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Seda: Voices of Iran

Lesson: Turmoil in Tehran (Teachable Moment)

A "Fraudulent" Election Result 

"Dark smoke billowed over this vast city in the late afternoon….Garbage burned. Crowds bayed. Smoke from tear gas swirled. Hurled bricks sent phalanxes of police, some with automatic rifles, into retreat to the accompaniment of cheers….

"I looked up through the smoke and saw a poster of the stern visage of Khomeini above the words, 'Islam is the religion of freedom.' Later, as night fell over the tumultuous capital, gunfire could be heard in the distance. And from rooftops across the city, the defiant sound of 'Allah-u-Akbar'-'God is Great'-went up yet again, as it has every night since the fraudulent election." (Roger Cohen, op-ed columnist in Tehran, New York Times, 6/21/09)

The city was Tehran, Iran. The huge crowds were demonstrators protesting the official announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected on June 12 by an 11-million vote landslide. Many Iranians viewed this result as fraudulent.

The "stern visage of Khomeini" refers to Ruhollah Khomeini, an ayatollah, a title of high rank for one who is regarded as an expert in Islamic studies. Khomeini was the leader who brought Shia Islamic rule to the country for the first time, in the wake of a 1978-1979 revolution.

After Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became the Supreme Leader, and it was he who declared Ahmadinejad's victory. Khamenei and his clerical associates control the power centers in Iran: Khamenei is the Commander-in Chief of all Iran's military, including the Revolutionary Guard, an elite force. His appointees run the Guardian Council, which controls elections; he oversees the president and can fire him.

But the people of Iran have voted every four years to elect a president. Only candidates approved by Iran's religious leaders have been allowed to run, but the elections have otherwise been regarded as fair.

Moussavi and Ahmadinejad 

In the June 12 election that set off the current protests, Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former president, and others challenged the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Moussavi told voters he believed in Islamic revolutionary principles, but was an independent. Many Iranians who voted for him also support those principles, but sought greater freedom of speech and press, less interference in social behavior, and better relations with other nations.

Many of Ahmadinejad's supporters came from conservative rural areas. Others were civil servants in the government who owe their jobs to Ahmadinejad and who favor his suppression of dissent and criticisms of Israel, Britain and the U.S. A New York Times news analysis by Neil MacFarquhar cited evidence that since his election four years ago, Ahmadinejad "has filled crucial ministries and other top posts with close friends and allies…[and] replaced 10,000 government employees." (6/25/09)

After previous elections, days passed before a presidential winner was announced. This time, after what seemed to be a record turnout of 40 million voters, the announcement came only four hours after the polls closed. The people in the streets of Tehran did not believe the votes had even been counted. Most of these urban voters had supported Moussavi. How could he have been defeated even in his own ethnic Azeri area? Moussavi called on the Iranian people to protest. Later, the Guardian Council announced that there had been three million more votes in 50 cities than there had been voters--but that this did not change the results.

Iran's leaders appeared to be divided not just between those who supported supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a revolutionary hero, and Mohammad Baqer Galibaf, the mayor of Tehran, were critical of Ahmadinejad but, at least publicly, remained loyal to the Ayatollah. Another sign of internal divisions was the Iranian press report that on June 23 only 105 of 290 Parliament members appeared for Ahmadinejad's victory celebration. But the Iranian parliament is not one of Iran's power centers.

For Discussion

1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. Identify: Ahmadinejad; Khomeini; Khamenei; Moussavi; Rafsanjani; Galibaf

3. What powers does the supreme leader have?

4. Why have so many Iranians protested that country's election results?

5. What are political differences between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi?

6. What evidence is there for divisions among Iran's top leaders?

Source: written by Alan Shapiro;


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