[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/19/iran.regional.reax/art.clerics.afp.gi.jpg caption="Iranian clerics listen to Grand Ayatollah Ali Akbar Khamenei at Tehran University earlier today"]
For those of us who lived through the Iranian revolution, which toppled the government of the Shah and paved the way for the creation of the Islamic republic in 1979, there is a dreamlike familiarity to the massive riots roiling the streets of Tehran. I remember the seemingly spontaneous rallies that brought the country to a screeching halt. The young, fearless protesters daring the security forces to make them martyrs in the cause of freedom. The late-night call-and-response of Allahu akbar (God is great!) echoing from rooftop to rooftop. The strange confederacies between young students and elderly clerics, military men and intelligentsia, conservatives and reformists, all united by a common cause.
Never in the 30 years since that revolution has Iran experienced anything like the popular protests that we have seen in the past week. By now, the accusations of election fraud are fairly well known. It is implausible that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won in a landslide re-election. It is doubtful that he not only took the capital city, Tehran — the heart of the reformist movement — by a staggering 50% but also managed to win in Azerbaijan, the birthplace of his chief rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, by a 4-to-1 margin. (As an Azeri friend of mine said, this would be akin to Senator John McCain winning the African-American vote against Barack Obama.) It seems odd that the election was called so soon after the polls had closed, despite the many millions of ballots still to be counted, most of them by hand.
The young and the middle class are not the only ones outraged by these election results. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, perhaps the second most powerful man in Iran and certainly the richest, and former President Mohammed Khatami, by far the country's most popular statesman, have both thrown their support behind the protesters. Two of Iran's highest religious authorities, the Grand Ayatullahs Hossein Ali Montazeri and Yousof Sane'i, have issued fatwas condemning acts of election fraud. Even Ahmadinejad's conservative rival, Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and a far more hawkish figure than Ahmadinejad, has claimed the election was rigged.
Filed under: Iran
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