Let’s leave aside, for today, Vice President Biden’s incredibly destructive comments on Israel’s “sovereign” right to bomb Iran, remarks that are widely being interpreted in the Middle East as a green light from the United States for Israel to launch an attack. If the bungling veep meant what he said, then we’re in big trouble. Even if he didn’t, it’s bound to give fuel to Iran’s hardliners in their inane campaign to blame the US, the UK and Israel for Iran’s home-grown opposition movement. Thankfully, comments from a White House spokesman and from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs may have undercut Babblin’ Joe this time.
In Iran itself, efforts by the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei regime to silence the opposition clearly aren’t working yet. The street protests, brutally suppressed, have quieted. But the political opposition continues to build.
Most important, none of the oppositionists are backing down. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former President Khatami have all continued to press their challenge to the regime. According to a reformist newspaper in Iran, Etemad-e-Melli, Mousavi is planning to organize a political party that can carry the movement forward. (There are, in Iran, no real political parties. In the election, although Mousavi ran with the support of the reformist establishment, students, the business class, women, and other constituencies — including many clerics — he did not have a political party to support him, with offices in cities and provinces and a staff.)
Mousavi also laid out a detailed challenge to the fraudulent, June 12 presidential election, in a 24-page document issued Saturday. He pointed out that the interior minister, who counted the votes, and the head of the Guardian Council, who certified the bogus result, are both close allies of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad who’d endorsed the president’s reelection. He noted that the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard had said they wouldn’t accept anyone but Ahmadinejad. And he charged that twenty million extra ballots were printed. Amid charges that he is a traitor and threats to arrest him, Mousavi’s latest moves show that he isn’t giving up.
Meanwhile, Rafsanjani — reportedly still busily rallying clerics to support an effort to overturn the election — met in public with relatives of those arrested in the regime’s post-election crackdown, a defiant act that raises his profile. And Khatami issued a blistering statement about the fraud and the subsequent crackdown:
“Many people voted because we called for a high turnout. With this result and the way of confrontation (with post-election protests) you can be sure that even us (reformers) cannot ask people to take part in the next election. …
“If you want to calm the atmosphere, why are you carrying out mass arrests? Oppressing people will not help end the protests. If these people have committed crimes, why are their legal rights as citizens not preserved, why don’t they have access to a lawyer, why are they not tried in a court, why haven’t they been charged?”
And he blasted the circus-style “confessions” by those under arrest:
“Obtaining confessions in front of cameras is a useless old method. Confessions under pressure are not valid.”
Most stunning, and widely reported, is the fact that a leading clerical body in Qom, Iran’s religious capital, issued a strong statement calling the election a fraud. The statement, from the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom — a mainstream group that includes many reformists in its ranks — said:
“Candidates’ complaints and strong evidence of vote-rigging were ignored. … Peaceful protests by Iranians were violently oppressed. Dozens of Iranians were killed and hundreds were illegally arrested. The outcome is invalid.”
In a statement reported by PressTV, an Iranian state-controlled satellite broadcasting network, Rafsanjani further criticized the election during his meeting with the families of those arrested:
“People from across the country created a very positive and epic scene by showing up at the polls, but unfortunately the events that followed and the problems that were created for some turned bitter. I do not believe that any alert conscience could be content about the circumstances that have unfolded. By respecting the rights of all citizens, we must try to maintain our unity and understanding and raise the trust in our system and its credibility among the people and prevent enemies from taking advantage.”
Rafsanjani is playing a middle game, trying to appeal to those on the fence, in part by appealing to them to rise in defense of the entire system. Many conservative clerics, caught in the middle, fear that the reformists push Iran down a slippery slope toward the collapse of the entire system, so Rafsanjani is making the oppositve argument: that the regime’s own actions threaten disunity and political explosions that could spell the end of the Islamic Republic. As chairman of the Expediency Council, a clerical body designed to resolve disputes within the system, and as chairman of the Assembly of Experts, another body of clerics who have the responsibility to appoint — or dismiss — the Leader, Ali Khamenei, Rafsanjani wields great power.
None of this, of course, is enough to force a new election or to remove either Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, who are committed to hanging on to power by force of arms. At the very least, the regime’s intelligence apparatus knows about every detail of what’s happening behind the scenes, and they won’t permit Mousavi, Karroubi, Rafsanjani et al. much maneuvering room. But it shows that the opposition isn’t giving up, and that Round Two of the post-election showdown may be underway soon.