Juan Cole: Guardianship Council Rules out Annulment of Election Results

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

Iran's Guardianship Council, a sort of clerical senate on Tuesday ruled out any cancellation of the results of the recent presidential election, as called for by the opposition. The official outcome gave incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term. The vote tallies for Ahmadinejad have struck large numbers of Iranians as wholly unbelievable. So the Supreme Leader has spoken and the Guardianship Council has spoken.

It should be underlined that as it developed in 1979-1980, the revolutionary Iranian regime has two wings. There is a sphere of clerical authority, represented by Khamenei, and a sphere of popular sovereignty, represented by the parliament and, later, the president. The clerical sphere includes not only Khamenei but also two collective bodies, the Guardianship Council and the Expediency Council (which has among other duties the charge of reconciling conflicts between the civil parliament and the Guardianship Council). The clerical sphere also includes the judiciary.

The sphere of popular sovereignty is subordinate to the clerical sphere, but not a puppet of it. The parliament has passed laws that were known to be disliked by Khamenei. The popular sphere was a place that ordinary laymen could blow off steam. Reformists such as former president Mohammad Khatami used the presidency as a bully pulpit to press for more freedom of expression and more rights for women. He was largely blocked by the clerical sphere, but while he was president he did effect changes.

The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 changed these dynamics, since his views overlapped in some areas with those of the clerical sphere. In essence, Iran moved closer to being a one-party state. By stealing the election for Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has effectively made a coup on behalf of the clerical sphere in alliance with lay hard liners, which threatens to virtually abolish the sphere of popular sovereignty. That is what Mousavi and Karroubi and their followers are objecting to so vehemently. From the outside, Iran was often depicted as a totalitarian state. But from the inside it seemed to have wriggle room. The reformers are saying that the regime has just moved toward really being a totalitarian state and is now removing any space for dissent.

In response, a leader of one of Iran's genuine political parties, Hosain Marashi of the Kargozaran, which supports former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a pragmatic conservative line, has called for the formation of a broad political bloc to work over time to challenge the"illegitimate" (na-mashru`) government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mir Hosain Mousavi, the chief rival of Ahmadinejad, met Monday with senior Iranian clergy to complain about the regime security forces attacking peaceful protesters and killing some of them. He maintains that such repression will only worsen the current crisis. That Mousavi, a former prime minister, is still getting access to senior ayatollahs and has not been arrested shows that the regime is proceeding cautiously in its crackdown. Mousavi has openly challenged the Supreme Leader, who so far has been helpless to silence him because of mass public support for him.

Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist presidential candidate, has called for nationwide mourning of the demonstrators killed last Saturday, to be held on Thursday. Among the victims on Saturday was Neda Agha Sultan, who has become an iconic martyr for the reform movement.

Aljazeera English carries Neda's fiance's account of her death:

Mourning martyrs is central to Shiite Iran's religious sensibilities, and Karroubi's appeal plays on powerful cultural themes.

About 1000 protesters gathered in downtown Tehran late afternoon Monday, but the security forces dispersed them with main force. Attempts were made by protesters to block traffic in parts of Tehran on Monday afternoon, but they appear to have been effectively broken up. Western reporters in Iran have had severe restrictions placed on them.

An eyewitness report from a list I am on, about Monday's broken-up scattered demonstrations in Tehran:

' I cannot sleep and not write this.

Today in Haft-e Tir, there were so many members of basij that they outnumbered the demonstrators 3 or 4 to 1. They were less focused on women. This must be related to the murder of poor Neda. And this was also why whenever they got hold of a man, women would surround them and shout don't beat him, don't beat and they would turn and anxiously say we didn't beat him. It was astonishing. They explained; they talked.

But they didn't allow us to congregate; they kept telling us to walk and the crowd walked quietly for 2 hours in the circle (meydaan) and spontaneously gathered in whichever area they were not present. About 2000 of us were walking around the circle and only shouting Allah-o Akbar until they were forced to disperse us with tear and pepper gases. I thought people's patience and persistence was great, although there were also many bad scenes and I cried.

They arrested a whole bus load of people. There were many intelligence folks in the crowd too. They would point to a person and the basijis would arrest that person. There was no one from Sepah and the police was obviously sympathetic to the crowd. I swear some of the Basijis were only 14 or 15, or at least what they looked like to me. On the other hand, women are playing an amazing role in the streets; both in terms of numbers and effectiveness.. '

Since demonstrations are becoming so hard to stage, what with motocycle Basij forces constantly patrolling and the regime's willingness to break heads even just for having a peaceful demonstration, the opposition is rumored to be shifting tactics.

Mir Hosain Mousavi is said to be planning to call for a national strike. It is hard to keep people from closing their shops and declining to go to work, and if the transportation workers join in, it can close down the city. (The Pakistani public used this tactic in its successful quest to reinstate the supreme court chief justice dismissed by a military dictator). In fact, if the transportation workers strike, they can force most people to miss work . . .

So this item, which appeared on an email list, is potentially very important:

' Excerpts from Statement by Tehran and Suburbs Bus Workers Syndicate Published at this site

Translator’s note: The Tehran Bus Workers’ Syndicate has been in the forefront of Iranian labor struggles since 2005. Their leader Mansour Osanloo has has been languishing in prison since the Summer of 2007. Other members of the organization have been under attack and in and out of prison.

“We Condemn the Suppression and Intimidation of Civil Institutions”

During the past few days we have witnessed the passionate struggle and presence of millions of women, men, old and young, ethnic and religious minorities in Iran . They demand that the government recognize their most basic rights, that is, their right to choose freely, independently and without fraud. This right has been recognized in most parts of the world where every effort is made to protect it. In the midst of this situation, we have witnessed intimidation, arrests, murders and an egregious crackdown which is about to expand and lead to the deaths of many innocent human beings. This crackdown will only lead to more protests among the people, and not their retreat.

The Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate had said the following in a statement that it had issued prior to the June 12 presidential election. “In the absence of freedom of organization, our organization is naturally deprived of a social institution that would protect it. The Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate considers political activity to be the definite right of each member of society. If the presidential candidates present their labor charter and give us practical guarantees on their election promises in relation to labor, workers have the choice to participate or not participate in this election.”

It is clear to all that the demands of the majority of Iranian society goes far beyond economic demands. During the past few years, we have emphasized that so long as the principle of freedom of organization and choice is not realized, any talk of social freedom and economic rights is more of a joke as opposed to reality.

On the basis of this reality, the Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate supports those who are giving their all to build a free and independent civil institution. We condemn any kind of suppression and intimidation.

In order to recognize economic and social rights in Iran, Friday June 25 has been declared an international day of support for imprisoned workers and trade unions in Iran. We are calling on everyone to consider this day to be more than a defense of economic rights. Let’s transform this day into a commemoration of human rights in Iran and ask our fellow workers around the world to take actions in defense of the pummeled rights of the majority of Iranians.

For the Expansion of Justice and Freedom Vahed Workers Syndicate June 2009'

Likewise suggestive is this piece, appearing in the student newspaper Amir Kabir News and translated by a group of UCLA students, which was posted to an email list:

' Amir Kabir News: A group of faculty and professors at Sanati Sharif University's Chemistry College resigned yesterday. These scholars in protest to the recent committed crimes resigned as a group. Prior to this, several faculty members at Tehran University had also resigned in protest to the crimes committed on the University campus. A group of scholars from AmirKabir University also resigned last saturday after gathering at the university mosque in protest to the recent events against the people, the students, and the election frauds.'
Read entire article at Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole)

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More Comments:

Arnold Shcherban - 6/24/2009

Mr. Cole,
I have admired the great majority of your articles and commentaries so far (including those on Iran-related affairs), but it seems to me that on the issue of the recent Iranian elections you stepped aside from the previously maintained position of impartiality and objectivity.
You assert, e.g.,: "By stealing the election for Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei...", i.e. you take as proven the assumption of fradulent elections.
However, as far as I'm aware of the proof of this assumtion is yet to be made by anyone. Neither Mr. Moussavi himself nor his supporters, while loudly making the same accusation as you do, has not so far presented any serious evidence in favor of massive electorial fraud.
I can assure you that I despise current clerical oppressive regime in Iran if not more, then not less than you do.
But how would you characterize my assertion that continuing protests (of primarily young) Iranians are, in large measure, the result of traditional covert and subversive US measures, such as bribery and anti-governmental propaganda (plus the economic sanctions) taken within Iranian territory and directed to topple present Iranian regime?
Can it be that many of us in cases like the discussed one often try to impose wishful thinking on unacceptable reality?