22 June 2009

Iran: Mistakes Were Made

The Islamic Republic's Guardian Council is walking a tightrope during its inquiry into irregularities in last week's presidential election. They report today that irregularities have been found in 50 of the nation's 366 electoral districts, though it's unclear how high a percentage this is of the districts they investigated. The Mousavi faction claims irregularities, mostly along the lines of ballot stuffing from what I can tell, in as many as 170 districts. The Guardians, while owning up to errors, to say the least, insist that the irregularities discovered so far aren't enough to reverse the outcome of the election. In this they follow Supreme Leader Khamenei in the belief that President Ahmadinejad's margin of victory was somehow too big to be faked.

Meanwhile, after a quiet Sunday, some protesters hit the streets of Tehran today, only to be beaten down by an army of police, basij and Revolutionary Guards. Western reports count the demonstrators in the hundreds, suggesting that many more dissidents were either cowed by the violence of Saturday or have simply said their piece already. Elsewhere, exiles and their Western friends still accept fraud as a foregone conclusion, deduced pretty much automatically from their perception of the nature of their regime. That regime certainly didn't show a pretty face over the weekend. While I repeat that Americans are hypocritical for embracing the election protesters when they wouldn't have accepted such protests on their own streets in 2000, I have to admit that American authorities are far less likely to have shed blood on the streets had those protests happened. Too many Iranians remain too close to their own revolution to tolerate anything that even hints at counterrevolution. Revolutionaries are by their nature intolerant or else they would never have forced an issue anywhere. Iran can't be singled out as an "evil" regime in this case unless you want to declare all revolutionary regimes illegitimate -- though at a certain point you can question whether revolutionary necessity is a fair excuse for perpetual repression.

In any event, a detail that further amuses me is Americans' sudden adoption of what might be called the Iranian or the Tehran "street" as the legitimate tribune of public opinion. This comes after years of disparaging the "street" of Muslim nations as a mass of irrational mobs. A rule of appraisal is implicit: if they denounce the U.S., they can be ignored, but if they denounce or otherwise discomfit an "evil" regime than they are the authentic voice of the people. Pundits here are desperate to see in Tehran a popular base for the overthrow of the entire Islamic Republic, but there is still little proof that the protesters represent the nation as a whole. Neocons might argue that the rest of the country has been more thoroughly repressed, but it's more likely that no side in Iran is entitled to the benefit of the doubt -- and neocon presumptions are especially unentitled. The American government would be wise to deal with Iran on a business-as-usual basis -- not that that's been exactly businesslike, but you get the idea.

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