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Fallout From Contested Iran Election Outcome Still Reverberates

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One year ago Iran held a presidential election.  The incumbent won, but that result was hotly contested in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, leading to a bloody government crackdown on dissent.  The repercussions from that election and the startling events that followed it are still being felt both inside and outside Iran.

The voices of protest that so shook Iranian society and startled the world one year ago are largely quiet now, silenced by intimidation, imprisonment, and even death.

And as former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Richard Murphy says, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose election sparked the protests, remains firmly entrenched in power and defiant as ever.

"That may have surprised critics who thought that he was seen as a buffoon and a crazy who could be discounted," he said. "But they consolidated ranks so quickly, that is, the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard, to enforce his election last year.  And I see no cracks in that support as having developed.  If they have, they're off my radar."

Home front

Listen to Middle East expert Farihboz Ghadar's analysis of Iran politics:

The protests erupted because many reformists believed that their favorite, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had been robbed of victory by vote fraud.  The government, seeing the demonstrations as a threat to its rule, cracked down on the protests with force.

The protests eventually withered in the face of the crackdown, and now much of the opposition has been driven underground or into exile.  But Congressional Research Service Iran affairs analyst Ken Katzman says the opposition is not dead, and is even quietly reorganizing.

Timeline of significant events

  • Jun. 13, 2009: Iranian officials declare incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of the election after preliminary results show he won more than 62 percent of the vote.
  • Jun. 14, 2009: Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi seeks public support in his effort to have officials annul the vote results.
  • Jun. 17, 2009: Tens of thousands of supporters of Mr. Mousavi turn out for a Tehran protest.
  • Jun. 20, 2009: Thousands of protesters clash with police in defiance of a warning from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Jun. 23, 2009: Guardian Council rules it will not annul election results.
  • Aug. 5, 2009: Mr. Ahmadinejad is sworn in for his second term as president.
  • Aug. 8 2009:  Iran faces international condemnation for opening a mass trial of political detainees.
  • Oct. 28, 2009: Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says questioning the results of the June 12 presidential election is a crime.
  • Dec. 30, 2009:  Hundreds of thousands of people take part in government-backed rallies.
  • Feb. 11, 2010: Security forces crack down on anti-government protesters during rallies marking the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic.
  • Jun. 3, 2010:  Iran reports it has pardoned or reduced the sentences of 81 people convicted of offenses related to post-election unrest.

"There's been a realization among some factions that it was the lack of leadership and organization that harmed them, and then they lost momentum partly because of that," he said. "Some of the factions have formed leadership councils - not an overarching leadership council but some of subgroups under the green umbrella have formed ruling councils, and they're coordinating with each other.  So I think that it is starting to jell in terms of organization."

International front

While the opposition has been reorganizing, the government has been retrenching.  Analysts say it appears to remain determined to crush dissent.  On the international front, it has stubbornly clung to what the U.S. and its allies say are ambitions to become a nuclear-armed power.

Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who was deeply involved in the Bush administration's Iran policy making, says the Iranian government has consolidated power at home, but lost standing abroad.  

"But unfortunately, the Iranian government seems to have emerged at least in control, in large control, of the country," he said.  "I would say internationally, they're more isolated.  The Iranian government was a big loser last summer.  The whole world can see what an anti-democratic regime it is and to the lengths they go to protect their own rule, and Iran became more isolated because they lost credibility internationally.  So I think I see those dual effects of the crisis of last year."

The Iranian retrenchment and deeper isolation has further complicated the nuclear issue, which remains the main point of contention between Iran and the West.  The calls from some quarters for a military strike on Iran have receded somewhat over the past year, but have not disappeared entirely.

Outreach to Iran

The Obama administration came to office calling for a dialogue with Iran, but has made no headway in rapprochement.  Nicholas Burns insists that outreach to Iran is not dead. "We don't like the Iranian government very much at all.  It's a very negative, brutal government," he said.

"But we have to communicate with it in my judgment from time to time, the international community, in order to maximize the chance that diplomacy and negotiations might have some positive impact."  And so I wouldn't give up on diplomacy.  I don't think engagement has been bypassed at all, but I do think that a proper policy would combine the various elements: sanctions and negotiations and further pressure on Iran to meet its Security Council commitments," he added.

The U.S. is pushing in the U.N. Security Council for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran.  However, many analysts say the sanctions had to be weakened to get Russian and Chinese support and question their effectiveness against a retrenched Iranian government.

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