Monday, June 15, 2009

Election Situation in Iran

A friend asked me today whether or not I had blogged about the election controversy in Iran. This made me sad for two reasons. One, it shows that my "friend" does not read my blog. And two, it makes me sad because if he would have read my blog he would have known that I haven't written anything on the topic. The situation not only has national security implications, but it is also just important and blog-worthy.

As most everyone knows the basic facts are this. Iran recently had a presidential election between current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hussein Moussavi. After the election named Ahmadinejad the winner there were many allegations of election irregularities which led to riots around Iran and the call for an investigation into the election. Those are the basic facts. There are more interesting nuances to the story, but I'm not going to get into them. Instead we'll skip to the present and talk about a New York Times article I just read that says that the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, met with Moussavi to hear his concerns about the election irregularities he alleges. The NYT article says that this is an important event because it shows that the unrest around the country is cause for concern among its leaders and an investigation may be around the corner. I have to concur with the Times's conclusion here. It certainly does seem like Khamenei's meeting with Moussavi is not of little significance and may represent deep concerns within the country's leadership that the election deserves closer inspection..

I also want to draw your attention to a post I just read on the blog Abu Muqawama. The post talks about a Washington Post op-ed that makes the point that polling in Iran revealed that Ahmadinejad had a nearly 2-1 edge over Moussavi with the strongest bloc of those voters being aged 18-24 (which is the demographic that alot of the protestors are coming from). Andrew Exum (author of the Muqawama blog) makes the interesting observation that maybe the people in the western world that are seeing these riots and reading about the civil unrest in Iran are not getting the whole picture. He makes the point that most of these visible protesters are probably made up of educated, well-resourced people who are not representative of the larger Iranian population. I think this is a very valid point to make. It's hard to tell what the pulse of a nation is when all you're shown and all you hear about are protests in major urban areas from people that are mostly students or people that are well off. For example, the NYT article has several quotes but they are from: an actor, a student, and a financial advisor. Not groups that often represent the popluation at large. The NYT also said that there have been crackdowns on student protestors in their dorms. This tends to underscore Exum's point that maybe this protest is only coming from a student demographic and others who are educated or well off (like a financial advisor). These are demographics that generally let their demands be heard and have the resources to do so. This isn't to say that they definitely don't represent the mood of most Iranians. Who knows how accurate the polling is? It could be old data or the data could be affected by the fact that people there are afraid to speak out against Ahmadinejad. Regardless of those possibilities, I think that Exum's point that we may not have the whole picture is one that should be considered.

As a final note I'd just like to say that any kind of civil unrest in a country that has, or is on the precipice of having, nuclear capability is a little unsettling.

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