So, an overview of the elections and protests going on in Iran at the moment.
The 2009 Iranian presidential race was between the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a reformist challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
During the campaign, Mousavi said he wanted to allow privately owned television stations (currently all state owned), to transfer the control of law enforcement from the Supreme Leader to the President (the president is elected, the Supreme Leader is not), to dismantle Iran’s “Moral Police”, to review any laws that discriminate against women, to boost Iran’s international standing by reducing tension with other nations.
Mousavi acknowleges the facts of the Holocaust while Ahmadinejad questions whether the Holocaust really happenend.
Ahmadinejad was first elected president in 2005. He is critical of the US and Israel, and is pushing Iran’s nuclear program. Human Rights Watch reports that human rights in Iran have deteriorated since Ahmadinejad became president. Prisoners are tortured. Prisoners are held in secret prisons. They also report that Ahmadinejad shows no tolerance for peaceful protests and gatherings.
In 2006, Ahmadinejad forced numerous scientists and professors to resign or retire. It has been referred to as “second cultural revolution”. In December 2006, students protested Ahmadinejad during a speech he was giving at a university, shouting “Death to the dictator”, burning pictures of Ahmadinejad, and setting off firecrackers.
Ahmadinejad has been accused of corruption, mismanagement, and discrimination.
This isn’t to say that Mousavi is the perfect candidate, but he seems to have the possibility of improving conditions in Iran. As for America’s immediate interest, Iran’s nuclear program, both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi support the nuclear program.
Probably more importantly, though, Iran’s President is not the policy maker in Iran, the Supreme Leader is. Iran has had only two Supreme Leaders. The first started in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, and his name was Ruhollah Khomeini, with the title Ayatollah. The Ayatollah Khomeini was supreme leader of Iran from 1979 until 1989, when he died. Ali Khamenei was then appointed Supreme Leader of Iran, and has remained in that position ever since. The Supreme Leader is considered as the ultimate head of the Iranian political and governmental establishment, above that of Iran’s president. According to the constitution, he has the last say in internal and foreign policies, control of all of the armed forces, and control of state broadcast. The head of the Judicial branch is also directly appointed by him.
Anyone hoping that Iran will radically shift in its policies if Mousavi replaces Ahmadinejad may be having too high of expectations. So long as Iran is a theocracy with a cleric being it’s non-elected Supreme Leader, Iran can only change so much.
The 12 June 2009 Iranian presidential election results were 63% of the votes for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 34% for Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Accusations of election fraud has been thrown about. Mousavi’s supporters have slogans including “Where is my vote”. On 15 June 2009, Mousavi made his first post-election appearance with hundreds of thousands of his supporters in a rally in Tehran, despite being warned by state officials that any such rally would be illegal.
Iranian police have been cracking down on protesters, arresting more than 100 prominent anti-government figures. The police have also opened fire on protesters. As of 16 June 2009, there have been 20 confirmed deaths. The government has tried to quell the protests by blocking internet sites, including facebook, youtube, and twitter. Text messaging has been blocked. Foreign journalists have never had much access inside Iran, but since the protests, Iran has arrested a number of foreign journalists and confiscated their tapes.
Al Jazeera has described the situation as the “biggest unrest since the 1979 revolution.”
Now, I’m not sure if Mousavi won the election and Ahmadinejad stole it through election fraud, or if Ahmadinejad really did win the election. The country is an Islamic theocracy. About 77% of the population is literate. Considering that America is 99% literate and there is still a strong religious political presence in the US that pushes for Creationism to be taught in public schools, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that a right wing hardliner like Ahmadinejad really did get a majority of the vote. I mean, America reelected Bush in 2004, so crazy people win elections all the time.
But I’m not sure if that is the deciding factor here. In fact, I’m pretty sure it has a good chance of being completely irrelevant. It was a student revolution in 1979, among other things, that brought about the Iranian revolution against the corrupt and evil Shah of Iran. If Ahmadinejad is viewed as corrupt and evil by enough Iranians, then the election results won’t really matter. The Iranian government cracking down on protests to the point of killing protesters, shutting down communications, and arresting and black-bagging critics, certainly won’t help their standing in public opinion.
The difference between this event and the 1979 revolution, though, is that there is no political power vacuum yet. In 1979, the Shah was out of Iran when the revolution happened, and the military and police did not oppose the revolution. As of now, the police are cracking down on dissidents, Ahmadinejad is still president, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still the Supreme Ruler, and the theocracy is still in power.
The question is whether or not the current supporters of Mousavi can create enough of a sea-change in Iran to make any lasting change in Iran’s political landscape. I don’t have the answer to that question. It certainly looks like it is possible. At this point, I think all we can do is watch and cross our fingers.