After the events of the 2000 election in the U.S., many countries told us we would no longer have the right to comment on election “irregularities” in other countries. Our credibility as observers and occassional pressure makers in questionable global elections was now gone. (A credibility we managed to maintain even after interfering in Latin American and Middle East elections to disasterous results.) Now, I find myself wondering what kind of credibility President Obama, popular in many parts of the Arab world, can leverage 8 years later against a nation that has, at least publicly, been very clear that they are not interested in diplomacy with N. America.
Despite the triumphant photo from my last post of women proudly voting, and the early polls indicating a tight race, Ahmadinejad is said to have won the Iranian elections by 65%. The “win” has both election observers and Iranian people crying foul. Several Iranians have taken to the streets to protest the announcement. Riots, as depicted in the image above, have broken out in Tehran and threaten to be met with the same repression we have seen around the world when a nation’s citizens demand to be heard against a government that seemingly has put their own political agenda first. Election chaos has often led to violent repression and even civil wars.
Ahmadinejad’s response so far has been to start cutting off Iranian citizens from the outside world. According to the AFP
Scores of users started posting pictures and videos of the protests on both sites shortly after they broke out in Tehran’s streets.
The main mobile telephone service was turned off, preventing the foreign press from calling out with images and reports about the chaos engulfing the capital, as well as preventing activists from organizing and tracking each other’s safety. The Iranian government also shut down access to social network sites like facebook, twitter, youtube, myspace, etc. where Iranian citizens could mobilize each other in constructive peaceful protests and also get the word out quickly around the world that the believed the elections to be fraudulent. The lock down also makes it impossible for real time reporting from the ground by citizens and journalists alike, so that if the kind of violent repression and cover up that went on in Peru this past week or in Kenya recently there will be no way to document it as it happens so that government denial will be that much easier later.
According to the same article, repression of information is also going on internally in Iran:
Several pro-Mousavi news websites have also been blocked in the past two days including two popular ones, Aftab News and Shahab News, which are regarded as close to Iran’s top arbitration body, the Expediency Council.
There are lasting consequences to compromising the integrity of any nation. When Ahmadinejad made the decision to lockdown internet and phone access and ban the sites of his rival, he too lost any credibility with the people of his own nation and likely with many other countries around the world regardless of what the election outcome. Like others before him, he has seemingly placed his own power over the rights of the people and the consequences for that are hard to measure this early after the election. Yet they have already resulted in rioting and world wide condemnation. Despite shutting down key internet sites, activists did get the word out and the rest of us are spreading it in solidarity.
When Bush compromised the integrity of our own elections, he opened the door to us having no moral high ground with which to stand against the kind of repression brewing in Iran. This latest conflict with a nuclear power we once helped arm as part of a failed point-counter-point strategy in the Middle East & the Gulf, requires the U.S. to retake the ground that we lost and to do so in a way that honors the franchise of all of the people of Iran. President Obama, while we have one eye on the conflict there, it’s clear that the other is now squarely on you and the diplomacy you recently promised all of us.