reformers and moderate conservatives.

Indeed, as the presidential campaign progressed, Moussavi won the backing not only of an important conservative segment of the electorate but also the formidable youth constituency. His charismatic wife, Zahra Rahnavard, electrified the female vote and won the hearts and minds of women voters who flooded their campaign rallies.

In the last two weeks, Moussavi's campaign gained momentum. There was increasing evidence that the tide was turning and that women and young voters would tip the balance of power his way, if they turned out to vote in large numbers.


But the disputed result shows that the ultraconservative mullahs are not only out of touch with a plurality of their citizens but also with reality. Their conduct reflects a deeper crisis of self-confidence and fear of the future.

Has the Islamic revolution run out of ideological steam?

If the mullahs fear Moussavi, a loyalist, they must be scared of their shadows and uncertain about their authority and power. That speaks volumes about where the Islamic Republic is and where it is heading.

The mullahs are swimming against the dominant current of Iranian society. In the next four years, Iran will likely be engulfed in social and political turmoil unless the electoral crisis is resolved in a transparent manner.

Moussavi is so conservative, that I've had doubts that electing him would even be a good thing for the West. After all, wouldn't he just be a "cover" for the same crazy Mullahs that support Amadinejad? Would he?

If there is a split or division among Iran's ruling elite, what could it mean?

This article is interesting, though the author, posting from within Iran, is anonymous for security reasons:

The street protests mount
A fresh report from the Iranian capital. The government uses machetes on the public, the public fights back.

[...] On buses and in taxes you hear voices saying, with resignation, "What's the point? They're all the same. Why fight it?" But then every night and even during the day clashes are occurring. This week will be critical. If the conflict can be sustained, if the pressure can be sustained ---Tehran is coming to a standstill -- then it is possible that the situation will enter a new phase.

Either way, have no doubt, the IRI, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is over. A leading cleric has already announced that we are no longer ruled by the Islamic "Republic" (jomhuri e Islami) but the Islamic government (hookoomat e Islami). Whether now or in a few months or years, the game is over.

I attended the Vali Asr demonstration of support for Dr. Ahmadinejad yesterday afternoon. The turnout was impressive, mostly families and obviously religious types (called "momen" in Farsi). Many asked that I take their pictures and the mood was festive, defiant. They were chanting, but it is critical to note that only some of the chants were against Mousavi. Almost all were directed against Rafsanjani. He is seen as the big threat. This election and its aftermath is turning out to be the climax of an outstanding feud between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad in alliance with the Supreme Leader, Khamanei. What will be interesting is to see what Rafsanjani does next. He is regularly described as the "power behind the power," the man with real pull in Iran. What will he do?


Finally, and this may be the most important piece of news, I personally heard "Marq bar Khamanei" (death or down with Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei) said quickly and once last night. Someone in the neighborhood reported that it was said more than once. If true, and I don't know if it is, this marks a significant turning point. Up until now the chants had been "Marq bar dictator," with dictator meaning Ahmadinejad. To chant against the Supreme Leader is an incredible taboo. In 1979, everyone wanted the Shah to fall, but no one believed that is was thinkable. Then, for some reason, it became so. The movement reached a moment of viability. While this did not guarantee the revolution's success, it was a necessary condition for events to move forward. Has the same happened now in Iran?

The 1979 Revolution, once in motion, took months to play out, but inside of it no knew what was exactly happening. They didn’t know long it would take, or whether there would be a successful conclusion. The same applies to the situation now.

Is there some sort of critical mass dynamic at work here, that is now coming to a head? Are big changes imminent? Time will tell.

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