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Iran Unrest

Iran in post-election unrest

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Jun 17, 2009

At the time of writing, US President Barack Obama has expressed concerns about the legitimacy of Iran's presidential elections and post-voting demonstrations. However, he declined to call Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election a fraud. The US offers to talk with Iran's government over its suspected nuclear weapons program would not change regardless of the victor, said the White House spokesman.

In a related development, Iranian authorities restricted all journalists, international and locals working for foreign media from reporting from the streets. The government has ordered that the media block all images and eyewitness accounts of protest and violence taking place. They also refused to extend visas of foreign press.

Meanwhile, mayhem goes on in Tehran. Experts and journalists on the ground describe the pandemonium and lawlessness that has snuffed out the lives of at least eight people.

A letter from an eTN reader in Teheran says:
Please believe whatever you heard, sad to say this BUT they are all true.

Some believe that Ahmadinejad clearly had an edge several days before the official ballot counting. Others don’t.

Patrick Doherty, deputy director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, together with Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, wrote: "The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin -- greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election."

One expert’s position is of caution. Robert Naiman, a senior policy analyst and national coordinator at Just Foreign Policy, said: ”There has been no systemic evidence presented as to the result of the election being fraudulent. There are complaints about voting issues, but they are now being investigated in the cabinet. This does not mean the results are legitimate. But the case that it is not legitimate has still not been proven yet.”

The only Western polls conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, The Center for Public Opinion, indicated the Ahmadinejad would win in the first round, but his win is possible in the first round, said Naiman, “If it was localized fraud, it does not mean that the overall outcome was incorrect. The current opinion should be one of caution.”

He added the responsible posture is taking the Obama’s administration position of wait-and-see.

As of press time, the opposition wants partial recount due to irregularities they’ve noticed at the polls.

“It’s impossible to do a recount for several million votes that are being disputed. There is a legal mechanism for doing recount but at this point, this is not happening,” said Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California.

“The only practical solution is to cancel the election altogether and hold a new election supervised by neutral groups, not by the interior ministry appointed by the president himself,” added Sahimi, who wrote several articles about the election and a New York Times op-ed titled Iran's Power Struggle where he contrasted Iran's election system with US allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Sahimi said Ahmadinejad has supporters made up of about 15 percent of the population, but as it showed in the run-up to the elections until the past three days, support for the reformist candidate has proven overwhelming at the national level. “Those who say Ahmadinejad was the favorite do not know the composition of Iran’s population, the dynamics of Iranian society and other factors,” he said.

Currently in Tehran, Reese Erlich, freelance foreign correspondent on assignment in Tehran for Marketplace Radio, ABC Radio (Australia) and the Dallas Morning News said: "While US leaders are apoplectic about Iran's nuclear power program and alleged support of terrorism, Iranians are mainly voting about the economy. President Ahmadinejad's administration has driven up inflation to 23.6 percent and unemployment to 11 percent. Some Iranians support his populist measures such as doubling pensions and raising government worker salaries. Others point out that his subsidies to the poor don't create jobs, but just drive up inflation. All indications are that the race is tightening between Ahmadinejad and moderate reformist Mir Hussein Mousavi."

The main reason for Ahmadinejad’s unpopularity is manifold. Sahimi said inflation has reached very high levels; employment is also high, food and basic needs have gone up dramatically over the last four years. “The second reason is that Ahmadinejad has been repressing several vital social movements such as our advanced feminist movements, both on the reformist and conservative sides, which have been fighting for equality between genders. The feminists have been arrested - the press and universities have been shut down due to this,” said Sahimi.

He added that the third reason for Ahmadinejad’s unpopular stance is the negative image he has created on the international front such as denying the Holocaust or acting as if Iran has aggressive intentions, much to the concern of many educated, liberal-minded Iranians.

If anything, the president does not promote developing nuclear power. “Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, like they say. Iran has been true to its commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty,” added Sahimi, citing the findings by the international atomic energy agency of lack of evidence of nuclear heads in Iran, instead maybe an uranium enrichment program.

Naiman said journalists are prevented from reporting not because of a government cover-up. “One reason is that the opposition may want more than simply correct the election, but to destabilize or overthrow the government in this colored revolution,” he said.

Iran in post-election unrest
Image via Reuters

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