Iran – Silent Protests & New Evidence of Electoral Fraud
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)