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Thursday, June 25, 2009
Iran's (accidental) Mandela
Mir Hossein Mousavi probably didn't set out to become the leader of the next Iranian revolution, but today, he finds himself a central protagonist in what looks for all the world like a struggle for the soul of Iran. The would-be president, who hasn't been seen in public for a disturbing amount of time and is essentially under house arrest, has the potential, at least on the surface, to become Iran's Nelson Mandela. That's both good news and bad news. The good news is that it means that eventually, he could win. The bad news is that it took Mandela more than 27 years.

The former hardliner who became a reformist during (and mostly after) the disputed election of 2009, defied his captors today. From the BBC:

Iran protest leader Mir Hossein Mousavi says he holds those behind alleged "rigged" elections responsible for bloodshed during recent protests.

In a defiant statement on his website, he called for future protests to be in a way which would not "create tension."

... A BBC correspondent in Tehran says the statement is a direct challenge to Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

... "I won't refrain from securing the rights of the Iranian people... because of personal interests and the fear of threats," Mr Mousavi said on the website of his newspaper, Kalameh.

Those who violated the election process "stood beside the main instigators of the recent riots and shed people's blood on the ground", Mr Mousavi said, pledging to show how they were involved.

Mr Mousavi, a former prime minister, spoke of the "recent pressures on me" that are "aimed at making me change my position regarding the annulment of the election".

He described the clampdowns he and his staff were facing.

"My access to people is completely restricted. Our two websites have many problems and Kalameh Sabz newspaper has been closed down and its editorial members have been arrested," said Mr Mousavi, who has not been seen in public for days.

"These by no means contribute to improving the national atmosphere and will lead us towards a more violent atmosphere," he added.

Of course, there are differences, and the Mandela analogy isn't perfect (it never is.) For one thing, Mousavi is acting with at least the tacit support of very powerful insiders and leading clerics, including would-be "supreme leader" replacement, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and former president Mohammed Khatami, and perhaps the speaker of parliament, who apparently was one of the 180 out of 290 members of Iran's parliament who snubbed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "victory party" this week. Mandela had no such official quasi-sanction. Still, like Mandela, the movement created in part by him has grown beyond Mousavi's person, to become an organic thing on its own, with his leadership, even in what looks like incarceration, combining with the support of people all around the world to give his supporters courage. And courageous they are.

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posted by JReid @ 11:15 AM  
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Iranians defy Khameini; Obama addresses violent reaction
More images available from the BBC

Iranian protesters came out in large numbers to defy the Ayatollah Khamenei. The response to their protests was brutal.

Iranian police have used water cannon, batons, tear gas and live rounds to break up protests over the presidential election, witnesses in Tehran say.

A BBC reporter said he saw one man shot and others injured amid running fights.

The BBC has video of what looks like a massive protest in Tehran, and another of a crowd being disbursed using tear gas.

Nico Pitney has all the updates, including Youtube video of disturbing, violent scenes of police beating women, and one woman who was fatally shot (warning: graphic) apparently by the pro-government "Basji" forces.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mousavi is said to have told some that he is preparing for martyrdom. Ominous. And he's now charging that the election was rigged months in advance.

President Obama issued a very strong, well done statement:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.

Amen. Our prayers are with the people in Iran.

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posted by JReid @ 4:45 PM  
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
More protests in Iran, soccer team has 1968 Olympic moment
From the BBC:
Tens of thousands of people have again taken to the streets in Iran's capital Tehran in protest at election results. It follows a call by presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi for further peaceful demonstrations.

An even larger protest is expected on Thursday, which Mr Mousavi says should be a day of mourning for the eight people killed after Monday's protest. ...

... Heavy restrictions have been placed on the BBC and other foreign news organisations. Reporters are not allowed to cover unauthorised gatherings or move around freely in Tehran - but there are no controls over what they can write or say.
Opposition demonstrations gathered in force in central Tehran on Wednesday afternoon.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in the capital says it is difficult to verify the numbers attending. Some estimates say between 70,000 and 100,000, others up to 500,000.

The march was reported to be in silence to try to avoid provoking the authorities.

Meanwhile the BBC has amazing video of an amazing green wristband protest by members of the Iranian soccer team that in some ways, recalled the protests by Black athletes at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, though clearly, the soccer team members who did this protest are taking considerably greater risk with their lives... Watch:

Al Jazeera reports the Iranian interior ministry is cracking down on bloggers, and preparing to investigate an attack on university students. In fact, bloggers have been ordered to remove any offending posts.

Al Jazeera also plays up President Obama's comments about similarities between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, which seem to be having the desired effect in Tehran:
The Revolutionary Guard has warned the country's online media it will face legal action if it "creates tensions".

Within the country, mobile phone text services have been down since the election. There is no access to Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

The interior ministry has ordered an investigation into an attack on university students in which it is claimed four people were killed.

At least seven people have been killed in recent clashes between the authorities and the opposition movement, according to state media reports, while hundreds more are thought to have been injured.

For its part, the foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents US interests in Tehran, on Wednesday to protest at "interventionist" US statements on Iran's election.

Obama told CNBC there appeared to be little difference in policy between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.

"Either way we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States," he said.

So is Mousavi different? Christian Amanpour and Richard Engel, the two best American reporters on the case in my view, both say yes, on domestic issues, and increasingly as the revolution goes on. But his history is one of a hardliner, and an establishment figure. More on Mousavi here and here. One interesting note: Mousavi was prime minister when the current Ayatollah, Mr. Khomeini, was president. Hm... apparently, Khomeini isn't wild about the idea of having an Iranian president who is his peer...

Robert Fisk of the Independent has some compelling scenes from the front lines :
Fear has gone in a land that has tasted freedom

The fate of Iran rested last night in a grubby north Tehran highway interchange called Vanak Square where – after days of violence – supporters of the official President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at last confronted the screaming, angry Iranians who have decided that Mirhossein Mousavi should be the president of their country. Unbelievably – and I am a witness because I stood beside them – just 400 Iranian special forces police were keeping these two armies apart. There were stones and tear gas but for the first time in this epic crisis the cops promised to protect both sides.

"Please, please, keep the Basiji from us," one middle-aged lady pleaded with a special forces officer in flak jacket and helmet as the Islamic Republic's thug-like militia appeared in their camouflage trousers and purity-white shirts only a few metres away. The cop smiled at her. "With God's help," he said. Two other policemen were lifted shoulder-high. "Tashakor, tashakor," – "thank you, thank you" – the crowd roared at them.

This was phenomenal. The armed special forces of the Islamic Republic, hitherto always allies of the Basiji, were prepared for once, it seemed, to protect all Iranians, not just Ahmadinejad's henchmen. The precedent for this sudden neutrality is known to everyone – it was when the Shah's army refused to fire on the millions of demonstrators demanding his overthrow in 1979.

Yet this is not a revolution to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Both sets of demonstrators were shouting "Allahu Akbar" – "God is Great" – at Vanak Square last night. But if the Iranian security forces are now taking the middle ground, then Ahmadinejad is truly in trouble.

John McCain, meanwhile, continues to make me very, very glad he was not elected president. McCain told CNN:
"On this issue, I do not believe that the president is taking a leadership that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom — and free elections are one of those fundamentals," the Arizona Republican told John Roberts on CNN's American Morning.

President Obama Tuesday said that he has deep concerns over the election results in Iran, but stressed that "it's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections."

McCain disputed that assessment. "We're not meddling in any country's affairs when we call for free and fair elections and the ability of people to exercise their human rights," he said Monday. "And when they disagree with a flawed or corrupt election, as the Iranian people have, [not] to be beaten and even killed in the streets."
To which one astute commentator replied (with link added by me):
Yes, McCain, lets do get more involved. Shall we bomb, bomb, bomb Iran? Shall we tell Ayatolla what we want him to do, and then if he refuses, what, blame President Obama for not being forceful enough? Win win either way, right?

And as usual, the most comprehensive collection of info is available from Nico Pitney at the Huffpo.

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posted by JReid @ 11:46 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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