A brief history of modern Iran
June 15, 2009 7:06 PM   Subscribe

As the world watches the conflict in Iran unfold, many commentators have tried to make a connection between the current protests and either the coup of 1953 or the revolution of 1979. But what do we know of the history of that country and how well do we know its leaders? Some of the major political players who have dominated the trajectory of the recent history of Iran include Mohammed Mossadegh, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi. All links above are to Wikipedia pages. For more extensive articles and information, check below the fold.

In 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected leader of Iran, was deposed in a military coup orchestrated by the United States and the UK. This exhaustive collection of material assembled by the New York Times, entitled "The Central Intelligence Agency's secret history of its covert operation to overthrow Iran's government in 1953," offers an inside look at how the agency stumbled into success, despite a series of mishaps that derailed its original plans. Written in 1954 by one of the coup's chief planners, the history details how United States and British officials plotted the military coup that returned the shah of Iran to power and toppled Iran's elected prime minister, an ardent nationalist.

Mossadegh was replaced by The Shah, who ruled until 1979. Here is a fascinating 5 part BBC documentary entitled "The Last Shah of Iran." And here is a fantastic and comprehensive 1978 New Yorker article that details the growing opposition to the Shah in Iran during the late 70s, the failures of The Shah during his quarter century reign, and the rise of Khomeini. Excerpt: [The economist went on to talk about the religious revival. “I was very active in politics during my high-school years,” he said. “At that time—the early nineteen-fifties—there were only two important groups: the Communist, or Tudeh, Party, and the National Front—which included the Pan-Iranians, who wanted to take over parts of Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan. The young had absolutely no interest in religion. After that, the political situation calmed down. There was a brief revival of politics in 1961 and 1962, when Ali Amini came to office as Prime Minister. He started the land reform that the Shah later claimed as his own. The Tudeh Party was dead then, but the National Front was strong. The religious people didn’t count. Khomeini became important only after he was driven into exile by the Shah. The Shah’s father, Reza Shah, had been very successful in fighting the mullahs. He made a direct assault on the clergy—forcing women to take off veils, riding into the shrines and beating the mullahs. He had public sympathy, because then the clergy were corrupt and wealthy. They were hated by everybody. Now they have lost their lands and the religious foundations. The mullahs have been purified. They have the power of poverty.”]

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rose to the position of Supreme Leader after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Last year, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put together this 30-page dossier on the elusive and powerful mullah entitled, Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader. To access the report, click on the "Full Text" icon near the top of the page to get a complete PDF.

And in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran. Presenting himself as humble, soft spoken, and extremely religious, he was educated as an engineer and fought in the Iran-Iraq War. A product of the revolution of 1979, Ahmadinejad believes in the "pure life" of Islam and rejects what he considers the corrupting influences of Western culture. This recent New Yorker article is both a profile of Ahmadinejad and a comprehensive look at the upcoming (now dated, obviously) elections. The article discusses, among others, former President Khatami and the reformist challenger to Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who is referred to in the article as "The Persian Cincinnatus."

Other fantastic archived articles from the New Yorker regarding Iran:

The Rationalist
A dissident economist’s attempts to reform the revolution.
an article about Mohammad Tabibian by Laura Secor, February 2, 2009

Young Iranians confront the collapse of the reform movement.
by Laura Secor November 21, 2005 - written in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, it discusses Ahmadinejad

Shadow Land
Who’s winning the fight for Iran’s future?
by Joe Klein February 18, 2002
posted by billysumday (124 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

I used to live on the same floor as a girl who was related to the deposed Shah.

True story.
posted by kldickson at 7:43 PM on June 15, 2009

James Clavell's Whirlwind is stunning historical fiction set in 1979 during the height of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is a dramatic narrative of the lives and infrastructure of the seventies era Iranian people.
posted by netbros at 7:51 PM on June 15, 2009

Great post, billysumday. Glad to read something about Iran on the internet that's longer than 140 characters.
posted by The White Hat at 7:55 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

kldickson, not terribly surprising as there were hundreds of Pahlavi "princesses" and "princes" that could claim relation to the shah.
posted by thewalrus at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2009

I was all set to hate this post because everything above the break was Wiki links, but the [more inside] stunningly made up for it. Fantastic post! It's missing the How Iran Is Ruled flow chart the BBC did the other day, though, which I read and found fascinating.

I also liked shoefullofdust's link to The Big Picture photos. This is all very interesting stuff but The Big Picture nailed it with those photos. Here's history in the making, and in it all are people with face masks on trying to prevent getting Swine Flu. It's like two big stories merged into one. Interesting times, indeed.

The pictures of the cops and the militia bashing people is scary stuff. For all the MeFi posts about bad cops in the US and the rest of the western world misusing tazers, this kind of event really reinforces how lucky we really are when it comes to law enforcement. Not that that excuses the behaviour of bad cops in our part of the world, but it's a question of degrees, you know?

Tell you what though. If I was a protestor in Iran right now, I'd be bringing my own batons with me when I go out to protest. Any cop or militiaman who wants to start beating me with a baton, seemingly indiscriminantly, is gonna geta mouthful of baton and broken teeth right back at him. It actually kind of surprises me that more protestors don't already do that. I guess the reason though is that in Iran, if you hit back at a cop that's hit you first, you'll likely get a gun shot wound back, or go to the local gulag instead.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:40 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Swine flu? I thought the surgical masks were to avoid recognition and probable retribution.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2009

I've seen pictures "from Iran" by "protesters" written in English.

Seems odd that locals wanting to influence locals would be walking about with signs in English in a place were the English and English speakers have a less than positive history because of the actions of English speakers.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:52 PM on June 15, 2009

Great post. Here is an article from the Harvard Human Rights Journal describing the 1988 massacre of tens of thousands of left-wing Iranian political prisoners, part of a giant faction fight within the Iranian state that followed the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war.
posted by stammer at 8:56 PM on June 15, 2009

rough aslar, I imagine they want to speak to the world via the world's cameras in the world's language1.

1For better or for worse -- I'm afraid these are the cards we've been dealt.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, billysumday.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2009

By which I mean to say, I don't know but I imagine these Iranian protesters at least tacitly acknowledge that the "free world", whatever that means these days, for the most part either speaks English or generally tends to understand it, in its most basic manifestations at least, and thus by holding signs in English they are reaching a far wider audience than if they would have been in Persian.

Sure, the national government is the direct target, but the protesters know they can't sway their opinion by a long shot. Then why not go global? Better to have people in other countries hate the regime of yours -- that you happen also to hate -- than to be a louse in the fur of a beast that knows it can crush you.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:11 PM on June 15, 2009

RTed this -- great post
posted by Surfurrus at 9:17 PM on June 15, 2009

My heart goes out to those who stand fearless in the face of authority tonight.
posted by cmfletcher at 9:25 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the police have "POLICE" written on their uniforms, there doesn't seem anything odd about protesters writing their signs in English.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:26 PM on June 15, 2009

I would imagine it's just that English is the edgy, kewl world language, the language of TV and the Internet, and because of that it's associated with the aura of change. Maybe the stodgy conservatives write things in Farsi, and hip kids piss them off by writing stuff in that damn English.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2009

Oh, and - amazing post, billysumday! It's going to take a while to digest all this great information.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:34 PM on June 15, 2009

Basij shooting at people.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:42 PM on June 15, 2009

Ahmadinejad arrives in Russia
posted by homunculus at 10:50 PM on June 15, 2009

homunculus, the significance of his trip to Russia is here: The Ending of America's Financial-Military Empire.
posted by shetterly at 11:10 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

BBC Radio4 just announced a partial recount.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:19 AM on June 16, 2009

I wonder who's monitoring it? Do the original ballots still exist?
posted by Anything at 1:46 AM on June 16, 2009

"Twitter" only works in English. There is no equivalently stupid word in Farsi.


Go Green!
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:23 AM on June 16, 2009

If you're pressed for time and can only read one of these articles, I would suggest either the dossier on Khamenei or the New Yorker article on Ahmadinejad.

The more I read the more I wonder how much of the story we're really getting. Iran is a puzzle, and the hierarchy of power is a convoluted mess. Though it's possible that this Green Revolution we're witnessing is a true outpouring of support for Mousavi, it could just as easily be that what we are witnessing is a cynical play for power by an old true believer of The Revolution. In the last few years, the old guard of Iranian politicians (Khatami, Rafsanjani, Mousavi) have slowly been pushed aside by a new breed of Iranian leaders that combine Marxist populism, Islamic idealism, and Revolutionary Guard brutality. Ahmadinejad is one of these new leaders - others are high-ranking RG officers who share a deep bond with both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. The old guard will not go down quietly, and this may be something of a last stand.

One thing that is interesting is that all of these leaders we speak of, with the exception of Ahmadinejad, have been part of the ruling elite in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. They were high ranking clerics close to Khomeini who became politicians and ministers. They acquired power and wealth. The appointment of Khamenei is owed just as much to the machinations of Rafsanjani as anyone - yet now the two are adversaries and Rafsanjani works behind the scenes to either depose or limit the reach of Khamenei. So it is very possible that a majority of people have become tired of this old band of wealthy and powerful clerics, Ayatollahs, and ministers. And it is possible that there is much affection for Ahmadinejad, who lives a simple life and who gives much back to the poor communities in rural Iran. Why then are there so many in the streets of Tehran? Because they are sick of the entire false theocracy that exercises its power with repression and brutality. Sick of Khamenei, sick of Rafsanjani, sick now of the rube Ahmadinejad, sick of the Basij, sick of the clerics, sick of them all. Mousavi undoubtedly felt that unrest beneath his feet and so adopted the mantra of change and reform in his battle against Ahmadinejad. But we shouldn't be so convinced that he represents a break from the past - indeed, if anything, he may represent a return to the past. Those same few men whose power has waned in the last 5-10 years will be given even more power under a Mousavi Presidency, and in turn they will work with the moderate clerics in Qom to strip Khamenei of his authority. They will seek to humiliate Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard leaders who threaten to gain power - those they consider to be less than they are, peasants, low-class. They enjoyed the power they held in the 80s and 90s, and now they want it back.

Certainly, a government of moderate clerical reformists like Mousavi, Khatami, and Rafsanjani would be preferable to one comprised of Ahmadinejad and the rising ranks of Revolutionary Guard officers. But the people demonstrating in the streets of Tehran want neither the old guard or the new guard. At this moment they may prefer the old guard, but what they really prefer are more options, a truly free and open society, the release of political prisoners of all stripes, and peace with other countries. Unfortunately, it may not be in the interest of any of these players to meet any of those conditions.

It is my hope that the protests continue and the list of demands currently being dispersed in Tehran - the green manifesto - comes to fruition. But that seems unlikely. What is more worrisome, and perhaps more likely, is the possibility of all-out civil war between the Revolutionary Guard and the basij on one side, and the reformers and the army on the other. It would not be implausible for clerics to split their allegiances, issuing fatwas for both sides, demanding the destruction of the other side for the preservation of Iran. The old guard is dying; the new, more brutal and repressive guard is emerging; neither wants to abdicate power; and the innocent and just people who rally peacefully in the street want neither. Nevertheless, they are now caught up in the middle of this struggle and we should all wish for their safety and their ultimate success in gaining liberty and freedom - whether in 2 weeks, 2 years, or 200 years.
posted by billysumday at 5:39 AM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

Good insight billysumday and good post.
(Meanwhile Seymour Hirsch has a new article published about Iran and the Bush regime).
My guess too is that the Greens in Iran want neither more Ahmadinejad nor a return to the old guard but their hate for Ahmadinejad is greater than their poorly remembered experiences at the hands of the old guard. Median age in Iran is 26. Thence for the majority of last weeks voters the conservative restrictions of the past four years is what reverberates especially as global mass communication is opening up the world to them, especially the educated living in urban areas. That is seen in the deliberate targeting of computers being destroyed as well as communication networks being suffocated. Once the genie is out of the box it can't be put back. Iran has yet to produce its "Gobachov" figurehead to launch its own "perestroika". What I fear may happen is repression, repression and more repression, as the rest of the world sits back to let Iran work out its "internal affairs".
posted by adamvasco at 5:58 AM on June 16, 2009

I'm curious to see what will happen, even if they do reverse their decision and let Mousavi take power. This seems like it could be a much bigger moment for Iran. As billysumday points out, all the current 'moderate' leaders are still old guard clerical leaders. Rafsanjani in particular has shit loads of blood on his hands. Tons and tons and tons. Clearly Mousavi has attached himself to a much bigger movement.
posted by chunking express at 6:28 AM on June 16, 2009

Mossadegh was replaced by The Shah, who ruled until 1979.

Just to clarify something here: the Shah was monarch from 1941, he removed Mossadegh in 1953, his rule did not succede Mossadegh's administration.

In 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected leader of Iran, was deposed in a military coup orchestrated by the United States and the UK

Another clarification: Per the Constitution of 1906, Mossadegh was appointed prime minister by the Shah.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:14 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

PBS recently aired Tank Man, an excellent documentary about the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989.
posted by acro at 7:21 AM on June 16, 2009

Fantastic post, billysumday. I'd like to see it on the sidebar.

As for the signs in English, it's clear from Twitter that people within Iran are trying desperately to get the world press to pay attention, and that means CNN for worldwide video. (There was fairly frequent use of the #cnnfail hashtag until yesterday.) There are tweets in Farsi but they are being translated and retweeted rapidly. Tweets are also saying that many, if not all of, the ballot boxes were burned, so what's left to recount?
posted by catlet at 7:28 AM on June 16, 2009

There are reports they are burning down Basij bases. I hope that one thing to come out of all this is that the entire Basij apparatus is shut down. No democracy needs a paramilitary composed on uneducated ultrareligious teenage boys who like to beat on peoples.
posted by chunking express at 7:38 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

No democracy needs a paramilitary composed on uneducated ultrareligious teenage boys who like to beat on peoples.

The baseej is a bit more than just some disorganized fanatic thug teens. They are the youth wing of the Revolutionary Guard. Think of them as the Hitlerjugen to the IRG's SS. They are set loose like attack dogs on the protests. When they actually murder and get caught the aparatus finds a way to let them get off with only a slap on the wrist.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:54 AM on June 16, 2009

Pollomacho, I understand their relationship to the Revolutionary Guard. I get why they exist. My point stands, no functioning democracy needs them.
posted by chunking express at 8:00 AM on June 16, 2009

But a paramilitary composed on uneducated ultrareligious adult men who like to beat on peoples (aka the Revolutionary Guard) is fine to exist?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:03 AM on June 16, 2009

Silence is Golden. The idea that there are events that have nothing to do with us, and which we have no business concerning ourselves with, is so alien to our policymakers that I am fairly sure that it never occurs to them. Daniel Larison in Eumonia (the principal of Good Order).
and Re: Bassej this is of little surprise as it's what they are there for. They are the new martyrs if so required whose blood will feed the their fascist masters.
posted by adamvasco at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2009

Pollomacho, are you being obtuse on purpose? Do you think i'm cool with that?
posted by chunking express at 8:20 AM on June 16, 2009

That seems unnecessary, Pollomacho. No one has been saying anything remotely like that.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2009

Though I am by no means a neocon, and though I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, advocate a military strike on Iran, I do think it is not inconsistent for conservatives to both push for action against Iran and to support the protesters currently pushing for Mousavi. Let's say that the will of the people really was thwarted, that 65% or more of the country voted for Mousavi, and that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei conspired to steal the election and further consolidate power. That their ultimate objective is a more repressive regime with a nuclear weapon. Well, then the argument that the neocons would make would go something like this: Iran is both dangerous and anti-democratic, and a strike on Iran would cripple their nuclear program and support the freedom-fighters over the oppressive regime. Personally, I completely disagree with any military action at all, because any aggression by America would simply further strengthen the powerful clerics. However, I do believe that American and European interests are served by at least covert actions that provide support to the nascent movement for more liberty in Iran. Basically, I think it's unfair to criticize conservatives for being inconsistent - I don't think they ever thought that all Iranians were evil people - indeed, they've often claimed that there was a large population of Iranians (especially young Iranians) who want more freedom and liberty but who are being oppressed by a repressive and brutal regime of religious fanatics. This has often been one of their rationales for engaging with the regime.
posted by billysumday at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2009

Pollomacho: thank you for the corrections to my original post. Appreciate it.
posted by billysumday at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2009

Or, to put my point about conservatives and foreign policy more succinctly: I think that the conservatives have their heart in the right place (i.e., freedom for Iranians and peace in the region), but I think that they are moronic and tone-deaf and do not and cannot understand how their aggressive stance undermines their ultimate goals. Some of us obviously read further into things, and many will suggest that neocons really only care about Iranian oil and a Middle East characterized by deference, not belligerence, but I think that's too cynical. Most people are stupid, not evil.
posted by billysumday at 9:01 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most people are stupid, not evil.

Most people are certainly. Neocons on the other hand are evil and stupid. You can't advocate for war when it comes to pretty much any and every foreign policy issue and not be an evil piece of shit.
posted by chunking express at 9:04 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

BBC Persia occasionally switching to video of the pro-Ahmedi-nejad rally going on right now. From the clips (don't know if it's just camera angles) it looks as though there's just as many people as yesterday's pro-Moussavi rally.

This looks a lot more complicated and the potential for a messy civil war looks possible.
posted by amuseDetachment at 9:44 AM on June 16, 2009

amuseDetachment: There were far more people at yesterday's rally. Most estimates put it between 2-3 million. The pictures showed an entire mass of people lined down a broad boulevard - for over 5 miles. The pictures on BBC Persia show a great mass of people in front of a large government building, but I don't know how far back the group goes. Also, keep in mind that they are not being harassed, like the Mousavi protesters, and that there have been claims that many are being bribed/forced to attend. That is not to say that Ahmedinejad does not have supporters, but rather that the rally yesterday was truly incomparable, and that I would take today's pro-government with something of a grain of salt. Ultimately, because of the crackdown on all foreign press, on all people with cameras, and the shutdown of nearly the entire internet, it is impossible to gauge exactly what is going on in Iran right now. I agree with you that things appear tense and that if the counter-rallies continue, there will inevitably be greater violence. There have been reports that senior Revolutionary Guard officers have been arrested, signaling dissent amongst the highest ranks. The military could possibly align with Rafsanjani and Mousavi and attempt something like a military coup - but that would be presumably be more bloody, illegitimate, and protracted than any of the other options.
posted by billysumday at 9:53 AM on June 16, 2009

Iran: The Volcano Erupts. Brought me to tears.
posted by netbros at 10:16 AM on June 16, 2009

This BBC article notes that today's pro-government rally today was only in the "thousands" with "many bussed in from the provinces." They also note that a recent opposition rally in Northern Tehran may have been larger than the one yesterday. Whatever the case, there is clearly something go on in Tehran right now, we just have no way to know what that is.

Additionally, it seems that BBC has decided to go green - I'm assuming in support of the protesters.
posted by billysumday at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2009

Or, to put my point about conservatives and foreign policy more succinctly: I think that the conservatives have their heart in the right place (i.e., freedom for Iranians and peace in the region)

billysumday: Just to be clear, do you think that neocons want "freedom" for Iranians to live and work and demand that their government abide by the contractual terms of their existing constitution, or "freedom" for Iranians to demand that their existing constitution be trashed in favor of one the United States "helps" to draft?

I have a suspicion that our neocons would prefer the latter. That's why I'm inherently suspicious of any rhetoric couched around the concept that "Iranians" deserve "freedom." A government exercises power as a grant from its people through its constitution. The way I understand their existing constitution to work, the terms of the current Iranian constitution cede provide that Iranian citizens cede enourmous power to their Supreme Leader to determine the composition of key positions of its government. Not my preferred constitution, but I'm a westerner, and I have a very specific mindset about separation of church and state.

If truly supported by Mousavi himself, points 3 and 5 of the Green Manifesto posted above by chunking express, is stunning.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2009

Dr. Zira: fair point. Ultimately, I think that the problem with neocons is that they are so short-sighted. They may well push for "freedom" but when it's not the kind of freedom they like, they come up with some other rationale. I do think it's more a problem with their underlying belief that they can use force to mold other nations in their image than it is their desire to see people suffer so long as they get their hands on oil.

Also, please disregard my earlier comment about the BBC website. It's been green for quite some time, they did not change it because of the protests in Iran.
posted by billysumday at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2009

"Reuters: U.S. State Department speaks to Twitter over Iran"

Now that's the kind of US aid that really helps: keeping the lines of communication as open as possible, and providing resources to the Iranian people that their government can't control.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:19 AM on June 16, 2009

Pollomacho, are you being obtuse on purpose? Do you think i'm cool with that?

That seems unnecessary, Pollomacho. No one has been saying anything remotely like that.

No, I don't think anyone was fine with that, but why stop short of dismantling the whole thing? Why just call for the baseej to go and not the whole Revolutionary Guard?

Of course, the likelyhood of there not being a thuggish, secretive, extra-legal force in Iran is unlikely given that there seems to have always been such people. Under the Shah they were called Savak. Sure, their fanatacal brutalism was in the name of the Shah rather than the theocracy, but their means were roughly the same.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:50 AM on June 16, 2009

Welcome to the Internet, Mo-ha-med. Ninety-nine percent of us have no idea what we're talking about, and a month from now we'll have moved on to something else. But at least we're paying attention now.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:00 PM on June 16, 2009

lullaby: The points made in your link are well-taken and are precisely why I decided to compile an extensive list of comprehensive articles detailing the history of contemporary Iran as well as a few short and incomplete biographies of some of the republic's leading political players. If you have more links which will broaden our understanding of the current situation and those who seek power, I would love to read them.
posted by billysumday at 12:11 PM on June 16, 2009

billysumdy - That link wasn't directed at you specifically (actually I think your post is fantastic) -- sorry if it came off that way -- I only intended to post it as just another link in the ongoing what's-happening-in-Iran thread/s.
posted by lullaby at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2009

No worries. Looking back, my first comment seems a little too declarative. I don't have a good understanding of what is currently happening in Iran, but I am certainly intrigued and have been reading my ass off these past few days.
posted by billysumday at 12:29 PM on June 16, 2009

It seems a bit too early to declare these protests all for nothing. When was the last time Iran had protests of this scale? And as wide spread?
posted by chunking express at 12:45 PM on June 16, 2009

billysumday, the BBC has a bad track record on democracy. I was going to post this link simply because it's insightful: Guarding the Revolution by Afshin Rattansi. But what it says about the BBC may especially interest you. "The BBC is as good a reverse barometer as most western media outlets when it comes to international news. Its outlets duly characterized a brief, U.S.-orchestrated coup against Hugo Chavez as a return to democracy in Venezuela. After the Labour party removed the BBC’s backbone, it provided a context in which to support Britain’s part in the American military-industrial complex – at the cost of so many millions of Middle Eastern lives."
posted by shetterly at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2009

Robert Fisk from Tehran
Government is not about good guys and bad guys. It is about power, state and political power – they are not the same – and unless those wanly smiling riot police move across to the opposition, the weapons of the Islamic Republic remain in the hands of Ahmadinejad's administration and his spiritual protectors.
posted by adamvasco at 12:52 PM on June 16, 2009

When was the last time Iran had protests of this scale?

Ten years ago next month.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:08 PM on June 16, 2009

The student protests weren't anywhere near the scale of these.
posted by chunking express at 1:10 PM on June 16, 2009

The student protests weren't anywhere near the scale of these.

July 1999 - estimates vary from 70,000 to 200,000 protesters in the streets in Tehran - one government acknowledged shooting

June 2009 - estimates vary from 100,000 to 200,000 protesters in the streets in Tehran - one government acknowledged shooting

How is the scale different?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:31 PM on June 16, 2009

June 2009 - estimates vary from 500,000 to 3 million protesters in the streets of Tehran (during yesterday's rally). Seven government acknowledged shooting deaths, many more reported.
posted by billysumday at 1:40 PM on June 16, 2009

billysumday, the BBC did not go green in light of recent events as previously reported.

otherwise, nice post!
posted by K.P. at 1:45 PM on June 16, 2009

Pollomacho, most of the conservative estimates for the 2009 protests put the number of people out on the street way higher. Or what billysumday said.

Sorry I pissed in your cornflakes dude.
posted by chunking express at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2009

In the correct post, this time:

It appears that the EU was not as circumspect as Obama when it came to its opinion of the Iranian election results--and Iran was quick to share their opinions on that.
posted by elfgirl at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2009

The Big Picture put out some more photos - Iran's continued election turmoil.
posted by lullaby at 3:38 PM on June 16, 2009

Can any German speakers translate - or at least provide the money quote - for the Bani-Sadr interview here? I can speak French, but the German translation keeps drowning him out.
Can't figure out how to link directly to the interview but it's the top choice on the right.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:24 PM on June 16, 2009

Also, in case you need more wow.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:57 PM on June 16, 2009

Uh, yeah, I'd say that's more people than were at the Ahmadinejad rally.

Also, anybody know where Rafsanjani has been hiding/taken? He may be one of the key players here, if not the most key player - yet we've heard nothing from him since the election.
posted by billysumday at 5:15 PM on June 16, 2009

I note that there is a generational gap between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters.

Median age in Iran is ~26 years. That is really quite shocking. Median age in Canada is 40 years.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on June 16, 2009

June 2009 - estimates vary from 500,000 to 3 million protesters in the streets of Tehran (during yesterday's rally).

i used conservative estimates for both, but you are right, some people have said there were upwards of 3 million, but that is certainly on the high end of estimates. the point is, there were massive riots in 1999, they were brutally crushed and by a less conservative regime too. My cornflakes will only be pissed in if these get crushed as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:06 PM on June 16, 2009

I think the difference, Pollomacho, is that this time there are senior clerics, Ayatollahs, former Presidents and Prime Ministers, generals in the army and many others in senior leadership positions who back these protests. They are legitimate. And so they will last much longer and they will be much larger than the student protests. But you were right to say that the protests now are the biggest since '99 - it's just that these are a bit bigger. I don't think anyone is disagreeing with you that the protests in '99 were quite large.
posted by billysumday at 6:13 PM on June 16, 2009

"Also, anybody know where Rafsanjani has been hiding/taken?"

Not sure where I read it but, amongst Andrew Sullivan, HuffingtonPost, and NyTimes The Lede one or more of them have suggested that Rafsanjani is in Qom, the "Vatican" of Iran- a pretty poor analogy- trying to convince the respected mullahs to influence/fire Khamenei.

Ok found one of them:
"Rafsanjani is rumored to be in the holy city of Qum plotting against Khamenei, seeing if he has enough votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to remove Khamenei."

That might be where the real fight is happening in the opaque power relations of Iran.
posted by superchris at 6:44 PM on June 16, 2009

I just want to mention that, with what Obama had stressed today on the likelihood that a Mousavi administration won't be much different from an Ahmadinejad administration and with the rumour that Rafsanjani, a key player, is in Qom gathering support to despose Khamenei, this almost seems like a grand setup?
posted by tksh at 7:53 PM on June 16, 2009

The BBC is currently receiving around five videos a minute, with hundreds more appearing on YouTube, Facebook and other social networking sites.

The next wave of phones will start to automatically record GPS information too. With mashups being a common technique, I can see a site that does the Snow Crash scene with a giant, animated earth, constantly being updated by little beacons on its surface indicating a new video, photo or post in real time. And when memorable occasions like these occur, a wave of blinking digital pushpins twirl and converge on that very spot on your virtual earth while you take in, process and balance multiple feeds of analysis, report, bias and opinion from a mix of TV, nternet blogs, news sites and mainstream media.

Wow, I really feel like I am living in the future.
posted by tksh at 8:08 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

If the European governments had any balls, they would install free WiFi towers in their embassies in Iran so that people can access the unfiltered internet with a cantenna. Considering that they have their own satellite telecommunications networks, it'd be pretty trivial to set up (with a crappy 40-bit WEP password to pass around for plausible deniability).
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:15 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

amuseDetachment: judging from hints I've seen, unsecured Wifi is definitely helping.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:42 PM on June 16, 2009

Extraordinary scenes: Robert Fisk in Iran. Fear has gone in a land that has tasted freedom.
posted by adamvasco at 1:08 AM on June 17, 2009

>With mashups being a common technique, I can see a site that does the Snow Crash scene with a giant, animated earth, constantly being updated by little beacons bacons on its surface...

posted by K.P. at 1:18 AM on June 17, 2009

Why should European embassies do that? For the time being, this is between Iran and its people.
posted by ageispolis at 1:34 AM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

"this looks shooped": Ahmedi-nejad rally photoshopped (.ir namespace so you might want to make a local copy)
posted by amuseDetachment at 2:05 AM on June 17, 2009

As information on what is happening is slowing down there are still a couple of good live blogs going namely The Guardian which gives a list of known arrests and disappearances of activists; HuffPo also niacINsight and of course Andrew Sullivan and NYT
posted by adamvasco at 4:38 AM on June 17, 2009

Several credible Iranian twitterers are reporting seeing policemen wearing green. A lot (though certainly not all) of the police in the videos I've seen have seemed a bit half-hearted, more swatting at demonstrators than actually beating them. It's quite possible there's a lot of quiet support for the movement among the police, and it's a very good sign if it's coming to the surface now. It means they don't think it's dangerous to pick a side any more.
posted by EarBucket at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2009

shetterly, we're well aware that you think Ahmadinejad won. You should make your case to the millions of Iranians who disagree with you.
posted by billysumday at 10:02 AM on June 17, 2009

billysumday, we're well aware you think he didn't. You should make your case to the millions of Iranians who disagree with you. Or maybe stick to citations that support your position.

Our of curiosity, why did you create two posts on Iran?
posted by shetterly at 10:16 AM on June 17, 2009

Extraordinary scenes: Robert Fisk in Iran.
It was interesting that the special forces - who normally take the side of Ahmadinejad's Basij militia - were there with clubs and sticks in their camouflage trousers and their purity white shirts and on this occasion the Iranian military kept them away from Mousavi's men and women.

In fact at one point, Mousavi's supporters were shouting 'thank you, thank you' to the soldiers.

One woman went up to the special forces men, who normally are very brutal with Mr Mousavi's supporters, and said 'can you protect us from the Basij?' He said 'with God's help'.
That is extraordinary.
posted by homunculus at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2009

shetterly, this is the first and only post I've made on Iran. To your point about my belief that MA didn't win, I've repeatedly stated that the election results are in question - I have not presumed one way or the other. You seem dead set on the idea that MA won. I wonder what you think of the recent links that homunculus and I have posted. To argue that only "Western Powers" (I wonder if you mean right-leaning capitali$t$ or left-leaning capitali$t$) are casting doubt on the election is idiotic - even a great many of the Ayatollahs don't believe the election was fairly run.

At this point, the protests have become about much more than the election results. The shuttering of all press, the blocking of information, brutal violence, torching of university dorms, and the confirmed killing of over 30 people has done much to undermine the legitimacy of the current government. There's no putting the genie back in the bottle, yet you're arguing points made on Sunday and Monday. This is Wednesday, the facts on the ground have changed, and to simply argue that MA won the election because a few western writers think he had support in rural areas is really overly simplistic, and to infer that everyone should simply get over it and move on is a bit heartless.
posted by billysumday at 10:26 AM on June 17, 2009

I've been following @persiankiwi on Twitter ever since the last Iran thread -- s/he has been providing some of the most riveting accounts of stuff going on in the streets of Tehran. I'm worried, though, because s/he was quite prolific (as in dozens of updates per day) up until this morning. Last tweet was at 8:17 a.m. EDT, and since then: nothing.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2009

He/she just updated, fyi.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:03 AM on June 17, 2009

Oh wow -- several updates. Thanks, CL.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:08 AM on June 17, 2009

posted by billysumday at 11:09 AM on June 17, 2009

billysumday, I did word that sloppily. You created a second post about Iran, even though one was very active, and now the discussion is fragmented. Ah, well. It happens.

If you'd followed my last two links, you would've seen that they're from yesterday and today.

I do agree that this is about something more than the accuracy of the election results. I think the election results are being used as a rallying point; what's true is a lot of people want Mousavi to win. But I think Obama's right: there won't be a significant difference whether we get Mousavi or Ahmadinejad. If this turns into something that brings a third, truly progressive power in, I'll be delighted. But yesterday's Time piece that you ignored notes this: "Most of the demonstrations and rioting I've seen in the news are taking place in north Tehran, around Tehran University and in public places like Azadi Square. These are, for the most part, areas where the educated and well-off live — Iran's liberal middle class."

Well. All we can do is hope for the best now.
posted by shetterly at 11:42 AM on June 17, 2009

You don't think regular-ass-dude would march up to the university or the squares if they wanted to protest? Especially if that's where all the protesting is happening. You don't think people would drive into the bigger cities if they wanted to protest? In Toronto Tamil people were protested in front of the US consulate, and other spots in and around downtown during the recent fighting in Sri Lanka. I'm betting the vast majority of them took the TTC downtown from the suburbs. Who knows what the demographic make up of these protests is like. We know there are lots of young people, but is that really shocking in a country where the median age is 26. The Times is kind of a stupid magazine. That argument seems pretty half assed.
posted by chunking express at 12:09 PM on June 17, 2009

shetterly: A crowd of 500,000 assembled in Esfehan yesterday - it is 200 miles away from the northern suburbs of Tehran. And, again, this article provides an interesting perspective on "Iran's rural poor.
posted by billysumday at 12:22 PM on June 17, 2009

chunking express, total agreement that "The Times is kind of a stupid magazine." They've always been a conservative capitalist news source. Which is why I'm using them here, where there's a kneejerk assumption by capitalists that socialists aren't trustworthy.

I do think some poor supporters are going to that area to protest. See My Eye Shadow Is Also Green.

If the protests were as big as some of its supporters are saying, they would be happening all around Iran.

If you'd like a socialist take, try For workers’ power and a socialist Iran.
posted by shetterly at 12:28 PM on June 17, 2009

If the protests were as big as some of its supporters are saying, they would be happening all around Iran.

I think they are.

Here's a NYT report on "Monday night in Isfahan, Iran’s third largest city and a five-hour drive from the nearest foreign TV camera."
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:37 PM on June 17, 2009

Meanwhile, you can keep track of the Saudis vs the N Koreans here. If I have this right, Iran just needs one of them to win to advance. If it's a draw, Iran is out of the World Cup, which will sow depression.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:39 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

They are out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2009

shetterly, as someone who has live in Iran for 18 years, and has close friends who are in the streets right now, I suggest that you re-read Eric Hooglund's article.

My mom called a relative who lives in a small town (with less than 5000 population) near Garmsar. This woman is a religious and conservative housewife and her husband owns a small grocery store. What I am trying to say is that you cannot get anymore stereotypical "rural soccer mom" than this. She (the ralative) was saying: "this godless man [Ahmadinejad] is worst than Shah". As a bonus, keep in mind that Ahmadinejad was born in Aradan, another small town near Garmsar, and this whole area is pretty much his home town.
posted by lenny70 at 2:53 PM on June 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

lenny70, I know someone in Iran who I pray is well. Whatever the truth about the elections, I hope the protests will help build a better Iran.
posted by shetterly at 7:35 PM on June 17, 2009

Reporter Saeed Kamali Dehghan describes the struggle to get information in and out of Tehran
posted by adamvasco at 12:08 AM on June 18, 2009

Isfahan has a million and a half people in the city proper, I wouldn't hold it up as an example of rural Iran exactly.

What I'd like to know is how the tribes and gulf arabs are reacting. Iran is held together by paper and string and the teensiest sliver of a persian majority population. The other 49% of the population are held together by the bayonette or because the government and they have come to a "mutual" understanding granting essentially autonomous existance. There is always the fear in Tehran that one or more of these groups will splinter.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:53 AM on June 18, 2009

Khamenei goes All In.

I still can't see how he is going to end the demonstrations, but he is hinting (and not really subtly) that there will be lots of blood.

God help our people.
posted by lenny70 at 4:07 AM on June 19, 2009

lenny70, what does your family think will happen? To these unknowing, untrained eyes, it seems like Mousavi would try to broker something with the government, try to reach an amicable agreement. Would he really call for more demands, knowing it might provoke a civil war?

The speech leaves me sad, and a bit resigned. What an amazingly odd scene to these Western eyes - all those old men, all chanting death to England, all weeping at the mention of the Imam Hussein, and all with such (perceived) hate and anger in their eyes. Needless to say, Iran is strange and fascinating place. I hope for the best for those who wish peace and freedom.
posted by billysumday at 5:17 AM on June 19, 2009

From Khamenei's speech: "If the difference was 100,000 or 500,000 or 1 million, well, one may say fraud could have happened. But how can one rig 11 million votes?"

Maybe by not actually counting the votes and just making the numbers up?
posted by ShadowCrash at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2009

"He (Khamenei) also acknowledged differences between himself and the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has supported Mousavi and been portrayed as a potential kingmaker, and between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, but at the same time praised the chair of the assembly of experts as "close" to the revolution."
Hrm. Is Rafsanjani making any progress behind the scenes? I wonder if Khamenei's speech might be a reaction to whatever is going on inside the Experts Assembly.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:04 AM on June 19, 2009

Poem for the rooftops of Iran
posted by Sreiny at 9:19 AM on June 20, 2009

Robert F. Worth's Week In Review.
posted by heyho at 11:37 AM on June 20, 2009

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