I spent a couple of hours today filming for PJTV at the Westin Hotel on Century Blvd near LAX where the Islamic Republic of Islamic of Iran had set up a polling place for its presidential election. I was joined by frequent Pajamas commentator Iranian filmmaker Ardeshir Arian. You can see the voting (and protests) at the Westin here and Ardy’s updates on the election, as of approximately four PM PDT, here.
As of now, both sides are claiming victory and, Ardy tells me (he reads the Iranian websites, those not being blocked at least), the police commissioner in charge of public security has decreed no public demonstrations in support of any candidate on the streets of Tehran Saturday. Mousavi, the putative reformer, is insisting he has thirty million votes. Apparently that represents something in the vicinity of 65% of the electorate. If that’s true and Supreme LEader Khamenei still insists on keeping his boy Ahmadinejad in office, then the conditions are rife for something approaching civil war. Or an even worse police state. Who knows what will transpire? The mullahs clearly are nervous. They closed the polls early in numerous places because too many were voting for Mousavi. (In the last election they kept them open extra long to garner votes for Ahmadinejad.) Moreover, they banned the wearing of colors, any colors, at the polling places. Again according to Ardeshir, the mullahs were afraid too many would be seen wearing green, the color associated with the reform movement.
In other news, Ayatollah Rafsanjani – a key player for decades in Iranian politics and supposedly something of a pragmatist; he supports Mousavi – has mysteriously disappeared from view. Two of Mousavi’s important advisors were briefly arrested and there are reports of grenades going off in his headquarters. Truth or rumor? A shot being fired across the bow of a potential revolution. I certainly don’t know.
I also don’t know what to make of Mousavi. Probably not much. A former prime minister, he was a devout follower of Khomeini and in office in the early eighties for the founding of Hezbollah. Next exactly a reform kind of guy in the traditional sense. His younger followers may be different, however. Iran isn’t exactly the kind of place where you have a wide selection of attractive candidates. Youthful idealism has to go somewhere and Mousavi is said to have changed to some extent. Color me skeptical.
I was also skeptical of the voters going in and out of the Westin. Mostly they were well-heeled types and I had a suspicion that their votes were being bought one way or another. Of all the voters I interviewed, two said the were voting for Ahmadinejad (one on film) and the others would not say anything at all. But only a mile from LAX, those voters, many of them tooling out of the hotel parking structure in Mercedes and Beemers, did not look particularly interested in reform. They say Ahmadinejad is the candidate of the poor. That may be. But he is also the candidate of entrenched power.
UPDATE: Amir Taheri is certainly not optimistic.
MORE: Video from the streets of Tehran Friday. I am told the chants of Allah o Akbar at the end are not in support of the Islamic faith, but meant to shame the regime.
MEANWHILE: How deeply naive about Iran is the Obama administration. I wonder if any of them have even done any basic reading. I would suggest beginning with Amir Taheri’s biography of Ayatollah Khomeini. Then they would realize how very dumb this seems: The dominant view among Obama administration officials is that the regime will look so bad as a result of whipping up Iranian hopes for democracy and then squelching them that the regime may feel compelled to show some conciliatory response to Obama’s gestures of engagement. Earth to Obama people. This is a religious movement. They could care less about what the world thinks. They care what Allah thinks. Get it?