14 June, 2009

What is happening in Iran?!? (II)

Roger Cohen has a searing report from Tehran on the ongoing riots/demonstrations/crackdown that are proceeding in the aftermath of Friday's elections. His is a good, quick, summary of the suspicions that Ahmadinejad, who controls of the Interior ministry and thus the electoral machinery, perpetrated an intra-regime coup:

But everything I have seen suggests Moussavi, now rumored to be under house arrest, was cheated, the Iranian people defrauded, in what Moussavi called an act of official “wizardry.”

Within two hours of the closing of the polls, contrary to prior practice and electoral rules, the Interior Ministry, through the state news agency, announced a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fantastical take on the world and world history appears to have added another fantastical episode...

He won as the Interior Ministry was sealed, opposition Web sites were shut down, text messages were cut off, cell phones were interrupted, Internet access was impeded, dozens of opposition figures were arrested, universities were closed and a massive show of force was orchestrated to ram home the result to an incredulous public.

Events are very fast moving, and state restrictions on media and internet make accurate information harder than normal to come by. A lot of the MSM is moving pretty slow, probably in large part due to the fact that foreign correspondents have reportedly been prohibited from leaving their hotels in Tehran. Here's whom I'm reading to try to make sense of the situation.
  • The Daily Dish is focusing almost exclusively on unfolding events in Iran, with many fascinating-but-unconfirmable eye-witness accounts
  • The Huffington Post actually has an incredibly informative and exhaustive continuing live-blog of events as they unfold
  • Juan Cole's expert commentary is helpful in making sense of the internal dynamics that might have spurred the crisis
  • Tehranlive.org is a local blog contributing striking photos of the riots such as the one above
Of course, it is still possible that Ahmadinejad won the elections. However, it looks increasingly likely that, facing a massive defeat at the polls, Ahmadinejad and his allies in either the clerical establishment or the military (or some combination of both) decided to pull the trigger on a massive, systematic, and rather shoddy (Juan Cole has a great breakdown of how the official results make no demographic sense) falsification of the election results. Mousavi is apparently under house arrest, influential regime insiders such as former president Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Sanei have rejected the results, and a general crackdown is underway, with massive arrests of politicians and resignation of civil servants and university professors.

In short, it appears as of now that the Iranian regime has crossed a Rubicon of sorts. While elections in Iran have never been free and fair (all candidates must be pre-approved by the clerical leadership, the state controls the media), their results have always been respected within the boundaries set by the state. This had led to serious national debates and instances of moderation, and provided a kind of release valve that kept many moderates working within the system rather than against it. Outright theft of an election explicitly backed by the repressive aparrati of the state, if that is indeed what we are seeing, is a significant break, and, I think, a huge gamble. We are already seeing a split in the ruling elite, and if Ahmadinejad's camp can't quickly tamp down popular unrest, that split could become irreversibly large. And irreconciliable splits in the governing elite, unless one faction can quickly assert control over the other, often mark the beginning of the end for authoritarian regimes.


Cassady said...

The US's position in this cluster is ridiculous. We've been meddlers for over 100 years, and now that we're ostensibly trying to reverse that record, we're stuck deciding whether, and to what degree we step in (appeasing the Mousavi support), or to, as Elliot says, remain officially aloof (although "officially aloof" makes me think of the Bay of Pigs for some reason).

spencer said...

Plus who knows what the CIA is doing behind the scenes without our (without Obama's?) knowledge? I could easily imagine a Bay-of-Pigs-like situation, although I really hope that's not happening.