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The Latest from Iran (2 July): The "Gradual" Opposition

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IRAN GREEN2105 GMT: Reports that more than 15,000 people gathered to lay flowers at the graves of more than 80 "martyrs" in Behesh Zahra cemetery (see 1745 GMT).

2100 GMT: Lara Setrakian of ABC News (US) writes, "Rooftop Allahu Akbars [God is Greats] still on, despite Basij raids. [There was] one case where all residents of a five-floor apartment building were bused to Evin [Prison]."

Setrakian adds, "Rally was set for 6 p.m. today in front of Evin Prison to ask for release of detainees. The next two weeks of protests are planned."

1815 GMT: Press TV, as we reported in a separate entry earlier today, continues to feature the stories of Britain's Channel 4 TV showing 15 June footage of Basiji shooting from the rooftop of their base but not airing the footage of demonstrators attacking the building with Molotov cocktails. It is briefly repeating the "Neda" claim that the doctor who tried to save her is wanted by Interpol (which is false --- see 1730 GMT) and the strained analogy with Venezuela 2002 to imply that Neda was killed by foreign services.

1810 GMT: Reports that Maryam Ameri of Mehdi Karroubi's campaign has been released from detention.

1745 GMT: One event, however, which should be noted. Thousands of people in Tehran visited the graves of "martyrs" in Behesh Zahra cemetery to honour them with flowers. They were watched by "a large number" of plain-clothes security personnel.

1730 GMT: A quiet, almost stand-still, afternoon. Unlike previous days, where there has been an up-turn in political activity around this time, there has been nothing of notice out of Iran. Chatter is around yesterday's news of a threat to prosecute Mir Hossein Mousavi and the lie of Iranian police chief Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, spread by Press TV, that Interpol is pursuing the doctor, Arash Hejazi, who tried to save Neda Agha Soltan's life.

1435 GMT: The Bushman Returneth. John Bolton, Assistant Secretary of State and then US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2001 to 2006, reminds everybody why we're fortunate to have an Obama rather than Bush Administration:
Iran's nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability. Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable.

No doubt those campaign for meaningful reform (and not necessarily "regime change") in Iran will thank Mr Bolton for his concern.

1405 GMT: Al Jazeera English, after a forced two-week confinement to its office, was allowed to film briefly in Tehran yesterday. We've posted the video. (Not sure which is braver: reporter Alireza Ronaghi's stand against the authorities or his stand in the middle of a busy Tehran road.)

1310 GMT: How to Turn a Scandal into a Museum Exhibit. The Governor of Shiraz has explained that four unopened ballot boxes, found by chance yesterday in a library, are from past elections for Assembly of Experts, Parliament, and local councils. The boxes will now be "stored as national documents".

1300 GMT: From Lara Setrakian of ABC News (US), "Tehrani source close to those detained says some have been beaten heavily and waterboarded with hot water."

1255 GMT: Human Rights Watch's report on the life-threatening conditions of detained politician Saeed Hajjarian (see 1100 GMT) is now available on the Internet.

1250 GMT: A reliable Iranian activist on Twitter adds to Mousavi's claim of Government restrictions on the websites of "the Imam's List" members of Parliament, "Managers of Parliament News were also threatened by security forces and prosecutor to change their methods."

1245 GMT: Mir Hossein Mousavi's Facebook page has said a "human chain" across Tehran will be formed from 5 p.m. local time on Sunday. The entry declares that the "more people", the "more safety".

Mousavi's page also claims that the websites of "the Imam's List" group of members of Parliament, which were raising the cases of detainees, are now being "filtered" by the Government. The page advises, "A lot of information has to flow to Iran, create a Mailinglist and spend some time to sort and send the news. If you believe it or not, Your Mailinglist is the main media."

1100 GMT: Extract from a report on detained politician Saeed Hajjarian: "Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, mentioned that given  Hajarian's physical condition, his arrest is not acceptable in the first place; however, terrible jail conditions together with the pressure on him to confess put his life in danger." Hajjarian was severely disabled by an assassination attempt in March 2000.

0900 GMT: Jim Sciutto of ABC News (US), who has done very good work during the crisis, parallels our analysis: "Former President Khatami & Pres candidates Karoubi and Mousavi call government illegitimate; bold challenge after Supreme Leader again tries to declare race over. Opposition plan now is ad hoc protests: strikes, withdrawing money from state banks, starve state charities, 'lightning' demos. Watch Iran's many memorial ceremonies, where crowds are legal, giving opposition chance to take advantage."

0610 GMT: Perhaps the most striking description of the Islamic Republic offered to me by Iranians is "Gradual Revolution", the idea that the promise of the ideals behind its creation in 1979 --- despite all the intervening difficulties of war, economic challenges, political arguments, and social conflict --- will be fulfilled.

There may now be a new version of that concept. While supporters of the Government and the Supreme Leader will no doubt argue that they are still the defenders of the Revolution, those who have challenged the system in the last three weeks may now be considering their own "gradual" approach.

Mass demonstrations have not been possible for two weeks, and the more limited gatherings struggle against the possibility of violence from security forces and the reality that there can be almost no media coverage. Campaigns have been disrupted by detentions, and the regime is using the "foreign intervention" theme, repeated almost non-stop by state media and now bolstered by forced confessions, to try and neutralise any thought of legitimate protest.

So the opposition has had to adjust its strategy. While ad hoc demonstrations are still occurring (though we cannot be sure of their size), the focus is on keeping the message of resistance alive. Statements from all three symbolic leaders (Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami) were issued yesterday. The claim that "it's not over" could also draw from the debate amongst the clerics; this is now being punctuated by dramatic statements such as Ayatollah Ghaffari's speech and now Ayatollah Taheri's "fatwa" calling the election illegitimate and fraudulent.

On the surface, the Government is showing confidence, following up the Guardian Council's Monday verdict with public declarations of triumph and some relaxation of restrictions (SMS service was unblocked yesterday). Yet it still faces a difficult question over detentions. Public protest is now coalescing around the fate of those taken away by the authorities, with relatives gathering in front of Evin Prison, and those proclaiming the illegitimacy of the regime can highlight the lack of legal process (and, for the clerics, religious justification) for the measures.

So the Government has to release the detainees (some have been bailed or freed, but a significant number of high-profile prisoners remain) or commit to the long-term imprisonment of those who challenge it. The former step risks a strengthening of the opposition; the latter may build up the gradual questioning, not only of individual politicians, but of the structures of the Islamic Republic.

The opposition campaign, therefore, is relying on symbolic pronouncements. Latest proposals have included the call for a general strike, possible action on the "days of religious seclusion" (6-8 July), and the weekly gathering in Laleh Park of the mothers of the killed and arrested. The idea that the movement is still alive is to be maintained through symbolic action such as graffiti in public places and the nightly calls of "Allahu Akhbar".

Reader Comments (14)

There's no actual evidence of election fraud in Iran. Such claims and counter-claims have been compiled at" rel="nofollow"> see for yourself

Mousavi was vetted and cleared to run for office because he's a regime insider -- and yet some people think he presented such a large threat to the regime that they had to resort to massive election fraud to keep him out office? Use your brains.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhass


Thank you for the very useful link.

My position has always been (and continues to be) that the election cannot be established as "fraudulent" but that the process was not "transparent". Personally, I still wonder why the Supreme Leader declared the Ahmadinejad victory after 3 hours when, under Iranian law, this can only come after 3 days. I am still also not convinced by the explanations for the very low vote not only of Karroubi but of Rezaei.

In any case, for me, the issue moved from people's doubts over the election to the regime's response to those doubts with the crackdown on dissent.


July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

The Supreme Leader did not formally declare the winner -- it was an informal statement based on uncertified election results. The dissent is not representative of the vast majority of Iranians who do not Twitter nor Facebook.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhass

Scott has a very valid point: with no transparency, there is no confidence. People have their doubts, and the way the government has reacted, has validated those doubts in the minds of many. And I doubt that the manifestations were done exclusively by twitters and facebookers. But people can always choose the way they want to commit intellectual suicide, I guess.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL Rivera


Am I right that it is the first time the Supreme Leader has made an "informal statement" announcing a victor before formal declaration of the result? If so, why did he set this precedent?


July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

I don't know if it is the first time or not but even if it is, it is not proof of fraud. The uncertified results were known a few hours after the close of the polls. All the candidates had their own representatives present at all the voting stations, and the counting is done in front of 14 other officials at each station -- all of whom sign off on the final tally. Mousavi didn't have a problem with this "lack of transparency" when he declared himself the winner within hours after the close of the polls.

The bottom line remain: no one has been able to provide evidence of fraud, nor has anyone been able to explain why the regime would have to resort to fraud to keep Mousavi (who is more of a regime insider than Ahmaidnejad) out of office.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhass

hass, I respect your carefully considered opinion, but aside from vetting the candidates, the Supreme Leader generally allows the elections to play themselves out normally.

Vetting candidates is to keep the political culture within a narrow corridor compatible with theocratic rule. Similarly, the reason the Supreme Leader rarely interferes (publicly) is to allow the citizens the freedom (as a relative term of course) to vote on candidates within that restricted zone.

For the Supreme Leader to have made a public statement so early after the vote seems like a tactical mistake that likely represented an already growing division within clerical ranks over how to best serve Iran's needs. Iran needs to start finding a lot more jobs for its young people.

Some of the Ayatollah's seem to understand that at the same time as it is not prudent to start international diplomatic fires, it is also not prudent to have a large number of restive young people, who are more likely to risk the penalties that come with public disobedience.

By making the misstep of appearing to undermine the limited electoral process in favour of one candidate long before it would have been possible to count a statistically significant number of ballots in a record-setting election turnout, Ayatollah Khamenei then felt it necessary to use the basij, a virtual private army, against demonstrators who were upset at the usurping of even the very limited electoral freedoms.

Two major mistakes revealed once and for all that the power of the state is not guaranteed by God, or by the people. It is guaranteed by violence. The 50% of Iranians under 30 years old will not forget. Whether the election results were legitimate is irrelevant at this point. Many of them must feel that their Supreme Leader is something less than an appointee of God, and will never again feel the need to offer lip service to that obvious absurdity.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterR Pratt


More Re: Karroubi and Rezaei

In the US 2008 election, only the top 2 candidates got more than 1% of the vote. Only Nader even cracked half a percent, and not by much (.56%). Granted there are vast differences between the corporate elite controlled US political parties and the religious elite controlled Iranian political parties, but I don't think the percentages reveal anything about the fidelity of the vote.

What it seems to indicate is that, regardless of the actual structure of the race, Iranians perceived it as a battle between Ahmadinejad (the status quo) and the broader reformist movement (coincidentally headed by Mousavi.) The low turnout for 3rd and 4th place shows (I think) that Iranians were politically savvy enough to avoid a spoiler, ie it's better to unite behind one candidate (Mousavi, John Kerry) than risk blowing it all on three 2nd place finishers (Rezaei, Nader).

Again I'd point to the parallel of Ken Blackwell in 2004. You don't have to stuff ballots just to fix an election, you can do much simpler things like legally (sic) disenfranchise a particular bloc (wonder who the Kurds and Baluchs voted for...) or even better, getting the Supreme Leader to override election law in favor of a particular party or candidate (Moss v Bush, Bush v Gore).

Reports that Mousavi lost his own province or that there was 120% voter turnout in some areas are, to me, more similar to Ohio 2004 than they are to the Soviet Union or Zimbabwe.

I'd also note that the documentation on the United States' "Weaponization of Democracy" (Bush Doctrine, Colored Revolutions) is widely available to both students of history and those thugs and tyrants who might seek to exploit it. In other words, if you want to hold a sham election, not only is it easy, but it comes with a manual ;)

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUJ


First-round results from 2005: "Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad led with respectively 21.0% and 19.5% of the votes, and were followed by Karroubi (17.3%), Moeen (13.93%) , Ghalibaf (13.89%), Larijani (5.9%), and Mehralizadeh (4.4%)"

Taking into account the explanations that Karroubi was damaged by the revelation of dodgy financial transaction and that election polarised in final days because of excitement and furour over Ahmadinejad-Mousavi debate (and led to tactical voting that you mention), is it plausible that Karroubi vote dropped to less than 2%? And Rezaie, who did not suffer the taint of financial allegations: could he, with IRGC and conservative credentials, take less than 1%?

Accepted that Ahmadinejad was an incumbent in 2009, that's a heckuva jump to 63% in 1st round.

I hasten to add that none of this proves fraud. I just think, to correct Juan Cole's allegation of "evidence", that these are "indications" of a less-than-above-aboard count.


July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas


The point is that in 2005 Karroubi got over 5 million votes- with A'jad only winning 630,000 votes more.

That's why people find it hard to believe that Karroubi's vote was slashed to 300,000. It is even harder to believe that former Karroubi voters would defect to A'jad.

It is also doubtfull that Iranians vote in terms of either a reformist or cons bloc.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrisE

Scott and ChrisE,

The 2005 numbers do raise a good point, but I'm still convinced that this is a sign of "Iranian politics" as opposed to a variable in the (what I see as) completely separate issue of a stolen/sham election.

Perhaps Iranian voters won't vote for the same loser twice - if he lost in 2005, who says he'll do better, not worse, in 2009? Perhaps they chose to unite around a central figure in the hopes of avoiding a runoff election. Maybe the candidates just fizzled out naturally (Giuliani/Thompson 2008!!!).

I definitely appreciate the difference between indicators and evidence of wrong doing, but my point is that the percentages may not indicate anything at all about the stolen election. Basically, I think the low numbers tell us about the nature of Iranian voting habits, not about the stolen election.

On the other hand, while I'm very skeptical of the stories of IRGC blatantly stuffing or destroying ballot boxes, if it was actually true, the extra Ahmadinejad votes could simply be overshadowing the other candidates. In other words, if you subtract the (hypothetical) Ahmadinejad overages, the 3rd and 4th place candidates may actually take a larger percentage of the votes. But like I said, I'm really skeptical of this scenario, since flat-out ballot rigging seems decidedly hamfisted and contrived compared to the "normal" machinations of Iranian government.

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUJ

Doesn't it make a difference that Ahmadinejad was the incumbent in 2009 versus being a newcomer in 2005? What's the pattern in previous Iranian elections when it comes to an incumbent seeking re-election?

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Birch

Every single president has won a second term except the first two (who were impeached and assassinated respectively).

I too think that A'jad ran an effective campaign and would have won regardles of any alleged irregularities. However, I think there's enough circumstantial evidence and statistical anomalies to suggest the results were perhaps massaged to guarantee this. I still don't buy that all of Karroubi's voters, and all those who voted for Rafsanjani last time, would move to A'jad.

For me, however, the issue is now not the alleged rigging.As Scott points out, we will never know. The issue to me is the implications of the perception (inside Iran) that it was rigged and the response of the authorities to what has been an obviously damaging challenge to its legitimacy. I am interested in how this will affect the 2nd A'jad administration and the extent to which poweful groups will succeed in keeping him on a tight leash.

I think hass makes the important point, however, that the perception of 'rigging' is far from widespead (in fact, probably isolated). Yet, I suspect that the rifts at 'elite' level are more profound and have been exposed by this crisis. These rifts are much more to do with a longer term disagreement as to the direction of the revolution rather than Mousavi's specific cause.

July 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrisE

"Perhaps they chose to unite around a central figure in the hopes of avoiding a runoff election. " I absolutely agree on that. It was a prevailing opinion among iranians especially in this election.

Chris E and Scott,
I too think that the reactions to the aftermath of the election cannot be something that Iranian givernment can be proud of, it could have taken another form which was more civil and peaceful. I believe the reations stems from the fact that th country was actually new to this kind of internal inrest, although i should amphasize again that it was restricted to several cities and some people in those cities. Before this, Iranian people had never protested in the way they did after the election, I think the country thought of this unrest as a big threat to itself, however it was not a threat. they could just have prevented these riots and violence form happening if they looked at the situation as an opprtunity or an evidence of people's being concerned about their country and not a threat. I wish they had reacted to the events in other ways.

July 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterm. s.

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