Friday, June 19, 2009

Iran Election: Rush to Kneejerk Support of Opposition Unwise

Since the recent Iranian elections, most people here in America, and I’m assuming all across the west as far as I know – now that I live in the States, I don’t always get news of what’s going on elsewhere as much as I used to, and I don’t switch onto the Beeb as much as I should - including all of the news channels and every single anchor without exception have been hailing the demonstration marches as a noble fight for Democracy against a tyrannical and dictatorial ruler in Ahmadinejad. I would certainly caution against this kneejerk reaction, even though I seem to be in the huge minority, along, with President Obama apparently, who cautioned that a Mir-Hossein Mousavi Administration may not represent the turnaround that most people have jumped to the conclusion that it would be. Bob Baer, a former CIA operative in the Middle East, in his article in Time on Thursday June 18th, Don't Forget Mousavi's Bloody Past pointed out that Mousavi was the Iranian Prime Minister from 1981 – 1989, and alleges that he, Mousavi, bears the blood of Americans on his hands. Not that the CIA is my go to for the truth, but it is worthwhile to note that there are dissenting voices on the faultlessness of Mousavi.
I am a fire breathing liberal, and a huge Obama supporter, for which reason, I liked the idea of an Ahmadinejad loss in the recent Iranian elections, particularly given that the storyline that was developing was that his loss would be translated as a win for Obama’s softly softly approach toward Iran and as an endorsement by the Iranian people (whom conservatives like to proclaim they have no quarrel with – even as they support sanctions that would weaken the Iranian economy wreaking havoc to those very Iranian people’s lives) of his extension of an open hand of friendship and open dialogue. Alas, the election did not go as I had hoped, against the slim odds that Mir-Hossein Mousavi might have toppled Ahmadinejad.
Slim odds, in my opinion, because as all news media admitted in the lead up to the election, the close polls that were coming out of Iran were questionable, at best, and even if they had been accurate, the best case scenario would have suggested that the election would turn on turnout, and would have gone to whomever would succeed in getting out their supporters. I would argue that in fact it is quite likely that the polls would have unduly skewed toward the opposition, given that the opposition’s support was centered in the urban areas, and among the young and educated elites within the country, who would have access to telephones and other telecommunications technology and hence may very well have been over-polled. This would suggest to me that in fact the polls showing Mousavi running almost even with Ahmadinejad could not be relied on as an indication of national sentiment right across Iran. Ahmadinejad according to all media reports enjoyed greater support from the majority of the rural population, who have benefitted hugely from his policies. Those people live outside Tehran, do not Tweet, and possibly have little reason to take to the streets, particularly given that their man got back in office.
Whatever you think of Iran, and its system of government, Ahmadinejad was elected democratically four years ago, and has ruled in accordance with a relatively free, fair and democratic Iranian system, which contrary to popular belief is actually one where dissent takes place in relative openness and without crackdowns as most would prefer to believe. That the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is an unelected official and the true Iranian Head of State is certainly a situation that is suspect in mine, as well as in the eyes of many, but then again, I can’t believe the United Kingdom, the other country whose nationality I hold, has a Monarch as the official Head of Sate. Furthermore, the Supreme Leader was installed as a result of the Theocracy that followed the Iranian Revolution that ousted the Shah of Iran, who btw, had been installed by the United States interfering with and ousting the democratically elected Iranian government of the time in 1953. With regard to the British Monarchy, I am personally super offended that my taxes go to support a whole family and their cousins and aunts and uncles, who also happen to be the world’s wealthiest welfare dependents, but that’s just me.
So, with that out of the way, the idea that this election was not free and fair is not a foregone conclusion. The fact that the demonstrators are fighting a dictator is not necessarily one that is borne out by all the facts. That they are demonstrating against a leader they did not vote for and whom they do not like is certainly clear. That the elections were rigged is certainly not clear either. Therefore, to continue to encourage the Iranian people to demonstrate against the election is not necessarily responsible. Senator Saxby Chambliss of GA, went on Chris Mathews declaring that the election was stolen and calling on President Obama to call it as such. This is hugely irresponsible, and is not backed by any facts whatsoever. President Obama, as usual is ahead of most everyone else, and has struck exactly the right tone on the question of the Iranian elections. As he pointed out, not only is there no guarantee that Mousavi would be dramatically different, but there really is nothing to suggest that Mousavi won, other than that his supporters are certainly very passionate, and clearly do not accept that Ahmadinejad won. Surely if Ahmadinejad was the tyrannical dictator that it has been suggested he was, I can’t imagine that we would have seen the relative calm surrounding the demonstrations that we have seen, notwithstanding the eight deaths that were reportedly caused by Ahmadinejad’s supporters, and not by official government personnel. Many news reports have admitted that it is not clear that Mousavi won, and in fact, the only extent to which many have gone was to argue that Ahmadinejad could not have won by the margins that it is claimed he won. I argue that in fact it is highly credible that he did win by larger than expected margins, given the heavy skew in favor of the opposition, that I believe the polls would have had, and given a possible higher turnout among the rural vote that supports Ahmadinejad than the urban (more visible, more tweetable) vote. We in the west had absolutely no opportunity whatsoever to gage the rural support for Ahmadinejad, and furthermore, given that they may not have even viewed President Obama’s extension of friendship, may not have necessarily cared for greater engagement with the west, and hence may well not have cared for a change of government.
I come from Kenya, and during the recent turmoil that followed the disputed elections of December 2007, I saw similar kneejerk reactions in the west in support of the opposition, calling for President Kibaki who had won in a closely contested election, to back down and or negotiate to end the impasse. What most in the west were not privy to, was that the opposition were in fact a murderous bunch of thugs who killed over a thousand government supporters and tried to ethnically cleanse the government supporting members of the Kikuyu tribe from opposition strongholds, leading to hundreds of thousands displaced form their homes and ending up as internally displaced people, who to this day remain displaced, over two years later! It was not convenient to report this particularly given that the opposition was seen as more pro-western, which in fact they were. It is not that the Kenyan government is anti-western, but in fact the reality is that the opposition was far more malleable towards western manipulation, with the opposition leader, Raila Odinga having close ties to the CIA, and having enjoyed the support of American business backers, who stood to gain from greater exploitation of Kenya in a Raila administration. In that election, just like in the Iranian, there was no clear evidence that the incumbent had not indeed won, but furthermore, there was evidence that the opposition had been less than honest and transparent in their strongholds, having started their murderous rampage on the eve of the election, killing security personnel who had been sent to man polling stations within the strongholds of the opposition in Western and Nyanza provinces. The US and Britain were impatient with President Kibaki, I believe who had refused all western aid, having succeeded in turning Kenya into a self dependent economy that was growing at a 7% rate annually and running purely on tax revenues. One example of his refusal to play ball was when he refused George Bush’s “so called” aid for HIV AIDS programs, which came with the strings attached of having to spend the money on US patented drugs, which cost so much more than generics that Kenya could have obtained from India and Brazil.
It is therefore with such examples that I tread the free Iran bandwagon with great care, knowing that I do not understand enough about internal Iranian politics to jump to the conclusion that a) Iran is not Democratic and that b) that Mousavi won the last election. As far as I can see, there are demonstrations against an election result that a good number of Iranians, quite possibly almost half of the population disagree with. Can you even begin to imagine if the nearly half of the American electorate that voted for Senator McCain had refused to accept the election results last year, and decided to take to the streets? That would be seriously huge numbers and would certainly produce the same results as what we are seeing in Iran. Granted that is a distant possibility, but take for example, Gore vs. Bush in 2000. That election was even closer, and was disputed and remains disputed to this day. That is one situation where demonstrations could have taken place, and indeed did take place. But can you imagine what it would have looked like if masses of Democrats had felt strongly enough to come out for big demonstrations. I certainly think that people actually did feel strongly enough and would have come out en masse if Gore had encouraged it. He did not.
Moussavi has been encouraging the demonstrations, and so has the western media in their one sided coverage. I am just not convinced that the western view will be borne out by the facts on this occasion. I support the right of the Iranian people to demonstrate in peace, without the fear of violence or retribution, but this seems to be the case right now. I support the right of the Iranian people to demand exactly what sort of government they want to see, and indeed to question their election results if they do not feel that they were fair and transparent enough. I will however, not jump on the bandwagon of jumping to the conclusion that this half, if that, of the Iranian population is the only true point of view. I also wholeheartedly agree with President Obama’s decision to sit this one out, and I believe that time will prove him right to have done so very soon, and I sincerely hope that he does not cave to the right’s demands to throw himself any further into the melee.

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