Sometimes when major events happen, if you’re not there to watch it from the beginning, it’s incredibly difficult to jump on board once the wagon has started rolling. This is particularly the case with political events. If you’re not engaged from the get go, then getting a handle on what’s going on is like walking in halfway through a Scorsese movie. You know some shit is going down, you’re sort of certain who the goodies and baddies are, but there’s no way you can join in a dinner party conversation about the ins and outs of the intricate plotting, and the complex context and the overall implications.
So much media coverage exists on Iran’s tenth presidential election, held June 12th 2009, that it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin. Scrap the Scorcese analogy; trying to wade in now and get a handle on what exactly is going on is like trying to understand Utegate. We’ve all seen the video of the woman, an innocent bystander at a protest rally, shot through the heart by a sniper, who died within two minutes. We’ve heard terms like ‘electoral fraud’ bandied about, and we all know we should be rooting for a fair and true democracy for the Iranian people. But it’s no good being vaguely aware of what we should and shouldn’t be doing/thinking/saying if we don’t know why.
We’re going to be honest with you. If you asked us to give you the lowdown on the situation in Iran, it would be somewhat patchily versed and arguably uneducated. What we know is a result of skimmed news reports, blogs and confronting YouTube videos. This hazy knowledge is bolstered only by bits and pieces filtering down through Facebook, via posted videos and articles and status updates. But we’re going to hazard a guess a lot of us are in a similar boat. Our preliminary research (aka quizzing hapless friends) shows that we all know something big is happening and we all know why – but we simply don’t know enough. And we certainly don’t fully appreciate the significance of the entire situation.
We’ve done some research and put together an article borne out of as much our own needs, as those of our readers. With the help of a former honours student in Middle Eastern politics, here are the details you need to know, laid out in simple terms. The need to move you all to action through evocative prose doesn’t exist; the actions and experiences of Iranian people over the past two weeks say it all. Read this from go to woe and walk away with a basic education in one of the most important political events this decade.
Iran – officially the Islamic Republic of Iran; known internationally as Persia until 1935
Population; over 70 million
Official religion; Shia Islam
Official language; Persian
Highest state authority; Supreme Leader – after the Supreme Leader, the Constitution (as of 1979) names the President of Iran as the highest state authority
Last Presidential Election: 2005
Elected: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The first term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency brought Iran to the centre of global attention. The Iranian’s foray into possible development of nuclear weapons and his vehement defense of Iran’s nuclear weapon program, has greatly concerned the international community, particularly the US and Israel. Furthermore the alleged support of terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the support of Shite malitias in Iraq has strained relations with the west.
Concurrently, Iran has a burgeoning young population. And these young people, as has been seen in this most recent saga, are becoming more connected with western media and through this connection, attempting to challenge the hegemony which the religious hierarchy has held in Iran.
The 10th Presidential Elections
Date held: June 12th 2009
Elected: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The lead up to the 10th presidential elections was dotted with controversy; the office of Ahmadinejad’s primary opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi was torched, another opponent’s newspaper closed down, and reports circulated of mobile phone and internet communications being disrupted with the express purpose of stalling online support for other candidates. Furthermore, certain polling booths were closed, another break from voting procedure that exposed the emptiness of the democracy and angered the Iranian people.
In the days preceding the election, the polling looked tight. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, an independent reformist, had emerged as a viable opponent. There was no clear indication Ahmadinejad would come back into power. But, when the results came in, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was indeed back in, allegedly an overwhelming favourite. Of course, with no clear favourite having emerged prior to the voting day and with such tight polls, this large margin in Ahmadinejad’s favour was cause for concern and suspicion amongst the public, and before long, driven by a sense of betrayal and a burning frustration that their ostensibly democratic government was not playing fair, the people took to the streets.
Since the Election Day, the numbers of those protesting the results, demonstrations that have been both peaceful and violent, have reached into the millions. Civil unrest has manifested itself in riots, fires and vandalism in a period of protest the likes of which many say hasn’t been seen since the 1979 revolution.
The Government’s reaction has been brutal. In a censorship crack down, journalists have been expelled from the country, access to the internet cut off, with websites blocked and even Facebook filtered, and television satellites electronically blocked – all to staunch the flow of news reports of the days succeeding the election. Arrests have been made of reformist politicians, protest organizers, lawyers and students. Militia has been employed in an attempt to extinguish the protests through fear.
And then there is Neda Agha Soltan, the young music student shot dead by a sniper as she stood watching a peaceful rally in Tehran. She has since become the sad and powerful face of the clash between Iran’s frustrated youth and the government they claim rigged the elections.
The overall message from the government to those protesting is clear. But it’s a message the Iranian people are not taking lying down. More than two weeks after the protests began, the political fallout and the public protests continue.
Why This is so Important
I asked a friend of mine why he thought these elections and the results was so significant, and his response contained a sentiment I think would serve those of the Western world well to remember. He said, a general way, the most important thing about these elections is that it shows the freedom and democracy are not just western values that aren’t compatible with Islam. What it shows is that there are people who aren’t from Western cultures who are as passionate about these issues and the democratic ideals. They, too, want a vibrant and robust democracy, and whilst they might not choose the leaders we like this is simply the deficit of democracy. All people are asking, and all they deserve, is for democracy to operate in its truest form, and elect leaders chosen by the people, who are for the people.
Misterarasmus’s Flickr Photostream – for a collation of images taken by people from around the world. All images in this article are taken from misterarasmus’s photostream, with the exception of the final image, which is by Steve Rhodes, also on Flickr.