by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 6, 2009
CONGRESS FIDDLES WHILE THE PLANET BURNS
DUMMERSTON, Vt., June 28, 2009 -- The massive public protests have ended in Iran. When unarmed protesters confront water cannons, tear gas and gunfire, they usually lose.
Nonetheless, you can't help but admire the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians of all ages and classes who risked their lives for one simple thing: that their votes be counted fairly.
Did incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win the presidential election over opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi? Probably, but it scarcely matters. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the fundamentalist Islamic clerics who have controlled Iran for the last 30 years still rule the country.
The clerics might have won this round, but this fight might not be over.
There was hope that Mousavi might be less of an international pariah than Ahmadinejad, and might represent a change in Iran. However, for all the newly minted talk about freedom and democracy, it seems that the neo-conservatives who talked loudly over the past couple of years about bombing Iran deep down really want Ahmadinejad to stay in power.
Now that Saddam Hussein is dead and Muammar Qaddafi has been neutered, Ahmadinejad fills the role of the irrational and fanatical foreign despot who can be used to justify a war. The last thing the neo-cons want is a popular uprising of the Iranian people that might topple Ahmadinejad and Khamenei and create a more pluralistic Islamic republic in Iran.
Strangely enough, the neo-cons might get their wish. Those who think Mousavi and his supporters represent a democratic movement will be surprised to know that most are strongly nationalist and anti-American. While half of Iran's population is 26 or younger - which means the overwhelming majority of voters in this election have no memory of the Shah and the 1979 revolution that removed him from power, much less the 1953 coup engineered by the CIA to put the Shah on his golden throne. Given the long history of U.S. meddling in Iranian affairs, Iranians neither desired nor accepted U.S. support in their protests.
And it's not like Mousavi is the second coming of Gandhi. No one can run for president in Iran without the Ayatollah's approval, and Mousavi was deemed acceptable by the clerics. Mousavi's record is not exactly a good one. As Iran's prime minister in the 1980s, he helped build up groups like Hezbollah into international terrorist forces by sending them money, weapons and manpower. And it was Mousavi who haggled over anti-tank missiles and money with Oliver North and Robert McFarlane in the infamous Iran-Contra affair.
Some say there is a class divide behind the protests. Ahmadinejad has the support of poorer Iranians, especially in rural areas where nearly half the population lives. Like any good politician, he keeps their support by making sure they receive their fair share of government aid. And, as someone who grew up poor, he treats them and their religious views with respect.
By contrast, Mousavi is the son of an urban merchant who appeals more to the urban middle class, especially college-educated youth. He also supports greater privatization of the Iranian economy and has attacked Ahmadinejad for maintaining an "alms-based " economy.
If Mousavi got the so-called "yuppie" vote, there seem to be even more Iranians supporting Ahmadinejad because, despite his anti-Semitism and his belligerence, he represents an Iran that doesn't want anyone else - least of all, the United States - to define it or tell it what to do.
Reportedly, Mousavi was surprised by the depth and the determination of his supporters and never expected a revolution to spring from the election. But, deep down, Mousavi and Ahmadinejad just represent different sides of the same coin.
What really drove the protests is the sentiment that young Iranians are getting sick of a regime run by bearded and reactionary older men. You can bully and intimidate people into submission for only so long before they rise up to claim the right to determine their own future.
Certainly, a "people power" revolution can oust a dictator or reverse a tainted election - as was the case in the Philippines in 1986, Serbia in 2000 or Ukraine in 2005. But they can also fail, as happened in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Mexico in recent years. But given the United States' history of intervention in Iran over the years, the best thing this nation can do right now is to stay out of the way.
Randolph T. Holhut is an award-winning journalist who has covered New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). Reach him at email@example.com, or read his thoughtful observations on literature by going to his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.