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Sunday, June 26, 2005



surprise is the primary western reaction to the election of mahmoud ahmadinejad to the presidency of iran.

Government figures showed more than 17 million votes for Ahmadinejad, 49, the blacksmith's son who has been mayor of Tehran since 2003, compared with around 10 million for Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and favourite throughout the campaign who had gained the reluctant backing of the beleaguered reformist movement.

Charges of vote-rigging and other violations, which marred his surprise second-place showing in the election's first round and resurfaced during Friday's runoff, began to fade as Iranians absorbed a political earthquake that promises a re-assertion of Islamic values in Iran and a return to confrontation with the West.
ahmadinejad's appeal shouldn't be altogether shocking, however, even in the united states. his rise has been built upon his image as a homespun populist with a fiercely nationalistic streak, running primarily on issues of domestic and moral concern -- not at all far from the manner that bush puts on for his elections. and those who voted for him aren't far from bush's core voting block either.

'Ahmadinejad's vote comes from two sections of the electorate,' one Tehran-based analyst said. 'The first are genuine hard-core religious voters who rallied behind him when they realised that certain people were supporting him in the Revolutionary Guards.

'The second part belonged to the forces of tradition. These are people who have difficulties coping with the changes in society. They want somebody who appears modest and honest.'
in fact, as the london times pointed out, “Poor provinces have voted massively for Ahmadinejad," which is exactly the rural-social-conservative dynamic one sees in the united states.

for all the concern in the west and among the leading reformists in iran itself, ahmadinejad needn't be a disaster for open society in iran. he is a ph.d. in civil engineering, and has gone out of his way to assuage fears of a hardline crackdown on civil liberties such as they exist in iran.

Ahmadinejad has dismissed such concerns, saying: 'The country's true problem is employment and housing, not what to wear.'

His campaign advisers insist Khatami's modest reforms will not be reversed and that private behaviour will not be regulated.

'We will never stop or prevent any movement which has taken Iran forward and we will never move back,' his media spokesman, Dr Nader Shariatmadari, said. 'We respect people's freedoms in the political, cultural and social realms within the framework of the law.'
of course, what will happen remains to be seen. ahmadinejad can be seen as a pawn for the clerical establishment in iran. but what this election is decidedly not is evidence to back specious american allegations of a "mock election" -- ahmadinejad carried a massive advantage, polling remarkably well among the young as well as the conservative. what the iranian electorate offered up was at least in part a strong statement against the wholesale adoption of western decadence, preferring instead a persian islamic society which adopts change carefully, slowly, with respect for law and social traditon, and through institutional criticism and rigor -- as we once did in more vital and civilized times.

of course, rumsfeld admits openly that, "I don't know much about this fellow", and we can be assured he knows equally little about civilization, theirs or ours. but that unfortunately has never been a reason for him to shut up. worse, it's never been a reason for this administration to stop itself from taking radical action to "solve" invented problems. the future course of administration reaction remains uncharted, but if agents of the administration are already talking about the man as an enemy of democracy, odds are that they will do their level best to turn his election into a cassus bellum in their global democratic revolution. the financial times has already reported administration hawks as having been pulling for ahmadinejad as a means of forcing confrontation and collapse, giving them the half-excuses they need to do what they already desire.

"The Bush administration is as deeply divided as the Iranian government," commented Ken Pollack, analyst at the Brookings Institution.

US "hawks", he said, had a bizarre preference for Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a fundamentalist and hardliner, over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who sought to establish his more pragmatic credentials in part by making overtures to the US during his election campaign.

For the US hardliners, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, Mr Rafsanjani presents the danger of exacerbating the divisions between the US, which is essentially trying to contain Iran, and Europe which favours the engagement approach.

The US hawks also believe that a convergence of hardliners in Iran with the victory of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is more likely to precipitate the collapse of the Islamic regime through popular unrest than the "Chinese model" of social pacification likely to be embraced by Mr Rafsanjani. One hardline official told the FT he saw no evidence that Mr Rasanjani was less committed to developing nuclear weapons.
some noted a change in tone recently regarding iran. one must rely on the iranian leadership to walk a very careful line, not to overplay their hand as others have done against a imperial-hair-trigger-militarist united states -- and even that may not be enough to ultimately avert an inconceivable war.

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