The controversial outcome of Iran’s presidential election has provoked political commentary around the world. The official results, which handed a landslide victory to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also prompted daily rallies in support of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, who finished second in the balloting.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced that the 12-member Council of Guardians will investigate last week’s presidential vote. A partial recount has been ordered, but the final report is not expected for another week. The Council of Guardians has invited Mr. Mousavi and two other defeated presidential candidates to a meeting Saturday to discuss their concerns.
In his first address to the nation since the June 12 vote, Ayatollah Khomenei reaffirmed on Friday that President Ahmedinejad had won 63 percent of the vote, and he disputed allegations of vote rigging.
An Iranian Perspective
Iranian journalist Ali Reza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, calls the victory of President Ahmadinejad the worst rigging operation in Iranian history. He predicts the government will ultimately pay a high price for its manipulation of the results. He spoke with host Judith Latham of VOA’s International Press Club. “The Iranian people’s tolerance has reached its limits, and the massive demonstrations will continue,” he says. Nourizadeh points to the government’s muzzling of the media and its attempts to block the free flow of information with the outside world as reasons for suspicion of the election results.
Ali Reza Nourizadeh says the Iranian government has filtered most of the Internet sites and Tehran is jamming VOA and BBC broadcasts as well as other satellite TV. Nonetheless, there are many reports that Iranians – especially younger people – are blogging, posting to Facebook, and coordinating their protests on the social-networking site Twitter.
“Iranians who travel or who use mobile phones from Dubai, Azerbaijan, or Turkey have been able to place or receive overseas calls and report on the situation inside Iran,” Nourizadeh says. He says he is optimistic about long-term change, and he doubts Iran will try to crush a popular uprising in the manner China did 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square. “The ruling sect in Iran has to be careful that they do not cross certain lines– even if they want to crush this movement,” he explains.
An Israeli Perspective
Israeli journalist Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for the Jewish Daily Forward, says most Israelis also think the Iranian election results were rigged. He says they are concerned how the Iranian government will respond to the demonstrators. “The problem with mass demonstrations is that everyone knows how they begin, but one knows how they will end, especially with reports there was some shooting toward the crowds.” Guttman says it is possible that the government will eventually reach a challenge in which it has to react with harsh measures to counter the uprising or risk a direct challenge to its stability.
Nathan Guttman says Israelis definitely see signs of what he calls a “significant power struggle” going on in Iran. “I think people in the West and in Israel are examining just how strong the reform movement is,” Guttman says. He adds that it is already obvious that Iran is shaken from within, and he predicts whatever happens is likely to have an effect on the Iranian nuclear program.
An Arab Perspective
Arab journalist Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcasting Center says reaction in the Arab world to the results of Iran’s presidential election is split into two camps. “One the one hand, those who cheer for Ahmadinejad, including Hezbollah and Hamas and Syria, welcomed his re-election, and they describe it as a landslide victory, but on the other hand, members of the so-called moderate camp were hoping Mousavi would be the winner,” she explains.
Nadia Bilbassy notes that Al-Arabiya television was kicked out of Iran about a year ago, so its bureau chief now operates from Dubai. But during the Iranian election, Bilbassy says Al-Arabiya sent correspondents from Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East to Tehran. “But the problem is you don’t have independent observers who can verify the results,” she emphasizes. For that reason it is hard to tell whether the election was fair or rigged.
Polls several weeks before the election indicated that President Ahmadinejad would be re-elected 2 to 1. “So maybe before we discredit the whole election process and accuse the authorities of rigging the election, there is a chance he might have won fairly,” Bilbassy warns.
Everybody is now speculating about the election results, but Nadia Bilbassy says it is a dangerous game to do that because it leads people on all sides to draw conclusions based on their own wishful thinking. “I think there was an appetite for a new wave of change in the Middle East – including Iran – after the Lebanese election,” she says. Some people even thought President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo had caused a fundamental shift throughout the region, Bilbassy explains. “But what we have seen in Iran has contradicted that,” she says.
Nadia Bilbassy suggests that the critical divide among Iranian voters may correlate more with their social class than with their political philosophy, as expressed by President Ahmadinejad’s campaign rhetoric, which she describes as anti-Western and anti-Israeli. “Maybe this represents popular support for him, but the bottom line is that nobody knows.”
An American Dilemma
Nadia Bilbassy warns that the situation in Iran is quite volatile. So volatile, in fact, that the Obama administration has been cautious in public comments about the Iranian election. But President Obama says he has “deep concerns” about the election, and he stands strongly with the universal principle that “people’s voices should be heard and not oppressed.”