Iranian blogosphere follows events
What is hard information and what is speculation?
Distinguishing between hard information and pure speculation within the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been difficult due to state sponsored censorship and it has even been more difficult as the state has revoked permission of all foreign journalists to do firsthand reports, and it has shutdown what had remained of independent Iranian news organization. What can be said for certain is:
1. The conduct of the interior ministry in its vote counting and declaration process has differed from all previous elections. The vote tally was conducted in record time, and monitors from all candidates were not allowed to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes. The interior ministry also declared the winner without first communicating the results to the guardian council and receiving their seal of approval.
2. Prior to the election, the supreme leader who normally stays above the political fray gave a description of the most suitable president in terms uncharacteristically matching that of Ahmadinejad.
3. While from the beginning the rejection of the results by Mousavi and Karroubi had been known, the state media never mentioned that Rezai had also rejected the stated results and filed a complaint. It finally relented after Rezai sent various letters to different government bodies of Iran. It should be noted that Rezai is not considered within the reform camp and has thus far avoided appearing in any of the reform camps demonstrations.
4. Just before the election a group of interior ministry employees published an op-ed article alleging there were plans to rig the vote
As for credible rumors circling the Iranian blogosphere:
1. According to Mohsen Makhmalbaf who is an internationally recognized director and film maker, and also the international spokesperson for Mousavi, right after the election, the interior ministry informs the Mousavi camp that they had won, and they are preparing to make the official announcement soon.
2. Hashemi Rafsanjani (a former two-term president, one of the founding members of the revolution, and reportedly the richest Iranian, also nicknamed the shark) who had indirectly backed Mir Hussein Mousavi, as the head of the assembly of experts has convened a meeting. The assembly of experts is the clergy organization in charge of appointing the supreme leader ( a life time position) and monitoring his performance. Rumors are that he would like to replace Khamenei.
3. A letter directed to the supreme leader, Khamenei, allegedly issued by the interior ministry upon calculating the vote tally is making the rounds. In the letter, Mousavi is stated to have come first with 19,075,623 votes, Karroubi second with 13,387,104 votes, Ahmadinejad third with 5,698,417, Rezai fourth with 3,754,218. In the letter it states: as the supreme leader deems Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rightful president please advise how to proceed.
4. Vote tallies updated on Iranian state television (IRIB) during election night indicate that candidate Mohsen Rezai’s total vote count actually declined over time.
5. Some of the security forces deployed against the demonstrators are said to be non-Iranian. There are various claims in Farsi feeds as presence of possibly Lebanese militias. Some security forces, especially the traffic police, have been seen as protecting civilians from other forces and warning them: we will try to protect you but please run away from “Palestinian forces”.
6. The total number of civilians killed so far is said to be 30 or more (officially 8 have been confirmed).
7. Security forces have initiated a massive campaign of terror targeting first and foremost university students by attacking their dorms during nighttime. They have also started calling individual households and warning them that they know about their activities against the regime and if the people don’t stop going to demonstrations, they will face jail time or even execution. The security forces have also started organizing fake demonstration in favour of the reform camp, especially in the provinces to lure in people and identify those who really support the reform camp so that they could attack them at nigh time.
8. Large batches of votes have been found dumped around various locations around the country. Some pictures of those votes are circulating the internet, showing for example a vote submitted in favour of Mohsen Rezai.
Who is saying what?
Ayatollah Montazeri (who at one point was considered to become the supreme leader after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death), who is considered the leading dissident senior cleric has issued a strong statement in support of the reform camp and accusing Ahmadinejad of fraud. He has called any government headed by Ahmadinejad to be in violation of the founding principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Various senior clerics (marjaeh taghlid) are known to have issued fatwas declaring any association and work done for the Ahmadinejad is Haram (i.e. a violation of Islam). While Montazeri has been long known for his dissident views, and had been marginalized while Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive, hence his real power severely limited, a group known as the Rohanyouneh Mobarez (Resistance Clerics), has also echoed his call, and this group has a wider membership with some serving in the Council of Experts, with real power.
The Iranian Arts and Culture society has also called on the clergy and the judiciary to be the safeguard of the people. 350 artists and cultural figures have signed a letter calling the election a staged event and calling upon the clergy and the judiciary to protect the people’s right to vote and their safety. The letter pointedly says people are not “dust”. Ahmadinejad in his election-victory news conference had called those who have protested the results as just dust. The letter also addresses the security forces to show restraint and show grace of the Iranian people in front of the world.
Shirin Ebadi has issued a four point plan to diffuse the situation: all those arrested to be immediately released. Government security forces should immediately stop all confrontational aggressive crackdowns. The election should be voided and new elections held under open monitoring by international observers. Families of those killed and injured should be compensated for their loss.
The reform camp has been severely limited in issuing public statements that can reach the people on the ground. While few people still find ways around internet censors and filters, most information is now distributed person by person via print outs or just plain word of mouth. One of the recent public statements by Mousavi has asked the security forces, “my brothers”, to respond with restraint, compassion and understanding towards the public demonstration.
Khamenei, the supreme leader, had asked Mousavi to call on the public to stop demonstrating and await the result of the review by the guardian council. However Mousavi has defied the supreme leader’s request (which technically could have been considered a binding order, as any call by the supreme leader is considered a legal order), and has responded that he has no fate in the review by the guardian council. Mousavi has demanded the vote to be nullified and the election to be repeated again. Nothing less of that will not be accepted.
Various prominent members of the reform movement and moderate conservatives have written open letters with wide ranging calls for inquiries to downright nullification of the election. Many of the reform camp members are gradually being arrested though, (for example the former vice president during the Khatami presidency, Abtahi who was blogging till yesterday) although none of the active top members of the current movement has been yet arrested although they are under severe restrictions. Mousavi himself has only appeared at only one public demonstration so far. Most of the public appearances have been by his wife.
One of the most interesting fact of this whole process has been that during the campaign and during the demonstrations afterwards women have played a crucial role. Just yesterday at a reform rally the daughter of Hashemi Rafsanji was the main speaker. The government has even gone to the step of arresting the granddaughter of Ayattollah Khomeini (the father of the revolution).
The speaker of Majlis (The parliament), Ali Larijani has toured the University of Tehran and some of the neighbourhoods that had been assaulted by security forces during night time raids, and has initiated an official inquiry to these incidents.
The presidential election carried out in Iran on Friday June 12, 2009 is marred by allegations of fraud leading to violent clashes between civilians and state-sponsored forces. Under the Islamic Republic of Iran’s theocratic government system established after the revolution in 1979, presidential candidates are first vetted by the guardian council (whose 12 members are appointed by the supreme leader, half of which are clergy and the other half legal scholars) to ensure their adherence to the principles of the revolution. Four candidates had been deemed eligible to run in the aforementioned election: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (the incumbent president), Mir Hussein Mousavi (a former prime-minister during the Iran-Iraq war), Mehdi Karroubi (a former speaker of the parliament from 2000 to 2004), and Mohsen Rezai (a former commander of the revolutionary guards).
Upon closing of the polling stations in Iran, the nationwide cellular-phone short-messaging-service (SMS) and internet access to foreign news organizations (e.g. BBC, New York Times,…), independent domestic news organizations and social-networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter,…) is suspended. Within 3 hours of closing of the polling stations in Iran, the interior ministry declared the incumbent the winner with 62.63% (24,527,516 votes) of the total vote. While Mir Hussein Mousavi is declared to have come second with 33.75% (13,216,411 votes) with Mohsen Rezaee receiving 1.73% (678,240 votes) and Mehdi Karroubi coming last at 0.85% (333,635 votes).
The voter turnout is declared at 85%. The voting was conducted by hand-written ballots, and vote-counting was a manual task. Absentee votes had also been caste at Iranian embassies, consulates and missions all around the globe.
Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi immediately declared the results a fraud, and they lodged an official complaint with the interior ministry to prevent the certification of the results. Throughout the voting day, election monitors from both Mousavi’s party and Karroubi’s party had observed numerous violations and errors at voting sites and had reported those problems to the interior ministry without any recourse. Regardless of all those complaints, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayattollah Khamenei who holds the ultimate power under the Islamic Republic’s governance system, effectively certified the election results by Saturday morning and congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his landslide win.
Ever since, Mousavi and Karroubi have refused to back down, and civilian demonstrations have taken place across Iran leading to confrontations with state security forces. By Monday, upon confronting ever more expanding demonstrations across the country demanding redress, Ayattollah Khamenei has grudgingly asked the guardian council to “consider” the complaints. Since then the guardian council has said it will do a partial recount of some ballots and report within 10 days.
What is really at stake and what are the real agenda’s:
It is rather superficial to state obviously the future of Iran is at stake with ramifications well beyond its borders. The reform camps declared agenda during the election campain was to open up Iran’s economy, relax personal freedoms and pursue a softer foreign policy. On the incumbent’s side the idea is the take the state back to a perpetual revolutionary mode where the most important thing is devotion to its particular version of Shiite Islam.
One of the major points of interest for the international community and th foreign media has been the nuclear row. On this matter most media reports have stated that basically all the candidates are on the same page. This is a great over simplification of the issue. First and foremost to the average Iranian voter, the nuclear issue is not the main concerns. For the voting population, their first and foremost deciding factor of who to vote for has been the economy. Even supporters of Ahmadinejad have reportedly voted for him to protect the economical positions he has secured for them. A secondary concern for voters has been the issue of personal rights especially free speech and women’s rights.
On the nuclear file, it is true that most Iranians whether in the reform camp and Ahmadinejad camp support the pursuit of nuclear energy, and they dislike what is perceived as a double-standard when it comes to Iran’s nuclear aspirations. However this support for the nuclear energy should be understood within the framework that the general population is not completely aware of the details and the intentions beyond the nuclear file. The reform camp while has professed to support the pursuit of nuclear energy has tried to strike a more conciliatory note towards the West while at the same time protecting itself from accusations by the incumbent that the reform camp is basically in cohorts with Westerns and will sell out Iran.
The West needs to stop worrying about at this time about the nuclear issue at this point and await the final outcome of this uprising.
One thing that has especially bothered the Iranians is some of the foreign news media coverage. While none of the Iranians inside advocate an direct intervention by foreign powers, they are confused as why the foreign media keeps calling Ahmadinjed the election winner and Moussavi the looser. They are also rather mad at the continuous claim that the reform camp is only popular with the upper-class urban elite and Ahmadinejad is the one who is support by the poor and disadvantaged. As far as reports directly from inside, people from all segments of the population are supporting the reform camp while it’s the various armed forces and their families who are supporting Ahmadinejad.