Last night, with the translation assistance of Leila Zand, director of the Iran program at the Fellowship of Reconcilation, I interviewed Habib Ahmadzadeh on the dispute over the Iranian election results from June 12. Perhaps you've heard of Habib Ahmadzadeh. He wrote the original short script for the Iranian movie "Night Bus," and wrote the short story "Eagle Feather," both drawing on his experiences as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war.
Like many Iranians, including many Iranians who didn't vote for Ahmadinejad and don't support Ahmadinejad, but whose voices have been largely absent from Western media, even progressive media, Habib is deeply skeptical of opposition claims that the Presidential election on June 12 was "stolen," and has demanded that the opposition provide specific evidence of its claims.
I have been reaching out to Iranians who have or can get specific information about what happened on June 12-13. That path led me to Habib.
Although Habib lives in Tehran, his hometown is in Abadan, and he has many connections there. He thought it would be easier to get a picture of a smaller province like Abadan, as an example, than a larger province. So ahead of our interview, he reached out to people in Abadan.
Habib talked to Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan, Seyed Reza Tabatabaie. There were 142 ballot boxes in Abadan; Mousavi had 127 observers.
Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan said: yeah there was a big fraud. Habib asked, was your number the same as the Interior Ministry? Yeah, he said, it was almost the same. But there was a big fraud.
Habib pressed him: what was the fraud? Be specific. No, Mousavi's guy said, before the election, they gave this guy money, they gave that guy money...
I asked Habib: do we know which were the 15 ballot boxes in Abadan that Mousavi's people didn't observe?
I will pay $10,000 to the first person or organization that presents a coherent story for how the Iranian election was stolen that is consistent with knowable facts about the Iranian election process as it took place on June 12-13 and the information that has been published since, including the ballot box tallies that have been published on the web by the Iranian government.
In order to collect the reward, you don't have to prove your case beyond a shadow of a doubt. But your numbers have to add up. To collect your reward, it's not sufficient to cite press reports or anecdotal evidence of election irregularities, or to claim as authority Western commentators or NGOs who have not themselves put together a coherent story. To collect your reward, your story has to tell how on June 12, a majority of Iranian voters voted for other candidates besides Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yet this was transformed by the Iranian election authorities into a majority for Ahmadinejad.
Here are the numbers you have to explain. According to the official tally, Ahmadinejad got about 24.5 million votes. Mir Hossein Mousavi got 13.2 million votes. That's a difference of more than 11 million votes.
So, when I say your numbers have to add up, I mean your story of stolen votes has to overcome that 11 million vote gap. [The number would differ somewhat if you only want to say that Ahmadinejad didn't get a first round majority, as opposed to merely beating Mousavi, but it would not differ by much, since the third and fourth place candidates took such a small share of the vote.]
To illustrate: much has been made of the Guardian Council's "admission" that in about 50 cities or towns, the number of votes exceeded the number of people eligible to vote in that area. Note, first of all, that unlike in the United States, where in general you can only vote where you are registered, in Iran you can vote wherever you happen to be that day.
It's interesting to observe when some Democratic Congressional leaders say Democrats have to be "loyal" to President Obama and when it's apparently OK to join Republicans in undermining him.
Earlier this week, Speaker Pelosi said progressive House Democrats said had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting more money to escalate war in Afghanistan, despite the lack of any strategy for how we are going to get out. And they had to be "loyal" to President Obama in supporting $108 billion for the International Monetary Fund, widely expected to be used largely to bail out European banks, even though modest Congressional demands for reforms at the IMF (the Fed publishes minutes of its meetings, why not the IMF?) had been rebuffed.
But when President Obama said, quite sensibly, that the U.S. should avoid the appearance of meddling in Iran's election dispute, Howard Berman and Nancy Pelosi decided to join with Republicans in undermining Obama's policy.
CQ Politics reports:
When House Republicans pushed a resolution supporting Iranian protestors Tuesday, critics said they were seeking political points against a circumspect President Obama. But when House Democrats signed onto the resolution (H Res 560) Thursday night, getting a green light for a Friday morning vote under suspension of the rules from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, critics said it seemed they were taking political cover. Backed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L.
A House resolution supporting the protesters in Iran passed this morning 405-1. While the text of the bill is rather mild, doubtlessly it will be reported in Iran as evidence of US interference. The case is made even stronger by throwing in a few quotes from the debate that preceded the vote.
And the lone dissenter in this pageantry? Ron Paul.
In a statement released concerning the resolution, Paul said:
Of course I do not support attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people, but when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made. I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.
I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.
You can support President Obama's approach by signing our petition: http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/election
The Obama Administration's response to the ongoing Iranian election crisis has been remarkably intelligent.
Rather than make blustering statements in support of one side or the other, President Obama has urged restraint and caution when it comes to US commentary on what is going on in Iran. In a CNBC interview, he told the press,
It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling - the US president, meddling in Iranian elections.
Obama shows himself to be a wise student of history by taking this stance. The last time the Iranian people had a functioning democracy was under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Following efforts by Mossadegh to nationalize the oil industry, American and British intelligence agencies organized astroturf protests and eventually had him overthrown. What followed was the brutal reign of the autocratic Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Most Iranians view the Shah's reign as a very dark period of their history, and they harbor resentment against the American government for organizing the coup that toppled their last truly freely and democratically elected government. Which is why if the United States chose to intervene in this election on behalf of the protesters, hard-liners within Iran could easily portray the student movement as nothing more than the sort of demonstrations that acted as tools of the Western governments to overthrow Iran's government in 1953. This would ultimately undermine the pro-democracy movement within Iran and turn public support towards Iranian reactionaries.
Judging from commentary in the blogosphere, many Americans are already convinced by suggestions that have been carried in the media that the Presidential election in Iran was stolen. [Some press reports have been a bit more careful: the lead paragraph of the front page story in Sunday's New York Times says that "it is impossible to know for sure" if the result reflects the popular will.]
But the evidence that has been presented so far that the election was stolen has not been convincing.
Iran does not allow independent international election observers, and there is a scarcity of independent, systematic data.
But shortly before the election, Terror Free Tomorrow and the New America Foundation published a poll that was financed by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. Based on this poll, the official result - a victory for Ahmadinejad in the first round - was entirely predictable. "Ahmadinejad Front Runner in Upcoming Presidential Elections," the poll reported.
The poll was conducted between May 11 and May 20, and claimed a margin of error of 3.1%. Among its respondents, 34% said they would vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad, 14% said they would vote for Mir Hussein Moussavi, 2% said they would vote for Mehdi Karroubi, and 1% said they would vote for Mohsen Rezai. Declared support for these four candidates represented 51% of the sample; 27% of the sample said they didn't know who they would vote for. [This accounts for 78% of the sample; the survey report doesn't explicitly characterize the other 22% of the sample, but presumably they were divided between those who did not intend to vote and those who refused to respond to the question.