Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:49 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 19:49 | SYDNEY

Iran: We'll just have to lump it


Rodger Shanahan


This post is part of the Iranian elections 2009 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

15 June 2009 09:20

This post is part of the Iranian elections 2009 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

The candidate preferred by the media doesn't always get elected. This probably explains why the elections in Lebanon saw much rejoicing in the West for the success of the so-called pro-Western 'moderates', even though the electoral system massively discriminates against one (largely anti-Western) religious group — the Shi'a.

One week later, the return of a staunchly anti-Western presidential candidate in Iran provokes howls of outrage from the press because it was against what most Western media pundits had forecast (and hoped for).

'We write Mousavi, they read Ahmadinejad.' 

I am not for one moment implying that Iran's presidential elections were completely fair (the subjective approval of potential presidential candidates by the Council of Guardians being a significant impediment to true freedom of choice), but the media frenzy over the authenticity of the results does smack a bit of an unwillingness to countenance the fact that Iranians may have voted contrary to the way that Western media outlets expected them to.

So-called 'liberal' candidates supported by evocative sound-bites from English-speaking university-educated Tehranis appeared as proof that Ahmedinejad's days were numbered. A poorly performing economy and Ahmadinejad's propensity for aggressive foreign policy faux pas were cited as reasons why all right-minded voters would show him the door at this election. 
But as this article illustrates, Iran is made up of more than young Tehrani university students. And the fact that the depth and breadth of common Iranians' revulsion at the rule of the Shah took many in the West by surprise in 1979 does lend weight to the fact that it is very easy to make interpretive errors through generalisations based on a small sample. 

I am in no way saying that the results were free from irregularities (as Juan Cole points out) but I think official reactions from Western governments are the most appropriate — accepting an Ahmedinejad win and urging on him to act responsibly on the nuclear issue and regional peace talks while referring claims of voting irregularities back to the Iranian authorities or referring to them obliquely.
It struck me that the demonstrations of opposition supporters I could see on TV, while subject to aggressive security force responses, were tiny compared to the election rallies, let alone any anti-government rallies 30 years ago. I also remember being in Isfahan in 1997 when Iran beat Australia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, and having to walk from my hosts' house to my hotel because every Iranian in possession of a car had decided to stop and celebrate, clogging the roads until the early hours of the morning. 
Iran is a funny place, and both massive voter fraud or overwhelming support for an economically unsuccesful ultra-nationalist President are equally believable. What is real, though, is the fact that the West will have another four years of Ahmedenijad's presidency to deal with. And that, rather than accusations of voting irregularities, is what will be exercising the minds of Western Iran-watchers for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Flickr user John McNab, used under a Creative Commons license.