In less than 24 hours, we will know the winner of Iran’s presidential election–whether Hussein Moussavi, the pragmatic moderate candidate has defeated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the darling of Iran’s conservative clergy and rural poor. The understatement of the year is that there is a lot riding on this bout. If Ahmadinejad wins, then Pres. Obama will face mounting pressure from Israel and Iran hawks within his own administration to attack. And if the U.S. will not, then the door is open for Israel to do the job itself.
A victory by the conservative candidate will continue Iran down the road to economic ruin and nationalist bluff and bluster. It will sentence Iran to continued exile from the ranks of normal world states. More Holocaust denial. More dead-end support for Middle East troublemaking in Lebanon and Gaza.
A victory by Moussavi does not assure a radical break from the past four years, but if there is not one then the millions of Iranians celebrating on the streets of the capital every night for the past few weeks will feel deeply betrayed and wonder who they voted for and why. One has to wonder why a candidate would take the extraordinary step in this conservative Muslim country of making his wife practically a co-candidate, if he didn’t seek to set out in a new direction.
Listening to To the Point today enabled me to realize how complex the political situation in Iran is. The campaign is so fraught and overwrought that things aren’t what they appear to be. For instance, Ahmadinejad, in a desperate effort to regain momentum, has ratcheted up his accusations against some of the pillars of the clerical establishment to a fever pitch. Iran is a society in which the mullahs have exercised such control that rarely are such figures questioned, let alone sullied with such charges.
The current president saved his most savage attacks for former president Rafsanjani, an intimate of Ayatollah Khomeini, a billionaire and one of the country’s richest men. Most Iranians would concede that Rafsanjani is totally corrupt, but never in a public setting as Ahmadinejad has done. This is the Revolution devouring itself.
So you have the entirely unlikely scenario of a conservative populist candidate savagely attacking the country’s fatcats and thereby stirring Moussavi’s followers to clamor for the freedoms and transparency they’ve been denied since 1979 and before that under the Shah as well.
Many in the west have been waiting and hoping for the day when pragmatism would prevail in Iran. This is why we were so gratified when Obama won the U.S. election. It might mean that pragmatism from our side could meet pragmatism from the other side. With a Moussavi win, such a dream is possible. It is by no means guaranteed, but it is at least possible.
Who will be the losers if Moussavi wins? Possibly the extremist clerical dead-enders eager for endless confrontation with the west. And definitely the Israelis. One indication of just how tone deaf the anti-Iranian campaign has been was Haaretz’s story fed to it by the foreign ministry, of an orchestrated effort to demean the Iranian election as a sham by western standards. One of the tactics was to consist of rallies outside Iranians embassies at which mock executions of gays and women would take place–all meant to show the country as a medieval backwater.
But the actual presidential election has given the lie to this notion. Observers on the scene have recorded the celebratory nature of campaigning lasting into the wee hours of every morning. They’ve covered the rallies of hundreds of thousands of supporters of both candidates. They’ve noted the amazing level of freedom and openness for at least this interval of time, a period not seen in Iran for decades.
Iran is an imperfect democracy at best. But no democracy stands still. Iran, with a Moussavi win, could head in the right direction and gradually become a more democratic state. Or it could continue on the bankrupt road it has been following with an Ahmadinejad victory. The fate of a nation and a region hangs in the balance.