Iranian Election Update
As an update to what I said yesterday, what might be happening in Iran is the first time that the President (on the democratic side of the country’s main power poles) is going for a full out naked power grab of this magnitude. It is unclear whether this is in collusion with members of the clerical establishment or not. I would tend to think not–certainly not the Rafsanjani types who’ve backed Moussavi. Ahmadinejad has previously militarized the parliamentary side of Iranian politics as no president before has done with his close alliance with the Revolutionary Guard, and now he appears to be using his Interior Ministry to declare himself the winner. This is a direct challenge to the Supreme Leader. If he gets away with it, then the democratic culture that has existed in Iran will likely go into a permanent state of hibernation. The country will become Egypt overnight: large scale anger mixed with despair, cynicism, and apathy.
Update I: An alternate theory that Khamenei was in on it from the beginning via the very smart Karim Sadjapour. (h/t Andrew Sullivan, who you should keep checking for all kinds of updates on this story).
Update II: (E.D.)
I just wanted to add to Chris’s post that this whole thing is extremely disheartening (though not surprising, I suppose). I had gotten myself fairly hopeful over the past couple weeks, and this pretty obvious election fraud is terrible. I’ve been watching the riots and videos of the civil unrest and so forth and I wonder which way this will go? More brutal suppression or a possible sea change toward a more open government in Tehran?
The New York Times has more on this and photos.
Update III: (E.D.)
Abbas Barzegar disagrees with allegations of voter fraud:
Of course, the rather real possibility of voter fraud exists and one must wait in the coming weeks to see how these allegations unfold. But one should recall that in three decades of presidential elections, the accusations of rigging have rarely been levied against the vote count. Elections here are typically controlled by banning candidates from the start or closing opposition newspapers in advance.
In this election moreover, there were two separate governmental election monitors in addition to observers from each camp to prevent mass voter fraud. The sentimental implausibility of Ahmedinejad’s victory that Mousavi’s supporters set forth as the evidence of state corruption must be met by the equal implausibility that such widespread corruption could take place under clear daylight. So, until hard evidence emerges that can substantiate the claims of the opposition camp we need to look to other reasons to explain why so many are stunned by the day’s events….
Perhaps from the start Mousavi was destined to fail as he hoped to combine the articulate energies of the liberal upper class with the business interests of the bazaar merchants. The Facebook campaigns and text-messaging were perfectly irrelevant for the rural and working classes who struggle to make a day’s ends meet, much less have the time to review the week’s blogs in an internet cafe. Although Mousavi tried to appeal to such classes by addressing the problems of inflation and poverty, they voted otherwise.
In the future, observers would do us a favour by taking a deeper look into Iranian society, giving us a more accurate picture of the very organic religious structures of the country, and dispensing with the narrative of liberal inevitability. It is the religious aspects of enigmatic Persia that helped put an 80-year-old exiled ascetic at the head of state 30 years ago, then the charismatic cleric Khatami in office 12 years ago, the honest son of a blacksmith – Ahmedinejad – four years ago, and the same yesterday.
Update IV (Chris 3:30 pm EST Sat.):
Trita Parsi, another excellent Iranian-American analyst, makes an argumet that supports my original guess. That this is in some sense a coup against Khamenei. Everybody’s guessing at this point of course. Khamenei has a long-standing feud with Mousavi. It could be as simple as that.
Or perhaps (elements of?) the Revolutionary Guards have initiated a late Roman Empire-like moment where they force the hand of the Emperor. The Revolutionary Guard in this scenario are playing the part of a Praetorian Guard fixing elections with puppet rulers. This is my guess–but it’s just that a guess.
The regime has now lost whatever shred of legitimacy it once had. Remember Iran is an Islamic Republic and while it’s now a full republic in the liberal democratic sense of the term there were republican elements (including by the standards of the Middle East generally more or less legitimate elections). They clearly didn’t try to rig this vote, they just nullified a likely Mousavi win and declared Ahmadinejad the winner.
If they cancel the results and re-run the election, Mousavi wins in a landslide. I wonder if we are headed to the go/no-go point at which either the hardliners relent a bit (and lose face) and have to make concessions or they go full on in which case all legitimacy will be gone and they will have to rule by pure fear/force alone.
Update V: (Chris 5:30 pm EST Sat)
Andrew just posted this comment from a reader. It reads, in part:
Unless there is a popular uprising in favor of Mousavi and democratic legitimacy, the fascist coup will succeed. In that case, matters will be far worse. Bear this in mind: Hewitt and Krauthammer are correct [ed: that Israel will bomb Iran]. If the coup d’etat is successful, the Israeli Defense Forces will have no choice but to act in the defense of the survival of the Jewish people and act to reduce the mortal danger to the State of Israel. Ali-Khameini and his stooge, Ahmadhi-Nejad and the Revolutionary Guards Corps clique are Islamic fascists, who will do anything to hang on to power. The Israeli Government cannot countenance such a group of people with deliverable Atomic Weapons. There will be war. Bet on this and take that bet to that bank.
Let’s assume the fascist coup succeeds (I’m not sure fascist is exactly the right term, but totalitarians of some sort. No need for hairsplitting here). Let’s assume the regime gets nuclear weapons–or at least as I think might be as (more?) likely they get to the point of a Japan or Canada where they have everything set just but just haven’t turned on the coffee pot to boil as it were.
Let’s assume all that. Why does Israel have to attack in this scenario? The Soviets cracked down on their own people and on the Czech and Hungarians democratic movements. They had nukes. Did the US have to bomb them?
I can imagine that there very well could be war between Iran and Israel. I hope to God not, but it’s always out there. But the Israelis will not be in the position where “they will have no choice” but to bomb Iran. Why do we assume MAD and basic nuclear deterrence that has held for 60 years all of a sudden doesn’t apply? Because the Iranian regime is totalitarian and nutso? Uh, well so were the Soviets, Communist China under Mao, and Kim Jong Il currently. All possessed of nuclear capacity and none attacked. In either sense: A)were not attacked and B)did not attack.
So why is Iran different? Because Ahmadinejad said he would wipe Israel off the map? Mao, Khruschev, and Kim Jong Il said equally inflammatory things, threatening total annihilation. The question is really: why do we really think Iran’s leadership would spend this much time and blood-stained effort to crack down on its own people in order to hold power—as the reader him (her?)self notes–only to then to turn around and destroy their entire country including themselves as would surely be the case if they ever dared attack Israel? Doesn’t the fact that, as the reader argues, all they care about is holding onto power, suggest that they want to continue to hold onto power and they know that attacking Israel would be the end of their lives much less their power? Aren’t those two charges mutually contradictory?
Update VI: (Chris, Sun 9:00 am)
As a possible answer to my own question (in Update V) here goes.
While not completely accurate, a simplified (simplistic?) way of categorizing this is that all of Iran is divided into three parts: Reformers, Conservatives, and Revolutionaries. All three of those mind you are still part of the Khomenist vision–which is why there are others who call for secularization in the country but largely they have no organized political power.
The revolutionaries–the last ones standing like Ahmadinejad and company–believe that the conservatives sold out the Revolution in which they took part in order to conservative-ly hold onto their own power and amass their own oligarchic fortune.
What Ahmadinejad did (or was used to do?) was militarize Iranian politics in a way never before seen. There were always the Basij (the paramilitaries, “morality police”, etc.) but they generally were up above the political process and answered to the Supreme Leader. Ahmad. is the first Iranian pol to gain a large share of his power base from this group. Remember in the election in which Ahmadin. won, Supreme Leader Khameni had originally backed Rafsanjani (the arch-conservative).
After Ahmadinjead’s election, a conservative-reform alliance took place. Mousavi, while he received the backing of the Reformist crew, is more technically a Conservative. Mousavi fought in the Iran-Iraq War, former Prime Minister of Iran.
So the question becomes whither Khamenei? Did he see Rafsanjani and the Conservatives back the Reformers and became freaked by the big crowds and joined the Revolutionaries in a last desperate attempt to hold power? Or have the Revolutionaries pulled a coup and left him basically as a puppet in their hands?
Ahmadinejad I think was always just a mouthpiece for other players, mostly in The Revolutionary Guards, who wanted to stay themselves in the shadows. This is my praetorian guard thesis of what may have just happened.
If that scenario I just laid out is at all what is going on–or even if Khamenei has switched his allegiance from Consv. to Revolutionaries–then there is a serious chance that Iran is headed towards some (mis)adventurism in the reegion. They’ve already done some, but the scale and scope could increae drastically. If so, this would partially a result of the fact that the Bush administration (twice!!! at least) had the chance fora buy-in for Iran as regaional power at a much lower level and stupidly played into the hands of The Radicals by adding them to the Axis of Evil. The sanctions may be now putting the squeeze on and perversely causing the revolutionary edge to be leaking out in all directions through the region.