It has taken over 30 years for Iranians to mobilize in 1979 fashion, filling the streets in sizeable protests, but they may have missed the point.
People are outraged at the outcome of what they are calling a fraudulent election that put Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in office and shut out closest rival Mir Hossein Mousavi by a margin of two to one, according to government accounts. Taken at face value, the protests, disputing uncounted votes, are mainly spearheaded by Mousavi supporters who wished to see their candidate in office. But is that really the issue here? If Mousavi were put into office, would the corruption be any different? The more important questions would be: How much authority does an Iranian president have anyway? How are candidates selected? Can anyone run? Who counts the votes? Who has the final say? If these protesting Iranians feel that the election was rigged, then their demonstration is entirely misdirected.
For days we have watched on television as police and Islamic Republic officials have beaten protestors mercilessly. Eventually the protests will be quashed. The government will not relinquish any power, Ahmadinejad will remain president, and Iranians will become even more disillusioned about their fate and discouraged to take their grievances to the streets ever again. The chance to speak out, to really speak out, about the injustices of this regime and the corruption that has become commonplace for over three decades was, plainly wasted. At an auspicious time when the international community would have thrown its support behind such a movement, Iranians are shedding blood, sweat and tears to protest only a peripheral offense in the grand scheme. And although this overarching outrage against the regime has driven Iranians to protest, media reports—the few that gained access after the government blocked coverage—saw it as a grievance not directed against the system, but against results.
Right now protestors on the streets are shouting, “Death to the dictator!” Over the last 30 years when Iranians would gather on smaller-scale protests, they would shout the same chant referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a key figure in the Islamic Revolution of Iran and a close confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini. But now they redirected their protest to Ahmadinejad, a leader with less power and farther from the root of the problem: the Islamic regime. If regime change or at least significant policy changes such as fair elections are the goal of the Iranian people, then they are better off protesting against the Supreme Leader, who is appointed and never elected, and this regime, rather than targeting a puppet president and contested election results. These are only some of the obstacles, perhaps even deliberately placed, that are part of a much larger dilemma.
The blame for this miscommunication can be shared with western journalists who are at times lazy and often not able to reconcile and characterize pivotal events within their political, historical and cultural contexts. When it comes to the Middle East, and in particular, Iran, journalists rarely dig deeper to ask pressing questions, to get to higher sources and to investigate truth. Many times reporters rely on press releases and web sites put forth by governments or political organizations. In the case of the Islamic Republic, they have mastered a clever balance between a political and religious enigma daunting to the media and an aggressive and effective instrument of propaganda.
The implementation of a nation-wide presidential election was in fact part of this propaganda machine. The regime used this election to legitimize and stabilize its 30-year clench on the country. For months Khamenei urged Iranians to go to the polls, emphasizing that voter turnout would validate and even strengthen the regime’s existence. So the question begs, why did Iranians participate? Did they not expect foul play? Why were they more eager to wear green, supporting Mousavi’s Green Revolution than to question a government system that doesn’t allow women, Jews, Bahai’s, Christians or anyone not from a religious Shiite background to run for office?
The distinction should be made here that the IR’s “Green Revolution” does not refer to agriculture or the environment. Green is the representative color of Islam. It was the Prophet Mohammad’s favorite color and his turban and coat were always green. Whether or not Mousavi supporters know the significance is irrelevant. They were drawn to promises and dreams of change and hope, familiar to Americans and common in this year’s global election landscape. Many Iranians believed that a ‘moderate’ president would change their fate, particularly when the values that they’ve longed to experience were dangled before them. It comes as no surprise that many, particularly among the youth, opted to take a chance at change rather than to boycott yet another deceptive tool used by the regime to iron grip its stance. While enthusiastic participation and reaction to the recent elections suggest that civic engagement and progress is on the horizon for this country, in reality, Iranians stepped right into the regime’s trap.