Friday, June 26, 2009

Events on the ground and the status of Iran

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

As the situation in Iran continues to intensify, divisions have become deeper not only between the hard-line Islamists and protestors, but also between different members of the Clerical elite and other ruling factions. As the situation continues to escalate and the number of dead and injured continues to rise, there is growing international attention and concern about not just outcomes for the Iranian people, but also future implications for the entire Middle East and global community. With foreign governments (including the United States) becoming more and more involved in this uprising, the stakes will continue to increase exponentially.

Despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s repeated statements that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the victor in a fair election, evidence continues to pour in that states otherwise. In addition to the hushed discrepancies which have been picked up by most outside observers and news agencies, new evidence is now coming out directly from the top. Iran’s senior election panel has disclosed that in roughly fifty cities the number of votes cast exceeded the number of voters in the area. Although this fact is a major admission on the part of the government, it does not necessarily imply illegality due to the fractured nature of Iranian voting laws (Iranian citizens can vote in places other than where they are registered). However, the final election outcome still rests in the hands of the Ayatollah and the Guardian Council, and a final results announcement is to be made early next week. Judging by their recent statements, there is no reason to believe that the Council will acknowledge any degree of election fraud.

Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s opposition to the election results has seemingly become more revolutionary with the government’s crackdown on demonstrations. It is widely agreed upon that Mousavi has no intention of sparking an uprising or bringing down the government. However, he has started to openly defy Khomenei’s call for an end to protest. Mousavi has appeared at several rallies calling for a continuation of the demonstrations and maintains that the election was stolen from him. He is supported by government elite and fellow former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani is also the head of the Assembly of Experts, a government council with the power to overthrow the Supreme Leader (although a political move that radical is extremely unlikely). Perhaps for this reason Rafsanjani has been under increased pressure from the Guardian Council and security forces, which culminated with the brief arrest of his daughter and several relatives last weekend. It is likely that if Mousavi continues along the same course of action he too will be subject to legal ramifications, which may or may not help his cause.

One aspect which has been recently brought into the open is the status of the Basij, the pro-Khamenei militia which has been carrying out most of the violence against demonstrators. The connections between this group and the government have become more apparent as events continue to unfold. Historically tied to the Revolutionary Guard but not directly associated with any authority, the Basij have been able to aggressively carry out the will of the Guardian Council and Supreme Leader without any accountability. For this reason, much of the violence has been undertaken without ramification or investigation. This makes the situation even more difficult for the U.S. when trying to negotiate an end to hostilities.

What has come as a result of the increasing violence is much greater international attention toward Iran. Although many nations (including the U.S.) have refrained from becoming involved in the actual electoral fallout, they have called on the government to end its brutal responses to protestors. Even Russia, which congratulated Ahmadinejad on his election victory early on, issued a statement condemning the violence. Government elites in Iran are becoming more and more isolated as international pressure grows.

For the most part, the evenhanded approach which the United States has been taking has been applauded by both domestic citizens and foreign powers. President Obama has made it clear that this election is an issue which must be worked out by Iranians themselves, and yet has also been fervent in his condemnation of suppression and police brutality. The worst possible thing that America can do is give authenticity to Khamenei’s claims of “Western meddling” in the post-election process. So far, this administration has been successful in establishing itself as an outside observer. However, it will be necessary to wait until the Guardian Council’s decision is made before deciding what our future foreign policy should be.