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THE INDEX — June 17, 2009

Protests continue to rage in Tehran, now five days after the Iranian government declared victory for incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the country's presidential elections. The so-called "Green Revolution" led by reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, poses a significant threat to the stability, and indeed legitimacy, of the current regime. As senior Iranian leaders officials float the idea of a recount (or "count", according to some) Iranians have taken to the streets—and to the internet—en masse to demand transparency and democratic recognition. Today's INDEX focuses on the events as they continue to unfold in Iran and what observers from around the world have to say about the gravity of the situation on Persian soil. President Barack Obama has so far maintained a strategic detachment in his comments on Iran, telling CNBC last night that, "ultimately the question that the leadership in Iran has to answer is their own credibility in the eyes of the Iranian people." Although reiterating his support of open democracy as a matter of human rights, Obama said that his policies towards Iran would likely be the same whether Ahmadinejad or Mousavi take the presidency (as "their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised"). The neutral stance is unsurprising, if unsatisfying to some observers: Obama recognizes that his non-intervention will not give Ahmadinejad the opportunity to cast the opposition as an American-backed movement. But some Republican leaders are displeased with the president's policy, which they consider to be a corollary to his "apology tour" in the Middle East. Speaking on Wednesday, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said, “President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses. We have a moral responsibility to lead in opposition to Iran’s extreme response to peaceful protests.” Twitter feeds and Youtube videos put up by Mousavi's supporters are the Western media's windows into who makes up the Iranian opposition. So far the characterizations depict a young, urban and educated constituency—a sharp contrast to Ahmadinejad's supposed poor and rural base. But a Time article from Wednesday addresses the deeper complexities of both factions, noting that the opposition draws from a blend of reformers, including many who voted for Ahmadinejad in 2005 but were left disappointed by unfulfilled promises of economic support. In fact, Professor Eric Hooglund, writing for the U.S.-based Tehran Bureau, says Iran's rural population (about 35 percent of the total population), was hardly firm in its support of Ahmadinejad, with many (even a majority in some towns) preferring the reformist prospects of a Mousavi administration "so that their children will have a secure economic future. They saw hope in Mousavi’s promise to implement reforms, even though he is a part of the governing elite."

Several Arab media outlets analyzed Ahmadinejad’s majority win specifically in light of Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. In an editorial published yesterday, Palestinian newspaper, Al Quds al-Arabi, argues that vote-rigging was not present in the Iranian elections but that Iranians flooded to the polls in favor of the “hard-line president” who would “not yield to U.S. and Israeli threats,” as a response to the conciliatory undertones in Obama's speech. The paper notes that Ahmadinejad's majority was certainly plausible, considering his widespread support "in the countryside and outskirts of the big cities.” This sentiment was echoed in the Lebanese, pro-Hezbollah paper, Al-Akhbar, which said that voters supported Ahmadinejad’s positioning of Iran as a supreme regional and global superpower.

Iranian conservative newspaper Keyhan supports the election results and blamed instability on the “absolute failure” of the reform movement. In a Tuesday editorial, Keyhan said that Western governments were planning a “velvet revolution” in Iran, similar to those in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. The paper said that Mousavi’s use of the color green was indicative of an American-backed revolution where, “a colour is chosen merely for making a show in front of the camera of the Western media, i.e. the main directors of the [revolution] project.” The editorial also challenged the accusations of vote-rigging, since the government released results two hours after the balloting ended, while the opposition heralded a victory for itself a mere three hours into the polling. In an interview with the provincial newspaper, Qods, Iranian Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsuli said the government released results early because an online tally process were fast and accurate. Mahsuli said that Mousavi assumed national victory after he won the popular vote in Tehran, a city home to Iran’s educated and wealthy, but that he didn’t necessarily win the votes of the rural poor who benefited from Ahmadinejad’s loans and relief programs.

A column in the Iranian reform-leaning paper, E’temad-e Melli, suggested that Iranian political figures should stress "unity instead" of inciting Iranians to act "like cows and start fighting with each other" over election results. The Mousavi-friendly paper said that the outcome “will have many effects on the democratization of Iran’s society," and that elections are Iran's only affordable means of achieving political goals and aspirations. The paper asserted that the government should refrain from using the public budget to promote its preferred candidate and stall the democratic process. National leaders should "enter the political arena to address discrimination and problems."

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