|From:||Jeffrey M. K.|
|Sent on:||Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:40 AM|
By George Friedman
���������������������������������������������� The Geopolitics of Iran: Holding the Center of a Mountain Fortress
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���������������������������������������������� The Iranian Presidential Elections
In 1979, when we were still young and starry-eyed, a revolution took place in Iran. When I asked experts what would happen, they divided into two camps.
The first group of Iran experts argued that the Shah of Iran would certainly survive, that the unrest was simply a cyclical event readily manageable by his security, and that the Iranian people were united behind the Iranian monarch���s modernization program. These experts developed this view by talking to the same Iranian officials and businessmen they had been talking to for years ��� Iranians who had grown wealthy and powerful under the shah and who spoke English, since Iran experts frequently didn���t speak Farsi all that well.
The second group of Iran experts regarded the shah as a repressive brute, and saw the revolution as aimed at liberalizing the country. Their sources were the professionals and academics who supported the uprising ��� Iranians who knew what former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini believed, but didn���t think he had much popular support. They thought the revolution would result in an increase in human rights and liberty. The experts in this group spoke even less Farsi than the those in the first group.
Limited to information on Iran from English-speaking opponents of the regime, both groups of Iran experts got a very misleading vision of where the revolution was heading ��� because the Iranian revolution was not brought about by the people who spoke English. It was made by merchants in city bazaars, by rural peasants, by the clergy ��� people Americans didn���t speak to because they couldn���t. This demographic was unsure of the virtues of modernization and not at all clear on the virtues of liberalism. From the time they were born, its members knew the virtue of Islam, and that the Iranian state must be an Islamic state.
Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization ��� a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook ���iPod liberalism,��� the idea that anyone who listens to rock ���n��� roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran ��� a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.
There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand ��� but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran.
Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with about two-thirds of the vote. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned. A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different.
Some still charge that Ahmadinejad cheated. That is certainly a possibility, but it is difficult to see how he could have stolen the election by such a large margin. Doing so would have required the involvement of an incredible number of people, and would have risked creating numbers that quite plainly did not jibe with sentiment in each precinct. Widespread fraud would mean that Ahmadinejad manufactured numbers in Tehran without any regard for the vote. But he has many powerful enemies who would quickly have spotted this and would have called him on it. Mousavi still insists he was robbed, and we must remain open to the possibility that he was, although it is hard to see the mechanics of this.
It also misses a crucial point: Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn���t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.
First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization ��� whether from the shah or Mousavi ��� as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.
Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs ��� who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this ��� have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.
Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don���t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war ��� something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war.
Perhaps the greatest factor in Ahmadinejad���s favor is that Mousavi spoke for the better districts of Tehran ��� something akin to running a U.S. presidential election as a spokesman for Georgetown and the Lower East Side. Such a base will get you hammered, and Mousavi got hammered. Fraud or not, Ahmadinejad won and he won significantly. That he won is not the mystery; the mystery is why others thought he wouldn���t win.
For a time on Friday, it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad���s security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal.
Western democracies assume that publics will elect liberals who will protect their rights. In reality, it���s a more complicated world. Hitler is the classic example of someone who came to power constitutionally, and then preceded to gut the constitution. Similarly, Ahmadinejad���s victory is a triumph of both democracy and repression.
The question now is what will happen next. Internally, we can expect Ahmadinejad to consolidate his position under the cover of anti-corruption. He wants to clean up the ayatollahs, many of whom are his enemies. He will need the support of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This election has made Ahmadinejad a powerful president, perhaps the most powerful in Iran since the revolution. Ahmadinejad does not want to challenge Khamenei, and we suspect that Khamenei will not want to challenge Ahmadinejad. A forced marriage is emerging, one which may place many other religious leaders in a difficult position.
Certainly, hopes that a new political leadership would cut back on Iran���s nuclear program have been dashed. The champion of that program has won, in part because he championed the program. We still see Iran as far from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, but certainly the Obama administration���s hopes that Ahmadinejad would either be replaced ��� or at least weakened and forced to be more conciliatory ��� have been crushed. Interestingly, Ahmadinejad sent congratulations to U.S. President Barack Obama on his inauguration. We would expect Obama to reciprocate under his opening policy, which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden appears to have affirmed, assuming he was speaking for Obama. Once the vote fraud issue settles, we will have a better idea of whether Obama���s policies will continue. (We expect they will.)
What we have now are two presidents in a politically secure position, something that normally forms a basis for negotiations. The problem is that it is not clear what the Iranians are prepared to negotiate on, nor is it clear what the Americans are prepared to give the Iranians to induce them to negotiate. Iran wants greater influence in Iraq and its role as a regional leader acknowledged, something the United States doesn���t want to give them. The United States wants an end to the Iranian nuclear program, which Iran doesn���t want to give.
On the surface, this would seem to open the door for an attack on Iran���s nuclear facilities. Former U.S. President George W. Bush did not ��� and Obama does not ��� have any appetite for such an attack. Both presidents blocked the Israelis from attacking, assuming the Israelis ever actually wanted to attack.
For the moment, the election appears to have frozen the status quo in place. Neither the United States nor Iran seem prepared to move significantly, and there are no third parties that want to get involved in the issue beyond the occasional European diplomatic mission or Russian threat to sell something to Iran. In the end, this shows what we have long known: This game is locked in place, and goes on.
This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to www.stratfor.com
I am one of the original members of Voterbook/ObamaNYC and an Adviser at the UN. Some of you have expressed interest in the events unfolding in Iran. My colleague from Columbia graduate school, Majid Zamani (SIPA '06), works with the Mousavi campaign in Tehran. When I first met him, he declared that the reason he came to do graduate work in the US was to equip himself to someday soon return home, help displace the current regime, and ideally expedite potential reform in Iran.
Unfortunately, the Western media has had a difficult time communicating what is presently going on regarding the election. This is partially due to access and partially due to subjective reporting. The good news is that the media is finally starting to understand that the only legitimate information is coming across the blogosphere. The most reliable internal sources are student and campaign organizers, many of which are similar to yourselves in values, skills and ideas. The bad news is that, when accurate information does get out, a lot of it is limited to 140 characters ��� aka Facebook and Twitter updates.
I invite you all to read the following Twitter page from Mousavi organizers:
As well, please find the Facebook status messages from my colleague Majid. For the most part they are from election day (the last few are from yesterday and today). The updates lend unique insight into the perception of events as they unfolded from within. NOTE: please read them chronologically from the bottom upward.
Majid Zamani 4 DEMANDS 1- Remove all restraints on Mousavi, Karrubi, Hashemi and Khatami 2- Resume all communication tools incl. sms, internet, newspapers, and gatherings 3- Free all who have been arrested since Friday 4- Give full authority to a team of reps of 3 opposing candidates, reps of all grand ayatollahs, elected reps from Majlis, and reps of election organizers to examine every details and report to the people
3 hours ago �� Comment �� Like
Majid Zamani Today's demonstration will happen. 4pm Enghelab sq to Azadi sq.
Majid Zamani I am ok! Facebook has been blocked here... I am very concerned about the young and inexprienced putting their life in front of riot police without any leadership and plan... Vote Protection Campaign statements could help... ���������� ������������ ������������ �� ���� ���������� ���� �������� ���� ������ ������ ���� �������� ������ �������� ������������ �� ���������� ���������� �������� �������� ���� �������� �������� ���� ��������. ���������� �������� ���������� ���������� �������� ������ �������� ������������ �������� ���������� ������ ������
Yesterday 3:57pm �� Comment �� Like
Majid Zamani JOINING FELLOW IRANIANS ON VALIASR ST. TO FATEMI SQ....
Two days ago ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (1)Hide Feedback (1)
Majid Zamani mousavi is NOT arrested. read his statement. he has asked
his supporters to wait until 2pm.
4:29am ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (3)Hide Feedback (3)
Majid Zamani MOUSAVI: I WILL NOT GIVE IN... THE RESULTS ARE
SHOCKING... ����������: ���� �������� ������������ ��������... ������ ���������� ������ ������ ������
3:55am ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (6)Hide Feedback (6)
Majid Zamani Mousavi and his advisors, including khatami, in a meeting
to decide the next move... ���������� �� ���������������� ���������� ���������� ���� �������� ����
���������� �� ���������� �������� ���� ���������� ������ ���������� ���� ����������
Majid Zamani Either a huge fraud, or our miscalculations... we need
time to figure this out... I really can't think anymore... going to
bed... hope when I wake up I find this was just a nightmare... Nov. 5,
2004, in ny, I thought it couldn't be worse in politics... dead
8:51pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2)
Majid Zamani A NEW REGIME WAS JUST BORN IN IRAN...
7:07pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (10)Hide Feedback (10)
Majid Zamani Farsnews: Tabriz, AN 60%, Mousavi 40% ... what have they thought?
6:50pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (3)Hide Feedback (3)
Majid Zamani ������������ �������� ���������� ������ �������� ������... ������ ���������� ���������� ���� ������
������������ ������...���������� ���� ������ ������ ���������� ����������...�������� ���� �������� ���������� ������ ��
�������������� �������� ���������� ������... ���������� ���� ���������������� ���������� �������� .. don't do
anything... our leader is mr. mousavi now and he will speak out...
wait until then...
Majid Zamani same sources say the final count is 21m out of 32m for AN
6:16pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (5)Hide Feedback (5)
Majid Zamani I don't recommend going on streets now... let's see
what's going on... let's see how they want to sell this...
6:10pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2)
Majid Zamani ALL CAMPAIGN HQs CLOSED...SOME ARRESTED... ALL SITES
BLOCKED ... NEGOTIATIONS WITH SUPREME LEADER UNDERWAY...
6:00pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2)
Majid Zamani my sources: COUP D ETAT IN PLAY... MOUSAVI HAS THE MAJORITY VOTE...
5:52pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike
Majid Zamani There is a flaw in these numbers... if 5m is 20% of the
vote, it means that turn-out has been 54% ... this simply can't be...
guardian council said the turn-out was at least 70%
4:48pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (16)Hide Feedback (16)
Majid Zamani This is awful... but let's see what's going on... what
they are saying now is from the computer counting which is not the
legal count.. legal count is done manually.. but manual counts usually
follow computer counts... be calm... and let's see what the campaign
has to say...
4:37pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (3)Hide Feedback (3)
Majid Zamani IRAN CANNOT SLEEP TONIGHT...
3:11pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (13)Hide Feedback (13)
Majid Zamani MOUSAVI: WE WILL CELEBRATE TOMORROW
3:02pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (6)Hide Feedback (6)
Majid Zamani PRESIDENT-ELECT MIR-HOUSSEIN MOUSAVI (not officially confirmed)
2:45pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (6)Hide Feedback (6)
Majid Zamani �� From reformists campaign HQ: Things back to normal.. no
one from the campaign arrested...
Majid Zamani the video of storming reformists campaign HQ
Majid Zamani people still going to polls.. started raining in Tehran...
1:14pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (3)Hide Feedback (3)
Majid Zamani Reformists campaign HQ supporting Mousavi was just closed
down by the government.... everybody was forced out.... all websites
supporting mousavi (except Kalemeh.ir so far) blocked... their
buildings were officially closed /lead sealed.
12:20pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (2)Hide Feedback (2)...
Majid Zamani ghalamnews.ir blocked too... use this weblog...
Majid Zamani Very high turn-out, angry pressure groups starting
violence, .... I AM STARTING TO FEEL MOUSAVI IS WINNING IN THE FIRST
ROUND.... stay tuned...
11:13am ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (5)Hide Feedback (5)
Majid Zamani ���� �������� ���������� ���������� ���� ������������ �������� �������� ������ ������ ������ ��������
�������� ������ �� ���������������� ���� ��.. ���� ������������...���� �������� ���������� ��������
Majid Zamani Reformists campaign headquarters in North of Tehran just
attacked by pressure groups... they used tear gas, broke TV set and
windows... spread the word as much as you can... our communication
tools are all blocked
Majid Zamani MOWJ.IR got blocked. - afternoon of election day. They
are blocking all communication means of Mousavi supporters... SMS
system already down �������� mowj.ir ���������� ����
Majid Zamani Turn-out might be close to what we had in 1997 ... close to 80% ...
Majid Zamani I VOTED. I VOTED GREEN. I VOTED TO TAKE OUR FLAG BACK.
Majid Zamani SMS system is down in both Iranian mobile operators!!! no
text message can be sent anymore... a few hours before ballots open...
Thu at 4:22pm ��� Comment ��� LikeUnlike ��� Show Feedback (6)Hide Feedback (6)