1.What has caused the current crisis leading to huge demonstrations on the streets of Tehran?
The crisis has been caused by the outcome of the elections which took place on June 12th 2009.
The results of the elections were announced on June 13th 2009 by the Interior Minister Sadiq Mahsouli. He confirmed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected to a second term after gaining 62% of the votes. Leading reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi gained a mere 33%. Mahsouli added that the turnout approached 85%, with a little more than 39 million of 46.2 million eligible voters casting their ballots. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately issued a statement in which he praised the turnout and called on the public and the challengers to support the winner.
The European Union and several western countries expressed concern over alleged irregularities during the vote, and some analysts and journalists from the United States and European based media voiced doubts about the authenticity of the results.
Mousavi issued a statement saying, "I'm warning that I won't surrender to this charade," and he urged his backers to fight the decision as well as to avoid committing acts of violence. Protests, in favor of Mousavi and against the alleged fraud, then broke out in Tehran.
In essence the Western world and the opposition reformist candidates oppose the outcome of the elections.
2.Is there any truth in the claims?
A number of irregularities have been reported and some electoral engineering cannot be rules out. However the resounding silence from powerful figures like Rafsanjani and Larijani is a strong indication that the election results and claims of fraud are not compelling enough. The claims that the election was rigged will be difficult to verify - if there is an investigation. The final vote breakdown gives Ahmadinejad a huge margin of 11 million votes which even in a re-count will be very difficult to change.
Without an investigation it is difficult to decide if there was any vote engineering. However it is difficult to see how Ahmadinejad could have stolen the election by such a huge margin. To achieve such a feat he would have needed the cooperation of a large number of teams to have rigged polling booths. The risks involved would have been huge as Ahmadinejad has many powerful enemies who would have jumped on the opportunity to use this to their advantage. Mousavi after five days submitted his complaints to the Guardian council, however the mechanics of electoral fraud that he claims robbed him of Iran's presidency have still not materialised.
What makes the claims of the defeated reformists much weaker is Ahmadinejad's attendance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit a few days after the disputed election result. This would not have been possible without the agreement of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei and other heavy weights in the regime.
The first Friday sermon after the election will in all likelihood bring to an end any possibility of continued demonstrations and a re-election. The supreme leader in his Friday sermon at Tehran University rebuked Mousavi for not accepting the election result and for allowing the demonstrations to take place. This in effect was a public endorsement of the election result by Iran's supreme body.
Currently the defeated reformists candidates claim the entire election is against the sentiments of Iranians, the majority of whom opposed incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his policies but whose will was thwarted by a falsification of the electoral results by an unpopular and dictatorial ruler who made it appear that he had won the election massively rather than lost it.
3.How much of the struggle is between the conservatives and reformists?
The conservatives rose to prominence for engineering the infamous Islamic revolution in 1979. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reportedly one of the masterminds behind the embassy hostage crisis in 1979 where the American embassy was taken over in support of the Iranian Revolution. Iran went through a period of international isolation by the international community, this led to the trust between Iran and the West reaching unprecedented lows. The death of Ayatollah Rahullah Khomini led to a number of clerics calling for an end to the international isolation and re-engagement with the West. Such calls for reform were led by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami and such calls continue to cause a fault line in Iranian politics.
Mohammad Khatami withdrew as candidate from the election race and placed his support behind Mousavi in order to ensure reformist votes were not fractured. This election was a battle between the conservative candidate who believes in the Islamic revolution and the reformist candidate who believes Iran needs to move away from the Islamic revolution and begin engaging with the West. Currently the Iranian regime and its key organs are controlled by the conservatives.
The days after the election result has led to many demonstrations which have called for reform. For some time it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad's security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal.
The Western media have given the electoral dispute much coverage and have presented it as the next colour revolution. Whilst both leading candidates represent opposite sides to where Iran should be going, the lines between them are today much blurred as both groups have been pursuing similar pragmatic policies.
Barack Obama's interview with CNBC's John Harwood was very telling: "The difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States."
Whilst in the past the demarcation between the reformists and conservatives was very clear, today this is not the case as both are pursuing similar polices. Whilst there are individuals from both groups who despise each other this is more personal rather then the conservative/reformists axis. Hence the despising of the reformist Ali Akbar Rafsanjani is more due to his corruption rather than him being a conservative.
4.The Western Media are reporting a revolution is in the making, is this the case?
The Western media have engaged in reporting that can only be considered over reporting and very biased coverage. The idea of a revolution in the making has come from Western reporting with slogans such as the twitter revolution, the Ipod generation, face book revolution, blog revolution and green revolution. Western coverage of the elections is rooted in the old axis of standing against the Islamic revolution and supporting the reformists who want a free and liberal Iran. The West has engaged with Iran on this basis and continues to do so.
The myth the Western world follow is that the fall the shah was due to a mass movement of people demanding liberalisation. If such a group of reformists are supported by the West they would become majority and rule the country. Western reporters believe that anyone who listens to beyonce owns an iPod, has a blog and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Such individuals can be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to Western journalists, diplomats and intelligence services. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are to speak to Westerners. It is from such people Westerners receive the information that a revolution is on hand. However such people are not the majority. Most Iranians are poor and unable to afford an Ipod let alone a phone and are content with Ahmadinejad's fiery anti Western rhetoric.
The defeated candidates also used the polls to prove their case. Almost all polls conducted predicted Ahmedinijad to lose the election. He had a dismal term and very few of his previous campaign policies never materialised, unemployment is at all time highs and Iran's energy infrastructure is crumbling. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned at the election result. The US based Strategic Forecasting - the intelligence agency reported: "A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different."
Abbas Barzegar, reporting for The Guardian, has described the Western reaction to the election results as evidence of wishful thinking. Western journalists, Barzegar argued, ‘have been reporting primarily from the wealthier areas of the greater cities, ignoring the wide support Ahmadinejad enjoys in poor and rural communities.'
However Iran-Western relations are changing and were first initiated by the Bush government. Iran continues to cooperate with the US and protect its interests. In Iraq Tehran continues to extend support to the leader of SCIRI, Ayatollah Hakim and the Badr Brigade who have become the lynchpin of US plans for Southern Iraq. In Afghanistan, Iran runs extensive reconstruction and training programs in Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. Thus far, Iran has successfully prevented American embarrassment in both countries. Whilst Western reporting is still restricted to the historical distrust Barack Obama plans to commence direct engagement with Tehran within the coming weeks.
5.Are the demonstrations evidence against the Islamic revolution and Islam itself?
Many Iranians in 1979 mobilised together to bring an end the rule of the Shah. His failed economic policies and authoritarian rule became the unifying factor between, reformists, Marxists, socialists, students, professors and anarchists. However the Islamic revolution brought nothing in terms of economic development, Khomeini began a process of securing his grip on the whole nation and exiled, assassinated and arrested many of those who brought him to power. The disastrous 8 year war with Iraq consumed the Iran economy creating even more poverty than prior to the revolution.
The Iran economy has long relied on its Oil and energy sectors. Iran has the world's largest gas field, the world's largest gas reserves after Russia and the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. However Iran's 1940's constructed energy infrastructure is crumbling and inflation and unemployment is rampant and out of control. Ahmadinejad came to power on back of many economic promises that have not materialised. He has attempted to deal with this through a massive public spending programme and subsidised oil and gas - such subsidies are not sustainable. In 2007 due to massive mismanagement of the economy Ahmadinejad began the rationing of gas which caused riots.
The demonstrations that have filled the news stories of the West represent those who want change due to Ahmadinejad's economic failure. He has reneged on all his economic promises and created an economic bomb that will go off very soon. The election victory is seen by many in Iran as a continuation of such failed policies. Ahmadinejad has done nothing for the 3 million unemployed. While the catalyst for these demonstrations was an election, the election issues were the economy and unemployment. The Western media continues to propagate the demonstrators represent Iranian public sentiment, they fail to see the economic legacy that haunts the country or a very important issue that day by day is becoming even clearer - the demonstrations are simply supporters of candidates who were massively defeated.