Friday, 26 June 2009

Iran: still no credible evidence of Mousavi poll win

As elsewhere, a week's a long time in Iranian politics. Declared polling irregularities aside, we've still to see any conclusive proof that the Iranian authorities rigged the entire 11 million votes separating Ahmadinejad from Mousavi and the other competing candidates.

What we've been assailed by, instead, is endless speculative assumptions about another make-believe 'colour revolution', with the liberal media, as ever, leading the charge.

Consistently absent in most of these 'pro-democracy' accounts is the fact that much of Iranian society both supports internal political reforms while rejecting external interference.

Thus, in a debate over the NAF pre-election poll, we hear
reiteration from one of its authors, Ken Ballen, that the desire for fundamental reform of the electoral system was also highly evident (86%) among Ahmadinejad supporters. Which helps illuminate some of the more nuanced truths about Iranian disaffection for the state and affection for Ahmadinejad. All too typically, those intent on undermining Iran have been content to blur these differing issues.

There's also more sober comments from Flynt Leverett here on the "wishful thinking" of the West. In short, he notes, the Iranian Islamic Republic is not, contrary to Western liberal hopes, a system on the brink of collapse.

Neither, one week on, do we have any credible challenge to the analysis offered by James Petras on the great electoral hoax.

Still, what of those election results?

Robert Fisk's asute commentary - alas, still-laden with non-Western demons - has little time for Ahmadinejad or the Iranian elite. He sees fraudulent activity. But also the reality of Amhadinejad's majority support:
"So let's take a look at those Iranian elections. A fraud, we believe. And I have the darkest doubts about those election figures which gave Mousavi a paltry 33.75 per cent of the vote. Indeed, I and a few Iranian friends calculated that if the government's polling-night statistics were correct, the Iranian election committee would have had to have counted five million votes in just two hours. But our coverage of this poll has been deeply flawed. Most visiting Western journalists stay in hotels in the wealthy, north Tehran suburbs, where tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters live, where it's easy to find educated translators who love Mousavi, where interviewees speak fluent English and readily denounce the spiritual and cultural and social stagnation of Iran's – let us speak frankly – semi-dictatorship.

But few news organisations have the facilities or the time or the money to travel around this 659,278 square-mile country – seven times the size of Britain – and interview even the tiniest fraction of its 71 million people. When I visited the slums of south Tehran on Friday, for example, I found that the number of Ahmadinejad supporters grew as Mousavi's support dribbled away. And I wondered whether, across the huge cities and vast deserts of Iran, a similar phenomenon might be discovered. A Channel 4 television crew, to its great credit, went down to Isfahan and the villages around that beautiful city and came back with a suspicion – unprovable, of course, anecdotal, but real – that Ahmadinejad just might have won the election.

This is also my suspicion: that Ahmadinejad might have scraped in, but not with the huge majority he was awarded."
Which pretty much accords with other useful speculations on what a fully fair poll would have shown and understandings, even from conservative analysts, of an electorate long used to such manipulations.

Unfortunately, much of the left seems to have joined the sabre-rattling liberals and outright neocons in hyping up this set of irregularities. Even the usually reliable ZNet appears to have fallen obligingly into line, with David Petersen decrying much of it's current output on Iran as "pathetic fare".

It's a touch ironic that rebuttals of the mass cheating claims, and confirmation of US skulduggery, are coming more readily from conservative corners, as in this summation from Paul Craig Roberts, Reagan's Assistant Treasury Secretary:
"Commentators are "explaining" the Iran elections based on their own illusions, delusions, emotions, and vested interests. Whether or not the poll results predicting Ahmadinejad's win are sound, there is, so far, no evidence beyond surmise that the election was stolen. However, there are credible reports that the CIA has been working for two years to destabilize the Iranian government."
While maintaining an intuitive solidarity for ordinary Iranians struggling to build a more accountable and equitable society, it's disturbing to witness so many liberal-left observers embrace, implicity or explicitly, the agenda-setting message of Ahmadinejad as a 'hardliner'.

Hardliner? Should it need repeating that the US has invaded and murdered over a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan? To my understanding, Ahmadinejad and Iran have engaged in no such hardline activities. The Iranian president is also denounced as "hardline" for calling Israel a racist state, while Obama's 'softline' approach, lacking in meaningful action, permits the deepening of that oppression.

The point is not about supporting Ahmadinejad. It's about seeing the reasons behind the depiction of him as a crazed zealot.

The 'hardline' tag is employed in similar assumed ways here by left-liberal analyst Juan Cole:
"By 2005, the hard liners had rolled back all the reforms and the reform camp was sullen and defeated. They did not come out in large numbers for the reformist candidate, Karoubi, who only got 17 percent of the vote. They nevertheless were able to force a run-off between hard line populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative billionaire. Ahmadinejad won."
It's worth noting here that Rafsanjani is actually a corrupt businessman, while Mousavi is a neoliberal advocate with a not-so-moderate past record on political freedoms - facts that Ahmadinejad used to positive advantage during the TV poll debates.

Again, while there's an obvious rift and struggle within the Iranian hierarchy, this doesn't necessarily translate into an overall collapse of faith in the system. This was evidenced by the diminishing number of protesters on the streets after Supreme Leader Khamenei's speech calling for people to stay at home and for the poll result to be respected. The reading here seems to be that, public concerns and reformist desires aside, most Iranians don't share the kind of benevolent destabilisation the liberal West is wishing upon their country.

Which, again, begs the question: why are so many on the more 'critical' left, so taken-in by these liberal/right demonisations? Part of the reason is their antithesis towards the Iranian theocratic system. Which is largely understandable given the brutal repression of leftist forces during and after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Yet, that legitimate wish for a progressive secular democracy seems to have blinded many here, firstly to the more nuanced social and political dimensions of Iranian society, and, secondly, to the darker liberal-right demonisation taking place.

Meanwhile, a monetary prize is now on offer to anyone who can provide "a coherent story for how the Iranian election was stolen."


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