Robert Fisk: Despite the intimidation, the appetite to overthrow Ahmadinejad remains strong

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Jun 18, 2009, 9:08:59 PM6/18/09
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Despite the intimidation, the appetite to overthrow Ahmadinejad
remains strong

Friday, 19 June 2009


AP

Mirhossein Mousavi, centre, waves to supporters at a demonstration in
Tehran yesterday

"President" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – and the quotation marks are becoming
ever more appropriate in Iran today – is in real trouble. There are
now three separate official inquiries into his supposed election
victory and the violence which followed, while conservative Iranian
MPs fought each other with their fists at a private meeting behind the
assembly chamber, after Ahmadinejad's members objected to an
official's reference to the "dignity" with which the opposition
leader, Mirhossein Mousavi, answered parliamentary questions. Those
close to the man who still believes he is the President of Iran say
that he is himself deeply troubled – even traumatised – by the massive
demonstrations against him across the country.


Tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters marched in black through the
streets of central Tehran yesterday evening, in an emotional
demonstration of mourning – the second in two days – for the post-
election dead. In a city symbolised by its brutal traffic and decibel
records, they walked in total silence for three miles, holding banners
and posters lamenting the killings in Azadi Square and Tehran
University and in other Iranian cities. And they had no doubts about
the political – and physical – risks they were taking.

A chemical engineer walking at the centre of the huge black trail
thought for several seconds when I asked him what happens next.
"Nobody knows but we think of this all the time," he at last replied.
"We cannot stop now. If we stop now, they will eat us. The best is for
the United Nations or some international organisations to monitor
another election." Upon such illusions is disaster built.

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But the same man's wife had a humour that almost belonged to the vast
black crowd yesterday. She was a commercial lawyer but had studied
psychology. "If we let go now, we are going to face someone like
Pinochet – and our dictators here are not even up-to-date dictators,"
she told me without a trace of a smile. "My psychological training is
very useful. Ahmadinejad has a classic psychosis problem. He lies a
lot and he's hallucinatory and the problem is, he thinks he's related
to someone up there!" And here, the lady pointed upwards in the
general direction of heaven. But no jokes about religion. These
marchers were chanting the Muslim "salavat" prayer, giving greetings
to the Prophet Mohamed and his family.

And just as well. For this morning, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei,
is to lead Friday prayers at Tehran University – the same campus upon
which seven young men were shot dead by pro-Ahmadinejad Basiji
militiamen on Sunday night – and Mousavi is promising to bring his own
supporters, wearing black arm-bands of mourning for the dead, to
demonstrate their loyalty to Khamenei himself. Ahmadinejad's acolytes
have been claiming that the opposition is trying to overthrow the
Islamic Republic as well as Khamenei, a dangerous slander in any
revolution here but a particularly incendiary one today.

The opposition suspects that Khamenei will try to restore order by
telling Mousavi and his people that they have been allowed their
massive demonstrations and that, despite "unfortunate incidents" –
that wonderful autocratic cliché has actually just been used by
parliament Speaker Ali Larijani – this was a generous and democratic
act by the government. But, Khamenei is expected to say, enough is
enough. Any groups disturbing the peace this weekend will be regarded
as counter-revolutionaries and dealt with "according to the law" (a
favourite Khamenei expression).

If so, Mousavi and his advisers – they include former president
Mohammad Khatami as well as Mousavi's election ally, Mehdi Karroubi –
will have to behave with immense sensitivity if they are not to be
trapped into silence by such a warning. Their problem is almost
intractable. If they continue the protest marches, they can be accused
of breaking the law – and the waning strength of the marches no longer
brings the people of Tehran on to their balconies and rooftops – but
if they bring the protests to an end, the Basiji and the cops become
kings of the street.

Indeed, the arrest of the Islamic Republic's first foreign minister,
Ibrahim Yazdi – he was taken, quite literally, from the bed of his
Tehran hospital where he is suffering from prostate cancer – shows
just how high the level of suspicion is amid the heights of the
Islamic Republic. No one has managed to suggest a sane reason why a
man who worked alongside the founder of the Islamic regime, Ayatollah
Khomeini himself, should suddenly disappear before our eyes. Yazdi had
urged Iranians to boycott the presidential poll four years ago – the
election that brought Ahmadinejad to power – but was urging all
Iranians to vote last week.

If anyone needed proof of the government's state of indecision, they
had only to look at yesterday's Tehran newspapers. Suddenly, the mass
demonstrations were acknowledged in full. A whole front page of
photographs showed Wednesday afternoon's Mousavi rally. Ahmadinejad
had said at the weekend that his opponents were mere "layers of dust"
– an unwise as well as a childish remark – but across one photograph,
demonstrators can be seen carrying a banner which reads: "The layers
of dust are making history."

Other papers showed Iran's top six football stars playing South Korea
in Seoul with Mousavi's campaign green ribbons tried to their wrists.
They complied with instructions to take them off for the second half
of the match – which was broadcast live across Iran and which turned
out to be a draw. Even Mousavi's website is no longer blocked. We may
ask what all this means. But so does all of Iran.

It was clear, however, even before the right-wing MPs turned to
fisticuffs, that the authorities simply did not know how to handle
this unprecedented revolt – not revolution – by so many millions of
Iranians. With a more intelligent, thoughtful, less arrogant man in
power, it might be possible to look for a political compromise,
perhaps some tinkering with the constitution to create a vice-
presidency (not that Mousavi would accept it) or even recreate the
post of prime minister which was held by Mousavi himself during the
1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

But who wants to work with Ahmadinejad? His efforts to improve the lot
of the millions of Iranian poor – their existence, of course, is a
blight upon the moral reputation of any republic which controls so
much oil wealth – have been genuine and well received. His
meretricious doubts about the Jewish Holocaust, his foolish rhetoric
about Israel, his constant comparison of the Iranian election to a
football match, are of no interest to them. But Mousavi can scarcely
work with such an unpredictable, unstable figure.

Ahmadinejad's colleagues have been claiming that the vandalisation of
property, including the destruction of computers at Tehran University
– an act with absolutely no intelligent explanation – was committed by
"traitors", but the government's own investigative committee is now
saying that plain-clothed agents were involved.

It all leaves "President" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a very lonely man.

Day 6 of Iran crisis

* In an attempt to defuse calls for a rerun, Iran's Governing Council
promised to listen to the candidates "express their ideas" about the
election. It also said it was examining 646 complaints.

* Meanwhile, it was clear where President Ahmadinejad wanted to place
the blame for the crisis. He told his cabinet that the vote's
legitimacy was being questioned because it was a "challenge to the
West's democracy."

* Also focusing on foreign elements, the Intelligence Ministry said
that it had uncovered proof of a bomb plot backed by American
elements. The bombs were apparently supposed to go off in polling
stations on election day.

* Iranian television showed former president Hashemi Rafsanjani's
daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, rallying protesters. Hardliners accused her
and her brother, Mahdi, of treason. The two were later barred from
leaving Iran.

* In an echo of Twitter's decision to cancel planned maintenance to
help protesters, YouTube broke from its usual policy of barring
violent videos so that Iranians could "capture their experiences for
the world to see".

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