Iran’s Khamenei On Crash Course

For the past couple of months, we thought some kind of spring was coming to our beloved Iran. We deserved it, we thought, finally, after so many years of un-freedom, state-ideological one-way-turbo-course, and international isolation and humiliation. But after the much expected speech yesterday by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it seems we are not in June or May, but still somewhere in December.

Khamenei declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the June 12 presidential election and warned that further mass demonstrations calling for a run-off or recount of the votes that are widely considered as rigged would be harshly punished. These actions, he said in a tone familiar from all his previous speeches, were provoked and organized by foreign countries, the United Kingdom, the United States, and their intelligence services and radio stations, in an effort to incite a «velvet revolution» against the Islamic Republic.

Changing the system through a «peaceful revolution?» Intelligence services? Foreign radios? The U.K.? The U.S.? We just had a presidential election set by you, with four candidates approved by you and your Guardians.

To be sure, as always in the last 30 years, the presidential candidates were hand-picked by a Guardian Council appointed and dominated by the Leader. They were all products of the same political system, but had different views on personal and social freedoms, on the economy and foreign policy. But people are not much concerned about foreign policy, anyway. They seek a better life, a bit more freedom, and damage control of the harm inflicted on our international recognition during these decades. A modest, not necessarily a major change, would make everyone happy.

Within the pre-set framework, we had quite a vibrant election campaign, with heated TV debates and lively discussions in the press and on the Internet. Incumbent President Ahmadinejad aggressively vowed to continue his increasingly radical crash course, while two reformist candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, promised a more relaxed approach by the government in its dealings both with its own citizens and the outside world.

Even before the voting finished, Iranian state TV started to declare Ahmadinejad the winner. It continued to do so the whole night until he was officially declared the winner with 62 percent of the ballots cast. Mousavi supposedly received 33 percent.

I firmly believe the voting, — no, maybe not so much the voting, but the counting — was rigged. Do I know that for sure? No, I don’t and nobody does except the people who counted the votes. And who counted the votes? An Election Commission of the Interior Ministry headed by Ahmadinejad. Nobody else had access to the ballots, not the opposition, and not any international organizations. Or consider this: from 10 p.m. Tehran time until the following morning when the counting of 42 million hand-written votes supposedly finished, the vote percentages of all four candidates remained the same: Ahmadinejad 62-64 percent, Mousavi 31-33 percent, Rezaei 2-3 percent, and Karroubi zero point something percent. In a vast country like Iran, with so many differences between social groups, cities, towns, villages, the home cities of the candidates, and ethnic and religious minorities, 42 million votes are gradually counted and the candidates still receive the same percentages. This is like the temperature remaining the same seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

In a country like Iran with all those political and organizational restrictions, you don’t, you wouldn’t believe it was a fair count. At least 13 million people who voted for Mousavi and other opposition candidates believed the election was rigged.

First to protest were young people and students. Security forces brutally attacked them and their campuses and dorms. But since last Monday, a total of at least 2 million people came out to peacefully protest the election results and to call for a run-off. Men and women, old and young.

Two authorities had to put the final stamp on the validity of the election results or order a run-off: the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council. The Leader has spoken, and the Guardian Council is expected to follow the Leader’s orders. What kind of freedom is it when the election results depend on the words of one person, an unelected leader, not on a fair election process, and not on a transparent and controllable system of counting votes?

Why did you shut down the whole SMS text messaging system before election day, ban critical newspapers and block opposition websites? Why did you arrest campaign activists? Why did you disable the country’s whole communication system, and why did you jam international broadcasters like Radio Farda, the BBC Persian TV, and VOA Persian TV, if you are that confident in the election process and its declared results? Why do you now ban peaceful protest meetings and threaten to harshly crack down on all who exercise their right to voice doubt and objections?

A few hours before Khamenei made his speech, I talked to a friend of mine, a Tehran university professor. If Khamenei is committed to the good and the survival of his people and his Islamic Republic, logic and pragmatism would lead him to maintain stability and to seek unity and compromise and social peace, by not provoking conflict and confrontation, I argued.

My friend, who asked not to be identified, said the Leader’s thinking is driven by ideology and his fixed and unchanging ideas of the «divine mission» of Islam, not by pragmatic concern for worldly matters such as stability, social peace, or material progress.
After Khamenei spoke, a journalist friend of mine said the Leader does see the division in the nation. «But instead of healing this social wound,» he added, «Khamenei sticks a knife in the wound and turns it around.»

Most of those worldly people in Iran now expect weeks and months of reprisals and frustration and more radical government policies than during the last four years under Ahmadinejad.

(Also published on RFE/RL’s website)