Iran: Moving And Shaking Some More

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 5, 2009

I think that it is safe to say that things are getting even more serious in Iran.

There is, of course, all of the evidence in the world needed to conclude that the reporting of the election results in Iran were utterly fraudulent, and that the election itself was fixed. But in the event that more proof is needed, Mir Hossein Mousavi has compiled that evidence, and has presented it to the public:

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate in last month’s disputed election, released documents Saturday detailing a campaign of alleged fraud by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that assured his reelection, while an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader accused Mousavi of treason.

Hossein Shariatmadari, a special adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Mousavi of being a “foreign agent” working for the United States and a member of a “fifth column” determined to topple Iran’s Islamic system of governance. The accusation of treason was the highest and most direct issued by an Iranian official since the June 12 election.

Many in Iran say that government forces are laying the groundwork for arresting Mousavi, who has not been seen in public in more than a week.

In a 24-page document posted on his Web site, Mousavi’s special committee studying election fraud accused influential Ahmadinejad supporters of handing out cash bonuses and food, increasing wages, printing millions of extra ballots and other acts in the run-up to the vote.

The committee, whose members were appointed by Mousavi, said the state did everything in its power to get Ahmadinejad reelected, including using military forces and government planes to support his campaign.

[. . .]

The report released by Mousavi pointed out that the Interior Ministry, which counted the votes, is headed by Sadegh Mahsouli, a longtime friend of Ahmadinejad. The secretary of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, had publicly supported Ahmadinejad, as had six others on the 12-member council despite a law requiring them to remain impartial, according to the report.

“The law here was completely broken,” said Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a top Mousavi campaign official. “What these documents prove is that the two entities that organized the elections were biased and in favor of one candidate.”

Mousavi and his supporters say that commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps played an instrumental role in the election by campaigning for Ahmadinejad. The report pointed to interviews with Guard Corps publications in which commanders allegedly implied that they would not accept victory by any candidate except Ahmadinejad.

It should come as no surprise that this compilation of evidence has discomfited the hardliners in Iran, who are now accusing Mousavi of “treason,” as the Washington Post reports. But despite the calumnies launched Mousavi’s way, his charges have achieved resonance.

A great deal of resonance, in fact:

The most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

The announcement came on a day when Mr. Moussavi released documents detailing a campaign of fraud by the current president’s supporters, and as a close associate of the supreme leader called Mr. Moussavi and former President Mohammad Khatami “foreign agents,” saying they should be treated as criminals.

The documents, published on Mr. Moussavi’s Web site, accused supporters of the president of printing more than 20 million extra ballots before the vote and handing out cash bonuses to voters.

Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent, leaving many to wonder when, or if, the nation’s most senior religious leaders would jump into the controversy that has posed the most significant challenge to the country’s leadership since the Islamic Revolution.

With its statement Saturday, the association of clerics — formed under the leadership of the revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — came down squarely on the side of the reform movement.

More from the BBC:

A group of clerics in Iran has called Iran’s presidential vote invalid, contradicting official results.

The pro-reform group’s statement pits it against the top legislative body, which last week formally endorsed the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The pro-reform clerics group said in a statement that the top legislative body, the Guardian Council, no longer had the right “to judge in this case.”

In a statement to the press, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers said some members of the Guardian Council had “lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public.”

“How can one accept the legitimacy of the election just because the Guardian Council says so? Can one say that the government born out of the infringements is a legitimate one,” it said.

There is nothing necessarily “pro-reform” about the clerics’ groups. But there can be no doubt that as a consequence of the regime’s overreach, the group has taken a pro-reform stance. How could it do otherwise, in light of the facts?

The decision by the clerics is a devastating one for the hardliners to have to take. There appears to be little to no chance that the group can be suppressed as the street demonstrators were, with force dealt to them by thugs. If such an attempt were made, it would make the regime look illegitimate in the eyes of even more Iranians. Abbas Milani, quoted above, is quite right to note that there is a serious split amongst the members of the clergy. It may be too early to call the regime “doomed.” But there can be little doubt that the regime is now in exceedingly serious trouble. And in light of the trouble the regime is in, one wonders why the Obama Administration was/is so eager to negotiate with Khamene’i, when it could perhaps wait for change to take effect in Iran, and get a better deal by negotiating with Khamene’i's potential successors.

So much for the claim that Iranians don’t want “outside interference” in their country:

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi called on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday to appoint a personal envoy to investigate human rights abuses in Iran.

In a letter also signed by the rights groups International Federation for Human Rights and the Iranian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Ebadi asked Ban to appoint the envoy to look into abuses in Iran following June’s disputed presidential election.

A spokesman for Ban said the letter had been received by his office. Ban currently is on a trip to Myanmar in a bid to get the military junta there to release all political prisoners and prepare for credible elections next year.

The letter said Ebadi, a human rights lawyer, had made the request to Ban directly in a telephone conversation on June 23, eleven days after Iran’s election. The United Nations at the time disclosed the conversation but did not mention the request for a human rights envoy.

Give people like Ebadi credit; she knows what she wants. Would that our own government show us that it has some idea of what it wants, but when it comes to demonstrating an understanding of what is happening on the ground in Iran, and giving voice to American interests, the Obama Administration remains painfully incoherent. Read the transcript of a Q&A with State Department spokesman Ian Kelly here, and tell me how anyone can make heads or tails of it.

To be sure, there can be such a thing as too much outside interference, and that means that an Israeli strike that unifies Iran against the reformists and against the outside world, would be a very bad thing right about now. I certainly understand and appreciate Israeli security interests, which are entirely legitimate, but the Israelis must understand–and I believe they do–that a military strike right now will only serve to undermine those interests in the long term. It’s a good thing that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff understands the need for restraint on the military front. Too bad the Vice President doesn’t.

Despite the severe press restrictions in effect in Iran, outfits like the BBC Persian Service are working to make a difference. That they are doing so while at the same time reporting the facts on the ground in Iran with admirable accuracy says something about the degree to which good reporting and a just outcome in Iran go hand-in-hand. Fareed Zakaria is also admirably on top of the situation:

The situation is fluid. The challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, and the former president, Khatami, are still criticizing the government for stealing the election.

That is an extraordinary level of dissent at the highest levels of the establishment. But the most likely outcome remains that for now, the regime will be able to reassert order.

But it has become a naked dictatorship, losing the facade of the Islamic and democratic political ideals that are important to it.

Which, of course, means that the regime may not be able to maintain order for very long.

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