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How the Iranian Election Was Stolen

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There is, perhaps, no greater potential for evil than the power of
priests speaking in the name of God.

With this power, one Iranian Ayatollah, Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi -- the
spiritual leader of President Ahmadinejad -- seems to have stolen the
Iranian election, to have justified the now-ongoing arrests of
reformers, and to be trying to eliminate such democracy in Iran as now
exists.

According to an open letter of early June by a group of employees who
work on elections in the Interior Ministry -- after May polls showed that
Ahmadinejad would lose the election -- Yazdi gave the Interior Ministry
employees a Fatwa, a religious degree, authorizing the changing of votes.

The Ayatollah told them: "If someone is elected the president and hurts
the Islamic values . . . it is against Islam to vote for that person."
After harshly criticizing the other candidates (Mousavi, Karroubi, and
Rezaie) he went on: "You should throw away those who are unqualified,
both morally and lawfully."

The letter reported that the elections' supervisors subsequently became
"happy and energetic for having obtained the religious Fatwa to use any
trick for changing the vote and began immediately to develop plans for
it." (The letter indicated that the same thing had been done in March
2006 to help fundamentalists allied with Ahmadinejad in that election.
But when the Interior Minister at that time, Mostafa Pourmohammadi,
reported these irregularities to the Supreme Leader, he was fired by
President Ahmadinejad.)

Among other things, the election supervisors reduced the number of
voting stations, increased the number of mobile voting stations, reduced
the number of eligible voters, insisted that vote-containing boxes must
have two official seals, and printed 12,000,000 more ballots than were
necessary.

Yazdi has been called the most conservative and influential cleric in
Qom. He espouses complete isolation from the West and proclaims
nonliteral interpretations of the Koran to be heretical. He is said to
have great influence with the Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji
paramilitary force. In 1997, he is said to have encouraged them to use
any means, including violence, to stop reform agitation. In 2006, he
said to use atomic bombs had religious legitimacy. Above all, he would
like to eliminate the democratic element in the Iranian system.

Now, following four years of appointments made by President Ahmadinejad,
Yazdi has many loyal supporters in the Government, including the head of
the election commission.

A perfect political storm has arisen in Iran. Ironically, May polls
showing that democracy might prevail in Iran have created conditions
that could lead to the loss of such democracy as exists in Iran.

A weird president, mentored by a fundamentalist Ayatollah, may now use
ongoing arrests to eliminate, politically if not physically, his reform
opposition and then govern by repression. Recent unconfirmed reports
suggest that Mohammad Asgari, an interior ministry official who had
reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged, has been
killed in a suspicious car accident in Tehran.

Nonviolent opposition is the only answer. And protests are, after all,
widespread and not only in Tehran. They have spread to Isfahan, Ahwaz,
Shiraz, Gorgan, Tabriz, Rasht, Babol, Mashhad, Zahedan, Qazvin, Sari,
Karaj, Tabriz, Shahsavar, Orumieh, Bandar Abbas, Arak, and Birjend. Many
of these cities do not have riot police. The revolutionary guards and
the Basiji have to be dispatched to many sites -- and an order to crack
down everywhere could be more than the authorities would dare.

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.