There has been much controversy recently on the position of Iran in international relations. Potential nuclear war aside, many Iranian people are suffering in this moment. Therefore, as the new year begins and Iranian elections draw increasingly closer, it is a good time to reflect on the country’s very recent internal events.
The last Iranian elections took place on 12th June 2009.
Cast your memory back to the following day. The results have just been announced with a 65% vote in favour of Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Soon, the streets of Tehran echo with shouts of “Death to the dictators!”. Police and Islamist militias charge in to control the uproar and the protestors for the crime of demanding an answer to the question “Where is my vote?” Violence ensues. Iranian government figures stand at 20 as to the numbers murdered by officials, though opposition and Green Movement figures estimates numbers dead to be within the hundreds.
Protests in Tehran, 2009. Photo: parseha.flickr
Precisely this time last year, the regime rejected wishes to march by opposition movements. The 11th February, celebrated as the anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, was the intended date. Government suppression meant the ‘Day of Rage’ was delayed only slightly, finally materialising on the 14th. Despite being supported by opposition leaders Mr Mehidi Karroubi and Mr Mir Hussein Mousavi, the intention for the protest was for people to stand in allegiance with their comrades who had stood up to repression in Tunisia and Egypt earlier that year, rather than to rally for an alternative political party. This did not stop the detaining of Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi under house arrest as a consequence. The Revolutionary Guard also repeated its routine policies of press closures, internet blackouts, and state television pumping warnings against dissent. Mr Ahmadinejad denounced protests as foreign attempts to delegitimise a lawful regime.
Not discouraged by the pressure, hundreds of thousands marched to Azabi Square, in the heart of Tehran, to have their voices heard. Protesters gathered in many other cities with equal fervour. All forms of media were banned from covering the event but the police’s actions is reported by many undercover journalists, human rights activists, protesters and onlookers to have been brutal. According to the political opposition, the regime’s police armed 1 500 Hezbollah men and teenagers. The streets were filled with blood as people were beaten and several were killed in order to restrain the illegal protest. Some funerals for protesters who were killed were later “hijacked” by pro-government supporters, who blocked the families from attending. Protests continued throughout the year. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in this time alone, over 2000 opposition members were arrested. Amnesty International reports many are subsequently tortured with lashes, flogging and amputations in Iran’s prisons, others hanged in extrajudicial fashion. Campaigns for the regime to respect human rights continue: Ms Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, has recently called for not just the opposition leaders’ releases, but for all future Iranian elections to be boycotted in the name of secular democracy. Young Khomeini and the Shah’s descendent Reza Pahlavi also echo calls for separation between church and state. That is a unique symmetry of opposition.
Shirin Ebadi. Photo: Olivier Pacteau. flickr
However, Mr Ahmadinejad praised the protesters across the Arab world as rising up in the spirit of the 1979 Revolution. Journalists, activists and others, rebellious to him and Ayatollah Khomeini, continue to be followed.
Over 2011, international sanctions and diplomatic pressure has led to furthering the regime’s insecurity complex regarding the developing of nuclear “assets” or not. Other major international players, many of whom do indeed have nuclear capabilities, surround the nation. This argument as to justify their determination towards developing nuclear power seems to ignore the realities on the ground. Not only that the government has, as Mr William Hague (British Foreign Minister) said, a “record of evasion and obfuscation” towards the International Atomic Energy Agency, but that the regime rules over a cowered citizenry. With such a vast population, Iran’s current levels of repression are not sustainable, but nuclear power could reinvigorate this discredited government. Young people’s unemployment in Iran lies around 25% and with no substantial political rights, the mullahs could be about to obtain something that will lead to a serious tilt in the nation’s balance of power. Then again, with such turmoil in Syria, Iran could be about to lose one of her closest allies.
This February, the revolution’s anniversary approaches. A revolution is unlikely, but change is in the air. As for in whose favour it will lie, that, remains to be seen.