June 12th, 2009: another shameful page in Iranian history.
On June 12th, 2009 the world watched as the powers that be in Iran legitimized clearly fraudulent election results, announcing incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be returned leader of the Iranian state – leader being used loosely in this context. Despite the spirited protests that occurred almost immediately after the results were announced, it should be understood that the president of Iran is an elected puppet with limited capability to enact any real change or wield any political power. The Iranian constitution mandates that the unelected Guardian Council can veto any law or legislation they do not support, regardless of the support received by any elected government. The elected government is little more than a highly contested puppet show, with the strings being pulled by the Guardian Council itself. The presidential election amounts to little more than competitive politicking for the right to lead a useless and superficially democratic government that acts as little more than a mouthpiece for the Islamic fundamentalist minority.
Twice previously Iran has elected a reformist government, in 1997 and again in 2001, as well as a reformist Majilis (the branch most alike Canada’s House of Commons) in 2000. Mohammad Khatami had stayed in power under large popular support, but was unable to enact any change or fulfill his elected mandate. Bills promoting democratic change and human rights were passed under the Majilis and signed by President Khatami but went un-legislated because of the veto power held by Ayatollah Khamenei.
The real attention must be paid to the progression within the Guardian Council and the inner conflict that has been bubbling to the surface since the June 12th election. Despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s call for a partial recount, little has been done to betray any real dissent within the all-powerful Guardian Council, and why would there be? They literally hold Iran by its neck and have little intention of letting it go from the looks of things. The loosening of that grip is the most the leaders of world can hope for and as for the people of Iran; the presence of those fingers is rarely forgotten.
The Iranian protests of this past summer are noteworthy for many reasons, although the sheer number of citizens who took to the streets is not one. Despite reports of hundreds of thousands, 1999 saw an estimated 750 000 Iranians march in a peaceful protest. Of course the 1979 Iranian Revolution will be held in the worldwide memory for its enormous and overwhelming example of human potential. The regime that came into place in the late seventies not only upset the macro political power within Iran and throughout the Middle East but also, and more horrifically, upset the micro family balance of power.
Thirty years ago, the Islamic Revolution, amongst other legislative changes, suspended the Family Protection Law. This law had been in place only a short while before it was abolished by the Islamic fundamentalist regime that took power in the mid seventies. Enacted in 1967 under Reza Shah, the Family Protection law abolished extra – judicial divorce and required polygamist relationships to have judicially granted permission, and only under special circumstances. While this was only a small restriction on the Shiria Law most Iranians abide by, it was still a restriction placed by a religious governing body which recognized rights of women under the law and the rights of women after they are married, a considerable gain in a region where human rights are rarely recognized for any persons. Journalist and Academic Haleh Esfandiari was one of the many women who immediately joined the countless causes to protest this loss of recognition and her actions have led to state suspicion and even jail time in 2007, at sixty seven years of age. One such cause, The One Million Signatures Campaign is a small example of the tactics used by women in Iran to protest and raise their voices under a system that goes far out of its way to restrict dissent.
As the world watched in 1979, human rights were eroded by the fundamentalist regime change, a regime change that created a new country out of Iran, a new country very few of its citizens understood or supported. In the last decade several notable, mainstream media releases have the caught the attention of many throughout the world. Texts such as “Reading Lolita in Tehran” depict the culture shifts experienced in the Middle East and bring to light personal and humanistic consequences as well as personifying the extreme lifestyle changes that were forced upon every member of those respective societies. “Persepolis”, a graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi depicted her personal story of growing up as a young child previous to and during the 1979 revolution and the Iraq vs. Iran war, her experiences abroad and her return to Iran as a young woman in a land suddenly foreign to her. Adapted to film in 2007, widespread attention to the personal story of this ordinary young woman was suddenly paid and her life became a mirror of the many who felt trapped and betrayed by their nation.
A powerful symbol of this summer’s protests is a young woman who was idolized under the name “Neda”. Demonstrating the individualistic quality and fight for human rights, the death of “Neda” was captured in a thirty seven second video and immediately posted virally, spreading like wildfire through social mediums such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Instantly, millions of people worldwide were able to watch as the life was taken from a young woman by political authorities, authorities whose legitimacy is questioned by many. Regardless of the charade that Iranian elections are, citizens still vote and they vote to elect a political leader to convey their wishes, desires and needs to whichever governing body it needs too. The people of Iran deserve better than a suppressed and illegitimate election to elect a hand chosen political leader with dictatorial aspirations who does little to ensure the safety and prosperity of his people and more to push through and represent legislation based on religious fundamentalism.
Unfortunately, the protests did little within Iran. There was no regime shift and the Guardian Council remained supportive of Ahmadinejad as the Iranian president. Those who did speak up were quickly exiled or silenced. The most vocal and closest opponent of Ahmadinejad, Mir-Hossein Mousavi was rumored to be dead soon after the June protests gained momentum. The motivation for Ahmadinejad’s side to start this rumor couldn’t be any more transparent. The most notable member of the Guardian Council who spoke out against the illegitimate election results, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was slated to be Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor but was cast aside in 1989, just a few months before Khomeini’s death in 1989. Despite continuing harassment of his aides and a six-year period of house arrest, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has continually spoken out against the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Iranian government. After the June 12th election results were released, he spoke out, saying: “A government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy.” His dissidence has not boded well for his family. Three of his grandsons were arrested this week for taking part in outlawed political rallies, along with several reformist clerics and a handful of other influential individuals who have vocally criticized the reigning president.
There is much more to the Iranian political unrest this past summer, and although I mentioned briefly the crucial role social media played in disseminating information to disenfranchised groups and individuals throughout Iran. This was truly a phenomenon that forecasts the important role social media can and will play in future political and cultural change. Next week, Features will run part two, an in-depth look at the use of social media and world wide support for information sharing that characterized and shaped the 2009 Iranian protests.
Original published:September 24th, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 03.