A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 15, 2009

The "Ahmadinejad Won" Interpretation: Why I Think it's Suspect

Ever since the election, there have been some commentators, including some who know their Middle East, who have been arguing that Ahmadinejad's win is not necessarily a fraudulent result. Flynt Leverett has been one; Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty in the Washington Post had another; and others have argued that many in the West are identifying with a small, North Tehran elite who share Western values and are missing the real grass-roots popularity of Ahmadinejad.

I respect the viewpoint that the re-election of Ahmadinejad was a possibility all along; it's the nature of the way the results were released that raises my suspicions: first, reports that Mousavi has won, including his own claims to that effect; second, release of near-final figures long before they were expected to be counted; third, the mysterious shutdown of many media and Internet outlets as the results were announced; fourth, the sudden presence of security forces on the streets; fifth, the clear anger and panic of the Basijis who've been beating up protesters, and who apparently rampaged at the University of Tehran dorms on Sunday night. Notice I'm not repeating claims of numbers of dead or any specifics, but some of the charges are documented by photos and videos.

And finally, the fact that the demonstration today was not limited to the North Tehran elite: watch all the YouTube videos that are out there, and the still pictures being posted at the Iranian sites. These were students and workers, and middle-aged folks who were willing to take a beating to be heard. Whether there were tens of thousands or several million — and you can pick your estimate — it was clearly a huge crowd.

There is clearly anger out there, and not just on Twitter: something happened today. Something seemed to shift, including the fact that Khamene'i is now saying they will investigate the vote complaints. I'll leave the experts and the historians to figure out what the real vote totals were (if we ever can); my own sense is that something major is taking place regardless of what you think of the (still, to my mind, highly dubious) vote tallies. This is beyond recounts now. The establishment has split down the middle and the question is whether Khamene'i will try to heal the rift or deepen it.

Mousavi's supporters plan another major march tomorrow at 5 pm Tehran time and are trying to promote a national strike, though it appears the country is pretty much frozen in stasis right now anyway, with the universities shut down before finals, and people out on the streets being beaten by Basijis.

I still fear that it could end as a Tienanmen rather than a democratic reform, but in any event this looks to be a real turning point in modern Iranian history. Flynt Leverett has argued that Westerners should "get over it" and accept that Ahmadinejad won. It's not ours to get over. And it looks like a lot of Iranians aren't going to get over it so easily.


Ori Nero said...

Mussawi is part of a (major) minority in Iran. Despite that fact he lost (apparently) the election badly in his hometown. Very unlikely.

There were 13 million (!) votes more than actually handed in - as reported yesterday by Iran specialist Katajun Amirpur (that I personally do not like) on German TV.

This was the first election in Iran, in which int'l observers were not invited.

There is simply too much indication for this election to be forged.

Anonymous said...

Presence of security and cutting back internet communications is simply a natural reaction to the release of results of a hotly disputed election, and not an indicator of fraud. Such a security reaction is to be expected when you have a Super Power financing regime-change operations in the background.

Anonymous said...

Mousavi (not "Moussawi") is part of the same ethnic minority as over 25% of Iran's population, so it is hardly a small or cohesive minority. Politicians often lose in their hometowns. Gore lost in Tennessee!