What a political coup, a stolen vote, and popular protest movement signify
Rostam Irani (Ph.D.)
19 July 2009
I- Rationale for the Establishment’s Political Coup
The June 12th presidential election in Iran has proved deeply contested and massively consequential.. The official decision to declare Mr. Ahmadinejad as the winner has been openly challenged by Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi (the rightful winner). And the consequent popular movement against election fraud – dubbed ‘political coup’ by the opposition - has been met with a bloody campaign of repression by the state’s military and security apparatus and their semi-official militias and violent plainclothes vigilantes. Even according to unreliable official figures, scores have been killed in the course of peaceful street demonstrations, hundreds have been injured, and over 2000 have been arrested. Many of whom still remain in custody, with a number of prominent political activists under severe torture to make videoed bogus confessions. Still on-going outcry by the outside world, inclusive of high-level statements of concern and denunciation by governments, United Nations, human rights advocates, and civil society and academia, have confronted the Iranian authorities with a very difficult situation in the international community.
What has been perplexing to political observers, at home and abroad, has been the rationale behind the seemingly perplexing gamble by the conservative establishment to thwart the actual outcome of a highly participatory election. According to all predictions prior to the vote and all indications on the elections day, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform, pro-change candidate, should have won with a wide margin. That explains the shock and bewilderment gripping the country ever since, and the sudden emergence of the “where is my vote” protest movement, at home and abroad. The central question since the election day has revolved around the role of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, in the still unfolding drama. Even if the Ayatollah had tried in his public pronouncements prior to the elections to portray himself as being equidistant to the official candidates vetted by the Guardian Council, his not-so-disguised clear preference for Ahmadinejad was out there for everybody to see. Especially that various conservative circles and the religious networks (mosques,…) and their press and media mouthpieces, most prominently national television, and also his personal representatives in the armed forces and other public institutions, had been more candid for months in making known – even openly propagandizing - the Leader’s choice.
Given the Ayatollah’s known hostility towards the reform platform and pro-reform candidates – since the 1976 surprise victory of Khatami and throughout his 8-year presidency – and also the institutional support extended to Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, such a preference this year was quite understandable or not difficult to speculate or analyze. What proved particularly problematic was the range of restrictive and illegal practical measures introduced and executed by the Interior Ministry during the run up to the elections and in the course of voting negatively affecting the other candidates, and above all, the totally unprecedented and out of the ordinary manner in which the Ministry started announcing the vote count and the final outcome. Equally so was the Ayatollah’s hasty decision on June 13th – the minute the final tally had been announced by the Ministry - to issue a lengthy statement on the elections and congratulating Ahmadinejad as the winner. Worse still, in a sermon at Friday prayers a week after the elections – 6 days after millions of people had already taken to the streets protesting fraud and defying the declared outcome – the Ayatollah almost shocked everybody with his posture and words. To everybody’s amazement, he chose to discard his apparent impartiality as the Guardian Jurisconsult (Vali-ye Faqih), and throw his lot fully and one-sidedly with Ahmadinejad and against the thwarted winner and the majority who had voted for him. In the same sermon, the presumed Leader of the nation and a jurist by learning and position with high moral claims, openly threatened the critics with blatant violence should they choose to continue their defiance and street protests. Contrary to all previous cases during the past two decades where his rulings had been obeyed by everybody within the entire political system – albeit in cases with reluctance and muted expressions of displeasure – his ruling this time was openly defied by Mousavi and Karrubi, who issued statements, and the street demonstrations continued apace. The popular chants of “down with the dictator” addressed to Ahmadinejad during the first week of street demonstrations were complemented with “death to Khamenei” the day after his sermon. That slogan has now become part of the nightly shouts from the rooftops in Tehran signifying the continuation of resistance and defiance, even though open brutality and a pervasive, heavy-handed military and security presence on the streets have managed to drive the demonstrators off the street – as a daily occurrence. Spontaneous protests in 25 different places in Tehran on July 9th on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of student demonstrations a decade earlier and also on the margins of the congregational prayers this past Friday signified that the relative quiet on the streets has been tactical and calculated.