Upon the publication of the official results of the Iranian presidential elections in 2009, which showed incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the clear winner, regime rivals including the government of Israel can be satisfied.
Ahmadinejad’s victory, which most people believe was apparently achieved via a well-oiled machine of fraud, threats, the deployment of armed forces, closure of rival headquarters, and disconnected cellular phones, may mark the beginning of the end of the Ayatollah regime. This regime was established by the Ayatollah Khomeini 30 years ago, in 1979, after he led a revolution that toppled the Shah and the Pahlavi dynasty.
During the past 30 years, Islamic regime leaders made sure not to repeat the grave mistakes made by the previous regime. As they took advantage of the Shah’s mistakes in order to topple him, Islamic leaders knew precisely which errors to avoid. However, in the latest presidential elections they revived the well-known dictum that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
On several occasions during his rule, the Shah was accused of forging election results; large strata of society believed these charges and this laid the groundwork for the popular revolution against him in 1978-79.
Yet on Friday it was the Islamic regime which so blatantly forged the results of the Iranian presidential elections.
Why did the regime have to resort to such blatant fraud and such undemocratic moves, when for years it boasted of the democratic nature of Iranian elections? Why did Ahmadinejad, who promoted the slogans of a war on corruption and serving the people, lent his hand to a highly corrupt act? Several explanations are possible.
The Lebanon effect
At the start of the fourth decade in the wake of the revolution, it appears that many Iranians have distanced from the ideals of the Islamic uprising. Fatigued by long years of war, a grave economic situation, and international isolation, many Iranians and particularly the young ones are interested most of all in the lifestyle, possibilities, and opportunities open to their counterparts (and possibly their countrymen) living in democratic states.
The support for Mousavi, that is, the candidate who was not endorsed by the regime, was clearly apparently even before the elections. His victory would have been interpreted not only as a vote of no-confidence against the regime, but also against its policies, and this could have weakened the regime on a variety of important issues.
Take, for example, the regime’s position on the nuclear program or Ahmadinejad’s policy of provocation vis-à-vis the West, and particularly vis-à-vis the United States; the results could have been used as a vote of no-confidence against the nuclear policy led by Ahmadinejad (who made sure to note it was the Iranian people’s legitimate right) and against the policy of provocation.
Moreover, it appears that in the wake of Hizbullah’s defeat in the Lebanon elections, which constituted a protest vote against the Iranian interference in Lebanon, the Islamic regime in Tehran could not afford another defeat, particularly on its home court. As the regime was aware of the decline in poplar support on the one hand, and of the implications of the previous reformist regime (under Khatami) on the other hand, it appears that the government decided to bet on the aggressive card, both domestically and internationally.
Now, the game is in the hands of the Iranian people domestically and regime rivals on the outside.
Silence by these two elements may bring about an additional and possibly more extreme period of human rights trampling and regime radicalization. A bold stance by the people against such acts, accompanied by outside criticism and harsher moves against the regime, may ultimately prompt a regime change.
The writer heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at University of Haifa