Iran’s Presidential Election One Year Later – Why the Greens Failed
[This paper has been posted and reposted on a number of online magazines/newspapers and Websites, including: Counter Punch, Asia Time Online, Huffington Post, Payvand News of Iran, Iranian.com, Op Ed News, Middle East Online, and many more.]
One year after his feverishly contested reelection as the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to be standing on firmer political ground than any other time of his presidency. Having withstood all the relentless destabilization plots, both from within and without, his government is now more confident at home and more respected abroad. On a broader scale, that is, beyond Ahmadinejad and his administration, one could also argue that today the Islamic Republic of Iran is in many ways stronger and more stable than ever before—notwithstanding the continued demonization of Ahmadinejad and/or Iran by the wicked forces of global domination and their angry and frustrated allies at home and abroad.
Even on economic ground, where relentless pressures of sanctions, sabotage and psychological warfare continue unabated, Iran has weathered those pressures much better than expected. In its May 2010 report on Iran, the IMF points out that while unemployment and inflation still remain high, they have stabilized and, in fact, begun declining. The report notes that, for example, “In the past two years . . . inflation stood at 25.4 and 10.3 [percent] respectively: however in 2010 this rate will fall to 8.5 percent for the first time.” The report further predicts that Iran’s foreign exchange reserves “will increase $5 billion and reach 88.5 in 2010.” This healthy accumulation of foreign exchange reserves stands in sharp contrast with the depleted reserves and huge debts of many countries around the world.
Iran has been quite successful in extending transportation, communication and electrification networks to the countryside; providing free education and healthcare services for the needy; and reducing poverty and inequality. As I have pointed out in an earlier article, “Iran has also made considerable progress in scientific research and technological know-how. All the oppressive economic sanctions by US imperialism and its allies have not deterred Iran from forging ahead with its economic development and industrialization plans. Indeed, Iran has viewed imperialism’s economic sanctions and technological boycotts as a blessing in disguise: it has taken advantage of these sanctions and boycotts to become self-reliant in many technological areas.
“For example, Iran is now self-sufficient in producing many of its industrial products such as home and electric appliances (television sets, washers and dryers, refrigerators, washing machines, and the like), textiles, leather products, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural products and processed food and beverage products (including refined sugar and vegetable oil). The country has also made considerable progress in manufacturing steel, copper products, paper, rubber products, telecommunications equipment, cement, and industrial machinery. Iran has the largest operational stock of industrial robots in West Asia.
“Iran’s progress in automobile and other motor vehicle production has especially been impressive. Motor vehicles, including farming equipment, now count among Iran’s exports. . . . Most remarkable of Iran’s industrial progress, however, can be seen in the manufacture of various types of its armaments needs. Iran’s defense industry has taken great strides in the past 25 years, and now manufactures many types of arms and equipment. Since 1992, Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO) has produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, guided missiles, radar systems, military vessels, submarines, and a fighter plane. . . . As of 2006, Iran had exported weapons to 57 countries, including NATO members” .
In the international arenas of geopolitical and diplomatic challenges, too, Iran has recently scored a number of important points, and won significant new allies. While the recent Iran-Brazil-Turkey agreement on nuclear fuel exchange has proven Iran’s willingness to reduce international tensions, it has also shown the U.S. and its allies as being utterly unreasonable by callously dismissing this important agreement. Likewise, the U.S. opposition to international calls to hold Israel accountable for the atrocities committed against the Gaza aid flotilla has further exposed the arrogant attitude and unilateral foreign policies of the United States and its allies. As these events have, once again, exposed the U.S. as an international bully, they have also given further legitimacy and credibility to Iran’s arguments against the bully. Iran is perhaps the only country in the region that determines its own economic, political and military policies independently of foreign powers’ advisors, guidelines and dictates—something that many people in other countries in the region (and beyond) are envious of.
While the political standing of President Ahmadinejad, as well as the economic and geopolitical status of Iran, seems to have improved since his June 2009 reelection, the political fortunes of his major adversaries such as Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Karroubi and Khatami have significantly declined; and their “green movement” is in confusion and disintegration. Indeed, Mr. Rafsanjani, the Godfather of the Greens, is so discredited and politically weakened that he has been forced to swallow his purported pride of power and independence of yesteryear and, instead, pay homage to Ayatollah Khamenei as the undisputed leader. Mr. Mousavi, the main challenger of President Ahmadinejad, is also notably marginalized and his influence of a year ago evaporated. His banal and hollow political statements, occasionally posted on his Website, Kalemeh, are often ridiculed not only by the government/Ahmadinejad supporters but also by many of his former supporters, who have gradually abandoned him.
The question is why? How do we explain the disintegration of the “green movement” and the tragic decline of the political fortunes of its leaders?
A widely-held explanation has been “government crackdown.” While government suppression is certainly a factor, it is not the only or even the main factor. The more important reasons behind the decline of the “green movement” and the ignominy of its leading architects lie elsewhere. What are some of these reasons?
To begin with, they ran a dishonest presidential campaign. Their candidate, Mr. Mousavi, ran for president but refused to submit to the will of the majority when it became clear that he had actually lost at the ballot box. This has led many observers to believe that his presidential campaign was more akin to a coup attempt—or, more accurately, coup light, versus traditional military coups—than a bona fide election campaign. It was modeled after the color-coded revolutions in a number of former Soviet republics such Georgia and Ukraine, a pattern that used election contexts as opportunities for destabilization and regime change.
This explains why Mr. Mousavi declared victory even before the polls were closed. It also explains why he claimed that the election was stolen the moment he learned that he had indeed lost at the polls.
Initially, many Iranians fell for this ruse, believing that Mr. Mousavi must have had evidence of “stolen election,” otherwise he would not have made such an outlandish claim. And that’s why in the immediate days following the election they heeded his instructions and took to the streets, outraged that their votes had been stolen. But as it turned out that the news of “stolen election” was false, most of them, including many of his levelheaded supporters, felt cheated and began to abandon him and his “green movement.”
Reflecting on these developments, Professor Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University, points out that when Mr. Mousavi “effectively accepted the support of the Western funded Farsi media and the Western based opposition, through his silence, many more [Iranians] became disillusioned and even disgusted. . . . There is no doubt that today people are very angry with the foreign-backed Green movement and with the role that Western governments, through financial support and other forms of support have played in all this. . . . None of my colleagues, who had voted for Mousavi, would vote for him again after what he did following the election. That doesn’t mean that they support President Ahmadinejad or that Mousavi has no supporters at all, but only a small minority support him now” .
Perhaps Mr. Mousavi could have saved himself a modicum of integrity had he sincerely apologized for his bogus claim of stolen elections. Instead, he compounded that fault by cavalierly ignoring all the available evidence to the contrary, and stubbornly insisting that people’s votes must have been stolen, without providing any convincing or credible proof in support of his claim. Evidence refuting his claim of stolen election, however, is overwhelming. It includes not only detailed and specific official account of the voting results, but also a number of independent accounts provided by several prestigious polling organizations, including a few from the United States, that corroborate the authenticity of the official account .
Not only did Mr. Mousavi thus run a dishonest campaign, he also ran an unfair, unscrupulous and obfuscationist one: blaming Iran’s economic challenges and its chaotic diplomatic relations with Western powers largely on President Ahmadinejad, thereby overlooking the fact that the cruel economic, political and military pressures on Iran, ruthlessly inflicted by US imperialism and its allies, started not with Ahmadinejad’s presidency but with the 1979 revolution, which overthrew America’s darling regime of the Shah. Characterizing Ahmadinejad’s foreign policies as “adventurous” and “confrontational,” Mr. Mousavi and his campaign managers faulted them for hostile military and economic pressures from abroad. By the same token, they sought “understanding” and “accommodation” with the United States and its allies, presumably including Israel, in the hope of achieving political and economic stability.
Yet, as I pointed out in an earlier article on these issues, “US imperialism showed its most venomous hostility toward Iran during the presidency of Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005), while he was vigorously pursuing a path of friendship with the United States. While Khatami was promoting his ‘dialogue of civilizations’ and taking conciliatory steps to befriend the US, including cooperation in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in the neighboring Afghanistan, George W. Bush labeled Iran as a member of the ‘axis of evil.’ This outrageous demonization was then used as a propaganda tool to justify calls for ‘regime change’ in Iran” .
In the face of President Khatami’s conciliatory gestures toward the United States, many Iranians were so outraged by its unfair and provocative attitude toward Iran that they began to question the wisdom of Khatami’s policy of trying to appease US imperialism. For the same reason, they also viewed Mr. Mousavi’s blaming of President Ahmadinejad for the cruel demonization of Iran as either naïve or unfair and disingenuous. Not surprisingly, most Iranians, including many of Mr. Mousavi’s former supporters and sympathizers, have come to question the honesty and integrity of his campaign.
An attractive feature of Mr. Mousavi’s initial campaign was his apparent promotion of democratic values and individual liberties. However, his purported advocacy of democracy sounded hollow as he cavalierly defied the will of the people by so brazenly disregarding the results of the majority vote in favor of Ahmadinejad. Furthermore, it was obvious that, in light of his Neoliberal economic agenda, Mr. Mousavi’s vague and abstract utterances about individual liberty and human rights did not include the right to basic human needs such as food and shelter, or the right to affordable healthcare and public education.
Mr. Mousavi’s abstract, narrow and, indeed, disingenuous promises of democratic rights resemble those of the leaders of other color-coded revolutions—for example, of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia and of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine. Had he succeeded in carrying out his “green revolution,” his promises of democracy would have proven as empty as those of his counterparts in Georgia and Ukraine—who, by the way, have by now been exposed by the Georgian and Ukrainian peoples for what they really stood for, and thrown out of office.
An important factor that has played a critical role in the decline of the “green movement” has been its class character, its inability to relate or attract the masses of the lower-middle, poor and working classes. It is no secret that the Greens hail largely, though not exclusively, from the better-off and better-educated circles of the Iranian society. Mr. Mousavi is obviously aware of this “problem” when he talks about the need to expand the ranks of his supporters beyond the middle and upper-middle classes. But class interests and alliances cannot readily be re-configured through simple wishes or words. They are indeed beyond Mr. Mousavi – the person. They shaped the character and the dynamics of his campaign and the “green movement.”
Having gone through thirty one years of continuous revolutionary atmosphere, the Iranian people have become very astute citizens in political affairs. They easily recognized the market-friendly, Neoliberal nature of Mr. Mousavi’s economic agenda when they learned how (during his presidential campaign speeches) he condescendingly characterized the government spending on basic social needs as “handouts,” as “squandering” resources on gedaparvari (nurturing or promoting poverty/laziness).
This critique of Mr. Mousavi and other architects of the “green revolution” should not be viewed as a defense of President Ahmadinejad, or the Iranian government in general. Nor should it be perceived as an aversion to opposing political views, or to criticism as such. It is rather a critique of unscrupulous, opportunistic and disingenuous politics, not of contrarian politics per se.
It is a truism that healthy and principled criticism is key to improvement, progress and perfection. It is also obvious that Mr. Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic of Iran have a lot to be criticized for. Mr. Mousavi and other Green leaders could have played an important role in furthering individual liberties and democratic ideals in Iran were they not committed to the base objective of destabilizing and overthrowing the people’s duly-elected government. By disrespecting the people’s votes, by fabricating a huge lie that the election was stolen, by resorting to violent means in pursuit of regime change, by remaining relatively aloof from the Iranian grassroots, by seeking or accepting support from dubious political forces abroad, and by blaming President Ahmadinejad for the imperialist-Zionist pressures on Iran, the Greens have lost the credibility needed to play a positive role as a constructive opposition force. More than anything else, it is this unsavory political record that explains the failure of the “green movement.”
Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.
 Ismael Hossein-zadeh, “Reflecting on Iran’s Presidential Election,” Middle East Online, August 21, 2009.
 Seyed Mohammad Marandi, “Green Movement Defeated,” insideIRAN.org, February 15, 2010.
 Fro a disaggregated, province-by-province, city-by-city, and ballot box-by-ballot box account provided by the Interior Ministry of Iran see: <http://thomaslotze.com/iran/Mebane_Lotze_Iran_2009_polling.csv>; and for a number of expert analyses of the election result see, for example, (1) “Analysis of Multiple Polls Finds Little Evidence Iranian Public Sees Government as Illegitimate,” a comprehensive survey report issued by World Public Opinion, an international collaborative polling project that is initiated and managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland; (2) “Post-Election Poll in Iran Shows Little Change in Anti-Regime Minority,” by Alvin Richman; (3) “Did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Steal the 2009 Iran Election?” By Eric Brill; (4) “Visualizations and Analysis of the 2009 Iranian Election,” By Thomas Lotze; (5) “A Rejoinder to the Chatham House Report on Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election Offering a New Analysis on the Result,” Reza Esfandiari, and Yousef Bozorgmehr.