The world’s gaze was already fixated on the Iranian presidential elections like never before. Iran, as an emerging regional powerhouse with nuclear aspirations, has been a constant item on the international agenda. The global focus on the elections only intensified with the ensuing crisis around the election results, which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected by a surprising margin with 63 per cent of the vote, well ahead of his nearest rival Mir Hossein Mousavi who managed 33 per cent of the vote.
The election results were almost immediately condemned and opposed by Mousavi and the other two rival presidential candidates, Mohsen Rezaee and Mehdi Karroubi, alleging electoral fraud and corruption.
The opposition refused to acknowledge the election results and demanded a full re-run of the election.
What ensued on the streets of Iran thereafter turned a brewing political crisis into a symbolic clash of society, contested largely between conservatives and reformists that could determine the future orientation of the country.
Pro-Mousavi supporters have orchestrated a number of demonstrations in Tehran, which has fast spread to other cities, with the largest protests staged last Thursday. The rallies so far have been largely peaceful and have mainly seen tens of thousands of people march in silence through the centre of the cities. This “silence” has been carefully organised in order to underline the peaceful message of the protests, that the people are voicing their legitimate demands and that the rallies are not common opposition against the ruling system of Iran.
However, history has shown how quickly such situations can turn into wide-scale anger and hostility. The government forces have been careful not to be perceived to be violently suppressing the rallies. However, common resentment has already been stoked with a number of protestors shot by members of the pro-government Basij volunteer militia. A number of arrests of politicians, journalists and protestors have also been made.
Members of the Basij militia have also allegedly been involved in retaliatory attacks in a number of Iranian cities through university raids and beatings of students.
However, as much as the ruling elite in Iran have urged calm and tried to maintain control, the current crisis threatens to divide the very foundation of the Islamic Republic.
The most powerful figure in Iran, with control of armed forces, police and intelligence services, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has fast become engulfed at the centre of a deepening crisis.
Succumbing to broad pressure, Khamenei has agreed to a re-count of the votes in disputed areas, a sharp shift from his initial stance, but falling some way short of opposition demands.
Undoubtedly, it is the nature of the rallies, some of the largest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 itself that have added to the fierce climate and ensured anxiety amongst figures in the establishment.
Reformists, particularly Mousavi are not an especial threat to the Islamic government. However, with the opposition keen to obtain nothing short of a full re-run of the elections, the current tense environment will not die down too easily.
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