18 June 2009 Edition

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International: Iran

Missing Votes, Money and Mullahs

Although the situation remains remarkably fluid it seems unlikely that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will, in the weeks and months ahead, retain the same authority and power he has gained in Iran over the years.
He may well retain his office – although even that is uncertain – but his authority has been both undermined and diminished by events since the June 12 election.
Certainly, President Ahmadinejad and his mentors – most notably Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameni, the country’s Supreme Leader since 1989 – have been playing to stereotype for those who will still demonise the country and use recent events to irrefutably ‘prove’ that Iran remains at the heart of the ‘axis of evil’.
There’s the ‘Bomb Iran Brigade’ (BIB). Remember them? They haven’t gone away, you know. They included some famous names in their ranks: failed US presidential candidate John McCain thought the idea so funny he sang about it; the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece entitled The Case for Bombing Iran; prominent democrat and former vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman supported the argument, while Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and a failed presidential candidate favoured a first-strike (nuclear) attack on Iran. And that was just in the US. The BIB enjoyed a global membership, particularly on the Israeli right and among their many supporters in Europe.
Doubtless, those selfsame individuals are now – from the safety and comfort of their armchairs – the loudest, most vocal and most vociferous advocates for the ‘democratic will of the Iranian people’, cheering on the same people they previously believed had no right to live.
There have been some muted claims – primarily from the US Right – that discern the outlines of a grand, US-backed conspiracy designed to bring down Ahmadinejad and his allies. Undoubtedly, there is US involvement in the country – but Washington lacks either the means or the capacity to put millions onto the Iranian streets.

Perhaps closer to the truth is that this is more akin to western liberal wish fulfilment, of the sort that romanticises and reminisces endlessly about the gentle, colour-coded, user-friendly revolutions of Eastern Europe’s yesteryear: Ukraine’s Orange and Gerorgia’s Rose Revolution being obvious examples. Both of them are now mired in tyranny and corruption.
Certainly western media coverage in advance of the June 12 election was cartoonish in its representation of events, with Mir Hossein Mousavi depicted almost as an Iranian Obama locked in mortal combat with the baddie Ahmadinejad.
And the audience is aware that the latter is the man who threatened to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ (he didn’t), called for its elimination (same again) and was bent on fashioning his own nuclear arsenal to rival that of.....Pakistan, India, North Korea, perhaps even Israel itself.
 But what is clear is that the official Iranian version of the presidential election has been contradicted, queried and questioned so frequently and from so many quarters that it no longer has credibility. Ahmadinejad is popular and has a political base, but no estimate ever put it as close to 63 percent of the voting public, nor saw him winning in areas where his support was traditionally low, such as the home province of his rival Mousavi.
And the concession by the Guardian Council – to recount some votes – merely served to legitimise the protestors doubts. Even more damning was the Council’s subsequent statement that recount or not, the result would stand.
As one Iranian commentator has noted: in the stolen US presidential elections of 2000, they at least had the decency to engage in a pretence of a “legalistic looking, convoluted process.” In Iran, they stole it “up front and honestly.”

And there is reason to suspect that these protests are as much about mammon as they are about mullahs and that the power struggle underway is far more complex than the Reformer v Hardliner plotline that plays out in the mainstream media.
Iran is currently undergoing severe economic trauma following the implosion of its economy and a property boom-bust that would almost put the Dublin government to shame. Almost.
During the 1990s – under the stewardship of President Rafsanjani – Iran underwent a process of economic ‘liberalisation’: the standard term used to describe the transfer of public wealth into private hands. Major state companies were privatised (sold off to cronies) and entrepreneurs encouraged home to ‘rebuild their country.’
Institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards became major players in the economy, as did government officials and mullahs. Corruption became a serious problem – with allegations repeatedly levelled at Rafsanjani and his circle. Today, the former president is known to be hugely wealthy. He is also Ahmadinejad and Khameni’s greatest political rival and the main financial backer of Mousavi.
Beginning in 2005, Iran underwent a property boom that could only have been matched in Dublin: prices in Tehran rose by 200% in two years and property deals worth some $600 billion were transacted in the city – in the space of just 18 months!
The house of cards collapsed in 2008. Inflation is now reportedly running at 25 percent and, as many thousands are now discovering, the newly-privatised economy does not offer workers protection in a downturn. Debt has risen dramatically and the country’s growing middle class has seen its purchasing power disappear.
In some respects, Iran was a tinderbox waiting for a spark and Ahmadinejad’s clumsy attempts to retain power duly obliged. His could be a very short term of office.

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