Fascinating Iran news round-up

My unnamed expert friend provided the following email today. It’s a great summary of the news from inside Iran, and includes some really cogent analysis. In the interest of getting it up immediately, I’ve inlcuded the whole thing, including a few typos and references to things I haven’t posted here. Hopefully you still find it useful…

Nighttime again in Tehran so below is my round-up of news from today. Unfortunately it’s becoming harder and harder to get information out of Iran. The Western press has gone from being banned from covering protests to being asked to leave—today Iran asked the BBC to leave, a few other reporters had their visas expire, and an Iranian reporter from Newsweek has been arrested without charge and hasn’t been heard from in a few days. Couple this with the fact that they’re arresting even more Iranian bloggers and journalists, scrambling satellite TV, cutting of phone and SMS service, and it’s just becoming harder and harder to find out what’s going on in Iran. Still, some amazing and courageous Iranians continue to send updates and take pictures and video, so here’s what I’ve compiled from the past 24 hours.

Is Ahmadinejad actually popular? What should Obama do?

I’m getting a daily digest from the expert friend I mentioned in the previous post and picking out some highlights. Here are some of his thoughts about two of the biggest questions I have: How popular is Ahmadinejad, really? And what should Obama be doing in reaction?

Ahmadinejad’s popularity

Pro-Ahmadienjad poll: There was a pre-election poll carried out by an NGO called “Terror Free Tomorrow” that some of you may have seen mentioned in various articles (they defended their poll a few days ago in the Washington Post). The poll was taken via telephone and purportedly showed Ahmadinejad was twice as popular among the respondents, which is now being cited to show that Ahmadinejad did win the election, and the cries of fraud are unwarranted. I’m including the link to a full debunking of this poll below, but there are 2 major problems with this poll. First, methodologically, the phone survey was of a little over 1,000 people, and just only 57% answered definitely. The rest either said “no comment” or were undecided. That’s a large number of unanswered, and when you weigh that with the percentage that said they did support Ahmadinejad, you get a far less overwhelming endorsement of him. Second, and more importantly, there are political problems with this poll. This poll was conducted around a month before the election, and before the official campaign time began. Unlike American, Iran has no strong political parties, and people will not just vote for someone—say, like Musavi—because he’s a member of the party they identify with. Opinions change and undecided sway much more in Iran than in American. Musavi had been out of the public eye for almost two decades before the official campaigning began, so it’s no wonder he didn’t have more support when this poll was taken. On top of this, his campaign really built steam later in the campaign period, particularly after his June 3rd televised debate with Ahmadinejad when the latter attacked numerous members of the establishment such as Rafsanjani’s family, Musavi’s wife, and others. If you want to read more about this poll, check here.

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5 questions for Matteen Mokalla on Iran elections

matteenMy friend Matteen Mokalla is an Iranian-American SIPA (Columbia School of International and Public Affairs) grad who is writing a book drawing on his travels in Iran over the course of several months last year. I trust his opinion about Iranian matters greatly, and so decided to interview him via email today with some questions to deepen my understanding not just of the scale of the protests — we are all aware of that now — but their underlying issues and significance. Matteen has offered to answer any follow-up questions from readers, so please post them to the comments section.

1. How should Obama respond to the protests? How can he and other Western leaders avoid poisoning the opposition with the appearance of Western backing?

Although it is difficult for many in the West to see, the Iranian revolution that deposed the despotic Shah also brought a limited Democracy to Iran. The Republic’s democracy created a constitution, political parties, and most importantly solid oppositional leaders. This is why Iran has had the emergence of political elites as vastly different as Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. Had this form of home-brewed Democracy been imposed by the West it would never have had any sort of legitimacy and hence we would never see today people going to the streets demanding their rights. It will be sometime before similar movements emerge organically from other nations such as Syria and Egypt.

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“Talking with family and friends in Tehran”

My friend Gazelle, who has friends and family in Iran, shared the following note on Facebook and said I could repost it here. Much more detailed and straight-from-the-source explanation of what’s going on today. Plus pics at end of post Thank you Gazelle!

I was a bit tired of people on Twitter “tweeting” from the US instead of Iran and not knowing how much of what they were saying was true, so after about 45 min of trying to get through, I managed to speak to a few of my family members and friends. With hoarse voices from screaming and yelling, they were able to tell me a bit of what was actually going on yesterday…some of this might be repetitive to news reports, but this was just what my family told me.
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Misunderstanding reasons for Iranian unrest?

It is hugely inspiring to see the hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking their destiny into their own hands and heading peacefully to the street to show that they will no longer accept the status quo. It’s not just Tehran. Check out clip of Isfahan protests if you haven’t seen them already:

Yet do we in the United States really understand what Iranians are agitating for? I haven’t seen a whole lot of reportage outlining the differences between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad’s platforms. I get concerned that Americans or others outside Iran will confuse what they want to change in Iran with what Mousavi’s supporters actually want changed. Right wing pressure on Obama to openly support the opposition (which would be staggeringly stupid politically, by the way, though the smart path is far from clear) hints to me that McCain and others are misunderstanding Mousavi’s platform.

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