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Sunday 21 June 2009

Persian Mirage

You know that something is making the news when you don’t even need the English commentary. Thus it was that I was made aware of the fallout from the Iranian elections during my R’n’R in Prague: the hotel’s breakfast room had a TV next to the coffee machine, and that meant seeing the day’s headlines several times each morning. It was clear that the result of last weekend’s poll was in dispute.

So what? Well, anything that couples “Middle East” and “potential instability” is not good, and more so when the country concerned is next door to Iraq – and Afghanistan. Add in the Iranian nuclear ambition, the proximity of Israel, and the odd several million barrels of oil, and you’ve got a lethally explosive mix. And there’s little point thinking that the world’s remaining superpower might have any persuasive influence: they have long memories in this part of the world.

The US propped up the brutal dictatorship of the Shah of Iran until the whole rotten edifice was on the point of falling in. So Tehran won’t pay much attention to the Prez. The EU might fare better, but this is first and foremost an internal Iranian affair. It’s for them to sort out.

What would change under a different president? The main challenger in the disputed election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, would “uphold the revolution”, which means no change to the 1979 constitution. Nor would there be any change to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. There may be some measure of reform, and less of the populist rhetoric. But ultimate power would still lie with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Was the poll fair? Merely because many in the West dislike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his apparent re-election would not be invalidated. That’s the potential of any democratic process – you may not get the desired result. Also, Ahmadinejad was apparently the preferred candidate of the rural communities of Iran, and would have appealed to religiously conservative voters. His anti-Israel rhetoric may also have worked in his favour.

However, one clue was given – perhaps inadvertently – by Ahmadinejad himself, who said that the elections were free and fair. How would he know? He was merely a candidate, and therefore not involved in the election process.

Unless, of course ... you figure it out. Watch this space.

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