The Iran election story has diverged into many different strands, from President Obama condemning the post-poll violence in Tehran to fresh enmity between Britain and the Islamic nation. Here we gather the latest news — and what pundits are saying.
Obama speaks out:
At a press conference in the US yesterday, President Obama said he was “appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days”. At the same time he “made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.”
Jonathan Chait at The New Republic sees Obama’s new strong rhetoric on Iran as strategy:
The thing that people haven’t figured out about President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy is that it’s the same as his conduct of domestic policy. Obama believes in the power of negotiation and public dialogue to split his adversaries–Republicans at home, Islamists abroad.
Chris Good at the The Atlantic looks to the historical implications of the US’s involvement in the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader, Muhammad Mossadeq, in Obama’s response to the current turmoil.
Regardless of what the history of 1953 means and how it should guide Obama–toward the overtly and actively pro-democratic stance of Graham and McCain, or toward the pro-rights but election-results-agnostic and careful-not-to-intervene stance the president has taken–it’s clear that Mossadeq is alive in the discussion both here and in Iran, even if his name isn’t being mentioned in the U.S.
For now, the U.S. President’s ability to do damage on the ground in Iran is much greater than his capacity to do good. Most reporting out of Iran makes clear that neither the protesters nor the leaders of Iran want Obama to openly side with them. Even without U.S. meddling, the mullahs have tried to blame Obama for the mess.
Britain v Iran
A spy row has erupted between Britain and Iran, with tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats, after Iran accused the Brits of espionage.
Ian Black, The Guardian on the history of British and Iranian relations:
But rows and ructions have been the norm between the two countries since before the 1979 Islamic revolution. So there was a grim inevitability about the spat as Tehran blamed its old adversary for mass protests over the “stolen” vote…
Britain’s negative image in Iran dates back to the 19th century when it sought to protect India, vied with Russia for strategic influence and rode roughshod over Persian sensibilities.
What is notable, however, is that Iran has so far fought shy of escalating hostility with the United States. It is possible that the British expulsions were intended as a warning, with Britain – seen as Washington’s closest ally – cast as proxy. But so long as Tehran resists picking a new quarrel with the United States, President Obama’s efforts to foster a new relationship with Tehran are not lost. If, as it appears, the ayatollahs are hesitant to burn their bridges with this US administration, that offers a sliver of hope.
Arab world’s subdued reaction:
In a series compiled by the New York Times Room For Debate blog, Rime Allaf reflects on the ‘subdued’ nature of Arab reactions to the crisis in Iran:
With the wounds of Israel’s war on Gaza still open, many Arabs are particularly stunned that the indifference with which Palestinians deaths were received has turned into an international solidarity campaign for Iranians throwing rocks at their oppressors and shouting “we have become Palestine.
Ronen Bergman says:
The turmoil in Tehran, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, is a dispute between rival political factions; it does not concern them, and it does not interest them.
And Nicholas Blanford:
For Hezbollah, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s confrontational stance helps sustain the popular struggle against Israel and the West. Indeed, the differences between Mr. Ahmadinejad and his challenger, Mir Hossein Mussavi, have little bearing on Hezbollah because those differences are centered on domestic rather than foreign policy issues.
Just who is Mousavi, the man they’re all supposedly fighting for?
Stuart Whatley, Huffington Post argues losing presidential candidate Mousavi is an ‘accidental hero’ of the reform movement in Iran:
As many have pointed out, Mousavi’s newfound role is rather ironic when one considers the darker side of his political diptych. Serving as Prime Minster from 1981 to 1989, Mousavi may have had a hand in some state actions that would give many of his contemporary supporters pause…having risen phoenix-like from history’s dustbin, [Mousavi] now finds himself leading the charge against the very system that he helped create.
Meanwhile, Christopher Dickey, Newsweek on Ayatollah Khamenei:
According to people who know him well, Khamenei dreams of creating an Islamic caliphate, where life would be more just, more equitable for all of Iran’s people. But the man he has chosen to implement that dream, President Ahmadinejad, is less an idealist than a self-serving populist.
The death of Neda
The death of Iranian woman Neda Soltani on the streets of Tehran, captured on video and now seen by millions around the world, has given the Iranian crisis a human face.
Yvonne R. Davis at Huffington calls Neda ‘a martyr for freedom’:
Neda, I actually met you on video like the millions of people around the world this past weekend. You were lying face up on a dirty street in Tehran. Soaked in a pool of your own blood your eyes are wide open and mine for a moment are shut. In your silence, you have spoken to me louder than any voice ever has screaming for liberty and justice.
Rapidly and overwhelmingly, Iranians are beginning to believe that given the choice between no reform and collapse of the regime they would opt for the latter. It isn’t Barack from Cairo but Neda from Tehran who’s been heard.
Fired at, beaten with clubs, bloodied and screaming – the shocking footage of protesters in Iran is not remarkable just for its brutality and sheer scale, but also because so many of the frontline victims are women. And now a woman has become the symbol of the rebellion…
For those who have been following the complex and twisted world of Iranian politics, the massive presence of women comes as no surprise, as for several years women’s groups have been the major voice of dissent and a thorn in the Islamic regime’s side.
But at Double X, Dana Stevens is uncomfortable with the way Western reporters have martyrised Neda:
Assuming this graphic clip really does document a young woman’s death at the hands of paramilitary snipers—something we lack the reporting to confirm—what gives us the right to watch it and forward to and fro as proof of our solidarity with the forces of democracy and reform in Iran (something that, as you point out, Mousavi is far from representing)? I wouldn’t want my own death, or that of someone I loved, to be instrumentalized in that way.
The BBC has asked four Iran experts what they think is next for the Islamic Republic. Professor Haleh Ashfar, University of York, says that “what is certain is that the deep fractures in Iranian society have finally ruptured and the leadership has shown itself to be out of touch and unable to gain public trust and support.”
If the protest movement that has flooded the streets in the last few days can forge a positive and inclusive vision for Iran’s future, one that addresses the many social, ethnic, economic and cultural issues underlying the current protest holistically, they could very well change the face of the Islamic Republic, if not now, then in four years’ time.