Foreign Affairs

Iranian Presidential ‘Elections’: People vs. the Ayatollahs

As Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei desired, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the victor in the Iranian “presidential elections.” Or is he?  "Sooner will a camel pass through a needle’s eye than a great man ‘discovered’ by an election," said Adolph Hitler, some decades ago. Such disturbed assessment of this democratic virtue aptly describes Iranian regime’s 10th “presidential election” as well as regime’s well orchestrated violent response afterwards.

History has — time and again — proven that Iran’s clerical regime has neither the capacity nor the desire to engage in a truly democratic exercise. The ongoing uprising by the Iranian people in the aftermath of the election is in reality the culmination of the widespread rejection of the regime in its entirety.

The nationwide uprising by the youths in Iran — so vividly displayed on television screens worldwide, chants of “Iranians do not accept disgrace” and “death to the dictator” — all had little to do with any of the fundamentalist candidates. Tehran’s clumsy western-style televised debates, for example, showcased deep factional feuding, regime’s political decay and the widening gap between the Iranian people and the theocracy which rules over them. Charges of massive corruption, suppression of opponents, and sponsorship of terrorism were leveled by the candidates against all contenders and all administrations governing Iran since the beginning of clerical rule in 1979.

The evolution of this rift into the widespread protests after the election is a clear sign of the readiness and will of Iranian society to uproot the religious dictatorship.   

Instead of encouraging people’s just protests, Ahmadinejad’s rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi, warned that government restriction on communication channels “will only change the targeted and controlled nature of the existing reactions and, God forbid, it may turn into a blind movement.”  

Moussavi apparently knows that the Iranian people never bought his reincarnation into the “newly-discovered” moderate political animal in Iran. He was, in fact, a founding member of the Islamic Republic Party — the mullahs’ Third Reich. He presided over a spate of terrorist activities, including the 1983 Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon as well as hostage taking of western nationals. With Iran-Iraq war in the background, Moussavi implemented Khomeini’s policy of systemic executions, beginning in the summer of 1981. The massacre of nearly 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 is yet another of his putrid achievements. Moussavi earned notoriety for using theoretical rationalization to justify these atrocities.
Regime enthusiasts and hopeful western experts now admit that Iran’s nuclear policy, sponsorship of terrorism and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries are all determined by Ali Khamenei. The key to comprehending this and all previous elections in Iran is that free and fair elections intrinsically and irreconcilably contradict the essence of the ruling theocracy. People’s clear denunciation of the election notwithstanding, the new president remains subordinate to Khamenei. Indeed, by creating an aura of legitimacy, Khamenei has sought to divert attention from regime’s isolation both at home and abroad. Moussavi’s reaction has been in line with this strategy and demonstrates that when it comes to “preserving the system” all factions, no matter how antagonistic, unite.

In early 2003, with the invasion of Iraq looming and Tehran’s nuclear program exposed by the opposition People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), Khamenei made a do-or-die decision to catapult the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) into the political foreground.  His strategy was simple: There was a window of opportunity and no time to fool around with charm campaigns. Khamenei has since methodically built a stronghold, placing top IRGC brass in key political and security positions.

The post-election protests and carnage in Iran’s streets suggest that Ahmadinejad has been using a similar tact. Since the early days of the Iranian revolution, Ahmadinejad maintained an intimate connection with his “Ansar” paramilitary brothers and the IRGC. In the 1990s, he was among the leaders of plain-clothed suppressive agents called “Ansar-e Hezbollah” which are part of government’s unofficial suppressive machine. These plain-clothes agents have been key implementers of regime’s post-election oppressive strategy. In 2005, Ahmadinejad’s presidency coincided with irreversible changes within the clerical establishment where prison interrogators and commanders of terrorist units began to occupy sensitive government posts. With the IRGC now fully immersed in the militarized theocracy, the regime’s power base has significantly and irrevocably narrowed. Ahmadinejad is now expected to double speed Iran’s efforts towards obtaining a nuclear bomb.

The Iranian regime prefers very much that the West becomes preoccupied with the absurdity of the election process, not minding that western nations fret ad nauseam about the winners and losers. Ambiguous or ambivalent U.S. responses to similarly fabricated elections have historically emboldened Iran and undermined people’s efforts for democracy and freedom.  

Washington should realize that awaiting the outcome of the elections since January in order to formulate its Iran policy was a major mistake. As a result, Tehran has bought six precious months, during which time it installed an additional one thousand centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility and produced an additional 300 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU), bringing the total to 1,339 kg of LEU hexafluoride. Tehran has now accumulated enough LEU to be able to enrich enough weapon-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon.

In finalizing his much anticipated Iran policy, President Obama should take note of the fact that with the election and the ongoing uprising, the regime has emerged substantially weaker and more vulnerable domestically. Policy makers should note that Iranian regime is a lost cause and the only alternative to the regime lies with the people and their organized opposition which has never been "blind." President Obama should pursue comprehensive sanctions which include arms, oil, economic, and diplomatic sanctions against Tehran, while at the same time reaches out to the Iranian youth and removes restrictions against all Iranian opposition groups.


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