x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Week in review - Iranians defy Khamenei

'Increase the capacity for defeat in yourself,' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has advised Iran's defiant protesters while they in turn have continued demonstrating and begun likening him to Chile's General Pinochet. Broad allegations that Iran's elections were rigged have now turned to specific charges that several districts had a turnout of more than 100 per cent. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is claimed to be assessing whether he can win enough votes to oust Khamenei.

On Tuesday as mass demonstrations continued protesting the outcome of Iran's presidential election, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered this advice to a defiant population: "Increase the capacity for defeat in yourself." His words appear to have had little or no effect. Mr Khamenei's entrance into the centre of the crisis triggered by the biggest mass protests since the 1979 revolution seemed to convey two things, Robert Tait said in The Guardian. Firstly, with the Islamic republic facing its biggest internal crisis in its 30-year existence, he, rather than the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is in charge. Secondly, whatever impressions the earlier concession of a partial recount may have given, Khamenei was sticking with Ahmadinejad, whom he insisted on calling "the elected president". "Both issues are critical. Increasingly, for those in rival camps, the contest is no longer about the deeply divisive person of Ahmadinejad, however compelling he might be. "Large segments of the crowds who have gathered to protest against the result see Khamenei rather than Ahmadinejad as their true adversary. "While chants of 'death to the dictator' might be ambiguous in their target, there is no doubt about another popularly-used slogan: 'Seiyed Ali Pinochet, Chile Iran nemishe' (Seiyed Ali Pinochet, Iran won't become Chile)." Allegations that the election results on June 12 were rigged - a charge first made because of the speed with which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was announced - have since been followed by much more specific allegations such as those coming from the centrist Ayandeh website, which stayed neutral during the campaign. They reported that in 26 provinces across Iran voters turned out in exceptional numbers that often exceeded the size of the electorate. "Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141 per cent, the site said, quoting an unnamed 'political expert'. Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132 per cent turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120 per cent," The Guardian reported. "Ayandeh's source said at least 200 polling stations across Iran recorded participation rates of 95 per cent or above. 'This is generally considered scientifically impossible because out of every given cohort of 20 voters, there will be at least one who is either ill, out of the country, has recently died or is unable to participate for some other reasons,' the source said. 'It is also unprecedented in the history of Iran and all other democratic countries.' "The claims are impossible to verify but they are consistent with comments made by a former Iranian interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who said on Tuesday that 70 polling stations returned more completed ballots papers than the number of locally eligible voters." On Tuesday, McClatchy Newspapers reported that Iran's "most senior Islamic cleric threw his weight behind opposition charges that Ahmadinejad's re-election was rigged. " 'No one in their right mind can believe' the official results from Friday's contest, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri said of the landslide victory claimed by Ahmadinejad. Montazeri accused the regime of handling Mousavi's charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers 'in the worst way possible.' " 'A government not respecting people's vote has no religious or political legitimacy,' he declared in comments on his official Web site. 'I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to "sell their religion," and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God.' " Gary Sick, a Middle East analyst at Columbia University in New York made the following observations: "The willingness of the regime simply to ignore reality and fabricate election results without the slightest effort to conceal the fraud represents a historic shift in Iran's Islamic revolution. All previous leaders at least paid lip service to the voice of the Iranian people. This suggests that Iran's leaders are aware of the fact that they have lost credibility in the eyes of many (most?) of their countrymen, so they are dispensing with even the pretense of popular legitimacy in favor of raw power. "The Iranian opposition, which includes some very powerful individuals and institutions, has an agonizing decision to make. If they are intimidated and silenced by the show of force (as they have been in the past), they will lose all credibility in the future with even their most devoted followers. But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure, of which they are participants and beneficiaries." A report by CNN considered whether Iran under Mr Mousavi's leadership would differ much from the present. "Though the 67-year old is credited for successfully navigating the Iranian economy as prime minister during a bloody eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, he also was a hard-liner whom the Economist described as a 'firm radical.' "He, like most Iranians in power, does not believe in the existence of Israel. He defended the taking of hostages at the US Embassy in Iran in 1979, which led to the break in ties between the countries. "He was part of a regime that regularly executed dissidents and backed the fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie. "And as late as April, he opposed suspending the country's nuclear-enrichment program but said it would not be diverted to weapons use. " 'I wouldn't go as far as (call it) a "Velvet Revolution",' Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said of the phrase many are using to describe the rallies in Iran. " 'At the end of the day, Moussavi has been more involved and been there from the very beginning of the revolution in a way that Ahmadinejad never was,' Parsi told CNN Newsroom on Sunday. 'Moussavi was one of the founders of the revolution.'" In an article written for Time magazine, Mr Parsi added: "What's often forgotten amid the genuinely awe-inspiring spectacle of hundreds of thousands of long-suppressed people risking their lives on the streets to demand change is the fact that the political contest playing out in the election is, in fact, among rival factions of the same regime. Ahmadinejad represents a conservative element, backed by the Supreme Leader, that believes the established political class has hijacked the revolution and enriched themselves and is fearful that the faction's more pragmatic inclination toward engagement with the West could lead to a normalization of relations that will "pollute" Iran's culture and weaken the regime. Mousavi is not really a reformer so much as a pragmatic, moderate conservative who has campaigned with the backing of the reform movement because it recognizes that he has a better chance of unseating Ahmadinejad than one of their own would have." As Simon Tisdall noted in The Guardian, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the most influential figures in Iranian politics, dropped out of view after the election. One unconfirmed report said that he had resigned as chairman of the Assembly of Experts and of the Expediency Council, two key government bodies. "More intriguing are similarly unsubstantiated claims that Rafsanjani is in the holy city of Qom, where he once studied and where he has strong links to a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy. Rafsanjani was said to be assessing whether he has sufficient votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to dismiss Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad's chief patron. Under Iran's constitution, only the assembly has the power to do this. "The super-rich Rafsanjani, his family, and his supporters in the reformist Kargozaran party make no bones about helping finance and direct Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign to topple Ahmadinejad, whom they despise. But with Mousavi ostensibly beaten, the developing post-election struggle now pits Rafsanjani against Khamenei rather than the president - who is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the hardline fundamentalism typified by the Supreme Leader. Although he is supposed to stay above the fray, Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad this time, just as in the second round of the 2005 election. "Rafsanjani has made no secret of his belief that foreign and economic policies pursued during the past four years under Khamenei's guidance have seriously damaged the Islamic Republic. His frustrations came to a head last week after Ahmadinejad was allowed to publicly accuse him of corruption. In an angry letter he lambasted Khamenei for failing to uphold the country's dignity. In what was in effect an unprecedented challenge to Khamenei's authority, he implied the Supreme Leader, normally above criticism, was negligent, partial, and possibly involved in plans to steal the election."

pwoodward@thenational.ae