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Iran’s Fair Election?

Despite the way it’s being played in the American media, it’s possible that the Iranian presidential election wasn’t stolen or rigged after all. I was always doubtful that the theatrical scenes of hope and change we were seeing in the major cities in the days leading up to the election, featuring youths and women in face paint and green clothing, would be validated by the rural poor whom Ahmadinejad has cultivated since the beginning of his presidency. Iran has an enormous population that lives outside the major cities and beyond the reach of Western media. These people don’t Twitter or go on Facebook, and their values can be very different from the urban, educated, often pro-Western middle class.

I’ve now found anecdotal evidence to back up this idea. Blogger south/south spoke with her Iranian grandmother, herself no Ahmadinejad supporter, around 48 hours after the election, and posted their conversation. The grandmother explains that the televised debates leading up to the election turned people against Ahmadinejad’s chief opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, rather than toward him as the Western media have assumed. Mousavi’s connection to former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani also didn’t help, because Rafsanjani is widely seen as a “shark,” a manipulator and profiteer. Finally, Ahmadinejad spent his last term cultivating the image of a humble, down-to-earth person who raises his own food. He won in a landslide among the rural poor because he made a show of addressing their concerns. The other campaigns were focused in the cities, but as the grandmother put it:

    What about the provinces? We don’t have too few of them. Ahmadinejad went to the provinces and reached out to the poor. People there still worry about buttering their bread. He went to every single one….
    Iran is not Tehran, Tehran isn’t even the size of the eye of the needle. Every single countryside, province, Ahmadinejad had them…. He worked for four years holding babies and making visits to the countrside. You could have predicted these results.

So in watching coverage of this election and the protests taking place now, it may be helpful to question the assumptions of the Western media from which we get most of our information. While there are surely millions of Iranians who yearn for European-style progressive democracy, there are many millions more for whom “buttering their bread” is the first concern. And for those people, whether we like it or not, Ahmadinejad is their man.

My thanks to neufneuf and homeyra for the grandmother link. Also from neufneuf, in a similar vein, is this article by former NSC staffers Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett entitled, “Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It.”


Comment from Pedestrian
Time: June 17, 2009, 15:13

There are a couple of extreme flaws in the accounts of that grandmother. Being from a very small town in the South of Iran, and having spoken to my own grandparents as well:

Yes, Ahmadinejad did distribute goods amongst the poor. But there are a very limited number of poor people for whom $50 and a sack of potatoes was enough for them so that they would not feel the disastrous toll of the economy.

One such example of this, which I can personally account, is the story of teachers because my grandmother happens to be a teacher in that town.

They were given a $50 bonus promised them since the beginning of the new year two weeks before the election. Now teachers are some of Iran’s most impoverished workers. Not dirt poor to be labeled eligible for charity, but extremely poor nonetheless.

I know for a fact that in my hometown, not only did this not warm them to Ahmadinejad, but angered them even more.

This definition of “poor” used here and in many other arguments only applies to a limited number of people.

There are also lots of people who point out that Ahmadinejad’s extreme popularity was why he was able to win other candidates’ districts. I don’t think people who say that really have a good feel for what Turk and Lor Iranians are like.

The argument for the phone networks is really, really flawed. Especially if you’ve read the statements issued by the ministry of communication yesterday and if you had direct contact with Iran in the hours and days following the election.

In the end, all who talk of Ahmadinejad’s popularity amongst the poor, forget about Mousavi’s same position. He was an extremely popular PM. We were in war and blood, but we were never hungry. That resonates with a lot of people even now.

Comment from south/south
Time: June 17, 2009, 20:50

The conversation with my grandmother was above all about perceptions: perceptions before the election (barely covered in the mainstream U.S. media), perceptions on the day of the election, and perceptions after the election (esp. among Mousavi supporters who were absolutely sure he would win).

>This definition of “poor” used here and in many other >arguments only applies to a limited number of people.

No, it doesn’t. If you read the election results translated and posted on the blog, the millions of votes for AN did not come out of thin air. And in an incident widely covered in Iranian media, when farmers overproduced potatoes, AN’s government stepped in and bought them, then distributed them among lower income families and charities. I have no illusions about his coercive government, but I can’t imagine any U.S. president bailing out farmers, for its media effect or otherwise. They didn’t even want to bail out auto workers.

Nor is anyone claiming that only lower income Iranians voted for AN: I know of urban professors with children studying in the U.S. that did. If you read the entire conversation, there is a reference to post-debate Tehran (and yes, North Tehran) where some attitudes were swayed by AN’s relentless bashing of Mousavi’s sponsor, Rafsanjani Machiavelli.

Comment from Pedestrian
Time: June 17, 2009, 21:50

Another note I would heartily debate is the Rafsanjani reference.

On the contrary, my grandparents believed the Rafsanjani link DID NOT stick. So at the least, it’s up for debate. Because with everything Ahmadinejad was able to accuse Nateq and R. of, I’m sure if he had anything against Mousavi, he would not have hesitated to share.

And if you listen to Rezaie/AN debate, you’ll see a good explanation of the potato situation. It wasn’t simply that the government “bailed out” potato farmers.

Comment from Wazir
Time: June 18, 2009, 00:28

The “evidence” is just as anecdotal as that presented by the other side.

The election results used are the official results, so, hypothetically, if they are flawed or the result of fraud, they are not reliable proof.

It is also remarkable how the reactions of those on the far left and far right are so similar on this issue, as well as others.

Comment from an iranian
Time: August 5, 2009, 09:27

election was rigged,,,iran does have 70% of people who is living in urban ares,and 30%or less living in rural area…and also even those you live in rural area not much voted him,,he wasnt popular..he ruined economy,foreigner policy,etc….and the population of tehran is 15 million ,and it’s capital of iran,,and the most important city,and revolution(if it wants occure) it happens firstly in tehran,,,,and all cities looking at tehran to see wats going on for future of iran….and the protesting was in many cities in iran,but as far as media and communication was limited people couldnt send all their videos ,clips easily…

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