Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Civil war at the very top of the Islamic Republic"

Excellent Pepe Escobar piece from Asia Times Online presenting the Tehran Spring (evocative phrase) as more or less fueled by a civil war within the Iranian elite.

This is emerging as a no-holds-barred civil war at the very top of the Islamic Republic. The undisputed elite is now supposed to be embodied by the Ahmadinejad faction, the IRGC, the intelligence apparatus, the Ministry of the Interior, the Basij volunteer militias, and most of all the Supreme Leader himself.

The elite wants subdued, muzzled, if not destroyed, reformists of all strands: any relatively moderate cleric; the late 1970s clerical/technocratic Revolution Old Guard (which includes Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and Mousavi); "globalized" students; urban, educated women; and the urban intelligentsia.

Even fighting a cascade of political and economic setbacks, for the past three decades the regime has always been proud of the Islamic Republic's brand of popular democracy, and its alleged legitimacy. Now the revolution enters completely uncharted territory as thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest against the result.

Think Chile in 1973, or Iran in 1953.

Read the whole thing. It's much more informative than anything US commentators are spewing. But, in contrast to other things I've read, it now looks indisputable that, whoever won, it was a highly shady election:

The official breakdown of the vote had Ahmadinejad taking Tehran by over 50%. He may be popular in the rural provinces and in parts of working-class south Tehran, but not even "divine assessment" could be expected to give him more than 30% in the capital.

Ahmadinejad won in the big city of Tabriz. Tabriz is in Azerbaijan. Mousavi is Azeri. Azeris are an ultra-tight ethnic group, they vote for one of their own. The notion that Mousavi was beaten, four to one, in his home ground borders on fiction.


"Landslide" apart, a true Ahmadinejad victory would not be implausible. He could have reasonably scored something like 48%, for instance, ahead of Mousavi, and both would square off in a second round of voting. Ahmadinejad visited every Iranian province at least twice in these past four years. Deep, rural Iran has nothing to do with upscale north Tehran.


Ahmadinejad turned the election into a referendum on the whole idea of the Islamic revolution. He literally enveloped himself in the flag - a crowd pleaser in a very religious and nationalistic country.

Mousavi had the urban youth vote, the urban, educated female vote, the intelligentsia vote, the upper middle class, globalized vote, and even the bazaar vote. But that was not enough. In the showdown between SMS and Facebook and the poor, rural and working-class masses - many of whom have a lot of empathy with the pious son of a blacksmith - it's fair to assume he could be the winner. But not in a landslide. Khatami had a real landslide in 2001, when he got no less than 78% of the vote (after 70% in 1997). The notion that an over 70% reformist impulse has been transformed over these past few years into a 62% ultra-right wing fervor is questionable

It's so refreshing to read a piece rooted in the actual realities of the country and the election. Amazing what seeking knowledge and refraining from hysterical moralizing will do.

To somewhat summarize: What's happening in Tehran is not an example of an already monolithic regime tightening its grip; rather it's an example of a right-wing military coup in a quasi-democratic system, solidifying the power of the most authoritarian element in a hardly-uniform government.

This has nothing to do with the US-supported color-coded revolutions in Eurasia. This is about Iran. An election was stolen in the United States in 2000 and Americans didn't do a thing about it. Iranians are willing to die to have their votes counted.

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