Iran Protests 2009: HuffPost Bloggers Weigh In On Political Fallout, Twitter And What Happens Next

07/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Huffington Post

As the fallout over the Iranian election continues, HuffPost bloggers weigh in with their views on the political landscape and developments in the country. Scroll down to read about protesters, politics, twittering in Tehran, the nuclear issue, and more...

Americans need to take a deep breath and a look in the mirror, for the same technical surveillance capabilities being used and abused in Iran are being used - and abused - here at home.

Whatever happens, the people know, from this point on, that they are the people and that there is not a regime on earth that can remain in power against the people.

A recurring theme in many of his answers is his very strong belief that "foreign" Western powers, particularly England, are behind the current unrest in Tehran, an idea that is being played up significantly on Iranian state television, radio, and newspapers, which he cites often.

Hoping to reach out to his nation's millions of disaffected young people, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei today announced that he has joined the social networking site MySpace.

Without the income from oil, Iran's dictatorship will be increasingly vulnerable. It is long past time that the world draws the line on the political and ethical perversion imposed by those who control the supply of oil. It would be a significant step in breaking oil's grip on our future and an enormous gesture of support to Iran's brave people.

Neda reminds us that some things are worth sacrificing for, that the ills of the world are viscerally real, that what is needed most is moral clarity and the unbending will to right what is wrong, even if it isn't the most politically pragmatic thing to do.

If we look at this from a logical point of view, the more Khamenei takes on the opposition, the more it could backfire. He could defuse the situation by making some kind of compromise to the opposition.

However, what probably motivates Khamenei is the lessons learned from the Shah. When he compromised, by allowing Bakhtiyar to become Prime Minister, the people of Iran saw that as a sign of weakness. This emboldened them even more to take on his allies and security forces. Khamenei may be worried that giving in to the opposition may have the same result.

Those who insist that Obama throw his hat in the ring do not hide their lack of faith in the Iranian demonstrators. They shape their argument as pro-democracy and pro-freedom of expression, but they ground it in the arrogant belief that an American endorsement is the sine qua non of any successful democratic political movement. Let the Iranian's have their moment, they know whose side we're on. Presuming that they require the explicit validation that comes with an American presidential statement is to fall prey to the same patronizing self-aggrandizement that has for so long plagued our dealings abroad. Obama is wise to ignore his "expert" advisers and the "experts" from the past administration.

There is a rhythm to every nation's history--a pattern that repeats over the centuries, that creates forward movement, pulls back, pushes ahead. So it is with Iran in modern times: about every two to three decades, major change--a war, a famine, the overthrow of a dynasty--occurs with unmistakable ramifications.

Some say tomorrow will bring another dawn and, the opposition will be back on the streets, but will they really show up? The Ayatollah may have put the nail in the coffin of the opposition, my source in Tehran tells me.

Through the night, primarily through intermittent internet connection, I have been able to talk with Iranian photo-journalist NS (she does not want her name used, for obvious reasons). NS has been in the middle of the protests. While the interview text below was compiled before the sermon, a later communication tells me this: Like many others, she is enraged by the "khutba" (Friday sermon) of the Ayatollah Khamenei which will now open the doors for a Tiananmen in Tehran. Saturday will likely be the bloodiest day so far, if the brave crowds decide to come out. Another friend from Tehran cried on the phone, after he had been to Tehran University to pray and hear the Ayatollah's sermon. His last words to me before the mobile phone connection was cut off were: "Tomorrow there will be blood."

Of course, if Obama does speak up aggressively about what's going on in Tehran and other cities in Iran, he risks playing right into Supreme Leader Khamenei's hands. The ayatollah, according to Al Jazeera and other sources, is, along with Ahmadinejad, engaged in a power struggle with other elements at the top of the Iranian power structure.

The Leader of the revolution continued his support of the president in spite of the people's dissatisfaction, even after the Majles (parliament) declared that $1 billion had been withdrawn without legal authority. And the moment the Interior Ministry declared Ahmadinejad winner of last week's election, the Leader congratulated him, although votes had not been counted in all districts.

Furthermore, other candidates had the right to contest the elections results, and no one should have been congratulated until their objections had been heard and definitive results been determined. This premature act of congratulating angered the Iranian population.

I am in awe of the courage of the people of Iran.

They are giving the world hope. They are teaching a shocking lesson about truth. They embody freedom. And, perhaps hardest to grasp, for those of us who live in the Middle East, they are putting their very lives on the line not for the sake of some ferociously sectarian End of Days, but for the most profoundly radical notion of all -- a better life.

As mass demonstrations continued in Iran for a fifth day following what was viewed by many to be a rigged election last Friday, experts in the United States insist that the protests do not constitute a revolution. Nevertheless, the situation could incidentally end in prolific changes to the Islamic Republic due to long-festering problems of the system's own making.

The Iranian reform movement is trying to seize the high ground, to avoid violence, and to appeal to the forces of repression not to use force. With the world watching, and with so many new techniques of communication, it may be that the reformers can give the authorities a run for their money. But it will take an awful lot of Iranian courage and ingenuity to make it work.

In the 21st century, Western values have become much more than the freedoms of wearing makeup or consuming alcohol behind closed doors. They are also the manifold and evolving freedoms created by the Internet, and more specifically, Web 2.0.

The Obama Administration both finds itself in the heart of, and on the sidelines of, this confrontation. Consequently, the Obama Administration has opted to tread carefully on the basis that it would "seem counterproductive to be seen as meddling." While the Iranian people "should be heard and respected," any official suggestion of US interference would be counterproductive at this time.

The post-election unrest and turbulence now sweeping Iran, following the presidential election of last Friday, did not figure into anyone's analysis and calculations. It took everyone by surprise, but so have the most momentous events of contemporary Iranian history. The 1979 Revolution was not on anyone's radar screens either until it was well underway.

The root cause of such singular and unanticipated upheavals lies in the way fundamental tensions in Iran simmer for a long time below the surface and then suddenly explode into the fore.

For the past twenty-five years, I have lived in America, first as a reluctant transplanted Iranian always looking pastward, and later, as an exile reconciled with the chronic condition that exile always brings -- most notably an arthritic heart. In the first half of my stay, I was astounded by the leanness of the news coverage of Iran which was biblically vast. In the second half, beginning in 1997, I was grieving the bounty -- so skewed, so dilettantish -- that I prayed for the lean years to return. These cycles of ebb and flow resembled the spikes and dips of a feverish fit far more than the evenness that good reporting demands. Thus rendering the coverage of Iran in American media as consistently flawed.

Most Iranians knew that this election wasn't really going to change anything, thanks to the dictatorial leadership of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Still, out of 46.2 million eligible voters, a staggering 39 million came out to vote, making a strong, unequivocal statement:

Iranians value democracy. A lot.

If Iranians overthrow the horrid Ahmadinejad, the winner last week of an obviously fishy election, that will be a vindication, the Obama administration will certain maintain, of the president's rhetorical restraint. If, on the other hand, the nascent rebellion is crushed by force or otherwise, then it would certainly seem that the president's failure to join the side of righteousness is going to haunt him.

On Wednesday, the "I don't think we should meddle" Obama administration decided to meddle and asked Twitter to delay its planned site upgrade so that service would not be interrupted, allowing Tehran's cyber-revolutionaries to continue sending messages and images to their comrades around the world. Think about that.

The U.S. government giving so much significance and legitimacy to such a nascent technology, with its utterly self-consumed community, as to imply that without it, somehow the revolution could run out of steam. Talk about self-importance. Needless to say, Twitter complied.

Leading up to the election most polls indicated the outcome would be close. However, no one forecast a nearly 85% turnout. In part, the difference was that millions who did not participate in 2005 in protest to their government became engaged this election. Not because many Iranians considered Mousavi a reformer, rather he was perceived as an acceptable alternative to the failed economic and foreign policies of Ahmadinejad. For many younger and middle class voters it was time for a change.

What we are seeing is an attempt at transformation, a post-revolution, by an intelligent and decent populace that has become exhausted at its pointless isolation. It turns out that Ayatollah Ali Khameni, Khomeni's bespectacled and much less charismatic successor, is not irrefutable. Nor is he, as it turns out, infallible. The boulevards of Tehran and Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and probably every other large city are filling with people seeking change rather than an overthrow.

Vocal GOP members aside, America has virtually no credibility to make a stand here. After eight years of pseudo-democratic evangelism by the Bush White House and its rogue's gallery of champions at places like the American Enterprise Institute, our rhetoric on human rights is still running on the fumes. With skeletons still in our closet from the Muhammad Mossadegh overthrow in 1953 and our cooperate support of Shah Reza Pahlavi and his despised SAVAK internal intelligence apparatus during the Cold War, America barely has a leg to stand on when the Iranian opposition would enjoy our support the most.

The supreme leader of Iran has two clear choices: Save the fragile legitimacy of the Islamic Republic by calling for new elections, or move toward a system that increasingly looks like a dictatorship, in which all pretensions of popular will are thrown by the wayside. Either choice may be a losing proposition for the Islamic ruling elite in the long run. But what is certain is that a massive confrontation with the people of Iran very seldom benefits those in power, something Khamenei and his fellow revolutionaries from the class of 1979 know all too well.

The present crisis in Iran following the Iranian presidential elections is rooted in the popular quest for the democratization of the state and society and the conservative reaction and opposition to it.

This is a crisis over a deep-seated ideological structure inherited from the Iranian revolution. On the one hand, those, like Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karubi, who have been among the architects of the Islamic regime and the challengers for the presidency, believed that the Islamic nomenclature allowed scope for reform and renewal. They now find themselves at the head of a pro-democracy and pro-reform movement that seeks to defy the very essence of illiberalism and authoritarianism in Iran.

Make no mistake, the massive demonstrations in Iran, both in the run up to election day and since, have been simmering for years and are founded in one thing more than any other: significant, across-the-board dissatisfaction with a system of government that has shown little regard for the people of Iran.

The demonstrators are ostensibly fighting for Mousavi, but what's essentially happening is a continuation of what happened in the days ahead of the election when the Iranian public was allowed the opportunity to pour into the streets in a cathartic mass movement for change. The people were suddenly freed from years of a maddening grip of abeyance and it won't be so easy to force them back into their shells.

Today I went to a mosque to cast my vote. The pile of shoes at the entrance indicated a large crowd inside (Muslims are not supposed to enter holy places with their shoes on). Amidst the rising heat, rotating ceiling fans wreaked havoc with the hems of the black chadors of the women standing in one line, alongside which men with visibly damp armpits formed a separate queue. Every now and then a surge of murmurs swept the interior of the mosque and then subsided.

Ridiculous debates with neo-con Iran "experts" continue and will probably only rise in crescendo in the next hours and days. I almost wish that those in Tehran could watch the spectacle of US "media" falling all over themselves trying to report from behind the Chador, while exclaiming the virtues of Twitter (though those virtues do need to be acknowledged in this case). If for nothing else, the profound discovery they (the US media) have now made of the net-savvy Iranian citizens (better at beating every firewall known to man than most) is a cause for celebration.

The Iran Uprising is a game changer. The regime has been delegitimized for large portions of the Iranian population. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevails--and that is by no means certain--he will be greatly weakened, handcuffed in his ability to play the nuclear card as a nationalist rallying cry. Pressed at home, the regime will need to show some gains internationally; the nuclear issue must be compromised to realize those gains.

Since the preliminary results for the Iranian election were announced, a steady stream of updates has been accumulating on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites. (For Andrew Sullivan's report on feeds to follow, click here).

Social media hasn't only given Iranians a way to evade censorship and speak out; it has given them a way to mobilize attacks on Ahmadinejad's coalition, attacks that go beyond rallies. Some Iranian twitterers have called for foreign supporters to attack Ahmadinejad's websites using a distributed denial of service attack.

In 2008 a national public opinion survey found that two thirds of all Americans do not personally know an Iranian American. As a result, it suggested, the public's overall impression of Iranian Americans is largely based on the reductive one-dimensional image of Iranians found in the media and in reports on Iran. It is therefore not surprising that today's Iranian Americans have an overriding desire to be defined on their own terms, rather than in relation to the background drama of international politics or the baggage of the Iranian revolution.

A radicalized Iranian leadership that is willing to ignore the will of its own populace can scarcely be expected to bow to international pressure to terminate its nuclear weapons program. As the perception that Iran is getting closer to developing nuclear weapons grows stronger, the possibility of military hostilities in the region cannot be ignored, whether initiated by the U.S., Israel or preemptively by Tehran. Though the ramifications of military hostilities with Iran are unpredictable in a general context, in one specific aspect it is clear what the most dramatic implications are. Even the perception that a military clash with Iran may occur, as opposed to actual hostilities, will prove disastrous to the global economy.

Uncertainty about Iran's leadership might have had as much to do with the increase in crude oil prices over the last 4 months as anything else. Under a powerful attack from former President Rafsanjani, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has been scrambling for his political life. The stakes are high for the entire developed world: Iran is the second largest oil producer in OPEC behind Saudi Arabia.

Continue to check back as this page will be updated with the latest HuffPost bloggers on the historic events unfolding in Iran.

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