by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1430)
When the first results started to trickle in late Friday night on June 12 and showed Ahmedinejad leading by a wide margin, the Western media, led by the BBC World Service started to question their authenticity. Others followed suit. Soon there was a flood of accusations that there must have been massive rigging otherwise how could Ahmed-inejad be ahead by such a wide margin. This was based on the Western media’s own wishful thinking of Mousavi’s victory. Part of the reason for their failure to accurately read the mood in Iran is due to the fact that Western journalists stay at Five-Star hotels — Isteqlal, Azadi and others — located in North Tehran. It is in this part of the city that the taghutis and other elites of Iranian society live. Physically, these people may live in their mansions in North Tehran but mentally they are in Europe or North America — destinations they frequently visit. Such people feed their prejudices to Western reporters who need little prodding, based on their equally jaundiced view of the Islamic Republic, to reflect the most negative stereotyped images of Iran.
Some examples may help explain the point. In the weeks leading to the June 12 election, the overriding theme in Western media reports was that most people would “boycott” the polls because they have “no faith” in the system. As the election campaign generated excitement, especially with televised debates between candidates, the Western media’s tune changed; their coverage started to focus on the “huge crowds” Mousavi was attracting and deliberately ignored the even larger crowds attending Ahmedinejad’s rallies. Media outlets that bothered to report Ahmedinejad’s rallies dismissed them as “rented crowds”. The largely ignorant Western public could not tell the difference; besides, they had little interest in Iran or its elections. Their knowledge of Iran is based on lies fed to them by their media: Iran is “building” a nuclear bomb and Ahmedinejad has threatened to “wipe out Israel”. Such prejudices are reinforced by the Iranian expatriate community that is largely opposed to the Islamic revolution, hence their decision to live outside Iran. Supporters of the revolution went back to help the Islamic Republic.
Western media reports started to speculate that Mousavi would win. Besides, their hatred of President Ahmedinejad who repeatedly exposed the shallowness of Western journalists’ knowledge with his masterful interviews blinded them to see that he may have strong support among the Iranian masses. President Ahmedinejad has maintained a level of modesty, simplicity and humility that has earned him respect not only among Iranians but also Muslims worldwide. They see in him a truly Islamic leader. The more the West ridiculed him, the more the ordinary people of Iran admired him. But his popularity was not based merely on sentiment; he had promised during his first presidential campaign in 2005 that he would put Iran’s oil wealth on the tables of the poor. And he did. He delivered this wealth to the Iranian masses in the rural areas where the majority resides. The liberals, so-called reformists and other Western-doting Iranians had ignored these poor people. They made the mistake of being taken in by the hangers-on from within the taghuti crowd in Tehran. Regrettably, it appears even Mousavi’s campaign has been infiltrated by such people despite the fact that during his tenure as prime minister (1981-1989), Mousavi was liked by the people because of his modest demeanour and able handling of the economy. It must also be pointed out that Mousavi was never elected to public office; he was appointed prime minister by Imam Khomeini (at that time, there were two offices: that of president and prime minister. Only the president was elected who then appointed the prime minister). In a constitutional amendment in 1989, the prime minister’s post was abolished and all executive powers were united in the office of the president.
Mousavi’s supporters have questioned the wide margin of Ahmedi-nejad’s victory. They were expecting that there would be a second round of elections because no single candidate would get the 50 percent plus one vote as required by the constitution. This was again based on wishful thinking and the fact that Mousavi drew huge crowds in Tehran. Four days before elections, Ahmedinejad cancelled appearance at one of his campaign rallies in Tehran because the crowd was so huge he feared people might get trampled in a stampede. Few media outlets reported this or the huge victory rally Ahmed-inejad held on June 14 in Tehran. Ins-tead, the media focussed on Mousa-vi’s much smaller rallies.
In the immediate aftermath of elections, there were even rumours that Mousavi had been arrested; when this turned out to be false, the media changed its tune: the authorities had re-fused to give permission for his rally, they alleged. When this, too, turned out to be untrue, then the media changed its story again: they said Mousavi’s supporters had defied the ban and the authorities were forced to “retreat”. The authorities’ tactful handling of the situation was misinterpreted as weakness.
There was no interference from the authorities to disrupt Mousavi’s rallies despite people setting fire to buses and buildings, smashing store windows and causing damage to property. At the end of one rally, some people stormed the Basij offices in Tehran. It was at this stage that shooting occurred resulting in seven deaths. Despite the disruption, the authorities remained calm and did not retaliate. On June 16, the Guardian Council announced that it would hold a recount in those polling stations where the opposition said irregularities had occurred. It also invited all candidates to a meeting on June 20. All these overtures to address the concerns of the opposition in a peaceful manner were rejected by Mousavi who demanded that the June 12 election results be annulled and fresh ones held.
Amid all the hype about rigging, some basic facts must be kept in mind. President Ahmedinejad may be unpopular in the West because of his opposition to Israel and the US but he enjoys widespread support in Iran. His support comes from the rural and urban poor as well as the religious. These constitute the overwhelming majority of Iran’s population. The urban educated middle class is a tiny minority and is generally confined to the northern parts of Tehran. Their children go to university, drive expensive cars and frequent five-star hotels. It is this group that has largely coalesced around Mousavi. There is little doubt that there are American and zionist agents within this group that are determined to create chaos in Iran.
Ahmedinejad’s supporters are largely poor; most do not speak English, hence their inability to convey their feelings to Western reporters who in any case are not interested in their point of view, but they are solidly behind the revolution and know where their interests lie. It is these people from poor families that made the greatest sacrifices in defence of the revolution during the brutal Iraqi-imposed war in 1980-1988. This is not mere conjecture. In an article jointly authored by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty and published in the Washington Post on June 15, 2009, the two writers revealed that Ahmedinejad’s 2 to 1 margin was actually confirmed by their own survey of public opinion conducted in Iran three weeks earlier. “While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadi-nejad’s principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran’s provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.”
The poll done by two US non-profit organizations — Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, and the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation — from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. It was conducted by telephone from a neighbouring country (probably Dubai); field-work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. The polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and thus had nothing to do with the government of Iran or with Ahmedinejad.
In recent media coverage, much has been said about Iranian youth automatically assuming that they all oppose the Islamic government. This is not true, as the US-led survey found. This misconception has emerged because Western reporters only talk to north Tehran-based, university educated youth. These spoiled children of the rich do not represent the entire country. Nor is the Internet the instrument of change in Iran, as made out by media reports. The poll by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty found “that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.”
There was an even more startling revelation made by the poll. Some reports have questioned how Ahmedinejad could win in the home province of Mousavi. Here is what the Ballen and Doherty survey found. “The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our pre-election survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favoured Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.” It is not difficult to see why. Ahmedinejad had made great efforts to help the poor. For eight years, he had served in Azeri provinces as governor and in various other capacities, learned their language and during the election campaign, he not only addressed rallies in their language, he also quoted them poetry from their own poets. This made widely popular. The people of Iran, as indeed in much of the Muslim world, love poetry and Ahmedinejad made good use of it in his campaign.
People in turn came out to vote for him. The US survey also confirmed what we have said already: Mousavi’s “support came primarily from university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians.” These are people that have been conveying negative ideas to Western reporters, hence the kind of distorted images of Iran that are carried in the Western media.
For the first time, there were also televised debates between candidates. When his opponents attacked him about the poor state of the economy, Ahmedinejad shot back, especially against Mousavi, his main rival. He told him that Iran’s economy was facing an international onslaught. Besides, the Iranian economic downturn did not occur in one day. He reminded his opponent that both Rafsanjani and Khatami are Mousavi supporters and had served as presidents before him. Then Ahmedinejad focussed on Khatami’s policy of suspending uranium enrichment from 2003 to 2005 that got nothing in return from the West. He said, “Under my presidency, uranium enrichment was not only resumed in January 2006 but as a result of standing up to the West, I have forced the US to admit that Iran has the right to enrich uranium.” Such arguments were greatly appreciated by a wide cross section of the Iranian population.
When one considers the percentage of vote obtained by Ahmedinejad, it is virtually the same as he got in 2005. Then, his percentage of vote in the second round was 61.9 percent; this time, it is 62.6 percent. This indicates that Ahmedinejad did not lose his support base primarily because he had worked so hard to help the poor.
Finally, one must make a quick comparison with what happened in the June 7 elections in Lebanon. Tens of thousands of people of Lebanese origin were flown from abroad, their expenses paid by the Saudis, to vote for the March 14 group led by Saad Hariri. The Saudis also paid each person $500 for pocket money. Despite this massive fraud, Hariri’s group got 68 seats in parliament (two less than they had in the previous one) while the Hizbullah-backed alliance got 57 seats (one less than in the earlier one). There were three independents. Hizbullah Secretary General did not complain about election rigging nor did he say it was stolen. He told his supporters to accept the results and move on.
There was little or no mention in the Western media about Lebanese vote rigging; the only thing one heard was that Hizbullah had been “defeated”.