Send the correct message
Here’s what we’ve learned about Iranian democracy this past week:
• It not so democratic. The state announced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection as president before all the polls were closed.
• It’s not so open. To stifle opposition parties, the government has blocked e-mail, text messages and Web sites in the run-up and aftermath of the election.
• It’s not so safe. Foreign media were barred Tuesday from covering demonstrations in Tehran. Some journalists were told their visas would not be renewed and they must leave the country. Since demonstrators have already been beaten and killed in these protests, it appears the Iranian government doesn’t want any witnesses.
And yet, demonstrations continue to embroil the country. Hundreds of thousands of people, backers of the reform candidates, continue to defy government warnings and rally in the streets of the capital. They shout from the rooftops at night that the election was a fraud — a symbolic gesture reminiscent of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It’s fun to watch Ahmadinejad and his religious handlers sweat for a change, but let’s not get too carried away. What’s happening in Iran is not a revolution. The shah will not be reinstated.
Even if the reformers get a new election, which is really all they’re demanding, chances are that very little will change in Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, especially Israel (aside from less Holocaust rhetoric).
The leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Mousavi, a former prime minister, appears to be a skillful politician and he would tone down the anti-Semitic smears for which the current president is infamous. (Mousavi has called Ahmadinejad’s approach to the issue of Holocaust a wrong one, and he has condemned the killing of Jews in the Holocaust.)
He has even declared he would negotiate with the United States, saying at a news conference shortly after he announced his candidacy, “We will definitely negotiate with them. Why not? Peace with any country would benefit our interests.”
Ostensibly, that statement could include Israel, but Mousavi has condemned Israel for “killing” Palestinians.
Despite all this, Mousavi lacks the charismatic rock star image of Ahmadinejad. So how much can he change things in Iranian foreign policy?
Not much, the experts say.
Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, Mehrzad Boroujerdi said, “Although many Iranian liberals — and a few Western analysts — see in Mousavi a potential reformist corrective to Ahmadinejad’s excesses, the former prime minister, should he overcome long odds and win in June, is likely to tweak, rather than overhaul, the Islamic Republic.”
That’s why Americans must continue to support diplomatic efforts to sway Iran. Locally, we must step up our support for legislative measures to divest state pension funds from companies doing business.
By itself, it’s a small step, yet it sends Tehran the correct message at the correct time.