The Iranian people bravely keep on demonstrating in the streets of Tehran and the US President Barack Obama keeps on being under more and more under pressure. Recently - after few days of apathy - he urged Iran’s government to “stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people”, but this is not enough. If he wants to be considered a leader, he will have to take a stronger stance against the Iranian regime. It will not be easy, as he based his whole campaign on stretching a hand out to the Islamic Republic and engaging it on Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, Obama seems scared of a further crisis with Tehran. But the fact is that a deep crisis already exists and the U.S. President will have to face it. Many liberals as well in the U.S. are waiting for Obama to give support to the Iranian demonstrators, who are shouting “Death to the dictatorship” and “We want freedom” and putting their own lives in danger. If Obama will not do anything but limit himself just to words of no commitment, he could lose credibility.
The West is just watching and not doing anything to help this uprising, even though it could at least install satellites to restore better communications inside the country, vital for demonstrators. Obama, who hoped with his speech in Cairo to change the Middle East, looks weak and confused, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the U.S. is “watching and waiting.” But until when does the Obama Administration want to watch and wait? Until it sees who will win -- hedging its bets -- so it can go back to “engagement? Was it not this type of neutrality that the U.S. practised with Hitler throughout the 1930s, when it would have been so much less costly in men and treasure to stop him before he crossed the Rhine? “It is not our business,” President Obama apparently said recently. But, as with Hitler, leadership abroad eventually becomes our business.
In the meantime, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still the President, having allegedly won 62.6 percent of the vote, while Mir Hussein Moussavi, the top challenger, got under 34 percent. The official results were dubious; Ahmadinejad won by large margins even in his opponents’ hometowns. Furthermore, the shortages of ballots, the shutting down of websites and text messages on election day, the closing down of rival campaign headquarters after the vote and the clashes lead people to believe that the election was stolen from Moussavi. For his part, Ahmadinejad, with a very serious face, said on TV, that elections had been “free and healthy,” adding that “people voted for my policies.”
However, there is an important point that the international media are missing. The Islamic Republic of Iran is not a democracy and whether this election was stolen or not, the whole process should be declared undemocratic, as it -- like any other important political decision taken in Iran -- is totally conditioned by the Supreme Leader and his entourage. In Iran, presidential candidates have to pass the screening of the Guardian Council. Of the 475 candidates (no women) who this year presented their candidatures, only four survived the screening.
The Middle East Media Research Institute explains in one of its analyses that “the reformist camp that existed until 2005 has been wiped out by the regime, through a systematic policy which began with the 1998 assassination of intellectuals and continued following the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”. Today, both major political parties in Iran belong to the conservative camp. In a press conference, Moussavi’s supporters explained that they supported him because he accepted the four fundamentals: Islam, the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini, and Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Hence, one can only speculate on how much better the situation would have been had Moussavi won. Maybe relations with the West could have been more relaxed, but as long as the system of the Islamic Republic remains, and its Leader controls the country, nothing would have really changed. On the other hand, these demonstrations lead to interesting dynamics. Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karoubi, portrayed in the West as reformists even though they have never belonged to that movement, are part of the old guard and to the elite of the Islamic Revolution.
As the known Iranian intellectual Rami Jahanbegloo writes in The Indian Express: Moussavi and Karoubi finds now themselves “at the head of a pro-democracy and pro-reform movement that continues defying beyond the results of the presidential election the very essence of illiberalism and authoritarism in Iran”. Moussavi even declared himself to be ready for martyrdom, after the Leader declared the demonstrations illegal. What does that mean? Has Moussavi, after being part of the regime, “awakened” and is now challenging the Supreme Leader? Does this also mean that he is putting up for discussion the structure of the Islamic Republic? Or does he still accept the principle of an Islamic Republic, and we are witnessing just a fracture inside it?
Riots in the street have continued; as well as demonstrations. For now, the Iranian people are just asking “where is my vote” -- but what is their goal? To have Moussavi be the President and leave the structure of the Islamic Republic alive with a Supreme Leader on top of it, or to topple down the whole regime?