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The Radicalization of an Already Radical Iranian Regime?

11:05 AM, Jun 13, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Abbas Djavadi, with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, has been on the phone all night with people in Iran. He e-mails:

An Electoral Coup in Iran

It was a night of fundamental change of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was, however, not the change the overwhelming majority of the electorate indicated to be producing with their real votes yesterday, but a change in the ruling establishment of the country, an almost complete control by Revolutionary Guards, intelligence services, and the most radical forces of the regime.

Actually, everything seemed to be going fine until the polling stations closed at 10 pm Tehran time. By then, streets were green, the color of the favorite opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was generally expected to win with a considerable margin, by many estimates of late Friday even in the first round. Reformist newspapers had already started to announce Mousavi's victory and the reformist candidate himself was calling the people for a national celebration on Sunday.

Everything started after voting ended and the Interior Ministry with the government-established Election Commission started to count the votes. As the incoming first figures from villages and small towns favored incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the reformers still kept their faith: "Ahmadinejad is stronger in villages that comprise some 30% of the population," they said. "We will definitely win the cities." This was while even one percent of the citizens from western Iranian villages and small towns hadn't allegedly voted for Mehdi Karroubi, the other opposition candidate who, comes from the same region and enjoys considerable popularity in Lorestan and Kurdistan provinces.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a prominent film producer supporting Mousavi, who stayed in his favored candidate's headquarters, told Radio Farda that they were called by the Election Commission well before the first results were announced. "Don't announce Mr. Mousavi's victory yet," they were told by authorities. "We will gradually prepare the public and then you can proceed." Apparently, though, a well-prepared plan was at the works, but in a completely different direction. Isa Saharkhiz, journalist from Tehran, told Radio Farda that while the whole SMS network of the country was taken down and critical websites were blocked and newspapers closed, they disabled communication among supporters of opposition candidates and everybody started to fear that they are preparing to gradually inject the surprise "shocking news" during the night until they announce it early morning.

The later into the morning, the stronger -- and thus more unbelievable -- Ahmadinejad started to consolidate his figures.

Unknown and partly masked mobs, meanwhile, encircled the headquarters of the two opposition candidates Mousavi and Karroubi and attacked opposition supporters with sticks and gas spray, forcing them to flee. Mousavi issued a still faithful statement, reiterating his victory and saying that he would oppose and resist any attempt to change the real results. Later, though, he and Karroubi were no longer heard from. Instead, in spite of a ban by security forces, pro-Ahmadinejad groups poured into the streets to celebrate their candidate's "victory" although the count was still underway. There were clashes between groups of supporters of Mousavi and Karroubi on the one hand and security forces, on the other, in Tehran.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission announced the semi-final results based on 81% of the "counted" votes: Ahmadinejad 65%, Mousavi: 32%, Rezaei: 2% and Karroubi 1%! Interestingly, the percentages remained overall unchanged during the whole night although millions of more votes from different regions with different demographic combinations were "counted."

The "electoral coup," as many in Iran interviewed by Radio Farda called it, has changed the face of the Islamic Republic. It has formalized the exclusion of still moderate clerics, founding fathers and technocrats of the Islamic Republic, and consolidated the rule of a new elite led by Revolutionary Guards, intelligence offices, and radical Islamists who feel to be well-represented by the Ahmadinejad leadership of the last four years. It is widely assumed that the coup cannot have happened with the clear approval by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. As Supreme Leader, he is charged with protection of the Islamic Republic beyond all political groups and personalities. Khamenei has repeatedly said that a "truthful election with a high turnout" is the "clearest symbol of the system's legitimacy." Last night's rigged vote count seems to have left that legitimacy in shatters.

A fan of Radio Farda's Facebook page placed the following comment: "Stalin has shown the path for dictatorships: it's not important who votes, but who counts the votes." Another fan continued: "Green is no longer the color of hope, but that of resistance." Mystery remains on how this "resistance" of all those millions of anti-Ahmadinejad Iranians will evolve. The international community, for its part, will deal with a continued Ahmadinejad presidency that has even hardened its positions.