June 19th, 2009
07:35 PM ET

The Spirit of '79

[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"]

Reza Aslan
For Time.com

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.

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Filed under: Iran
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. David, Indiana

    Yeah really Annie Kate, the two parties sit down at a table and map out "how each country can be an ally to the other" Wow that's even more noncommittal than President Obama and he's actually got a job that requires him to be cautious. Way to not leap into anything.

    June 22, 2009 at 3:55 am |
  2. Margaret istre

    History always seems to repeat itself. I'am sadden by the violence, however ,I would like to see a democracy ,human rights & women rights become a part of all countries. Is it stupidity to want these very rights we have as Americans for our neighbors in the world? I deeply feel compassion & empathy for Iran protestors.

    June 21, 2009 at 8:17 pm |
  3. sofia poullada

    Hi Reza,
    Someone at CNN should be interviewing Mehrangiz Kar at Harvard (top Iranian woman Human Rights lawyer). The voice of distinguished Iranian women is important too, not just the Iranian men.
    Mehrangiz Kar has a website, but i understand i can not put a link in these CNN comment boxes.
    Also no one seems to have any information on what has happened to Shirin Ebadi??? She has not been heard from. Has she been arrested?
    Thank you,
    Sofia Poullada

    June 21, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  4. J.V.Hodgson

    One sided irrelevant nonsense, and what has a revolution 30 years ago got to do with todays Iran?
    it's like saying the curent global economic crisis is exactly the same as the 1929 great depression. It is nonsense!

    June 21, 2009 at 5:59 am |
  5. Nicholas R.

    I think the supreme leader is a crazy for going against his own people like that. Iran people will not have it, their will be bloodshed and the the current president should be careful cause all those radicals you once tried to corrupt, and cheated out of votes, will be at your doorstep. No one will take iran or their so called presidential elections seriously. If every time things will be rigged! And NOW they will probably kill or prosecute the opposition in due time, if the people keep going on with the protest. Sad situation.

    June 21, 2009 at 4:06 am |
  6. Kerri

    I hope that the people who want a recount or a new vote in Iran get their wish. I also hope that my country stays out of the situation. This proves that a people can do something without the U.S., even under harsh regimes. So I hope we stop policing the world and fix our problems in our own country for once.

    June 20, 2009 at 5:37 pm |
  7. Travis

    What are the Revolutionary Guard and the Army doing? Have the bazaaris joined in the protests? And is there any word of significant unrest in Azerbaijan, or any other parts of the country?

    June 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  8. ann

    Why do we care? These people are crazy.. now they know how we feel about Obama!

    June 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  9. robyn caffrey keyser wv 26726

    just keep in mind !

    it's not ok for the loss allready, but it seams a big change is coming

    yes we can

    June 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm |
  10. mahtub


    Irannian people, DO not want Islamic regime. They never wanted this regime. This regime was brought to us by carters administration( american goverment ) back in 70s.
    ITs responsibility of american goverment, to correct the mess they have caused. Jimmy Carter should be tried for crimes against Irannian peoples

    June 19, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  11. Nazila

    After listening to Khamenei’s speech today, I no longer have any doubt that his reign over the Iranian people will soon come to an end. My concern is how many lives will be lost before that time.

    June 19, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Paula Ashton

    Funny, from all the info and tweeting coming from inside Iran, _THEY_ think it's a full on Revolution.

    How long before the regular media catches up?!?

    June 19, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  13. leonard bodell

    Obama has been correct, I feel, for not giving the supreme leader an obvious out to blame this all on zionist, america and the uk. he has done so anyway. The president needs to stand up for freedom, choice, open honest elections. The American people must be verbal on socialmedia, blogs etc about their outrage (we the people have more latitude than does the president)
    However, we must be more forceful as a nation behind the scenes to affect openness and freedom in Iran. We can not and should not turn our backs on these freedom seekers in a way we did with the Chinese a decade ago and Hungry in the 1950's

    June 19, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  14. Tim Gibson

    For those of us who do recall the Iran revolution in prior years, we must also recall the support our elected leaders offered to the leadership that was overthrown as the people of Iran spit upon all that was and is America. They welcomed in the supreme leader. They also held Americas hostage in the uprising for well over a year.

    Now they revolt once again. What direction it leads is anyones guess, yet, we must remain removed as a government from their process and personal trials.

    June 19, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  15. william

    No question , it is the courageous women that are putting themselves at greatest risk leading the movement toward liberty , after so many centuries of being oppressed by control freak males using islam as a rationalization of their behavior. Time for some officers in the military to do the honorable thing and administer some long deserved justice. (Please editor don't moderate .. your not living in Teheran !!)

    June 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm |
  16. Annie Kate

    How many protestors would be satisfied with just a vote recount? Or perhaps now they want to vote over again under well monitored conditions to ensure the votes are not tampered with? From what I have read and seen these protests feel like they are about more than the vote at this point. Whichever "side" wins I hope they will be willing to sit down at a table with their American counterparts and map out how each country can be an ally to the other. A country can never have too many allies.

    June 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm |