Monday, June 15, 2009

A Second Revolution?

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

Since Friday’s tumultuous election, Iran has seen more protest and political opposition than it has witnessed in a decade. With international media attention drawn to the Islamic Republic, the accounts of what is happening on the ground are pretty well drawn out. The one unanswered question which still remains however is what the implications of this election are. Is it possible that the growing progressive movement has finally come to fruition, or is this simply an issue which will be effectively put down by the clerical regime?

Roughly two hours after the closing of the polls, President Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with an overwhelming majority of the votes. Almost immediately his opponent Moussavi accused the government of rigging the election, and the rallies of support for each candidate turned into protests against the results. Three days later, these riots are continuing with fervor in Tehran and across the country. Earlier today, Supreme Leader Khamenei made an about-face on his original position and called for an investigation into vote rigging. Why this decision was made is unclear, although mounting international pressure may have had as much to do with it as domestic dissent.

Whether or not the government manipulated the election is blatant; in a fair election most regimes do not feel the need to shut down communications and the internet, or for that matter place the main political opponent under house arrest. Additionally, polls show that Ahmadinejad won with 8 million more votes than he gained in 2005 and claimed victory in the hometowns of his opponents, despite the major economic downturn under his watch.

What happens next? It makes little difference as to what the results of the Ayatollah’s 10-day investigation will be. If Ahmadinejad is allowed to stay in power (legitimately or otherwise) then the protests will continue and international pressure will increase. If Moussavi is given the presidency by default then his supporters will be appeased, but his power will only go as far as the Ayatollah and the ruling clerics allow. What really matters in this election is not the outcome, but the movement.

What exactly are Moussavi’s supporters rioting against? Ahmadinejad’s victory serves as an effective scapegoat, but what is really being questioned is the fundamentalist regime that he represents. While some protestors scream “give us our votes”, others scream “give us our country”. While Moussavi’s victory would allow for the pursuit of diplomacy between Iran and the United States, what really matters is that the catalyst has been tripped for a real social movement in Iran. Most Iranians have no intention or desire to start a new revolution, and only ask for fairness in their government. With the protests continuing and the world watching, this may finally be a possibility.