Monday, June 15, 2009


"Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.

There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand — but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran.

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with about two-thirds of the vote. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned. A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different....

It also misses a crucial point: Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn’t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.

First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization — whether from the shah or Mousavi — as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.

Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs — who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this — have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.

Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don’t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war — something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war.

Perhaps the greatest factor in Ahmadinejad’s favor is that Mousavi spoke for the better districts of Tehran — something akin to running a U.S. presidential election as a spokesman for Georgetown and the Lower East Side. Such a base will get you hammered, and Mousavi got hammered. Fraud or not, Ahmadinejad won and he won significantly. That he won is not the mystery; the mystery is why others thought he wouldn’t win.

For a time on Friday, it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad’s security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal".

George Friedman, "Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality," 15 June 2009, in

"In recent years, the global democratic revolution has threatened to run out of steam. Russia has slipped backwards towards authoritarianism and China has made the case for a new form of enlightened one-party rule. The chaos that followed the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has threatened to discredit the whole case for democratisation.

Some conservative realists have argued that it is, in any case, a mistake to promote democracy in the Middle East, since Islamists are liable to win power and impose illiberal regimes. The joke has been that it would be “one man, one vote, one time”. The best response to this has always been that Islamism is only likely to lose its popular allure when Muslim fundamentalists are allowed to govern – and prove themselves to be incompetent, oppressive and corrupt.

That cycle is now playing itself out in Iran. Even if Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and his cohorts succeed in clinging on to power, their claim to represent a popular Islamic revolution is now in shreds.

In the meantime, how should the outside world react to Iran’s stolen election? The Obama administration has already been criticised for what some conservatives regard as an excessively mild and cautious response to events in Iran.

But heavy-handed intervention by the west would be mistaken at this stage. The Iranian regime has three possible sources of domestic legitimacy: popular support, economic success or an external threat. The economy is doing badly and the stolen election has wrecked the idea that this is a government that rests on a broad popular mandate.

That leaves the possibility that the regime will use the bogeyman of foreign intervention to rally patriotic support and to crack down even harder on the opposition. There is a history of western meddling in Iranian politics – for example the US-backed coup of 1953, acknowledged by President Barack Obama in his recent speech in Cairo. So an appeal by the regime to rally all patriotic Iranians against foreign intervention might resonate.

The crucial lesson of the long wave of democratisation that has rolled round the world since 1979 is that democratic revolutions ultimately succeed for almost entirely domestic reasons. Occasionally, outsiders can influence events. The Russian decision not to intervene in 1989 was obviously crucial to the success of the democratic revolutions in central Europe. America’s decision to spirit away Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 clinched the “people power” revolution in the Philippines.

But these were client regimes. In most cases, democratic revolutions have been driven overwhelmingly by “people power” at home – usually followed by a loss of nerve or cracks in the ruling regime. This might yet happen in Iran.

It is still possible that the country will have a successful “Green” revolution to match the Orange and Rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. But the sad truth is that all the outside world can do, for the moment, is offer rhetorical support for Iranian democrats, watch, wait and hope".

Gideon Rachman, "Democracy could still win in Iran," 15 June, 2009 in

According to both Reuters and Agence France-Presse, the protests in the streets of Teheran and other Persian cities are the largest and the most widespread in the last thirty years, aka since the fall of the Shah (see: & What does the well-educated layman, someone like myself who, while somewhat knowledgeable about modern Persian history, does not speak, understand or write Farsi, nor have any familial ties to the place, make of the events of the last few days? Until yesterday, I would no doubt have strongly endorsed the thinking behind Dr. Friedman's article in today's Meaning that: a) Ahmadinejad while unpopular in urban Persia, does enjoy x amount of support in la Persia Profonde; b) that regardless of whether or not a majority of the population, especially in urban areas are behind the challenger, Mr. Mousavi or not, the 'deep Persian state' apparatus would ensure that the incumbent would win. Up to this morning, that was my own opinion of the matter, and, that any protests against the stealing of the election (and contra to Dr. Friedman, va sans doute: it was most definitely a stolen election), would be squashed, `a la the student protests of the 1999-2002 period, without too much difficulty by the regime. However, based upon what was seen today, I am no longer so sure of the matter. Of course, like the 'conservative realists', referred to by Gideon Rachman, I am for the most part, highly skeptical about the possibilities of anything resembling Western forms of governance and pluralism emerging in Persia, or for that matter in the rest of the Near and Middle East. However as a historian, I must also acknowledge that there are times, when what the late, great, Fernand Braudel once characterized as 'mere events', les eventments, can quite suddenly without much in the way of preparation or even a proper prelude, assume the poll position in the march of time. This is particularly the case, when as in the current instance, those making the running are urban groupings: students, educated professionals, and a small portion of the ruling elite itself. Notwithstanding their smaller portion of the population, the fact of the matter is that 'revolutions', are more often than not, made in urban settings, usually by urban, 'middle class' sections of the population. If nothing else, that may means that the sparks of a true upheveal are already present in Persia.Fate - Fatum has a strange and both infuriating and refreshing way of always surprising us bystanders of mankind.


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