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Entries in Iran Elections (5)


Iran: Will the Supreme Leader Give Up Ahmadinejad?

The Latest from Iran (28 July): The Regime Crumbles
The Latest from Iran (28 July): The Government Crumbles

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AHMADINEJAD KHAMENEIPerhaps the most striking headline in yesterday's press was that of The New York Times, "Ahmadinejad Seen as Increasingly Vulnerable". Unfortunately for the paper, the distinction was not that this indicated information or insight, but that it showed reporters who were either naive or coming very late to the political party.

This weekend's events were not the start of the President's slide from power. That process had started as early as 15 June, when the mass demonstrations pointed to at least a significant minority in Iran who were unprepared to give Ahmadinejad any legitimacy. The significance of last week's developments --- the growing unease with detentions, the increase in clerical fatwas calling for Government reform, and then the row over the First Vice President --- was that illegitimacy was now complemented by a sense amongst "conservatives" of Ahmadinejad's negligence or ineptitude.

So the big question after the President's attempt, possibly his last, to regain authority --- the firing of four Ministers, reduced to one when Ahmadinejad realised he could no longer govern without Parliamentary consent --- is not about Mahmoud. Instead, it is about the Supreme Leader: what does Ayatollah Khamenei now do with a terminally wounded political leader?

To this point, the post-election path can be marked by the Supreme Leader's firm refusal to give up Ahmadinejad. Khamenei could have refrained from making the unprecedented move on Election Night of setting aside the official process and declaring a victor; he did not. A week after the election, speaking at Friday prayers, he could have traded some support for the President for a more conciliatory position towards the opposition; he did not. Khamenei could have stepped aside to allow a true recount by the Guardian Council of the Presidential vote; instead, he declared in advance that there would be no change in the outcome.

The symbolism of the battle over the First Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, was that the Supreme Leader, at least in this case, said to the President, "Enough." Whether this was because of Rahim-Mashai's politically dubious views on relations with Israel, "conservative" unease with the choice, the whiff of nepotism, or the concern that Ahmadinejad was publicly being too "independent" is unclear. The extent of Khamenei's slap-down is not, however. When the President refused to budge after he received the Supreme Leader's letter, Khamenei's advisors ensured that the order to remove Rahim-Mashai became very public.

There is a difference, however, between smiting your President in one high-profile case and giving him up completely. And, beyond superficial New York Times headlines, what distinguishes these last 72 hours is that the Supreme Leader has said nothing, made no more letters public, offered no clue even during Ahmadinejad's botched attempt to remove Ministers with whom he had argued.

And that silence is understandable. Because even if Khamenei does not say it, giving up Ahmadinejad means, "I was wrong." Wrong to push so hard on the Presidential election result, wrong not to extend an hand to the Green Movement, wrong to let arrests and beatings and killings spiral.

That silence cannot be maintained, however. The President's inauguration is in eight days. And by that point, Khamenei either has to disown his boy or embrace him, albeit while reminding Ahmadinejad not to stray again.

So far, the Supreme Leader has blundered, both in perception and strategy, by being too firm in his support of the President. Does he dare risk hugging Mahmoud to the point where he goes down with him?

UPDATED Iran: How Many Protesters Have Died?

The Latest from Iran (15 July): Chess not Checkers

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UPDATE (16 July, 0700 GMT): Internet chatter has been of 200-300 deaths in violence against protesters. Fintan Dunne offers the basis for the estimate, putting forth a figure of 245. This is based on news reports, unofficial hospital counts, and a series of assumptions.

I admire Fintan's work greatly, but I can't see this as more than speculation with asssertions like "allow around 35% of fatalities to enter hospitals; hide 65% of the bodies in IRGC morgues / cold-store locations". The percentage hidden could be higher, could be lower. Same for the total number of casualties.

We simply don't know.

We have been very cautious in reporting casualty figures from the post-election violence in Iran. Inevitably, given tension and concern, there are a swirl of rumours and partial information that can lead to inaccurate and misleading numbers.

On 25 June, we posted a list from the International Committee for Human Rights of "at least 27 fatalities in Tehran" with its note that "the true numbers are most probably much higher....There are also reports of fatalities in other cities but the Campaign has not been able to collect any reliable information." On 4 July, we noted the names of 12 people whose deaths had been confirmed. And there have been individual cases such as Sohrab Arabi, whose death on 15 June was only confirmed last week.

The situation is still unclear, but the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has made another intervention, claiming that 34 people were killed in a single day, Saturday, 20 June, in Tehran. (This was the day that Neda Agha Soltan was killed by a Basij gunman as she watched the demonstrations.) The Campaign, noting that the Government only acknowledged 11 deaths, adds, "There are also several other major hospitals along the routes that could have received the dead and injured on that day."

What is even more striking, however, is the Campaign's assertion, "Information is accumulating suggesting that hundreds of protesters were slaughtered during the demonstrations."

That "information" appears to be based on a report in Norooz, the newspaper of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (strongly opposed to the current Government):
Authorities took [family members looking for missing relatives] to a cold storage facility in southwest Tehran made for storing fruits and dairy products. In their presence they showed pictures of hundreds of those that have been killed until they were able to find the picture of their loved one. It took nearly thirty minutes of searching for them to find the photo of their relative. As they were leaving, they saw hundreds of bodies piled on top of each other.

In addition, the Campaign cites "sources in Iran" that "hundreds of family members are desperately searching for their missing relatives".

Such reports need to be treated with caution. Amidst grief and panic, worries can be exaggerated into fact. At the same time, the Government has a clear motive in minimising the casualty figures as well as blocking any possibility of a comprehensive investigation. The outcome is that we are mostly likely to hear of deaths on an individual basis, as in the case of Sohrab Arabi.

The sad reality is that truth will be hindered and rendered impossible by the lack of any transparency over what has happened, both at the time and subsequently. Let it be said, however, that the claim of tragedy and loss does not need a specific number to be valid.

The Latest from Iran (10 July): What Next?

NEW Iran Video: Mr Ahmadinejad and His Wonderful, Brightly-Coloured Charts
NEW Iran: Protest Through "The Rooftop Project"
NEW Iran: How Strong is the G8 Statement on the Nuclear Programme?
NEW Getting Iran (Loudly) Wrong: Posturing for Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Hitchens
NEW Iran: How Big Were the 18 Tir Protests?
The Latest from Iran (18 Tir/9 July): Day of Reckoning?
LATEST Video: The 18 Tir Protests (9 July)

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2155 GMT: Fancy a laugh? Spend a few minutes with President Ahmadinejad as he, and his brightly-coloured charts, propose the reform of the Iranian military back to 331 B.C.

Or, if you prefer a more serious but high-quality end to the evening, check out Al Jazeera's documentary inside the Iranian protests, filled with new footage on the early days of the post-election conflict.

1835 GMT: The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that academic Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested on Thursday night. Tajbakhsh is a specialist in local government reform, urban planning, public health, and social policy who has taught at both American and Iranian universities.

1830 GMT: A new website, "The Rooftop Project", is trying to compile a present a full record of the nightly "Allahu Akhbar" (God is Great) protests from just before the election to the present. We've posted a note and sample footage in a separate entry.

1810 GMT: A lull in developments inside Iran, so EA's Ali Yenidunya has looked at developments elsewhere, "It’s not the statement of the G8 Summit [on the Iranian nuclear programme] that poses the questions over future relations with Iran. Those are in the post-summit positions now being considered in Washington and Paris, not to mention Moscow and Beijing.

1510 GMT: And Your Latest New Media Advance. A reader alerts us to the launch of "".

1500 GMT: Foreign Intrigue Story of the Day. Fars News Agency says a BBC recording studio was discovered in one of Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign offices.

1420 GMT: Here's Your Concession? Press TV summarises Ayatollah Kashani's address at Friday prayers. It does not begin with "foreign enemies", the news is Kashani's assertion that "a parliamentary revision of the presidential election law is needed to prevent post-vote unrest in the future".

Press TV implies, however, that Kashani was not giving way to "Green" critics of the Mousavi-Karroubi-Khatami hue; instead, it refers to "Tehran's mayor, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf,...the first to propose the revision of the electoral code of conduct in Iran".

1220 GMT: Friday prayers at the University of Tehran were led, as had been rumoured earlier this week, by Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani. We're still trying to get information on the content of the address.

1145 GMT: We've been mired in the reading of some very dubious analysis of Iran. To "celebrate" the occasion, I've posted a separate blog, "Getting Iran (Loudly) Wrong".

1100 GMT: Collateral Damage. Reports that the British Embassy in Tehran has not issued any visas since 28 June. Those affected include entrants into British universities this autumn.

1045 GMT: A reader offers another valuable link, Sabz Films, for videos to add to our own collection.

1000 GMT: The Ups and Downs of Iran-Watching. The excellent Juan Cole both misses and hits this morning.

The "miss" is his too-easy recitation of the Associated Press overview of the 18 Tir protests, which repeat (and may have launched) the unsupported figure of 2000-3000 protesters. (To be fair, Cole does note, "What AP does not say on is that numerous small demonstrations are reported to have taken place all over the country, including in the southwestern city of Shiraz and elsewhere.")

His big hits are a good collection of videos and this story, which I have not seen elsewhere, from the US Government's Open Source Center:
Alef and Peiknet noted on 8 July that there is no information on the whereabouts of . . .[Shahaboddin] Metaji, head of Tehran Refinery. He was arrested several days ago and taken to an unknown location.

Metaji's colleagues, according to the report, said he was arrested because his family was chanting "Allah-O-Akbar" (God is Great) on the roof of their homes as a sign of protest to last month's presidential election results. His employees reportedly said: "The officials are trying to create fear among us, but that will not help. Our chanting has not stopped and will not stop.

In one of his visits, (Iranian President Mahmud) Ahmadinezhad told one of the oil officials to use big tankers instead of barrels when exporting petroleum. The employees couldn't believe how uninformed he is. The employees of the oil industry are angry because hundreds of small and big energy projects are now suspended, and now the employees are counting the seconds to exit this crisis. The structure of the oil industry is very much against Ahmadinezhad.

0800 GMT: The information from "citizen journalists" has been compiled in a new "underground" newspaper, which is well above ground on the Internet.

0720 GMT: After a near-shutdown of video out of Iran in the last two weeks, we were overwhelmed yesterday by the claimed footage of the 18 Tir protests. We've put up a selection of the best footage, but for even more coverage, we recommend the YouTube channel of "peive17" and Fintan Dunne.

0645 GMT: #BBCFail? The BBC, the target of the Iranian Government for its foreign evil after the election, faces a new set of critics this morning. Opposition activists are questioning why BBC Persian gave so little coverage to the demonstrations yesterday.

Can't confirm that lack of content; however, the BBC's main website hasn't bothered to update its Iran story since 1700 GMT yesterday and, like CNN, offers the bland headline, "Iran police tear gas protesters".

0530 GMT: It may seem callous to say this, after the success of the 18 Tir protests on Thursday (see our final updates), but the opposition challenge already faces the challenge of "And Now?".

Unless all the reports and videos are lies, the turnout in Tehran was far bigger than the "hundreds" declared initially by news agencies like Reuters. It was a question of where you looked: if eyes stared at the centre of Enqelab (Revolution) Square (or if they worked for Iran's Press TV), they saw an effective lockdown by security forces, with only a scattering of demonstrators being prevented from assembling. If the gaze widened, however, there were protests in squares, avenues, and roads across the city.

The size of gatherings outside Tehran is unknown, however (at present, I have seen only one claimed video, a small protest in Rasht that we posted, and reports are sketchy and unconfirmed), and defenders of the regime will argue that those who showed up in the capital are not representative of Iran's majority.News outlets like CNN have missed the political significance of the challenge, focusing inside on "Iranian forces disperse protesters with batons, tear gas". So, fairly or unfairly, the challenge will now fall on the politicians and clerics: what moves do they make to sustain the momentum of yesterday?

The mirror-image question can be put to the Iranian Government. It will be hard to deny that, in Tehran at least, there is still an opposition movement of some significance. So matters have not been closed off by the Guardian Council's "recount" of the Presidential vote, the threats of tough action from ayatollahs close to the Supreme Leader and commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, and certainly not the latest speech of President Ahmadinejad.

A possible response may come at Friday prayers at Tehran University. We're still waiting for confirmation of the leader, but let's just say that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani (rumoured to have withdrawn his name) will not fill the required role of a firm speech that all has been resolved.

The Iran Crisis (Day 22): What to Watch For Today

The Latest from Iran (3 July): The Long Haul?
NEW Iran: The Statement of “The Mourning Mothers of Iran”
NEW A Song for Iran? “Free My Land”

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IRAN RALLY1It now appears that the challenge in Iran has moved into a new phase. There will still be daily demonstrations, but they will be "indirect" in their opposition to the Government. Instead of posing questions over the election or the legimitacy of President Ahmadinejad and the Iranian system, they will commemorate the dead and highlight the plight of detainees. Direct, mass challenges will need several days, possibly weeks in planning.

So every day the relatives and supporters of the detained will gather in front of Evin Prison, and tomorrow mothers of "martyrs" will again try to pay their respects in Laleh Park. Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign will offer guidance for symbolic protest on his Facebook page. There will be periodic statements by the opposition leaders.

A clue to the next mass gathering has emerged this morning on a website giving the routes for a march in Tehran next Thursday, 9 July. Nine different rallies will converge on Enqelab (Revolution) Square.

And how is the regime feeling about the current state of affairs? An important clue comes today at Friday prayers at Tehran University. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Leader used the occasion to confront the opposition and to block possible political manoeuvres by key politicians like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Last week Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami issued his warning that protest would be met by the heavy hands of Iranian security forces and the judiciary.

If the Ayatollah leading prayers today is low-key and makes no direct references to the opposition movement or the foreign threat, then the regime thinks that not only that the worst has passed but that it is unlikely to recur. If, however, the enemy appears, then there is still uncertainty and concern amongst the Iranian leadership.

Iran: The Post-Election Challenge from Qom's Clerics 

Iran: The “Ghaffari Tape” Criticising the Supreme Leader
The Latest from Iran (1 July): The Opposition Regroups

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QOMIn the furour over the Presidential election, the most intriguing political contest may have taken place, behind the street scenes, in Iran's religious centre, south of Tehran in the dusty city of Qom.

Within 72 hours of the 12 June vote, the clerics of Qom's seminaries had taken their place on the political stage. Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to mobilise them for a public challenge to President Ahmadinejad's victory. That initial attempt failed; indeed it is a key reasons why Rafsanjani then kept a careful silence before an equally careful, "balanced" return to public life with his speech last Sunday. There would be no mass movement of the religious leadership behind any campaign. Instead, factions already aligned to particular political movements would reassert their positions. The Association of Combatant Clerics would ally itself with the efforts of former President Mohammad Khatami and, thus, Mir Hossein Mousavi; Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, prominent on the Guardian Council, would bolster Ahmadinejad's position.

As the public demonstrations against the election swell, some Western media noted the possible significance of Qom, indeed over-dramatising a possible "split" in the Iranian system; conversely, as the public challenge has been contained, notions of a clerical challenge receded. That, too, is a mistake: the debate not only over the election but over the guardianship of Iran's Islamic Revolution continues.

While there still has been no significant show of support for the President (note Press TV's slightly strained attempt this morning, via an interview with a clerical member of Parliament, to say, "No one is talking about the election anymore), opposition has emerged in scattered but sometimes dramatic ways. The criticism of Ayatollah Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, was to be expected; the current regime, led by Montazeri's replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, still keeps the cleric under house arrest. He is not alone, however. Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani has claimed that the Iranian system is moving away from Khomeini's path and thoughts. Ayatollam Mousavi-Ardebili has criticised violence against the protestors and said recent events have weakened Iran's political and religious institutions. Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli has expressed displeasure. Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi and Ayatollah Sane’i have made gentler interventions, and Ayatollah Haeri-Shirazi has written a careful but still challenging letter to the Supreme Leader. There are reports of "secret" meetings between Ayatollahs to consider developments and longer-term prospects.

The most dramatic challenge has come in a statement by Ayatollah Hadi Ghaffari on Ayatollah Khamenei. The leaked
audio on YouTube
has created a stir with Ghaffari's criticism of the Supreme Leader's post-election conduct: Khamenei has ruined the honour of clerics with his handling of the political situation. (First reports said that Ghaffari had gone as far as to insult Khamenei as a "corpse-washer".) The ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution are not being defended but destroyed.

None of this points to a Qom-led coup against President Ahmadinejad and, more importantly, Khamenei. On the other hand, these concerns are part of a much wider, more significant story of years past and years to come.

The Western caricature of Iran is that of a "theocracy" in which the "mullahs" hold power, working with secular politicians. That misconception misses the reality that a large section of Iran's clerical establishment are no friends of Ahmadinejad, whose policies and pronouncements have been seen as a challenge to the Iran envisaged by Ayatollah Khomeini. Indeed, it is not even accurate to speak on a unified clerical movement behind the Supreme Leader, whose selection in 1989 was a surprise to many --- given his relative junior status --- and has been seen as a triumph of politicians (ironically, given recent events, as part of manoeuvres by Hashemi Rafsanjani for authority) rather than a religious succession.

No surprise then that another video has supposedly resurfaced, this one of Ayatollah Montazeri considering the Iranian system of clerical authority, Velayat-e-Faqih, as he criticises Ayatollah Khameini. The text is clear: religion's true and proper place in the growth of the Islamic Republic has become "politicised" and thus corrupted.

And that is why the Presidential vote has a lasting significance, whatever happens in the near future with the demonstrations. Those ballot boxes are a symbol of the wider corruption that Montazeri claimed was undermining the Revolution. And, long after they have been put away, their symbolism --- whatever actually happened on 12 June --- remains.

As pne of our correspondents noted, after a lengthy glance at Qom last week, "This is not over."