Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iranian watershed moment?

Day of mourning called for
Supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi are preparing for a day of mourning for eight people killed in mass demonstrations against what he says was a rigged election. Iran's English-language state television has reported eight people killed in protests since official results from Friday's poll showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected. His huge lead on Mousavi, a moderate former prime minister, has provoked Iran's worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Bloodshed, protests, arrests and a media crackdown have rocked the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, embroiled in a dispute with the West over its nuclear programme.

I think the televised debates which caused the very foundations of the Islamic Republic to shake has changed the debate in Iran forever. I think that this is a watershed moment in Iranian history, one which the US should step back from and watch rather than directly interfere, let’s not forget that it was the CIA coup blowback 5 decades ago that created the conditions that birthed this theocracy in the first place and direct US intervention will only reopen that wound. Let’s also not forget that Ahmadinejad was elected by a freaked out Iranian population that George Bush had terrified with his Axis of Evil brainfart and by parking the US army next door to them: this is not the time to exacerbate what could be a natural evolution towards democracy.

Let’s also not get too blinded by any nonsense that Mousavi is some sort of beacon for liberal democracy, it is a sad indictment on the Theocracy as a whole that the people of Iran are so limited for real choice that Mousavi can be considered moderate. Which is why I think the change is much more profound than Mousavi winning or not. I tend to lean with STRATFOR’s assessment…

"........this election has shed light on an underlying reality that is difficult for most Western analysts and media agencies to accept. Mousavi derives most of his support from urban professional classes who responded positively to “Obamaesque” calls for change and felt that their time had come to take Iran in a different direction. The fact remains, however, that the clerical regime still carries broad support, and Ahmadinejad — despite being lambasted by his political rivals for mishandling the economy and foreign relations — has strong support among the rural, poorer and mostly deeply religious population. Ahmadinejad campaigned heavily for this election and made sure during the campaign to visit rural provinces, where some 24 million Iranians, or 34 percent of the total population, make their living. He also put a lot of money into his campaign to buy popular support. Mousavi, on the other hand, returned into the political limelight only about four months ahead of the election and struggled to connect with Iran’s lower classes, who fail to identify with the working elite or with an Ahmadinejad rival and Mousavi supporter like Rafsanjani, who is widely known and criticized for his corruptive practices."

…and here’s the rub, for as much as no one likes a crank like Ahmadinejad running things, we have yet to see any actual evidence that the vote has been rigged, yes there are questions, but no proof yet, in fact in an environment where Twitter can evade state repression, it is actually of some concern that no evidence of fraud has been tweeted to the rest of the planet yet. The reality is that cheat or not Ahmadinejad may well have ‘won’ the election, but the reverberations of the open debate on TV has meant that reform must come and I think the Guardian Council is starting to acknowledge this new reality as the anger from the middle class intelligentsia continues to cleverly use street politics to force home the new paradigm they want a modern Iran to evolve into.

Iran is still on a knife edge I’m not pretending it is safe, but I think the televised debates sparked a deep yearning for reform that goes well beyond the current limitations of the Iranian state. My hope is that we are viewing the painful birthing of Iran’s maturity from radical theocratic reaction to the 1958 coup to a reasoned realignment redefining what a modern Muslim country should look like.

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