Monthly Archives: June 2009

Keeping up-to-date with Iran protests

I do not have the time and resources to follow the many developments in Iran. Fortunately, others do! I recommend the following three live bloggers (even though much of their material is hearsay, rumors and unconfirmed reports, they are doing a great job):

niacINsight

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish

Nico Pintey at Huffington Post

Twitter has become one of the most important sources for information right now. Search #IranElections.

Many Iranian websites – both oppositional and pro-government (including, on and off, Fars, Press TV, Balatarin, and Tehran Bureau) – are down due to DoS attacks from both sides; pro-reformist journalists are constantly arrested and sites closed, but more often than not, they are freed and sites opened again after short time.

I will bring a list of good analyses later today…

Reactions to yesterday’s event in Iran

There are so many interesting analyses out there, but here’s a handful to get started with:

Tehran Bureau: ‘Another coup for the Hardliners’ and ‘Faulty Election Data’ (UPDATE: The statistical evidence of the TehBureau article is questioned here)
Abbas Djavadi: ‘An Electoral Coup in Iran
ISN: ‘Iran: Ahmadinejad’s Palace Coup
Ali Akbar Dareini, Anna Johnson: ‘Iranian Election Results: Ahmadinejad Declared Winner
Blake Hounshell: ‘Game over in Iran?
Juan Cole: ‘Stealing the Iranian Elections
TIME/CNN: ‘Protests Greet Ahmadinejad Win in Iran: “It’s not possible!”

Furthermore, I recommend niacINsight where they are liveblogging on reactions to yesterday’s political event in Iran. Here, you can read about following reports and rumors: Khatami’s brother has been arrested together with many other leading figures of the reformist wing; leading politicians and clerics going to Qom to deliberate with Sources of Emulation; Rafsanjani to resign? etc etc…

UPDATE:

There are now many reports – most of them verified – of a huge clampdown on reformists: Mohammad-Reza Khatami (the former president’s brother), Zahra Eshraqi (wife of Mohammad-Reza and Khomeini’s granddaughter), Mohsen Mirdamadi, Zahra Mojaradi, Saed Shariati, Zohre Aghajari, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, Mostafa Tajzadeh, Behzad Nabavi, Taqi Rahmani, Emad Bahavar, Mohsen Aminzadeh, Ahmad Zeidabadi … practically all prominent reformists have been arrested. UPDATE: Farda denies that Aminzadeh and Tajzadeh have been arrested.

It has also been reported that Karubi, Musavi and Gholam-Hosein Karbaschi are in house arrest; UPDATE: however, Karubi has just spoken in Tehran, allegedly. UPDATE: Musavi is not under house arrest, according to Newsweek article (see below), but deliberating with Rafsanjani.

There have been clashes between protesters and security forces throughout Iran and in many universities. The mobile phone network is closed, internet speed is extremely low, access to main internet sites such Facebook and Youtube is closed, etc. etc.

I recommend following articles:

Tehran Bureau: ‘Widespread Clashes in Tehran

Gary Sick: ‘Iran’s Political Coup‘ (highly recommended reading)

Brian Ulrich: ‘Rise of the Military

MideastAnalysis: ‘What Happened in Iran?’

Maziar Bahari / Newsweek: ‘“It’s a Coup d’État!”

… and that’s it for today! Apparently, Ahmadinejad’s supporters are going to rally and celebrate tomorrow at Tehran’s giant Mosalla mosque. Musavi (who is not, after all, under house arrest – it seems!) has called for his supporters to show up at his headquarters at 12:30 Tehran time.

UPDATE 2, Sunday:

Rafsanjani’s resignation was nothing more than a rumor, his son has stated; Mohammad-Reza Khatami, Mohsen Mir-Damadi, Behzad Nabavi and Sa‘id Shari‘ati have either been released or never arrested; and Musavi or Karubi are not under house arrest. Whether all these rumors are spread by those in power or by the reformists themselves is hard to say. Nonetheless, there seems to be quite a few reformists and ‘religious nationalists’ (melli-mazhhabi) still behind bars.

Ahmadinejad likens the unrest to a football match – and we can expect massive rallies in favor of the president today.

Iranian Presidential Elections 2009

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

With so many interesting developments in Iran right now, I will try and update this post every time I come across news, headlines and blog entries I find interesting. The elections on Friday for the Presidency of the Islamic Republic has finally heated up and the net is buzzing with interesting stuff.

Last update: Sat, June 13

As everyone is probably aware now, Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been announced the winner of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections by authorities. The ‘landslide victory’ sees Ahmadinejad winning 62.63% of over 40 million votes. The reformist-endorsed frontrunner, Musavi, gained 33.75%, Mohsen Rezai 1.73% and Mehdi Karubi 0.85%. Iran’s Supreme Leader has hailed the ‘record turnout’ of more than 80% of the eligible voters. Ahmadinejad has announced that he will speak to the people tonight.

The Interior Ministry has rejected all ‘rumors’ of fraud and has stated that it is willing to give the candidates a chance to recount all the votes.

However, Musavi and Karubi maintains that there has been widespread manipulation. Karubi has released a statement in which he states that fraud has been of such ‘ridiculous and unbelievable’ dimensions, that it is impossible to speak of. He stated that the election had been ‘engineered’ and rigged, and that he will not stay silent. ‘This is only the beginning of the story’, Karubi announced.

Musavi has called the elections for ‘a great game’ rigged in advance, and expressed his protest with ‘clear and numerous violations on the day of election’. He has stated that he ‘will not surrender’ to this dangerous scenario. Musavi promised that he will ‘reveal the secrets behind this process’ and calls on his ‘green wave’ to continue the fight against ‘traitors’. At the same time, he called on his supporters not to act ‘blindly’.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad-supporters took to the streets in many Iranian cities last night and today to celebrate the victory in a ‘national festival’.

The pro-Ahmadinejad website RajaNews has described the elections as Ahmadinejad’s victory over Rafsanjani. Fars has reported that Khatami, Musavi and Karubi visited Rafsanjani today for an emergency meeting. There can be no doubt that Ahmadinejad’s supporters see their victory as a crushing defeat of Rafsanjani, his family and his allies.

However, there are also numerous reports of protests in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities. Opposition websites, talking of a ‘coup d’état’, report fighting between protesters and anti-riot forces (pictures here and here). BBC has brought a film clip from Tehran today and there are several other similar amateur footage of what appears to be large crowds protesting the results (here and here)

Ahmadinejad-supporters state that ‘riots and unrest’ is ‘planned’ by a ‘control center’ of reformist politicians such as Mohsen Aminzadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh. RajaNews claims that these politicians are commanding ‘rascals and scoundrels’ to create street riots in Tehran.

It is often stated that Iranian politics is full of surprises – this is certainly an understatement today.

There are and will be hundreds of different analyses and views appearing the next couple of days; however, I will not be able to do the same moment-for-moment update, I have done the last couple of days. I will certainly try to post a round-up of links later tonight. I recommend those interested to visit some of the sites mentioned in Blogroll.

Update 23: Fri, June 12

State-run media: Ahmadinejad wins with large margin

Iranian Students News Agency has announced that 30% of the ballots have been counted, and that Ahmadinejad leads with 68%, followed by Musavi with 28%. These ballots seem to be from the countryside.

UPDATE 1: IRINN has just announced 67% to Ahmadinejad, 30% to Musavi.

UPDATE 2: ISNA has announced: 66% to Ahmadinejad, 31% to Musavi, 1% to Mohsen Reza‘i and 0.8% to Mehdi Karubi. This is based on more than 21 million votes.

Update 22: Fri, June 12

Musavi AND Ahmadinejad announced as winner – and other news

Mir-Hossein Musavi has announced himself the certain winner of the elections.

IRNA, the state-run news agency, has announced Ahmadinejad the winner with a large majority of the votes.

Tehran’s governor has announced that any political gathering tonight is illegal.

Pro-reformist news agency Khordâd-e now alleges that Tehran’s public prosecutor has threatened to shut down the publishing houses of those newspapers who will print Musavi’s victory in tomorrow’s newspapers.

The first official statistics is from North Korea where 15 Iranians voted. Ahmadinejad won.

Update 21: Fri, June 12

Voting ends

The Interior Minister of Iran has announced that voting ends at 22 PM (in five minutes). This command seems to be in contradiction with earlier announcements that province governors were allowed to keep voting stations open until the last voter…

‘Attack’ on Musavi offices etc. – More reports of fraud

A violent attack on Musavi’s headquarters in Qeytariyeh, Tehran, has been reported by pro-Musavi web sites. Furthermore, pro-Musavi websites report of widespread vote fraud and manipulation in Esfahan.

Update 20: Fri, June 12

Election time prolonged

Iranian TV has just announced that the Interior Minister has allowed the provincial governors to keep voting stations upon until the last voter has cast his/her vote.

UPDATE: A spokesman for the Guardians Council has announced that there will be printed more ballots.

Update 19: Fri, June 12

Historic turnout – Rumors of fraud – Early predictions

By all accounts – state-run media, oppositional web sites, eye witness accounts and Western journalists’ reports – there has been a historic turnout for today’s elections in Iran. There are many unverified rumors of fraud and manipulation from inside and outside Iran. There are also reports of overcrowded voting stations and a lack (!) of ballot papers.

As far as I can gather (my connection to IRINN is down now), voting stations are due to close right now (9 PM Tehran time). On pro-Musavi websites, commentators have already announced a historic victory for Musavi, even breaking a 30 million vote record. I haven’t yet seen Ahmadinejad-supporters announce a victor, not even on Raja News (as could have been expected).

UPDATE: The semi-official pro-Ahmadinejad news agency Fars has announced that ‘a justice-seeking candidate’ has won win 60% of the votes.

Update 18: Fri, June 12

Voting time prolonged

The time for voting has been prolonged until 8 PM (yes; I have noticed that it is now 8 PM in Iran – but TV has not announced that voting has ended yet…). 20 million ballots have been cast so far, according to Guardians Council via IRNA.

UPDATE: State television has just announced that voting will continue for one more hour (until 9 PM Tehran time).

Update 17: Fri, June 12

Police forces: Show of power under way in Tehran

IRNA reports that a spokesman of the Niru-ye entezâmi police force has just announced a major maneuver in Tehran’s squares. This ‘Power Maneuver’ is aimed at securing ‘order’ until all votes have been counted. He added that so far, there had been no signs of unrest.

Update 16: Fri, June 12

‘Attacks’ on reformist websites – ‘Fraud’ in expatriate elections

Amir Kabir University Newsletter, autnews.us, reports a ‘new wave of filtering’ against critical websites such as that of the ‘1 Million Signature Campaign for Womens Rights’, the pro-reformist Âyandeh News, the pro-Karubi Tribun and the pro-Musavi Nowruz. There are still rumors of the text message system being closed down.

The are also several reports/rumors of ‘fraud’ at voting stations for Iranians in Germany, Dubai and Malaysia. I still haven’t had time to read the ‘reports’ in detail.

Update 15: Fri, June 12

Candidates vote – and other news

Mir-Hosein Musavi: “Until the end of voting, we will all stay awake (/alert)”

Mohsen Rezai: “After the elections, fraternity and serious cooperations must be established” (Source: Tabnak).

Mehdi Karubi: “These elections are exceptional” (Source: IRNA).

It seems as if text messaging services have been shut down in many places (or at least by some companies). Pro-Rafsanjani website: ‘Ahmadinejad’s government has closed SMS text message services’ (Source: Aftab). According to ILNA, Musavi has demanded the services be opened again.

It seems that controversial Grand Ayatollah Montazeri will leave his semi-official home arrest to vote, for the first time in twenty years, today. He has apparently stated he will vote for Karubi. UPDATE: Apparently, Montazeri’s son, Hojjatoleslam Ahmad Montazeri, has rejected rumors that the dissident cleric is voting for Karubi.

When Rafsanjani had cast his vote: ‘There is no better trust than the vote of the people’.

The election committee: Any kind of political gathering is forbidden until the results of the elections has been announced (Source: IRNA).

Ayatollah Jennati, after casting his vote: “The Guardians Council will execute its supervision duty with force and power” (Source: ISNA).

(Pro-Ahmadinejad) Fars News: Participation in villages will pass 90% (source: Fars).

Update 14: Fri, June 12

Khamene‘i votes – Revolutionary Guard warns

Khamene‘i has just cast his vote and held a short speech. I only caught some of it on a poor online TV connection from Iran, but as far as I gathered he warned against lies being distributed by SMS.

Update: Khamene‘i: “Hopefully the best candidate will  be elected”; “Some elements may try to create tensions”; rejects rumors that he has answered Rafsanjani’s letter.

The Revolutionary Guards have released a strong-worded communique. Without directly referring to Musavi’s letter to Khamene‘i (see below), the letter is clearly aimed at Musavi, whom the Guard has ‘reserved its right’ to complain over. The Guards strongly reject this candidate (Musavi)’s claim that Basij and Revolutionary Guards will interfere illegally in the elections as ‘baseless accusations’. The Guards claimed that they had tried to overlook ‘wicked actions’ in the past, but that the latest actions were too much to disregard. The Guards were particularly annoyed with Musavi’s claim that there is a developing split between the commanders and the ‘healthy body’ of Basijis and Guards (Source: Fars News).

Update 13: Thur, June 11

Quiet before the storm?

In Iran, it seems like quiet before the storm (as Robert Dreyfus describes here). No campaigning was allowed on this the latest day before elections. Maybe now is a good time to remember that even though the election frenzy has been of historic proportions this week, nothing is certain. Even though overconfident supporters on both sides have prematurely claimed a massive victory, there is still good reason to believe that the two main candidates will have to enter a second round.

Ahmadinejad is still the hero of many millions of Iranians, and he is supported by significant forces across Iran. Musavi has only recently become the front figure of what is often described as the ‘reformists’, but as I have written earlier, he does not define himself as a reformist – at least not in the Khatamian sense.

If voters do turn out, as expected by most observers, in huge numbers – and if there is no serious unrest or overt military intervention – there will certainly be one winner: the Islamic Republic of Iran, once again endowed with legitimacy through public participation.

Update 12: Thur, June 11

Musavi’s letter to Khamene‘i – Fears of unrest

Musavi has written a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In the letter, he asks the Leader to intervene to assure that no official bodies manipulate the elections. Musavi writes that the recent election frenzy shows that there will be a massive turnout for the elections, which will strengthen national unity and give Iran international respect. Nonetheless, Musavi warns, some ‘official institutions are not welcoming this pure, popular movement’.

As examples he enumerates: 1) Members of the Guardian Council and election supervisors have openly supported Ahmadinejad; 2) Interior Ministry has violated and interfered in Musavi’s right to station his own representatives at certain polling stations; 3) There is evidence of intereference by some Basij and Revolutionary Guard personnel; 4) The current president has used government facilities and resources in his campaigning and tours around Iran. Musavi finally calls on Khamenei to use his powers to ensure that officials and election supervisors stay neutral.

Furthermore, the internet is full of rumors. It is of course impossible to keep track of them and to verify them, so I will only deal with them briefly:

From the ‘reformist’/anti-Ahmadinejad coalition, there are reports/rumors of secret plans for widespread Basij/Revolutionary Guard interference in the elections and the possibility of a military coup d’etat. Musavi’s own election headquarters have issued another letter, in which Musavi warns of planned attempts to create unrest and riots in order to destroy the ‘reformists” image. Another rumor states that Ahmadinejad will be ‘assassinated’ in order to create an emergency situation in which the president’s supporters can take over.

From the Ahmadinejad front, there are reports/rumors of plans to use a Musavi defeat as pretext for launching a Western-backed ‘velvet revolution’. The pro-Ahmadinejad Raja News reports that after Rafsanjani’s letter, Musavi-supporters are violently attacking Ahmadinejad-supporters and normal people. There is a sense on hard line and pro-Ahmadinejad weblogs that foreign powers are planning to take over Iran through Musavi; and that Ahmadinejad’s victory will be a ‘final’ answer to Rafsanjani. Indeed, the elections are now often described as a showdown between Khamenei/Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani/Musavi.

No matter what, there will be massive security measures for tomorrow’s elections. The security head of the elections has announced there will be 20,000 security force members in Tehran alone, and Shahâb News has reported that 22 army helicopters will assist across the country.

Update 11: Thur, June 11

Abbas Palizdar apologizes to Rafsanjani

Palizdar – who became known last year when he spoke at an Iranian university as a representative of Ahmadinejad’s government and accused a wide range of high-ranking clerics for mafia-like corruption, and who was then imprisoned and sentenced – has allegedly written an apology to Rafsanjani.

This is of course hard to verify, but several websites have reported on the letter. Apparently, the letter was first published on the website of Mehdi Khaz‘ali, allegedly Palizdar’s close friend. In the letter, Palizdar takes back his accusations against Rafsanjani, claiming that Rafsanjani’s family was not even in the files he was investigating for fraud and corruption. ‘I mentioned [Rafsanjani’s corruption] without any documentation, based on unconfirmed hearsay from those close to Ahmadinejad’, Palizdar writes. ‘Therefore, I apologize to His Highness with this letter’.

Update 10: Wed, June 10

Ahmadinejad defends himself on TV, claims opponents rely on ‘Zionist’ statistics

Iranian state-run media gave Ahmadinejad 20 minutes of live TV to ‘defend himself against accusations’ tonight. He stated that not only himself, but all of Iran has been insulted by his opponents. Ahmadinejad defended himself against his opponents’ main slogan: that Ahmadinejad is a liar. He stated that he is courageous and never afraid. He repeated all his main statistic ‘evidence’, showing colorful charts, rhetorically asking ‘is this a lie, is that a lie?’, finally concluding that ‘no, they are not lies’.

He argued that, just like Imam Ali, it is his duty to expose anyone who has taken from the public treasury (read: Rafsanjani). Ahmadinejad also defended himself against his critics’ outrage with his attempt to question Musavi’s wife’s academic credentials by saying that this is not a personal matter of the Musavi family.

Instead, Ahmadinejad stated that his opponents had manipulated his words in videos circulating in Iran. He stated that his opponents had used statistics from Transparency International to prove that corruption has gone up in Iran; but that Transparency International bases its surveys on ‘Zionist’ companies. He blasted his opponents for ‘hitting the nation in the head’ with information obtained from ‘four Zionist companies’. Indeed, Ahmadinejad declared himself the ‘flag-bearer of the fight against corruption’.

Ahmadinejad said that his opponents knew they had already lost the elections, and he called on people to maintain their calm. He apologized that he didn’t have time to visit all provinces, and thanked everyone. He finished with a poem by medieval poet Hafez:

Gar bovad ‘omr be meykhâne resam bâr degar – bejoz az khedmate rendân nakonam kâre degar

(something along the lines of: ‘If my life permits me to return to that wine-house again / I will not do anything else but serve the astute’ [sorry for uninspiring translation!]). And then, Ahmadinejad finished with: ‘Be proud, my nation. Wa‘s-salâm w ‘aleykom wa rahmatollâh’.

Update 9: Wed, June 10

Violence in Shiraz

It is reported on Twitter and on reformist websites that ‘plain-clothed’ supporters of Ahmadinejad have violently attacked a pro-Musavi rally. The pro-reformist web site mowj.ir has reported that police does not try to prevent these attacks. Allegedly, around ten people have been wounded and the offices of the Campaign of Support for Khatami and Musavi have been raided. The web site claims that 3,000 Ahmadinejad supporters who waited for Ahmadinejad at a sports stadium tonight had gone into the streets to fight Musavi-supporters when they heard Ahmadinejad had cancelled his appearance at the stadium.

Some pictures of female pro-Musavi supporters in Shiraz can be seen here.

Update 8: Wed, June 10

Ahmadinejad ‘fleeing’ university

This video allegedly shows Ahmadinejad leaving Sharif Technological University’s mosque in great haste as pro-Musavi students shout ‘Liar! Liar’ and ‘Ahmadi, bye bye!’.

Update 7: Wed, June 10

Rafsanjani meets with Khamene‘i

The pro-Rafsanjani news website Âftâb claims that Rafsanjani had a meeting with Iran’s Leader last night after his historic letter against Ahmadinejad appeared. The website did not describe what happened but quoted an ‘informed source’ that Rafsanjani had expressed his ‘complete satisfaction’ with the meeting that had been ‘constructive’.

Update 6: Wed, June 10

Some interesting headlines from Iranian media this morning

Âftâb News (pro-Rafsanjani): ‘Musavi will win in first round’ (note: This news agency has announced that an ‘opinion poll’ by ‘a university group’ last week showed that Musavi will win with 54% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections on Friday).

Irân (pro-Ahmadinejad daily): ‘The president, before a magnificent gathering of people in Mazandaran: The country is not in danger – the interests of those who speak the language of power is in danger’ (link). (Note: This is one of Ahmadinejad’s responses to Rafsanjani’s letter).

IRNA (state news agency): ‘Ahmadinejad: “The revolution is strengthened with the punishment of those who rob the public treasury”‘ (link). (Note: this is another response to the letter).

E‘temâd (pro-reformist daily): ‘A reformist tsunami in the streets of Tehran’ (link).

Jomhuri-ye Eslâmi (often pro-Rafsanjani daily): ‘Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi: “Candidates and their supporters should not make statements that can threaten the whole system [of the Islamic Republic] or Islam”‘ (link).

Kayhân (state-run daily, seen as Khamene‘i’s mouthpiece): ‘This warning is serious: The last scenario act of the extremists [i.e. Musavi and Karubi supporters]: Unrest after defeat’ (link). (Note: it is alleged that Musavi/Karubi-supporters have realized they will be defeated by Ahmadinejad, and are now planning widespread riots and unrest).

Raja News Agency (pro-Ahmadinejad): ‘Ayatollah [Mohammad] Yazdi in response to Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s letter: “By God’s grace, the country has a Leader [Khamene‘i] who is like the Imam [Khomeini]” – “Those who provoke unrest and riots are either traitors or ignorants”‘ (link). (Note: In short, this prominent cleric states that he does not see any of those great dangers Rafsanjani has alluded to in his letter).

Update 5: Wed, June 10

Pictures from Khatami’s pro-Musavi rally in Mashhad

More pictures here.

Update 4: Tue, June 9

Special air time for Ahmadinejad

Even though the debate series between the candidates is over, Sedâ-va-Simâ (the state-run TV & Radio) has decided to give the current president an additional 45 minutes of live air time tomorrow (Wednesday). Âyande News claims that Ahmadinejad actually stayed behind in the studio after his heated debate with Mohsen Reza‘i yesterday to record his own ‘one-man debate’.

Update 3: Tue, June 9

Yâs-e no daily once again suspended

This afternoon, the reformist daily Yâs-e no was suspended. The daily, which is allegedly privately funded, has been closed several times before. It has recently been supportive of Mir-Hosein Musavi, and its latest front page before it was closed today (less than 72 hours before the elections) carried a picture of Musavi with his arms in the air and a huge headline stating ‘We are winning’.

Update 2: Tue, June 9

Clear support for Ahmadinejad

State-owned and Leader-controlled daily Kayhân‘s front page today further testifies the support Ahmadinejad is receiving from high up. The headline speaks of ‘the nation’s unprecedented, million-man tsunami’ in support of the president.

Kayhan 'Tsunami'

Update 1: Tue, June 9

Historic letter from Rafsanjani to Khamene‘i

In a strong-worded letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene‘i, former president and powerful cleric Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani has demanded an inquiry into ‘accusations’ and ‘insults’ against leading figures in the Islamic Republic.

Rafsanjani is referring to Ahmadinejad’s recent spate of allegations against Rafsanjani, Nateq Nuri and other prominent clerics. The current president has accused Rafsanjani and his family for acting like a mafia and for supporting Musavi in his attempt to remove Ahmadinejad from power. Rafsanjani has written that Ahmadinejad’s accusations are also aimed at the Leader himself and at Imam Khomeini. He has also written that Ahmadinejad’s statement are ‘full of wrong claims’ and ‘pure lies’; and that popular outrage with ‘existing conditions’ is now being displayed on the ‘squares, streets and universities’.

This is a very interesting development. It is normally assumed that the Leader indirectly supports Ahmadinejad and this seems like an attempt to ‘warn’ Khamene‘i of Ahmadinejad’s power that can even threaten such high-ranking figures as Rafsanjani – and therefore also, one day, the Leader. Furthermore, there can, with this letter, no longer be any doubt that Rafsanjani is throwing all his weight behind Musavi.

On the other hand, Ahmadinejad can use this letter to prove his ‘conspiracy theory’ that he is actually fighting against ‘three governments’ (that of Musavi, when he was prime minister; and those of Rafsanjani and Khatami, when they were presidents). It may thus also have a reverse effect.

You can read the full text [Persian] here. On the importance of the ‘Rafsanjani Mafia’-theme in Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, read this [English]. UPDATE: TehranBureau has another excellent piece, this time on Rafsanjani’s letter.

Election Frenzy in Iran

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

There have been so many interesting developments up to the Iranian presidential elections that I don’t know where to start. I guess the most important development is the fact that Iran is witnessing an election frenzy not seen in many years. From skeptical forecasts and early pessimistic judgments on the prospects of Ahmadinejad’s opponents, many people – most notably Tehran’s young – have moved to almost ecstatic joy and overly confident expressions of political activism. To Mir-Hosein Musavi’s supporters – and they are clearly growing exponentially in numbers – Ahmadinejad will face a crushing defeat on Friday.

Over the last week, Iranian state TV aired a series of live debates between the four candidates. It is of course disputed who won the debates. Ahmadinejad was, as always, a master speaker and extremely self-confident. Yet his attempts to vilify his opponents were very disgraceful. He even waved an intelligence file of Zahra Rahnavard, Musavi’s wife, in the face of his opponent, claiming she did not have the right credentials for filling her post as university chancellor. In each show, Ahmadineajd threatened to reveal ‘dirty secrets’ and he ridiculed his opponents’ track records. He also implied that Rafsanjani and his mafia-like family is behind Musavi.

Even though they lacked Ahmadinejad’s knack at rhetorical twists, his opponents were sometimes successful in portraying Ahmadinejad as an incompetent manager who manipulates statistics. Musavi even called Ahmadinejad a liar in front of the 40 million viewers.

No matter what, the TV debate series was historical in its own right. And they have helped to intensify the election fervor.

Yesterday, a massive rally allegedly stretched all the way from Meidun Rah-Ahan in southern Tehran to Meidun Tajrish in the north. A ‘Green Human Chain’ of Mir-Hosein Musavi’s supporters walked and drove the 20 km. distance, celebrating what they now see as the end of Ahmadinejad’s period as president.

Most were dressed in green T-shirts, shawls, improvised hats – green being the color of Musavi’s campaign. They were carrying placards, posters and banners clearly condemning Ahmadinejad and ridiculing his recent statements in the debates: ‘A Liar is God’s Enemy’ and ‘2 + 2 = 10’. They carried pictures of Musavi, and in particular, the now famous shot of Musavi holding his wife’s hands – a picture that seems to have had particular positive significance to female voters.

Most strikingly, perhaps, were the many placards that resembled newspaper front pages, reading ‘Ahmadi Raft’ (Ahmadi[nejad] has gone). This placard is made to resemble the historic headline that read ‘Shâh raft, Emâm umad’ (The Shah has gone, the Imam has come), printed during the Islamic Revolution. Another placard, in English, read ‘A New Greeting to the World’. I recommend the following picture series (123) and this video from yesterday’s rally.

At the same time, the rumor bazaar is – surprise, surprise – overloaded. One rumor alleges that Interior Ministry officials, in an open letter, have complained over a fatwa by Ahmadinejad’s mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, which legitimizes election fraud. Read more here.

Another theme is the Ahmadinejad election system’s alleged breakdown. There are rumors that the president’s election offices are closed and that his press secretaries are ‘unavailable’. Ahmadinejad didn’t show up for a major rally today. And his website has been hacked by Musavi supporters.

It is wise to keep in mind that Ahmadinejad is far from defeated. He still has a very strong base among the poor, the Basij and veteran families, in mosque networks and in several provinces. Yet, it is also impossible to rule out that Musavi can win. For the first time, Musavi appears a very serious contender for presidency. No matter the result, Friday will be a historic day for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Lebanese Elections: Outcome and Analysis

by Sune Haugbolle.

Here are my two cents on last Sunday’s Lebanese elections:

Saad al-Hariri’s March 14 coalition of Sunni, Druze and Christian parties retained control of parliament in elections on June 7, winning 71 of 128 seats.

The margin of the win – 68 plus three from associates against 57 for the opposing March 8 coalition – came as a surprise. The result effectively reproduces the parliament of the last four years, condemning Hizbollah and its allies to another electoral period in opposition. The prospect of a continued pro-Western government in Lebanon could aid US attempts to create momentum in regional peace negotiations.

The result
Despite reports from international election observers of widespread vote-buying, Lebanon’s 2009 parliamentary elections were conducted relatively freely, fairly and quietly. Big crowds queued at polling stations for hours, and a sometimes hateful tone emerged in the electoral campaign. Yet heavy security ensured that voting took place without any major violent incidents. The peaceful picture was somewhat marred by gunfights near Tripoli yesterday evening between rival supporters.

Voter turnout surpassed 54%, a record in Lebanese history and 10% higher than the fiercely fought 2005 elections. The number signals a growing popular belief in Lebanon’s democracy since 2005, despite political unrest since the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, contrasting with poor showings at elections in the 1990s and early 2000s when Lebanon was under Syrian tutelage.

The high turnout may also have helped the March 14 coalition clinch a majority in key districts — Beirut I, Batroun, Koura, Besharreh and Tripoli. Elsewhere results were much as expected: March 14 dominated Beirut, the Shuf, most of north Lebanon, Western Bekaa and Zahle. Hizbollah and fellow Shia party Amal made clean sweeps in the south Lebanon districts of Nabatieh, Marjayoun, Hasbaya, Tyre, Bint Jubeil and Zahrani, while former General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) won all seats in the districts of Kesrouan, Byblos, Baabda and Jezzine.

Hizbollah
Hizbollah officials have reacted graciously in defeat. The party won all eleven seats which it contested and can therefore argue that it won the elections even if March 8 did not. It will also feel that the result does not change the status quo. It will therefore insist on a blocking third in a unity government, allowing it to continue to obstruct the passing of legislation if necessary. Furthermore, Hizbollah will continue to make clear that it will not tolerate any questioning of its role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of its weapons arsenal, and the fact that Israel is an enemy state.

As several Lebanese commentators have suggested, the outcome may suit it better than winning a majority, which would have made it the governing party and forced it to produce results. Instead it now retains its well-rehearsed role as the critical oppositional voice, which may explain the rather low-key reception of the result.

Christian battle
For March 8’s other main constituent, Aoun’s FPM, the defeat will generate more soul-searching Aoun lost in key districts to rival Christian leaders from the Phalange and Lebanese Forces parties. This is the second major political defeat to Christian rivals for Aoun, having already lost the presidency to Michel Suleiman last year.

Aoun must face that he has failed to persuade the majority of Lebanon’s Christians with his programme based on anti-corruption, secularism and bridge-building with Lebanon’s Shia parties, amid widespread scepticism about Hizbollah. The defeat could lead to an internal coup in the FPM, whose younger leaders have previously voiced unhappiness with ‘the General’.

Unity government
As leader of the majority party in parliament, Saad al-Hariri will be given the task of leading negotiations for a new government and set the direction of national policy. He will have no other choice than to aim for another all-embracing ‘unity government’, the third since 2005.

The key question is the extent to which March 14 will now use their relatively comfortable majority in negotiations. Hariri has signalled his unwillingness to grant the opposition veto power by giving them one-third of the seats in the new government, reasoning that it will lead to more paralysis of the kind that has stalled political life and lawmaking for long periods since 2005.

Hizbollah and its allies, on the other hand, will make veto power an absolute demand, arguing that the terms of the Doha agreement that resolved the crisis in May 2008 are still valid. Another problem is the post of Prime Minister. Following the successful elections and an electoral campaign which has seen him assume real leadership for the first time, Hariri may feel that now is his moment to seek the premiership. March 8 will likely oppose this, preferring a friendly candidate such as former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, or a more neutral figure like outgoing Premier Fouad Siniora.

These points of disagreement could lead to a drawn-out government formation process. In a worst-case scenario, Lebanon could be without a government for months, increasing the risk of violent clashes, and bringing back the fundamental schisms over which Lebanon’s political life has been log jammed for the last four years, namely Hizbollah’s weapons, support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and whether Lebanon should ally itself with Syria and Iran, or with the West and its Sunni Arab allies.

Regional context
As always in Lebanon, much depends on the regional context. US President Barack Obama’s less confrontational approach and nascent Syrian-Saudi rapprochement may already have contributed to the calmer atmosphere. If the Obama administration’s regional peace efforts gain momentum, and the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria continues, a regional thaw could rub off on Lebanon.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell will be in Beirut on June 14 for talks with Suleiman. A win for Mir Hossein Moussavi in this week’s Iranian elections and renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts could generate further optimism.

Such progress would lessen the mistrust between political parties in Lebanon. Hizbollah could accept Hariri as prime minister and even relinquish the blocking third in exchange for guarantees regarding its weapons. At the same time, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has been moving towards rapprochement with Syria and Hizbollah in recent months, could become a crucial bridging figure. And if all goes well, national defence strategy negotiations aimed at defining a national role for Hizbollah’s weapons could be resumed.

Policy challenges
Suleiman stressed yesterday that a new government must focus on political and administrative reforms. His comments reflected fear that a new unity government could be just as sclerotic as the previous ones. After extended periods of political stalemate in the last four years, Lebanon faces a long list of overdue social and economic policy challenges.

First, there is the electoral law, which was amended last year but is still far from meeting international standards. It requires changes in order to secure a democratic transfer of power in the future.

Then there are overdue reforms of the judiciary, which is needed in order to tackle widespread corruption. And most pressingly, despite Lebanon’s success in riding out the international financial crisis, large sectors of society need to be integrated better in the economy through better education and job creation. Work is also needed to begin to bring down Lebanon’s 42 billion dollar foreign debt. All this will require the immediate attention of the new cabinet.

In conclusion, this election result leaves the balance of parliament unchanged and Lebanon’s underlying problems unaddressed, but has strengthened both the (perception of the) country’s democratic institutions and the legitimacy of the March 14 government. The formation of a unity government is likely to be delayed by fundamental disagreement over foreign policy and national security, but could be aided by any breakthrough in US peace efforts in the region.