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Iranian elections crisis

A pivotal and unpredictable process of events are taking place in Iran that have serious implications, not only for the lives of Iranians, but for the future of political Islam.

What the courageous protests and the violent repression on the streets represent is a struggle over the true legacy of the Iranian revolution which established the Islamic Republic 30 years ago. To understand the complexity of the current situation, we need to address a number of important questions.

Sunday’s Chatham House report has answered key questions over vote-rigging. It found a turnout of more than 100% was recorded in conservative provinces Mazandaran and Yazd. But putting the election result to one side, if the protests have demonstrated one thing it is the breadth and scale of Mousavi’s “green wave”. Not limited to the middle-class, northern Tehran ‘elite’ the movement has shown its deep social roots.

Of course millions of Iranians did vote for Ahmadinejad and for valid reasons - in support of his populist hand outs, pension rises and state subsidies. For example, he introduced a law that provided insurance to three million female domestic carpet-weavers. He cleverly grouped Mousavi with the corrupt political powerhouse ex-President Rafsanjani whose family had funded the reformist campaign.

However this tactic was far more effective in 2005 - when he could pit himself against the likes of Rafsanjani as the unknown blacksmith’s son ready to ‘cut the hands of the oil mafia’. He could revive the economic populism of the 80s, which benefited the poor, in stark contrast to Rafsanjani’s 90s economic liberalization which increased inflation and inequality. In 2009, as a President who has failed to deliver on promises of reducing corruption and inequality (both have increased) and against an ‘establishment’ candidate like Mousavi - whose term as Prime Minister in the 80s associates him precisely with those populist policies - it just didn’t wash.

More importantly, with 70-80% of Iranian industry still state owned, organisations that were set-up in the 80s to provide social and welfare programmes have now become massive capitalist enterprises owned and controlled by the state bureaucracy including the military. The Revolutionary Guard, for example, controls 30% of the Iranian economy. In power, Ahmadinejad has shown to defend and represent the interests of this bureaucracy.

Hence during the election campaign it was in fact Mousavi who was greeted as the ‘man of the mostazafin (oppressed)’ even in Ahmadinejad strongholds like the eastern town of Birjand.

Mousavi’s mix of revolutionary credentials and call for greater social and political freedoms, in which his wife Zahra Rahnavard played a decisive role in representing the grievances of women, gathered greater momentum than the campaign which saw the election of reformist President Khatami in 1997.

We cannot underestimate how deep the crisis goes. Twenty years ago, it was Rafsanjani and Khamenei’s conservative alliance that wrestled control of power over the ‘leftists’ (like Mousavi) at the top. Now Rafsanjani’s daughter has been arrested and he himself is in the religious city of Qom (where Khamenei is already unpopular) trying to convince the clergy to move against Khamenei. Five senior clerics have already protested but as Iranian academic Ali Ansari argues a serious intervention from an essentially quietest clergy ‘could be decisive’

What’s behind all this? One factor is Khamenei himself. Lacking the political charisma, popularity and authority of Khomeini, he has relied on constitutional changes and an alliance with radical conservative elements to maintain and strengthen his position as Supreme Leader. Another is the reformist demise. Despite being a formidable force in the 1990s the Presidency and parliament majority, by 2005 they had lost all centres of power to conservatives.

There were reasons for this. Khatami held the movement back at its peak, condemning university students in 1999 who had risen up to defend the banning of a reformist newspaper. A demoralised movement then boycotted the Presidential election in 2005 - another reason behind Ahmadinejad’s victory (interestingly he only just beat Karoubi to second place in the first round).

This time round the reformist voters turned out in huge numbers knowing a high-turnout would benefit them (with 70% of Iranians living in the cities). This explains the explosion of anger over the election result and refusal to halt demonstrations.

But a far more important consequence of conservative control was the debate it precipitated in the movement which questioned the very theoretical foundation of the Islamic Republic - velaayat-e faqih (rule of the jurist). It has now reached a point where the majority opinion in the reformist movement believes the only solution for Iran is a separation of religion from the state.

This does not, as some suggest, spell the end of political Islam. Rooftop chants of “Allahu Akbar” late into the evening (reminiscent of the Iranian revolution) and Mousavi’s ‘green’ (representing Islam and peace) movement is a reminder that religion still plays an important ideological framework. But the call for secularization of the state by an Islamist reform movement is undoubtedly a turning point. So important is this, that Mousavi was ‘ready for martyrdom’ and calling for a general strike if arrested. Indeed, the stakes are high for both the leadership and the demonstrators.

This raises huge questions for the movement in Iran. It’s a no brainer that the interests of a powerful capitalist like Rafsanjani or Mousavi conflict sharply with the office worker throwing rocks at police and putting his life in danger. After all, the maior factor of Khatami’s demise was the continuation of Rafsanjani’s privitisation and neoliberal reforms, which alienated the poor. Unfortunately Mousavi in power is likely to follow a similar path.

So whilst working with them, the left must form a critique of its reformist leaders. It should challenge their ties to neo-liberalism and raise the struggle of the poor and the working class.

It must also try to win over Ahmadinejad supporters. There is evidence of this with slogans like “Baseej why kill your brothers?” (the Baseej come from the poor) and reports that some Baseeji are refusing to attack protestors. This is not to say that the Baseej have stopped attacking or killing protesters (as a daily stream of amateur video footage proves) but that crisis goes deep into even the armed conservative elements defending the regime.

A further challenge is to organise separately from the leadership. The demoralization with Khatami stemmed from resting too much hope in his promises of reform. Mousavi is after all a key figure in the regime during some of its most horrific excesses.

Crucially there’s the question of western powers wanting to use this movement as a way of undermining the obstacle Iran presents to their plans for the region.

Under Khatami the government’s opportunist support for the US invasion of Afghanistan provided a valuable lesson. As a consequence, Iran found itself in the ‘axis of evil’, surrounded by US military bases in neighbouring countries Iraq and Afghanistan and a massive American naval fleet in the Persian Gulf. Ahmadinejad’s victory and popularity (in Iran and the region) relied heavily on his fiery antagonism towards the US and Israel.

Mousavi is, in fact, not the ideal candidate for the US. He does not recognise Israel, has vowed to continue with uranium enrichment and openly committed to the ideals of the revolution - that’s why he is popular with Iranians. Though Obama’s administration is likely to deal with any Iranian leader. As activists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia will attest, the struggle for democracy will be a lot harder in Iran with a government backed by the US.

Despite Obama’s talk of ‘not meddling’ in Iran’s affairs, the conservatives can still point to the $400 million dollar budget allocated to ‘covert operations’ in Iran, especially with the bombing of a mosque in Shiraz last month.

Given the Iranian government’s monopoly on anti-imperialism, this is the hardest of challenges for the movement in Iran, but a critical one which must be taken up.

But for now the main priority is to be at the forefront of the democratic struggle. Because if this movement is crushed, life for Iranians (and the left) will be a lot worse off.

As activists in the West, we must throw our full support behind those who have taken to the streets in Iran against their rulers.

At the same time we must also highlight the hypocrisy of our own governments and media organisations. Their support for democracy stands in stark contrast with their refusal to recognize the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine or the vote-rigging of Mobarak’s dictatorship in Egypt.

So whilst expressing solidarity with Iranians, we must warn against the dangers of imperialist powers abusing the situation by continuing to our campaign against the existing suffocating sanctions and any catastrophic plans for war. That way, we allow the Iranian democracy movement to continue without foreign intervention or interference.

  • Written by Naz Massoumi
  • Category: Opinion

Attacks on Romanians in Belfast

Now, you might be thinking, "bigotry in Belfast? Well, I never!" True, the attacks on Romanians earlier this week come after years of assaults and intimidation of Chinese workers which reached a bloody crescendo in 2003 and 2004. And it follows attacks on Polish workers earlier this year, in which Unionist politicians tried to cover up the extent of what was happening. Actually, Unionist politicians like Sammy Wilson - one of the few people in the world who really does have a face like a well-smacked arse - have been openly encouraging discrimination against migrant workers. But I do consider it significant that the attackers were chanting BNP and Combat-18 slogans as they did this. Not because there's a powerful Nazi organisation in Ulster, but it does look as if Northern Ireland's disproportionate number of violent young bigots have been heartened by the recent success of fascism in the mainland. Eamonn McCann, noting the lack of BNP presence in the areas affected, suggests that the attackers are "invoking an established brand rather than acting at the instigation of an organisation". (Mind you, it seems the BNP have just established their national call centre in Dundonald, and presumably intend to try and build a little family of fascists in the area: can't you just hear the pitter-patter of tiny goosesteeps?)

Over at Splintered Sunrise, I see that the UDA boss is ventilating over the BNP's malevolent influence, desperately trying to deflect any blame that might be placed on his right-wing paramilitary outfit: "It seems that what is exercising Hard Bap is the possibility that the UDA’s good name might be besmirched by commentators linking it with the BNP. Which sort of says something about Nick Griffin’s push for respectability." This won't fly, of course. Studies have shown that 90% of racist crime in Northern Ireland takes place in Loyalist areas. It may not be that the UDA are actually encouraging such attacks, but there is a powerful continuity in the methods of violence and intimidation, and the bigotry underwriting them. Moreover, it seems that some other things don't change either: most of Northern Ireland's minorities consider the Police Service of Northern Ireland (n√©e RUC) to be institutionally racist. Well, of course it is. It is the still largely unreconstructed authority of an occupying power that has spent decades terrorising Catholic estates. On top of that, the Crown Prosecution Service only seems to try a fraction of the reported cases of racist violence. So, if you're being driven out of your home by some jumped up Rangers fans with an admiration for the fascist way of doing things, you can't rely on the police, and you can't rely on the courts. And as for the Assembly, they've done fuck all about it for years, despite having pledged to do so. (The lack of consideration given to migrants in policymaking is discussed in this lengthy and useful report [pdf]). The efforts of solidarity campaigners is all that is coming down the pipeline.

McCann argues that the root of this is more than a deflection of older forms of sectarian violence, though, and I think this is crucial:

It is not to excuse the assaults to point to the fact that the Protestant working class, and its young people in particular, have been the main losers from change in Northern Ireland. It's not that they have taken a hit that their equivalents on the Catholic side have not also suffered. Whatever your religion, the poorer you are here the more likely you are to have not benefited at all from the agreement hailed around the world as ushering in a peace based on mutual tolerance. It's no accident that the Real IRA draws its support almost exclusively from the least well-off in the Catholic community.

The snarling young men who forced the Romanian families out have the additional grievance that the Protestant community's sense of itself as living in "their" state has been shattered by the developments symbolised by Sinn Féin sitting snugly in government with the DUP. That none of them can remember the glory days of untrammelled unionist rule matters little. They feel - and it's a feeling they know is endorsed and welcomed by many nationalists - that Catholics are on the way up, Protestants on the way down.

I know that complaint very well. One used to hear quite a bit (from Protestants) in the 1990s, that while once it was the Catholics who were being victimised, now it's the poor Prods. The neoliberal consensus reinforces this sense of grievance by reducing the sphere of legitimate arguments about public spending and resources to sectarian ones: not, will we close this hospital, but will this hospital be closed in a Protestant, or a Catholic area. This entails McCann's conclusion that, while it is necessary to confront these thugs - physically, if it comes to that - it is also essential to build the kind of radical anti-neoliberal left that has just done so splendidly well in the south of Ireland.
  • Written by Lenin's Tomb
  • Category: Opinion

Oh Well Never Mind Bye

The wires, terror, shots, lobby groups, police statements, children's blood, caffeine shakes, facts, errors, occupation: rolling news.

Steven Lally's new play captures the speed and the tension of the news room and explodes the weakness of 24 hour news and the growing reliance on agency reports.

The drama unfolds in an Evening Standard style newspaper as the news breaks of the shooting on Jean Charles de Menezes.

The small staff has to keep astride the fast developing story while also dodging orders from the proprietor and the editor, Squiffy.

Tensions are increased as the days' events are intricately interwoven with flashbacks from star reporter Charlotte's return from Palestine.

James (played by Benjamin Peters), the news editor, is exhausted and high on caffeine is furious with the constant interjections and doubts from his once reliable writer.

Off stage, the proprietor plays a corroding role on the integrity of the newspaper while well funded lobby groups seeks to directly interfere with editorial policy.

Oh Well Never Mind Bye is a searing indictment of the current state of British journalism, examining the trade when it is stretched to its limit and finding it unable to deal with complexity, controversy or the basic reporting of facts.

The realism of the play is brilliantly brought out by a confident cast, each of whom have doppelgangers in the newsrooms of the Telegraph, Mail and Mirror.

Steven's research into the reporting of Jean Charles's death is exhaustive and he appears to have sources with intimate knowledge of the media business.

The only fault line is, how would Charlotte (played by Susanna Fiore) survive in a news room so long despite apparently championing Palestinian protesters and trying to undermine the official police line on the Stockwell shooting?

Is her father in the Cabinet or her mother a celebrity author? We think we should be told.

Beyond that, the events, emphasis, characters and overarching analysis of the play are too painfully based on the truth.

Oh Well Never Mind Bye

By Steven Lally

16 June - 4 July
Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 0LX


  • Written by The Sauce
  • Category: Arts Review

Iran - 1979 and 2009

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a mass event, a popular uprising of a scale rarely seen before. 30 years on, the Iranian people are out in their millions once again but the questions remain, what is this really about and where is this movement going?

  • Written by Dominic Kouros Kavakeb
  • Category: Opinion

Deeds not words

Anyone expecting Barack Obama's speech 'to the Muslim world' to really alter the terms of debate round US role in the world looks like being disappointed.

  • Written by Lindsey German
  • Category: Opinion

Occupational Hazards

Maimed Iraqi children, have-a-go mercenaries and soldiers' families being torn apart. The latest BBC series, Occupation, promises to show the reality of the presence of UK and US troops.

This is the UK version of David Russell's Three Kings with James Nesbitt taking a more serious line than George Clooney. It also echos Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah but with the feeling of a BBC adaptation.

Nesbitt marched against the war in Iraq and remains opposed to the US and remains an opponent of the war. His acting alone makes the first episode required viewing.

Watch it HERE.

  • Written by Brendan Montague
  • Category: Arts Review

Beats Beat Bullets

Despite the tube strike hundreds packed into the Vibe Bar on Brick Lane to hear Lowkey and others launch Stop the War's Beats Beat Bullets music initiative.

Also on the bill were Peyoti for President, Lebanese born rapper Eslam Jawaad and rising star MC Victory

  • Written by Ady Cousins
  • Category: Arts Review

Timeline: Recession

Author and activist John Rees introduces a programme on the economic crisis - screened live on the Islam Channel Sunday 14 June 2pm, Wednesday 17th June 10pm and Friday 19th June 10:45pm

Leon Kuhn on Obama

Leon Kuhn talks us through the ideas and creation of his latest photomontage

Film directed by Dawit Smallmoney. Music by Akemi Kuniyoshi, Paul Moss and Russell Lambert

  • Written by Leon Kuhn
  • Category: Opinion

Nick Broomfield Interview

An edited transcript of the full interview:

Why did you agree to make the film - for no fee?

I agreed to do it because I felt that it was something that really needed to be done. I believe and support Greenpeace and I think that we are at a point were we've been listening to people talking about climate change and its effects for so long and now something really needs to happen like what they did with Kingsnorth, there needs to be direct action.

  • Written by The Sauce
  • Category: Interview

Euro Elections: Labour's Collapse

Nick Griffin

The most politically significant thing - more than the election of two MEPs for the fascist BNP - is the scale of Labour's collapse.

  • Written by Ady Cousins
  • Category: Opinion

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