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IS AUSTRIA FAILING TO LEARN THE LESSONS FROM ITS NAZI PAST? pages 4–5
BETWEEN RELIGIOUS AND DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY
Iran’s stolen election
ANDRES COMPAGNUCCI – ‘The one that’s different’ (2007)
Obama’s first steps
To deal with the legacy he inherited from his predecessors, Barack Obama has rejected several of their ideas. True, the new US president has been in no hurry to withdraw US forces from Iraq and he has committed more troops to the murderous, hopeless deadlock in Afghanistan. On the home front, his policy vis-à-vis the automobile industry, the banks and the pay-packets of top executives shows no sign of breaking with the diehard neo-liberalism which allows the public to share company losses but not their profits.
Even so, Obama is no doubt the most progressive the US system can produce in the current climate – so much so that decisions taken by the powers that be in Washington are sometimes more acceptable than those coming from Paris, Brussels, Moscow, Beijing – or Tehran. If the White House holds its ground and powerful lobbies in Congress are kept under tight control, the United States may shortly have legislation in place to protect trade union rights and deal with the cost of health care for the 46 million Americans who have no insurance cover. That would be no mean achievement.
It can be argued that Obama is, after all, a Democrat. But that is to ignore 40 years of history. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, took office in 1969, and both the Democratic presidents who succeeded him waged most of their battles against the progressive ideas of their own party. So both effectively paved the way for the conservative Republicans who succeeded them (Ronald Reagan and George W Bush). Carter set the deregulation ball rolling, pursued an ultramonetarist policy and revived the cold war on the pretext of defending human rights. Things were even worse under Clinton: tougher penal sanctions were introduced, the death penalty extended country-wide, federal aid for the poor abolished and military operations undertaken – without any UN mandate – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Kosovo. Obama’s first steps must also be measured against these precedents.
True, there were no real surprises in the content of his Cairo speech on 4 June: Bush had already accepted the idea of a Palestinian state and all the incumbents of the White House since Carter had called for a stop to Israeli settlements – with the results we see now. But Obama’s tone was new. Speaking of US relations with the peoples of the Middle East, he said “the cycle of suspicion and discord must end” and he was careful to avoid the word “terrorist”, which his predecessor had used so freely. Obama even acknowledged that: “Hamas does have support among some Palestinians”. Finally, by suggesting the Palestinians should follow the example of the (non-violent) struggles of the Afro-Americans, he implicitly identified Israeli colonialism with the “humiliation of segregation” once suffered by black people in America.
But, he added, “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone”. This wise principle was immediately applied to Iran. In his Cairo speech, Obama had expressed regret over the coup engineered by the US secret services which brought down Mohammed Mossadeq’s government in 1953: “In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” This was another way of saying the US was not in an ideal position to raise the issue of election rigging – especially when those in power in Iran counted on just that in order to accuse their unfortunate competitors, once themselves pillars of the regime, of being in the pay of the Great Satan. Meanwhile, the worse things get in Iran, the more any inclination by Obama to negotiate with Tehran will expose him to accusations of naïvety from the neo-conservative right.
Any US president, whether he likes it or not, has an empire to run and is therefore subject to the tight constraints of US strategic interests. Nevertheless, Obama’s first steps suggest that he has not yet altogether forgotten his progressive past in the streets of Chicago.
TRANSLATED BY BARBARA WILSONinside this isue Display of anger and disenchantment at EU elections page 5 South Korea gripped by second economic crisis in a decade page 6 Rule of law, not elections, is what China’s middle class wants page 7
Eyewitness: those who fought Burma’s repressive regime speak out page 8 Carbon lobby thwarts calls to tackle climate change in Australia page 12 L’Oréal: is the global cosmetics brand still worth it? page 14
Opposition to a second term of office for President Ahmadinejad, and to the way the election was conducted, has brought together
all walks of Iranian society. Despite the power residing in Iran’s Supreme Leader, the strength of this concerted opposition has
caused a seismic shock at the heart of the regime
BY AHMAD SALAMATIAN
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave this injunction to members of the government nine months before the country’s presidential election on 12 June: “Do not behave as though your mandate has only a few months left. Prepare yourselves for five more years in office!”
Khamenei showed no qualms over stating his wish that his protégé, the incumbent Mohammed Ahmadinejad, should serve a second term. This is a clear demonstration of the responsibility the Supreme Leader bears for the current crisis. It stems in large measure from his decision to consolidate his authority, get rid of his enemies – including those in positions of power – and block all attempts at reform.
The 2005 presidential election had provided him with a starting point (1). By the end of reformist Mohammed Khatami’s second presidential term, the public had become very disillusioned with him: under the reformists, there had been steps towards liberalisation but they had proved unable to tackle the country’s economic and social problems.
Eight presidential candidates had been authorised to stand in 2005 and, in spite of a relatively high turnout (62.8%), none won an overall majority in the first round. This meant a second round of voting, for the first time in an Iranian presidential election. Ahmadinejad, then mayor of Tehran, had polled just 5.7m votes out of the 29.4m votes cast in the first round. But in the second he won, beating both the reformists, whose camp was split, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the unpopular former president.
Ahmadinejad promised the electorate a fresh start. This was never very likely given that he had the backing of Iran’s military, security forces and propaganda machine, and was also supported by the Supreme Leader’s lucrative charitable foundations. But his populist rhetoric, focused on the notion of “justice”, proved highly effective as US interventionism, particularly in the war against Iraq in 2003, had stoked up nationalist feelings and even xenophobia.
Four years on, Ahmadinejad’s strategy was in little doubt: it was to block progress towards reform and marginalise the Supreme Leader’s former ally Rafsanjani, who had by then become an irritant. But Ahmadinejad’s aggressive tone and disastrous management of the economy had built up a huge coalition opposed to him winning a second term. Its members come from across Iranian society – from the upper echelons of power to the lowest rungs of society.
Ahmad Salamatian is a former member of the Iranian parliament
Reservations have even been expressed by Osoulgarayan, the umbrella group that brings together Iran’s fundamentalists, which backed Ahmadinejad in the second round in 2005.
And when Khatami again put his name forward, he was greeted enthusiastically during his short campaign in March in Iran’s southern provinces. But the state press launched a virulent campaign against him: the editor of Kayhan, the Supreme Leader’s personal representative, predicted Khatami would suffer the same fate as Benazir Bhutto (assassinated in Pakistan in the run-up to elections). Faced with these threats, which the Supreme Leader refused to condemn, Khatami withdrew.
Meanwhile, when two conservatives close to Khamenei – Mohammad Ghalibaf, Tehran’s mayor, and Ali Larijani, speaker of the parliament, who had both stood in 2005 – showed signs of putting themselves forward in this year’s election in the hope of averting electoral disaster for their side, they came into directo conflict with the Supreme Leader.
Back from the wilderness
The way was now open for Mir-Hossein Mousavi to make his return from the political wilderness. Mousavi, who had been prime minister from 1981 until the post was abolished in 1989, presented himself as the compromise candidate, a “reformer who stresses the fundamental values” of the Islamic revolution. He sought to unite not only the reformists but also those in Osoulgarayan who wouldn’t support a second term for Ahmadinejad.
Having led the government during the long war against Iraq and been involved in decisionmaking in the wake of the revolution, no-one could call him a western liberal. The US has even accused him of sponsoring the attack on the US marines base in Beirut in 2003, which resulted in 240 deaths. However, Mousavi has matured and – like many of the protagonists in the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9 – he believes that the regime must be open to change.
The Supreme Leader took a different view. Eight of the 12-member Guardian Council, which is responsible for selecting “acceptable” candidates for the presidential election, came out in favour of Ahmadinejad and played for as much time as it could before approving any other candidates. It prolonged the uncertainty in order to limit the time available for campaigning.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad had been campaigning all over the country for months,
Continued on page 2