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  • Published in Opinion

Last week the Iranian Presidential elections took place with the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being most strongly challenged by former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. A close election was widely expected, yet the final result was in Ahmadinejad’s favour by 63% to Mousavi’s 34%. This immediately led to widespread suspicion amongst Mousavi supporters that the vote had been rigged to exaggerate the current Presidents votes.

The purpose of this article is not to attain whether or not there was indeed electoral fraud. The point is to examine this new wave of protest and the situation as a whole. However, for purposes of clarity it is necessary to state a few things. Firstly, Ahmadinejad was expected to win. A telephone poll was conducted by an international group, independent from the regime and had Ahmadinejad as wining 2 to 1. Personally, I expected Ahmadinejad to win albeit with slightly less of a majority. The main arguments from those who suspect fraud are based on how the result was announced. In addition Ahmadinejad’s support seemed to spread far more evenly than previously expected, with him winning in areas that were considered Mousavi territory. So it is clear that we cannot be sure whether or not the vote was fixed.

What is an indisputable fact is that over the past 5 days millions of people have taken to the streets to protest. In anytime this is a deeply encouraging, inspiring and very exciting moment. Much of the talk on the Iranian street is about the 1979 revolution and how the same atmosphere has gripped the country. It is probably true to say that the first people out onto the streets were disgruntled Mousavi fans from the middle class who would benefit from the neo-liberal economic policies proposed by Mousavi as well the social freedoms; however this is no longer the case. As time has passed the movement has become much more than this and now encapsulates all layers of Iranian society. Indeed the control Mousavi has from this movement is entirely questionable and in all probability actually rather limited.

It would seem that the election was result was the spark that the lit the fire of Iranian society, which had been building up for many years. Iran has had a very strong reform movement, since the early 90’s, which has had to deal with its own strengths and weaknesses. The reform movement has always been extremely broad in nature, encompassing figures such as Hashemi Rafsanjani, the current chair of The Assembly of Experts and former President to women’s rights activists and left wingers. Despite its breadth and in fact most probably because of this, the reform movement has always lacked a clear leadership and direction. This is mirrored by the current events where you have massive protest, yet very little coordinated direction.

It is also important to be able to understand the limitations of the reform movement in terms of their demands. The majority of the movement does not challenge the Islamic regime itself nor the principles of the ’79 revolution. Watching the live debate between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi at times it was almost as if they were trying to ‘out Khomeini’ one another. Both spoke about their dedication to the revolution and how they were the true interpreters of Khomeini’s message.

So where do the real differences lie? This question will give us some insight into the feelings of the Iranian people. Economically Mousavi favours further neo-liberalisation, although this is not something Ahmadinejad is specifically adverse to. The difference may be where Mousavi is happy to trade with the west, Ahmadinejad not so. To a degree this determines their stances on foreign policy. Mousavi ridiculed Ahmadinejad for the way in which he’s made Iran look childish in the face of international diplomacy. The President retorted with the idea that regardless of whether or not Iran does what the West wants, they will always face threats. It is impossible to beat The United States at their own game (i.e. within the arena of the UN).

Mousavi was seen by many as being a candidate who would open Iranian society and provide the freedoms that are enjoyed by the bourgeois in the west. Therefore when he lost it is easy to see why so many were so angry, although that does not explain the large scale popular protest that we have seen. It seems as if every section of society with any qualm against the regime has come out to use this opportunity, in a usually repressive state, to protest.

This is a window of chance for those who want change and they are determined to use it. It is also important to note that many of the protestors are not explicitly against the Islamic regime. Having spoken to come of my family in Iran, they are angry about the election and want to see change, but within the foundations of the revolution. This is not a movement that is challenging Islamic rule, in the abstract.

What has been the state response, besides Ahmadinejad’s bizarre trip to Russia to celebrate his victory? Yes there has been repression of the most brutal kind. We’ve all seen the images of blood stained University halls, motorbiked thugs chasing protestors and street clashes. In addition foreign media has been restricted, the internet and mobile phone calls limited and other repressive techniques that can only be inflicted by state apparatus. However, the official line is strangely subdued. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is due to give a speech tomorrow following Friday prayers, and many expect to see a few surprises.

Anyone who attempts to simplistically align Ahmadinejad with the religious elite is making a grave error. It is true that Khamenei formally endorsed Ahmadinejad for a second term but the reality is not so straight forward.

Ahmadinejad’s 4 year term was marked by constant bickering between the executive and the religious sections of the ruling class. The fear amongst the religious establishment was that the President was going too far to antagonise the west and subsequently was damaging the trade deals that have been in place since the 90’s. During the campaign period Khamenei himself came forward to discredit a claim by Ahmadinejad that Mousavi’s wife and campaigner, Zahra Rahnavand, is not a real Doctor. So it is clear that are real splits opening up inside the regime, which certainly does not bode well for its long term survival.

One thing that is absolutely clear is that any repression of any protest is unacceptable. People have the right to protest and political expression and any attempts to halt this must be rejected. Reports from the last couple of days actually show a shift in the attitude of the Iranian police towards the protestors. Rather than be used by the state as a tool of repression they have begun to protect the protestors from the feared Basiji and the other thugs. Robert Fisk wrote yesterday in the Independent of the Police holding back the armed thugs from attacking the demonstrations; a moment last seen when the Iranian armed forces turn on the Shah in the 1979 revolution.

However, we must also understand Iran in a global context. This situation is very different to a General Strike in France where we can analyse this as the state vs. the people. As already outlined such an analysis is far too simplistic. We have to question why the situation in Iran is grabbing so many headlines and the attention of the world. When in Egypt the state rigged the elections and massive protests erupted, why did this not receive the same coverage? The simple answer is that as far as the imperialists are concerned, this could be the perfect opportunity to dismantle Iran as an obstacle to the domination of the Middle East. The Iraq war has only strengthened Iran as a regional power; all the worse that it is prepared to stand up to the West. Very few countries are as vocal as Iran on issues such as Palestine and very few countries, if any, can or will not provide the support that the resistance across the Middle East needs.

We must be clear that we will not allow the West to hijack this movement and use it to its advantage. Since 1989 western powers have used genuinely democratic movements to further their own aims, as seen across Eastern Europe and beyond. The same cannot and must not happen with Iran. The vast majority of Iranian people themselves reject Western influence in their affairs; the revolution of 1979 was based around sweeping aside foreign rule. The collective memory of the ghost of 1953 when Iranian Nationalist leader Dr Mossadeq was overthrown in a CIA coup has not been forgotten. Western powers must stay firmly out of this affair. For years the liberal imperialists have argued that we must intervene in countries with human rights abuses, because the people of these nations are not capable of doing it themselves. If this new movement in Iran proves one thing it is that this formulation is false. The Iranian people are displaying that they are not ‘too oppressed to fight back’ or in any way too weak to fight their own battles. They do not want western intervention and they do not need western intervention.

So what will happen next? I honestly don’t know. Clearly we have a series of events on a scale not seen in Iran since 1979. However, for all of the parallels this is not 1979 again. Protestors on both sides are chanting Islamic slogans and we will not see an overthrow of the Islamic Republic. There may well be changes in personnel, policies and other reforms but I expect it to go no further, at least at this stage. The Iranian left needs to play a better role and provide some organisation to the movement. But like 1979 the Iranian left is cutting itself off from society. They are not central to these protests and would rather see the Western powers launch an invasion than any continuation of the current regime. At lot rests on what the Supreme Leader has to say tomorrow, so we shall have to wait and see.

Regardless, this is an exciting moment for Iran. This wave of protest is unconditionally a good thing and healthy for Iranian society. It is the product of years of social and political unrest combined with the current economic crisis. Victory to the Iranian people; against both their oppressors in the regime and the global imperialist project.

Tagged under: Middle East Iran
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