The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Iran Election

Iranian diplomat resigns in Finland

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Former Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh

It is being reported that Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who told Reuters that he was number two in Finland, has resigned in protest of the brutality of the regime and is now considering claiming political asylum in Finland. This would make him the second diplomat to have defected since last year’s disputed election sparked widespread protests.

Iran’s Press TV is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry denies that Alizadeh was employed as a diplomat at the time and that, in fact, his mission had officially ended in August.

Reuters has a quote:

“I have resigned definitively in protest — I am no longer an Iranian diplomat,” Alizadeh said by telephone from Finland.

Alizadeh’s resignation was announced by the Green Wave movement, founded by Paris-based Iranian exile Amir Hossein Jahanchahi. It is unclear at this stage whether Alizadeh with join the movement, but it does appear that he intends to be a dissident. He reportedly also said the following:

“I don’t consider myself any more a diplomat standing beside a brutal Iranian regime,” Mr Alizadeh said.

”I have let the embassy know that I have resigned from my job and … I’m not any more a diplomat.

”I am a political dissident.”

Mr Alizadeh said he was considering what to do next but had not applied for political asylum. [The Age]

While of course this news is not earth-shattering, it is interesting to consider it as part of how the protest movement is taking shape since the disputed election. It appears that, if anything, it has definitely emboldened a lot more people, both within Iran and within the diaspora, to air their grievances, speak out and become dissidents. This will probably accelerate internal repression, this movement definitely does not have the strength to change that, certainly not in the near future.

Written by alexlobov

September 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Mehdi Karroubi to be put on trial

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Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

So Mehdi Karroubi looks like he’s going to be the first prominent reformist and Presidential candidate against the wall in the Iranian regime’s search for reformist pariahs, it’s response to the massive protests after June’s disputed election.

“Mr Karroubi is a cleric and his comments should be dealt with by the special court of the clergy,” that is part of the Islamic republic’s overall judicial system, Jaffari Doulatabadi said. [Asharq Alawsat]

The charge levelled against him relates to his claims that prisoners were raped in prison, a claim that has since been supposedly discredited by a judiciary panel that found the charges to be baseless:

“These allegations have been made without any proof, and all the documents given by Karroubi are baseless. These allegations were aimed at distracting public opinion,” it said.

The report recommended that action be taken against Karroubi and those airing rape allegations.

“This commission proposes … sending its report to the judiciary so it can act with determination against those who are responsible for spreading such allegations which harm the regime,” the panel said. [Asharq Alawsat]

I’m wondering how far the regime is going to take this. If Karroubi is found guilty, as seems most likely, then they will have a pariah, but what sort of sentence is going to be handed down? The man is a prominent cleric within the reformist establishment. Khamenei will not want to take it too far, tensions are still inflamed between the reformist/conservative camp and Rafsanjani’s next move in Qom is not yet clear… Or will Khamenei punish Karroubi further, risk protests but show that his will is unquestionable and the reformist movement is dead?

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October 14, 2009 at 12:18 am

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So is all well for Ahmadinejad?

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As news comes in today that, after his formal inauguration as the President of Iran, Ahmadinejad has received congratulations from UN Security General Ban Ki Moon and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, one has to wonder, what of the protest movement that created such waves in global press for weeks and that still dominates Twitter’s trending topics from time to time, two months after the initial protests ignited?

TehranBureau has an interesting piece on the matter, written by Farideh Farhi:

Challenges facing Ahmadinejad include open hostility from a large section of the Iranian elite which Ayatollah Khamenei characterised in Ahmadinejad’s confirmation speech as “angry and wounded”; highly charged criticisms of his appointments and policies from within the conservative ranks; continued civil disobedience; a public mood that has turned from mostly inattentive and apolitical to concerned and angry; general unhappiness among the clergy about the harsh crackdown; and a much more hostile international environment.

All this is on top of serious economic woes that he was unable to address during his first term — as he had promised to do in his 2005 campaign.

As the TehranBureau piece rightly points out, we are seeing an unprecedent challenge to the President and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. While Iranian politics has always been partly volatile and has never been the one-party show certain ignorant observers in some parts of the world like to see, what we’re seeing here is the combination of a squeeze from the top coming from several key and prominent reformist clerics and politicans, combined with burgeoning popular discontent. This twin pressure will prove difficult for Ahmadinejad to deal with during his tenure, and it will be a problem for his unswerving supporter, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has now become personally associated with the crushing of the protest movement. As Farhi points out:

Ahmadinejad’s options are limited. He can acknowledge his weakened presidency, over-see a cabinet whose individual members will contest his policies, and head an administration that is conflicted from within. Or he can try to try to act resolutely by picking fights with almost every political force in the country, in which case his behaviour will be the source of heartache for everyone who for ideological reasons or for fear of reformist resurgence ended up supporting him in the election.

The inauguration and the congratulatory messages have put an end to any immediate change as had been hoped by the protest movement, but Iran has changed dramatically over the last two months and things are no longer what they seem. It will remain an interesting political atmosphere to watch and keep track of in the coming months.

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August 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Iran – 40 days since Neda’s killing

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(Picture Credit above: LA Times)

As LA Times reports:

Protesters swarmed Tehran’s main cemetery and fanned out across a large swath of the capital Thursday, defying truncheons and tear gas to publicly mourn those killed during weeks of unrest, including a young woman whose death shocked people around the world.

As has been noted by several pundits, this is an important development in Iran, the 40 day mark after a person’s death is an important point of mourning for Shi’a muslims and was a key rallying cry for protesters during the revolution of 1979. This was always going to be a test to see if the protest movement could maintain momentum in the face of government brutality and repression, whether it was more than just a flash-in-the-pan.

So has that been successful? LA Times reports further:

The scale and reach of Thursday’s protests, which also erupted in at least four other cities, appeared to catch security forces off guard. After initially bloodying some of the mourners arriving at Behesht Zahra cemetery, many of them young women dressed in black and carrying roses, officers stepped back. They mingled amicably with protesters, and in one case even accepted flowers from them.

While numbers are, as usual, hard to come by, most are reporting thousands/tens-of-thousands – a far cry from the original protests in the immediate aftermath of the election (estimated in the hundreds of thousands) but evidently enough to ‘catch security forces off guard’. As has been noted earlier by this blog, the key to this drama is going to be played out in the halls of power of Qom and Tehran (and will take some time), not on the streets, however having some popular support that is vocal and visible will certainly help the cause of the reformists.

Some other interesting developments include the increasing criticism being levelled for the heavy handed tactics employed by the security apparatus against protesters. This could be a measured response from government mouthpieces to satisfy the potential anger among Iran’s population (and to ensure the dead protesters are not successfully converted into martyrs nationwide) or it could be an honest acknowledgment of the violence.

Juan Cole reports that Friday’s edition of Jumhuri-yi Islami (Islamic Republic) [a conservative newspaper and a government mouthpiece] carried an article criticizing the deaths in prison of some protesters who had been arrested, his thoughts are as follows:

The call for the punishment of security men who abused prisoners to death, on the part of a hard line newspaper, is remarkable. The condemnation of extra-judicial punishment is likewise not what you would expect from a Khomeinist organ (but that is what this newspaper is). But note that one of the protesters alleged to have been killed in prison was the son of a prominent campaign activist for the hard line former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohsen Reza’i, one of the presidential condidates who initially, at least, protested the way the June 12 presidential election was conducted. When you off the children of prominent hard line politicians in jail, it does not go unnoticed.

It’s possible that in the wake of these renewed protests and continued denunciation of violence and oppression by various elements in the reformist establishment, and on the streets, that we may see further condemnation from the conservative side. Personally, I would say, something from Khamenei is expected, perhaps at his next public appearance. My guess is that he will probably try to appease both sides (as he has been trying to do with little success up to now).

A note on the Ahmadinejad-VP scandal, I did not get a chance to follow it properly as I was travelling at the time so I will not be writing about it, but for anyone interest, tehranbureau has a pretty good rundown and analysis.

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August 1, 2009 at 2:44 pm

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Why Obama has it right on Iran, while many of us have it wrong

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A lot has been said about Obama’s position on all these goings-on in Iran. I’ve been fairly disappointed to read that some elements of the GOP and other neo-conservative elements have been trying to politicise the issue by putting pressure on Obama to be more strident in his condemantion of the Iranian regime. I have equally been disappointed to hear the thoughts of some in the Middle East (apart from Khamenei) suggesting that this is some sort of US/British-backed coup, or that the West is somehow causing the unrest. It saddens me because these people are largely missing the point.

On Tuesday, 23rd of June, Obama made a statement at a White House news briefing, which came directly after an appalling level of violence was reached in Iran, including the murder of the now famous Neda Soltan. Reading the transcript at Foreign Policy’s The Cable, I noticed a few things:

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

This statement sums up Obama’s position on the affair, and it also sums up my position, so I am quick to throw my support behind it. It is important to understand that now is not the time politically to try to cynically manipulate Iranian internal politics for what the West may think will be its ends & gains. Apart from being a largely unethical strategy continuing the decades of Western powers manipulating affairs in the Middle East, it will, like those strategies before it, fail to succeed in any credible gains for the West. We saw what happened in the aftermath of the coup in 1953, the Iranian people have never forgotten, it led to a bloody revolution and a 444 day siege of the US Embassy, it led to the regime painting the US as “The Great Satan” and as an enemy to its revolution and its progress (in many ways this did prove correct, even if it was highly exaggerated), a focal point of rhetoric that was then used as an excuse to supress Iran’s own people. What good did it bring the West? Or the world in general? Increased tension over vital natural resources such as oil and gas, a race for influence in unstable states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, belligerent rhetoric from both sides and a contested nuclear program.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

Once again, Obama is correct. We have witnessed these things, I particularly like his use of the words timeless dignity, because they underline the long history of the Iranian nation and are a testament to the power of Iran’s people, to whom the history and glory of the nation should rightly belong. My position on these protests is and always will be the same until new details proving otherwise came to light. Yes, there are a lot of very convincing arguments that the election was rigged. Yes, I am almost convinced that it was. But most importantly, this cannot be proved, Iran has no international observers and neither I, nor Obama, are willing to launch a full-scale attack of any sort on the regime without evidence that proves beyond doubt that the election was indeed rigged. My beef with the regime lies in its inability to manage peaceful protest and discussion in its own streets, and that it is insecure enough to have to crush it with military force. Much like a man who beats a defenseless woman to elevate himself and deal with his insecurities and issues, that is what Iran’s regime is doing to its own people on its own streets, streets which have been running with blood for weeks while the world has stood mute in amazement over the continued violence.

There have been many comparisons to Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall among Western pundits intent on being able to categorise, contextualise and ultimately limit an event that is all about Iran and not at all about anything else. These events have so far proved to be comparable to neither. While we can do little but watch in amazement and report our thoughts through our blogs and twitter accounts, we are witnessing a change of some sort in Iran, that is for sure. The political establishment appears to be shifting under Khamenei’s feet and the legitimacy of his regime, his grip on power, appears to have weakened. Iran is not China, nor is it Germany, Iranians are not Burmese, this is a country with a young population, with educated and affluent elites and with growing dissatisfaction among its working class. A country that has witnessed hugely increased revenues from its massive stores of oil and natural gas, and yet no tangible improvement in the lives of its people. A people like the Iranians, responsible for arguably the most dramatic revolution of the 20th century, a people of passion and free will, will not sit idly by. Things are changing in Iran, our role is to watch, report and make sense of events, not manipulate them to suit our narrowly-defined ideological or selfishly-concocted geopolitical agendas. The country is being built for the next generation, a 30-year old revolution is evolving. Watch and learn instead.

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June 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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Iran – Ayatollah Khamenei’s Speech at Friday Prayer

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Just a short one today folks, I haven’t had as much time today to update on the events of yesterday so I’m going to focus on Khamenei’s speech, the reactions to it and some other choice pieces of commentary.

Some things I found of interest (sourcing translation from Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish):

“The competition for the election was very clear. Enemies and dirty Zionists tried to show the election as a contest between the regime and against it. That is not true, all four candidates support the regime.” [He lists the government positions of the opposition candidates]. All of the candidates are part of this system and regime. Zionists and the bad British radio said it was a challenge to the regime.

Ah playing the old Zionist card again, as long as you can successfully associate anyone who does something you don’t like with Zionism in Iran, you can win brownie points with at least a few people (ironically much how many actual Zionists will accuse you of being an anti-semite the minute you oppose anything the Israeli Govenrment does).

The presidential campaign has finished. All of the four candidates are among the Islamic system. The people have trust in the revolution and the republic. The Islamic republic is not cheating against others. There is no cheating inside the election system – it is well controlled. There may been mistakes but 11 million [votes] is not possible.

Not that this is in any way a surprise but just thought I’d put it out there that… yeah he’s not budging on that whole “election was the real deal” thing.

“The candidates should be careful about what they say and do” [Mousavi doesn't seem to be there]. “Some diplomats from the west are showing their real face and that they are enemies. The worst are the British.

OK blaming foreign influence, that’s been played. Blaming “the great Satan” (usually the US) thats been played too. But can someone please explain to me why “the worst are the British”? I’m really rather confused. Reports are that Gordon Brown is rather in a huff about it (as only Gordon Brown can be) and has called in the Iranian ambassador to explain what the devil has gotten into old Khamenei…  oh and also to prove the election wasn’t rigged, good luck to the Ambassador with that one.

Oh and the final and most important piece of wisdom:

“Rioting after the election is not a good way. It questions the election. If they continue [the consequences] will be their responsibility. … If they continue they will be receiving other consequences, behind the scenes. I’m asking my friends and brothers to follow the laws. Let God give us blessing to follow those ways.”

I’m rather scared about what he means by “other consequences, behind the scenes”. Is this a signal for a further, larger crackdown? Is the violence we’ve seen from the basij so far only the beginning? Is it actually constitutionally illegal for Iranis to protest peacefully (someone let me know, I’m no expert on Iran’s constitution of 88)? If so, how far is this going to be taken?

Alternative English translation here.

Some further analysis and punditry that I found to be of note:

Simon Tisdall for the Guardian has the following thoughts:

Those hoping the supreme leader would produce a plan for a way out of the tumultuous political stand-off that has gripped Iran since last Friday’s disputed presidential poll were disappointed. Khamenei offered no new initiatives, no explicit offers of compromise, no path through the maze.

Worse, he appeared to show little understanding of the depth of the crisis that he and his protege, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have helped provoke with what looked to many Iranians like a pre-emptive strike last weekend to claim victory before the votes were fully counted.

I agree with him on the first point, Khamenei showed nothing that could amount to a plan of action, a man who is supposed to be the unifying figure (and who needs to remain the unifying figure) surely isn’t doing much unifying, he’s stuck in his one corner and he’s got his gloves up… this is not good for his regime’s legitimacy. I think Khamenei understands “the depth of the crisis” but I think he doesn’t know what to do about it. The protesters want nothing short of annulment and re-voting, but if he was to agree to that not only would he be showing a precedent that protests work in Iran but he would also risk alienating the basij, the Revolutionary Guard and the die-hard Ahmadinejad supporters (and there are plenty of them, whether he won the election or not). Backing Ahmadi all the way, as he seems to be doing, is of course also playing with fire because no one can predict which way the protesting is going to head in the next few days.

I have to agree with most pundits that this regime may have taken a strong (possibly critical) hit and that Khamenei’s legitimacy. is on the line. If these protests are crushed with brute force, they will rise up again and again because people have had a taste of success.

Speaking of which, Tariq Alhomayed writes for Asharq AlAwsat and believes that this is just the beginning:

Rafsanjani noticed that there is genuine public agitation towards the internal situation in Iran, not to mention towards the country’s increasing international isolation; he wanted this volcano to erupt in Ahmadinejad’s face, as well as engulf the Supreme Leader.

Alhomayed believes that thepublic  letter sent by Rafsanjani to Khamenei following the fiery election debates asking him to take responsibility for them put the ball firmly in Khamenei’s court, and that these street protests in response to the election are another stab at that. This could all be a plan by Rafsanjani and his team to destabilise Khamenei’s legitimacy to a point where it collapses. Seems internal Iranian politics is set to get more interesting regardless of how this all ends up.

Brief note, yes there is a big rally planned for tomorrow (tweets would indicate people are being encouraged to bring the Qur’an), and yes it has been declared illegal and yes I’m sort of worried.

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June 20, 2009 at 12:38 am

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Iran – Further Weight to Fraud Allegations & Photoshop Abuse

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The above picture (from the Guardian) is of today’s rally in Tehran, another silent sit-in said to be numbering in the hundreds of thousands (these numbers are always difficult to verify), you have to admire the tenacity of these protesters, that’s for sure.

Sullivan had some choice things to say about Mousavi’s political shrewdness, and I have to agree:

He really has made some good calls – primarily to restrain his supporters from violence, to insist on peaceful protest, to coopt the rhetoric of the revolution, and to appeal to religious sensibilities. Now an even better one? One obvious weakness of the coup leaders – enough to make even Khamenei acknowledge – is the evidence of rank brutality against students, women and young protestors. Calling for a national Day of Mourning tomorrow in the mosques seems like an inspired move to me.

In some of the most conclusive evidence yet to point to electoral fraud, the Guardian today reported, original source being the centrist Ayandeh website, that some towns recorded a voter turnout of over 100%, with other towns recording voter turnouts of over 95% which is also considered a scientific impossibility.

Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141%, the site said, quoting an unnamed “political expert”. Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132% turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120%.

Ayandeh’s source said at least 200 polling stations across Iran recorded participation rates of 95% or above. “This is generally considered scientifically impossible because out of every given cohort of 20 voters, there will be at least one who is either ill, out of the country, has recently died or is unable to participate for some other reasons,” the source said. “It is also unprecedented in the history of Iran and all other democratic countries.”

The claims are impossible to verify but they are consistent with comments made by a former Iranian interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who said on Tuesday that 70 polling stations returned more completed ballots papers than the number of locally eligible voters.

The other massive piece of damning evidence against the regime is the revelation that they have been photoshopping photos of their rallies that appear in state-media to make them appear larger! Picked up from an Iranian website (.ir extension not being reposted lest it be shutdown), it has now appeared on Daily Kos, Sullivan’s blog, BoingBoing and even Gawker.

In addition, several pundits have come out to oppose the widely-held claim that Ahmadinejad’s popularity among poor & rural Iranis may have propelled him to the presidency fairly.

Trita Parsi for Time Magazine jumped on board:

Mousavi’s support ranges from the urban middle class, students and the intellectuals who previously brought the reform movement to power to many people of humble backgrounds, for whom Ahmadinejad’s triumphalist economic claims simply don’t ring true. They know the economy has gotten worse on his watch because they have been the most vulnerable to its downturn. Ahmadinejad may go on TV and cite statistics to prove that things are getting better, but they’re the ones who are unable to marry because they can never afford to get their own homes. So there’s no easy demographic breakdown between the two sides.

As did Eric Hooglund for TehranBureau, a man who has been researching Iran’s villages for over 30 years:

Is it possible that rural Iran, where less than 35 percent of the country’s population lives, provided Ahmadinejad the 63 percent of the vote he claims to have won?

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country.

Also Danish newspaper has added more backing to the allegations made against the regime by Marjane Satrapi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf that I blogged about earlier today in my last post. Stirring stuff as more and more allegations of electoral fraud come out of the woodwork against the regime.

For further analysis of voting patterns in various places, check out Guardian’s brand new handy map of province-by-province results as claimed by the regime, including highlighting some seemingly dodgy calls

Meanwhile, Iran’s footballers know which side they’re on, just look at those green wrist-bands:

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June 18, 2009 at 3:15 am

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Iran – Silent Protests & New Evidence of Electoral Fraud

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One of the big stories of yesterday was that Twitter, which had been so instrumental and breaking the news out of Iran to people all over the globe, collaboration and organisation of protest action and various other things, had delayed a planned upgrade which would have cut daytime service for Iranians. Though initially, people applauded Twitter for its commitment to supporting the protests, it later came to light that Twitter was, in fact, reluctant to delay the planned outage (despite protest by Iranian tweeters and Andrew Sullivan) and only did so at the direct behest of the US State Department. Hmm.

Despite Mousavi calling off any protest-action yesterday (Tuesday) for fear of violence similar to that which transpired the day before, his defiant supporters still marched through the capital, silently (no slogans) and waving placards, most of which demanded to know “Where is My Vote?” Reuters reports that they marched on state television provider IRIB in Northern Tehran. Also according to Reuters:

In an apparent bid to head off the opposition rally in the center of the capital, Ahmadinejad’s supporters mobilized thousands of demonstrators where Mousavi’s supporters had originally planned to gather.

As mentioned above, most strikingly, they protested in near absolute silence, here is a video of the silent protest:

A confration of sorts did occur in Vanak Square, both sides pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Mousavi, met there and I shall leave the reporting to the peerless Robert Fisk:

“Please, please, keep the Basiji from us,” one middle-aged lady pleaded with a special forces officer in flak jacket and helmet as the Islamic Republic’s thug-like militia appeared in their camouflage trousers and purity-white shirts only a few metres away. The cop smiled at her. “With God’s help,” he said. Two other policemen were lifted shoulder-high. “Tashakor, tashakor,” – “thank you, thank you” – the crowd roared at them.

This was phenomenal. The armed special forces of the Islamic Republic, hitherto always allies of the Basiji, were prepared for once, it seemed, to protect all Iranians, not just Ahmadinejad’s henchmen. The precedent for this sudden neutrality is known to everyone – it was when the Shah’s army refused to fire on the millions of demonstrators demanding his overthrow in 1979.

The other big news for me was further evidence of electoral fraud which came by slightly bizarre means (and perhaps none-too credible?) Presented by film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, long-time Mousavi advocate and critic of the regime, and graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis fame), they claim to have a document from the Iranian Electoral Commission itself:

The document said liberal cleric and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi came second in the election with a total of 13.3 million votes, while president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came third with only 5.49 million votes.

However, there is no certainty about the legitimacy of the document.

Andrew Sullivan, a man who has emerged as the blogger leading the charge with his work on Iran in recent, had a handy diagram up explaining how Iran’s military interacts with its political structure in terms of power:

As you can see, the Supreme Leader is very much Commander-in-Chief which adds further weight to the claims that the President, be he Ahmadinejad, Mousavi or Ronald McDonald, doesn’t actually matter that much and acts more like a second-in-command… and a very minor one at that. And an interesting note on the Basij from Sullivan also:

[T]here are some indications that the Basij—many of whom are drawn from the ranks of Iran’s disaffected youth and elderly pensioners—hold cynical or ambivalent views of this ideological training. Basij training is frequently necessary for certain social benefits—loans, university scholarships, welfare subsidies, and the like. As stated by one 24-year-old member in a 2005 interview, “The only reason I stay in the Basij is for the money . . . many of my friends in the Basij are unhappy with the government.”

Another indication of how the regime keeps a grip on life in Iran, by dangling otherwise unattainable carrots in front of the faces of otherwise disaffected youth and then arming them with big sticks. Awesome.

Emile Hokayem, political editor for Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper does not think there can be another real revolution this time around, but does acknowledge the deep rifts Ahmadinejad’s presidency has created within Iran’s halls of power (see previous posts about defections of key Ayatollahs). Despite this, Khamenei still holds the levers of the security apparatus so these are the two outcomes Mr. Hokayem foresees:

The first would be the possible demise of Mr Ahmadinejad and his replacement by Mr Mousavi. The second would be less public and more subtle: a reaffirmation by the new president of his commitment to Islamist ideals in exchange for an informal re-calibration of Mr Khamenei’s powers. Indeed, that may be the most profound consequence of the erosion of Mr Khamenei’s standing: the gradual reconsideration of the system of the welayet-e-faqih that is central to the Republic’s functioning.If Mr Khamenei decides to hold firm, he and Mr Ahmadinejad may retake control of the streets tomorrow, but at a significant cost in blood. And their regime will be more insecure and distrusted than ever.

Amazon book blog Omnivoracious had a few helpful suggestions for people wanting to read up on Iran to get a bit of background knowledge. You could of course go to the oracle of oracles but if you want something a little deeper, and maybe more academic, Omnivoracious recommends the following:

if you want to step back for some in-depth reading about the complex and surprising culture of Iran you could turn to one of the best-received recent books on the subject, Hooman Majd’s The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (see his fascinating author video below), or check out the list of 10 books to read on Iran recommended for us a couple of years ago by Democracy in Iran author Vali Nasr.

And I’d like to leave you with a video of the protesters storming the Basij headquarters in counter-attack, posted on Sullivan’s blog originally, it’s pretty amazing (link to Sullivan’s blog for a translation of what’s being said/shouted)

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June 17, 2009 at 6:12 pm

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Iran Election – Futher Developments, Confirmations of Deaths

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A new day in Iran brings new developments in this rapidly unfolding debacle that has spiralled far beyond the wildest imaginations of anyone.

Firstly, there have been several confirmations that imported Lebanese forces (supplied by Hizbullah obviously) have been sent into Iran to join the basij in fighting protesters. Several tweeters have reported first-hand accounts of being yelled at in Arabic and broken Farsi.

There have been varying reports of deaths in the university attacks of previous nights. TehranBureau reports five dead at Tehran University the night before yesterday’s mass rally in Azaadi Square:

Students who witnessed the previous night’s attack had described “pressure groups” — a euphemism for Iran’s unofficial paramilitary police, the Basij — entering both the male and female dormitories of the university in full force, with tear gas canisters, batons and motorcycles.

Abbas Djavadi reported, on his blog, the following  first-hand accounts of the horrific attacks on universities of Sunday night:

They confirmed that the attack on their dormitory was brutal, destructive, and the authorities may have taken as many as 100 students with them. In Tehran, one faculty told me, the security forces had thrown some student off a building. There was an attack on a University dormitory in Isfahan as well. A similar episode happened in Shiraz a few nights ago. In last night’s attack, according to an ‘Amir Kabir Newsletter’ (I can send it to any journalist who can read Persian), security forces and others in civilian clothes were brutal: 5 students are reported in critical condition, and three were killed (including a female student).

Confirmations of deaths at universities also come from the Guardian:

A Farsi website, Balatarin, carried an unconfirmed report that seven people had been killed in the southern city of Shiraz following confrontations with riot police at the local university. Five busloads of plainclothes officers had been sent to confront the demonstrators during Sunday’s protests, but were said to have been unable to prevent them from being joined by members of the public and marching to one of the city’s main squares. It is unclear whether all those said to have died were students.

The Guardian also lists several other universities that participated in protest action of some sort. Including Esfahan University, where 60 students were taken into custody following clashes, and facilities badly damaged; Hamedan University & Babol University in Mazandaran province on the Caspian Sea; Tabriz University, Amir Kabir University and Sharif University also.

TehranBureau also reports that yesterday’s march, hundreds of thousands of people strong, was conducted peacefully and, most shockingly, in silence, as marchers made a point, holding placards demanding justice and waving their fingers in Vs for victory. The protest remained peaceful until nightfall, at which point shots were heard, fires were lit and molotov cocktails flew through the air. It seems the cover of darkness was the perfect cover for the regime’s anonymous, faceless thugs to impose their brand of politics on the people by taking their blood. According to BBC, hospitals reported that 8 people died after that protest.

And Mr. Ahmadinejad, where is he to be found in all this? He is in Russia, among friends, attending a summit in Yekaterinburg, on his first official trip abroad since the disputed election. Reportedly he looks like he hasn’t slept in days (I wouldn’t be surprised) but trying to put on a happy face… hey I’d be happy and relieved too if I could avoid the shitstorm back home like he is currently doing. Though one also wonders what he thinks he’s going to come back to, as one tweeter put it:


Today’s news comes with a massive clampdown on foreign media in Iran, many have been told to leave Iran altogether, the rest are barred from reporting or documenting the protests, effectively confining them to their offices. Further clampdowns and increased violence also seems imminent on the streets. As night falls on Tehran tonight, there are rumours already flying about further raids on universities. Mousavi has asked his supporters to back down on street protesting and pursue civil disobedience because the Government troops have been given permission to use live ammunition and fire at will, a carte blanche basically.

Another important item of news today is the newfound support of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, in a letter written in Farsi (no translation available yet that I’m aware of) he claims that “no sane mind can accept these election results”. While Montazeri is, again, famous for being reformist and progressive in his stance (campaigning for women’s rights and against government policy that infringed on people’s freedom) he is also a bigshot in the clerical establishment (to say the least). Also a key player in the revolution of 1979, Montazeri was at one point the designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini (oh how different things could’ve been) before the pair had a falling out ultimately propelling Ayatollah Khamenei to the throne.

This is all staged against the background of a heavy turnaround from the Guardian council, who have agreed to stage a partial recount of the votes. Whether this will be accepted by Mousavi and the protesters is another matter, however, as they seem to want a full re-run. This would make sense, what would a recount achieve? The government is seeking to appease the demonstrators but practically speaking, a recount would achieve nothing. It would say nothing for the irregularities such as various polling booths running out of votes, and the bizarre numbers voting system which gave the regime easy access to forgery. Basically, a recount could easily be re-fudged, just perhaps, more carefully and giving Mousavi more votes, however just as artificial.

Updating the status of communication networks, reports are that the SMS network is still down, as are Facebook and Friendfeed. Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger have joined the ranks of the blocked, as has possibly Twitter (conflicting reports on this one). However, I would suggest that some enterprising Iranians have found ways to bypass the government restrictions by some form of hacking wizardry which I’m unfortunately not savvy to (no one’s perfect) as we have still seen a good flow of tweets from Iran. Regardless, everyone is reporting that internet speeds are down to somewhere in the vicinity of 1kb/s and many packets are being lost (this is bad).

As Iran descends into nightfall once more, who knows what horrors the darkness will bring, we can only wait and see. Please continue to follow this blog for further updates as I am following developments quite closely and will be updating daily with a summary of both confirmed and unconfirmed news.

Written by alexlobov

June 16, 2009 at 12:32 pm

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Iran Elections – New Developments

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As we enter a new week, developments in Iran are getting more gripping.

TehranBureau (the website is currently down due to what appears to be a massive surge in traffic) reported yesterday some fairly huge news, namely that Moussavi’s appeal to the mullahs in the Holy City of Qom had, to some degree, succeeded in getting them to pronounce the election results as against Islam.

The Association of Combatant Clerics, which consists of moderate and leftist clerics and includes such important figures as former president Mohammad Khatami, Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi Khoiniha, and Grand Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, issued a strongly-worded statement, calling the results of the election invalid.

Grand Ayatollah Saafi Golpaygaani, an important cleric with a large number of followers, warned about the election results and the importance that elections in Iran retain their integrity.

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, a progressive cleric and a confidante of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, has declared that Mr. Ahmadinejad is not the legitimate president and cooperation with him, as well as working for him, are haraam (against Islam and a great sin)

While these clerics are already known to be progressive and against the regime, the fact that they would take a clear side on such an important issue adds weight to the argument and creates a massive schism in Iranian politics, the reverberations of which will be felt for a long time to come whether this wave of protests succeeds or not. This adds weight to the theory that a civil war of sorts within the clerical establishment is inevitable.

On the streets, the protests show no sign of letting up as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators packed into Azaadi Square in Tehran today to stand with Mousavi and protest what they view to be clearly stolen elections. There have been several reports on twitter that these protests turned violent, that shots have been fired and that people have been injured, below is a twitpic taken by someone at the rally

I have to say that the defiance of these Iranian protesters in the face of such danger is inspiring. Raids were conducted on Tehran University last night and other university campuses in other cities with a lot of damage done to rooms, computers and people. Hundreds of people have already been arrested and, if this protest movement should not be successful, the fate of hundreds (maybe thousands) of others will hang in the balance.

In response to the attack, as reported on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, 119 members of the Tehran University faculty staff have resigned en masse:

119 members of Tehran University faculty have resigned en-masse as a protest to the attack on Tehran University dorms last night. Among them is Dr Jabbedar-Maralani, who is known as the father of Iranian electronic engineering. They have asked for the resignation of Farhad Rahbari the appointed president of Tehran University, for his incompetence in defending the University’s dignity and student lives. [Daily Dish]

SMS, Facebook and YouTube remain down since election day in Iran, however Twitter is going as strong as ever. #IranElection has been the top trending topic for days straight now with Tehran, Azadi & Mousavi also all trending as I write this blogpost. This level of exposure is fairly unprecedented and I herald the commitment of twitter users to this movement as tweeters can be a lot more fickle (trending topics really do come & go on a daily basis). Twitter has also seen the spread of hacking campaigns against Iranian websites, including the state-television providers, Ahmadinejad’s website & Khamenei’s website, all of which have been down at regular intervals because of the sustained attack.

Demonstrations have not been limited to Tehran either. I’ve heard of things going on in Tabriz, Rasht & Esfahan at the very least. National Strike action is planned for June 16th and calls for protests have come from well-established figures such as Mousavi himself and the wife of Rafsanjani (as Juan Cole put it, this is akin to Barbara Bush calling for street protests in DC).

The reaction from leaders around the world has been mixed and cautious. The usual suspects immediately congratulated Ahmadinejad on his victory, them being Sheikh Thani of Qatar, Bashar al-Assad, Hizbulllah, Hamas & Hugo Chavez. The rest have been very cautious, many in the West, while not outright calling the election rigged, are claiming to be strongly concerned about the reaction to the protests.

It seems everyone in the world is still holding their breath waiting to see what happens and whether this election really has been a selection as so many pundits have stated. To be clear, voices (such as Robert Fisk) have come out against the election-rigging theory, but most of their arguments fall along the lines of trumpeting Ahmadinejad’s popularity in rural parts of Iran and poorer parts of Tehran, this may be true, however it is not evidence of a free & fair election. The analysis in support of election-rigging seems far more nuanced and well-thought-out to me personally.

Henry Newman (for the Guardian) sums up the most plausible-sounding line of reasoning, given what we know at the moment, to come out of the analysis so far:

Perhaps the most reasonable reading of yesterday’s story (in the light of currently available information) appears to be that forces loyal to Ahmedinejad succeeded in pressurising the release of falsified results. As the real numbers began to come in, Mousavi’s office was apparently informed by the interior ministry that he had secured a large margin of victory, and so he declared success. Soon, however, in the face of severe pressure from his rivals, the electoral commission released falsified numbers suggesting a landslide victory for Ahmedinejad. In the meantime, in what looked very much like a pre-planned operation, security services had already blockaded the interior ministry and the offices of the reformist candidates, and set up positions at nodal points across the capital.

Only time is going to tell how this will end, in the meantime, we all sit with baited breath.

Written by alexlobov

June 16, 2009 at 4:32 am

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