Friday, June 19, 2009

The Iranian Election and the Western Media Response

From an email:

The Iranian Election and the Western Media Response

There are a number of very interesting responses on Professor Juan Cole's blog in the comments section. I particularly liked the below ones and thought I should copy them here. Not because they are taking one side or another but they are demanding a more objective and rigorous treatment of the issue than what we have been seeing in the mainstream media - before and after the election day. They are also interrogating the underlying politics of the 'Western' media coverage. Professor Cole should be commended for entertaining these comments on his space and responding to (at least, a few of) them in his several posts in the last six days or so, which made this whole exchange quite insightful.

Informed Comments, from June 17, 2009, 7:12pm

We are now six days into this and it is becoming patently clear that our punditry have failed us miserably. Expecting elucidation, we instead receive camouflage and flimflam.
Numerous of your many readers have asked you directly to provide a source of your conviction that:

1. Obvious fraud has occurred in the election.

2. Those agitating and those rabble-rousing are one and the same, both concerned with improving the lot of the ordinary Iranian, who will be the ones paying the price for these ‘freedoms’ they are supposedly fighting for.

You need to explain why it is that Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Karrubi, Mir-Hoseyn, Reza'iand others involved on the ‘reform’ side are not as much part of the ruling elite as Ahmadi Nejad and Ayatollah Khameni.

You also fail repeatedly to make clear that the most powerful politicians in Iran, directly elected by the electorate, is the Assembly of experts – headed by Rafanjani (backer of the ‘reform’ movement), and who directly appoint the Supreme Leader – currently Ayatollah Khameni. He is also Chairman of the Expediency Council that resolves conflicts between the Parliament and the council of Guardians. This is one powerful individual. Clearly there are constitutional safeguards against political coups as you are alleging has taken place here, why aren’t you noting that the opposition refuses to avail themselves to it. It is not as if they are unrepresented on the bodies that decide as you imply with your constant characterizations of people as ‘Hardliner’ and the like.

We are not talking squalid Tiananmen Square type revolution here. The students getting beaten and killed are mere cannon fodder for a ruthless cabal. There is a world of difference between the Agitators and the firebrands.

What is extremely distressing about your coverage is the breathless wild-eyed excitement with which you relish the one sided news you report. You obviously have a dog in this fight, a personal bone to pick. You do nobody a service and have tarnished your reputation as surely as did Christopher Hitchens and his unbridled hatred for Saddam Hussein. Welcome to the mainstream, you did it like the rest of them did; it is a well-worn path.

June 17, 3:02pm

For days now, Western Media and even this web site have become mesmerized showing the protests, the violence, etc. All of this stems from the accusation of voter fraud, on a massive scale. If there was no voter fraud, then the primary excuse for the current crisis disappears.

I would think, therefore, that anyone interested in truth, would be investigating and printing how such a massive fraud could be put together. In my scouring of the news, I have failed to see any attempt at reconstructing the presumed crime. I have read nothing about how many voting stations there are. I have read nothing about how many vote tally locations there are, and what methods are used to tally the vote. I have read nothing about what procedures are used to limit voter fraud. All I have read is the presumption of crime on a massive scale, with no plausible description of how this massive crime could have occurred.

Seems like uninformed comment to me, and I'm truly disappointed.

June 17, 10:10am

The clip from Russia Today, from 0.16 to 0.23 uses footage from a pro-Ahmadinejad rally (obvious from the photos people are holding) and paints that as opposition protest. Have been noticing this slight of hand in a lot of news clips circulating around.

June 16, 11:14am

From Stratfor, By George Friedman, June 15, 2009

"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."

June 16, 1:24pm

As someone who is supportive of the Iranian reform movement, but wary of U.S. CIA involvement in it as a pretext for a future American/Israeli war against the regime, I was hoping you could answer the charges of Paul Craig Roberts over at Counterpunch, who dismisses recent events as CIA propaganda and who cites Pakistani radio claiming to have evidence of direct U.S. involvement in fomenting the protests. I don't know enough about Iran to have an opinion about his analysis, but you do.

June 15, 3:24pm

It strikes me that this is Ukraine all over again. Compared to 1953, this time they appear to have found internal supporters, voluntary or otherwise, in Rafsanjani and Mousavi to overthrow the government. The mainstream politically entrenched corporate media in the West have collectively waged a relentless propaganda campaign against the Iranian leadership (supported by a majority of common people) and are as much to 'blame' for the current unrest taking place in Tehran as are the dashed hopes of “millions of reformers.”

Even more problematic is what the left (and left leaning liberals) are supporting. Mousavi and his movement to re-define Iran into a toothless nationalist republic that are backed by some of the most corrupt elements of the Iranian establishment? And they are located in the most affluent areas of Tehran. Whereas Ahmadinejad’s support base is located in the heart of most cities, towns, villages, and working class districts. Wittingly (for the most part) and (a few) unwittingly, the “western” left is, in essence, siding with the elite, upper classes, against the working and under-privileged classes!

June 15, 6:58pm

Among my family members, relatives, and friends are supporters of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. Personally, I support the reformists and voted for them, although I believe they genuinely lost the elections.

What is striking is that before the elections, each side was absolutely certain that over 80% of the population supported its candidate.

This is typical of my experience in the last 30 years. For example, if you ask an Iranian opponent of the Islamic Republic what the Iranian people think, he'll typically say, "Oh, over 90% are against the regime." If you ask a supporter the same question, he'll say, "Over 90% support the system." Each side says that the nation as a whole is on his side.

What is more, people say these things with absolute conviction. When I try to cite evidence that maybe they should not be so certain about such claims, they react with disbelief and outrage. They wonder how I can raise doubts about what "everybody knows" and what is "as plain as daylight."

Mousavi and his supporters are utterly convinced that the vast majority of voters voted for him. They're absolutely sincere in their conviction. They consider the results of the elections utterly absurd and inconceivable.

The only thing that sustains this conviction is the large pro-Mousavi rallies in Tehran. These rallies convinced them that the people supported him. But then Ahmadinejad had his own rallies.

Now, combine this unshakable certitude that your views are the views of "the people" with a propensity for conspiracy theories, and it becomes as "clear as daylight" to you that the elections must have been rigged.

The fact that there is not a shred of evidence (yet) that the elections were stolen is irrelevant.

June 15, 10:18am

June 13, 2009

Western Primer on Elections in Developing Countries

Some Western principles in assessing elections in developing countries:

1) When the favored candidates win, the elections are free and fair. And when they lose, elections are certainly unfree and stolen.

2) Violent protests against elections that produce winners favored by the West, are to be strictly condemned and protesters are to be called terrorists, hooligans and mobs (can you imagine if Lebanese opposition supporters were to engage in violent protests against the election results in Lebanon), while violent protests against enemies of the US when they win elections (like in Moldova) are to be admired (and the protesters in those cases are called "democracy activists".

3) It is not against free elections to have Western governments interfere in elections and in funding candidates through Western groups for the promotion of democracy.

4) Candidates (or even dictators) who serve Western interests are automatically labeled as "reform candidates" (even the Saudi tyrant is referred to as "reform-minded"), while candidates who oppose Western economic and political interests are to be labeled enemies of reform....

6) Western observers of elections are always on hand to declare an election unfair and rigged if the favored candidates lose.

7) The corruption of pro-US candidates (like the March 14 bunch in Lebanon) is preferred to the corruption of, say, Mugabe.

8) The democratic credentials of dictators immediately improve if they change their policies toward the US and if they express willingness to serve US economic and political interests.

9) Countries where dictators do a good job in serving US economic and political interests need not hold elections.

10) If favored candidates can't guarantee electoral victory (like the Palestinian Authority's Abu Mazen, whose term has expired months ago), they don't need to hold elections and will be treated as if they won an election anyway.

11) It is just not logical to assume that people in developing countries can freely ever decide to make choices that are not consistent with political and economic interests of the US....

-- As'ad AbuKhalil

June 14, 9:38am

Interesting post but you're looking at what is happening in a one-sided way. The reformists were defeated ultimately not by what the conservative clerical elite did. They were defeated by their own timidity and their neo-liberalism.

Khatami's privatization of the economy made the lives of the majority of the population worse. And his unwillingness to truly challenge the conservative section of the elite - or even to support movements on the ground when they went beyond being a fan club for him and his policies - undermined his own base. The two policies together - privatization and timidity - left him vulnerable to a counter-attack by the conservatives and they happily pressed their advantage home.

And if you think that the voting sentiments of a population can't swing dramatically in the space of a decade, take a look at Britain. Tony Blair swept to power on a massive landslide in 1997, winning twice more before he retired. The Labour Party is now a ruins, being beaten into third place by the wackos in UKIP in the recent EU elections.

Did Ahmadinejad steal the election? Maybe. But maybe Mousavi doesn't represent as much as he thought. The reality is, at this early stage, nobody - least of all here in the West, has a full grasp on what is exactly going on. The situation is very complex. We should hold off on any pronouncements living, as we do, in countries where significant sections of our own political elite are happy to find one more reason to demonize Iran and try to justify and invasion.

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