Protests in Iran
Not Just About Stolen Votes
Since the June 12 elections declaring incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, large scale violence not seen for a decade has erupted in cities throughout
Calling the election results a “dangerous charade,” Musavi also submitted an official formal request to the Guardian Council on June 14 to protest against the results. While victory for Ahmadinejad was not ruled out throughout the election, the overwhelming margin of almost 30% between the two major candidates prompted widespread suspicion and uproar among Iranians, asserting that both the voting and counting process were manipulated by the conservative Iranian government. While initially issuing a categorical rejection of the claims of the opposition leader and ordering the defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid “provocative” behaviour, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on June 15 that he had ordered an investigation into accusations of vote-rigging and manipulation that had given Ahmadinejad a landslide victory.
Signs of a Stolen Election
Crafting a populist role, Ahmadinejad went on long travels through
Popular allegations of ballot fraud in the elections are based on a number of inconsistencies and signs of irregularities around the results.
Unlikely support bases: Election officials claim Ahmadinejad won the city of
Implausible numbers: The official votes for Karroubi are around 320,000, placing him after Rezaie who – despite polling indications of extremely low popularity – allegedly received twice as many votes as Karroubi. His supporters are challenging the results, pointing to Karroubi's 17% voter support in the first round of the 2005 presidential elections, and the projected increase in the June 12 elections given Karroubi's increased public engagement and support.
Unbelievable speed of ballot count: While Iranian elections are notoriously unpredictable and it is entirely possible that Iranians in other areas of major cities could have voted for Ahmadinejad, the speed of the ballot count along with the alleged high voter turnout bring the results into question. Election officials declared Ahmadinejad's victory barely an hour after the closing of the polling stations drawing widespread suspicion of government interference.
The above allegations along with claims of misplaced votes, manipulated ballots with missing national identification numbers rendering them invalid, leaked claims from unnamed interior ministry sources that false numbers were fed into the electoral software program, and statements by election officials announcing the results were prepared before the count on election night, all contribute to popular calls for an investigation.
Voices on the Iranian Streets
Since the announcement of the election results, violent clashes between state police and demonstrators protesting alleged fraud in the elections have occurred in several parts of the capital
With the start of the mass demonstrations by opposition supporters, Iranian state police began arresting over 100 reformist figures and blocked public access to a host of online social networking sites such as Facebook, Friend Feed, Twitter, and YouTube, along with news sites, and cellphone and SMS service in parts of Iran. However, despite state attempts to limit the transfer of information and block communication channels, Iranians are finding alternative ways of organizing demonstrations online.
Video footage and pictures distributed online reveal the intensity of the clashes during the demonstrations, with riot police and undercover government vigilantes using tear gas, driving motorcycles and sporadically shooting into the protesting crowds which consist of mostly urban Iranians and students. Hundreds of cases of stabbings and immense beatings are reported which, in addition to countless injuries, have resulted in a number of deaths in Tehran alone so far, but rumoured to be over 100 in the country as a whole. For regularly updated video footage and pictures, visit here.
After intense street protests on June 14, government-sponsored paramilitary vigilantes entered
The sophistication of the voices on the Iranian streets are revealed in the chants and tactics of the opposition protesters. Refraining from direct mentioning of corrupt leaders, the demonstrators refer to “the dictator,” “the liars,” and “the thieves” to condemn the election results, actions of government officials, and the continued brutality of the Iranian state. In
Independent footage from protesters also show cases where pro-government forces on motorcycles attack the marching crowds who, after being violently dispersed and beaten with batons, re-organize and charge the mobile police to reclaim the streets. After capturing and disarming the officers and setting fire to their motorcycles as a symbol of resistance against state violence, some of the protesters move the officers away from the justifiably angry crowds in an apparent attempt to protect them from harm, and maintain the moral and politically peaceful nature of the opposition movement and the demonstrations. Further, seeking to assert the reformist nature of the protests and gain supporters in the state police, it is reported that protesters were instructed by opposition websites to bring flowers in the coming days followed by the chant “brothers in the armed forces, why do you kill your brothers?” (baradare arteshi, chera baradar koshi?).
All in all, the above chants and methods of organizing reveal that the diverse and massive public protests in
Standing in Solidarity with the Struggle of the Iranian People
Individuals and groups in solidarity with the Iranian people should take note of the historical and political context of these protests. The socio-political problems facing the Iranian people will not be quelled with the declared election victory of either Ahmadinejad or Musavi. On the domestic front, both candidates have records of human rights abuses in their personal and political careers, both are extensions of the political establishment in
As for international relations, both are willing to engage with the new American administration so long as the meeting is held without preconditions. And no doubt, President Obama will sit with either candidate (and Europe will follow suit) given the realization that stability in the
As important is the realization that these protests are not a call for foreign intervention. Nor are they a call for increased economic and political strangulation of the Iranian state and people. Attempts, for example, by Canadian MPs to pressure and alienate
Whether this is a revolutionary movement – and of what kind – is hotly debated, particularly among Iranians. The scenes and chants remind many activists of the political atmosphere in
Shourideh Molavi is a student at