Belmont Club

Do no harm

Iranian demonstrators have been protesting the results of the recently concluded elections. The Times Online describes a scene in Teheran witnessed by one of its reporters:

The motorcycle police came from behind. They fired stun grenades that exploded as I was walking among thousands of demonstrators on Tehran’s central boulevard, and talking to two young women about their anger at what they called the “theft” of the Iranian election. Tempers ran high. Protesters jostling shoulder to shoulder filled the road and pavements, punching the air with their fists and shouting, “Down with the dictator,” and, “Be ashamed and give us back Iran.” …

“The election was stolen,” Safoor Nayafi, 26, shouted over the din of the march, clutching her black hijab at her chin. “We are marching to the ministry of interior to get our stolen votes back.” She was just telling me she had a master’s degree in science when her voice was drowned out by the roar of motorcycles from behind us and along the sides of the road. They were riot police, dressed in camouflage uniforms, wearing black flak jackets and black helmets with their menacing visors pulled down.

They fired several grenades, scattering the crowd. Women screamed and fell to the ground; men leapt onto the pavements, then ran back to drag the fallen out of the road. Shop owners pulled scared bystanders inside and slammed down their metal grates. It took only seconds to realise they were stun grenades, fired into the air to scatter the marchers, but they were terrifying seconds.

Philip Weiss, who has been following events, says the Ayatollahs have vowed there will be no Velvet Revolution. He details the cut and thrust on the ground.

Protestors are taking to the streets and their computers. Though the IRI has shut down SMS texting, a regular tool used for campaigning and election monitoring in Iran, street protestors are using their cell phones to take pictures and videos that they download. Several youtube videos show major protests in Tehran’s largest thoroughfares, including Vali Asr Street and Vanak Square. Many protestors are seen wearing green, throwing stones, setting bonfires to stop traffic. In one demonstration, streetsweepers join the crowds who chant, “Streetsweeping brothers, pick up Mahmoud and haul him off!” …

The IRI is quickly closing off media websites, including the BBC Persian service. Facebook, used heavily by Mousavi supporters, is being filtered.
Speaking from Ramallah, the esteemed Jimmy Carter—known for monitoring elections worldwide—diminished the importance of the Iranian presidential elections and said he hoped in his second term, Ahmadinejad would moderate his positions. Hamas welcomed Ahmadinejad’s victory.

Hamas would. It, like Ahmadinejad is the beneficiary of the policy of finding a partner for peace at all costs. A policy which requires palaver under any circumstances compels the production of a negotiating partner come what may, however forced, however artificial. International diplomacy is sometimes like a man who, determined to dance and having arrived by mistake at a zoo instead of a ballroom, proceeds to tango with a bear.

Events in Iran will inevitably put the spotlight on the administration’s police of engagement. As I wrote in the previous post, ‘engagement’ with a dictatorial regime is an all purpose word which is meaningless without the the modifiers ‘for regime change’ or ‘for behavior change’. Despite the fact that current unrest is centered around the vote stealing; it is not about whether Mousavi is better than Ahmadinejad. The vote is bizarrely enough, a referendum on the legitimacy of the regime. Michael Ledeen notes that Ahmadinejad’s opponent, Mir Houssein Mousavi, is no democrat. His qualification for popularity is tsimply hat he is not Ahmadinajad. Some of the emotion we are witnessing now can only be understood as a protest against the status quo. Whether Ahmadinajad or Mousavi won isn’t the central fact. The central fact is that the Ayatollahs remain in power by fraud and coercion.

Steve Schippert at Threatswatch argues that the silver lining in Ahmadinejad’s election is that the current administration can no longer pretend it is negotiating with a ‘moderate’ — something it might have done if Mousavi won. But the question is why Washington should want to pretend. It is important to consider the extent to which tacitly accepting the current regime in Teheran legitimizes it; and thereby makes it harder for the Iranian people to topple. The US may not be able to materially aid in the regime’s overthrow, but like a doctor, it shouldn’t hurt where it cannot help.

Update: Michael Totten is following developments in Iran.

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