As the world watches Iran, one unexpected country is paying particularly acute attention: Uganda. That country's oil-exporting future lies -- for now at least -- in the hands of whoever sits in power in Tehran.
The country's President Yoweri Museveni recently concluded talks with Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad for the construction of an oil refinery in the East African country. At least some of the funding for the refinery will come from Iran (reports vary on how much -- for example here and here). Tehran also promised to instruct Ugandans at its University of Petroleum Studies and invest throughout the oil pumping chain.
Uganda is a newcomer to the world of oil export. Its resources, now estimated at 2 billion barrells (Iran, by comparison, has reserves of about 130 billion), are just now beginning to come online. The deal with Iran is aimed at making the country's oil industry self-sufficient and value added; unlike other exporters on the continent such as Nigeria, crude oil will be refined in country and sent as a finished product for export. In theory, that could save the country some money -- and the need to ironically re-import its own gasoline. But some wonder if the refinery, at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, will really be cost effective for a country looking to pump out just 100,000 barrels per day.
Either way, it's somewhat disconcerting to imagine Uganda following in Iran's path as an energy giant. The behemoth of oil revenues failed to improve the country's lot last year; and instead, economic calamity set in. If Uganda looks to that example, Iran's election outcome isn't the only gamble in the country's future.
I'm beginning to think that the real Obama effect is the process by which any issue, international or domestic, comes to be discussed primarily in terms of how it relates to the president.
I'm glad Obama publicly stated his support for the protesters in Iran today. It was the right thing to do. But I don't really anticipate either action significantly changing the dynamic of the situation in Iran. It's not as if the demonstrators were waiting for Obama to tell them they are "on the right side of history.” And the Iranian government obviously doesn't really care much about winning Obama's approval.
When Fox News's Major Garett asked Obama "What took you so long?", I had to wonder what he (or John McCain) thinks would have transpired differently if Obama had made a similarly strong-worded statement a week ago.
I haven't yet seen any indication that the Iranian opposition really wants Obama to say more. Mousavi's international spokesman may have criticized Obama in an interview with FP last week for comparing Mousavi to Ahmadinejad, but he never said that more vigorous support would be welcome, despite how some others have characterized the statement.
The heads of a number of states, including France, Germany, and Canada, have already publicly questioned the elections results and voiced support for the protesters, but I haven't seen any examples of opposition leaders or protesters mentioning this support.
On the other hand, the argument of Obama's defenders that stronger support would imperil the protesters seems a little unconvincing as well. Iran's leaders have never lacked for pretexts under which to blame foreign meddling for internal dissent. The government was blaming the U.S. for interfering in this election before Obama had said a word. I'm not sure I understand why they're any more or less likely to crack down or make concessions based on what the U.S. president says.
The fact of the matter is that the United States doesn't have a whole lot of diplomatic leverage or ability to influence what's going on in Iraq right now. The Obama administration still has to face the question of whether the likely fraudulence of Ahmadinejad's victory should change the approach to nuclear negotiations, but that seems like a question that can be addressed down the road. This latest round of the engagement vs. confrontation debate is becoming becomign increasingly tiresome and less pertinent to events outside the beltway.
(For the record, inviting Iranian diplomats to a White House Fourth of July party is a terrible idea. The White House might not be able to talk the regime out of abusing their own people, but that doesn't mean they should have them over for barbecue.)
From the scattered, fragmented reports coming out of Tehran today, it seems the Iranian regime was successfully able to prevent demonstrators from assembling en masse. Riot police, like the ones shown above (who may also be Rrevolutionary Guards in riot gear) beat back or tear-gassed the protestors in the streets. In some cases, like that of this woman shown here (warning: graphic), demonstrators were shot in cold blood. It looked a lot like chaos.
U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement calling on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."
"Martin Luther King once said," he continued, "'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
It's hard to tell who has the upper hand, but it seems like there are still plenty of people willing to beat, maim, even kill their fellow Iranians. That's bad news for the good guys. Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist who's in Tehran, tells of a police commander who pleaded with demonstrators to go home because, "I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people." From what I can glean from Twitter and various reporting, the regular police aren't quite as eager to beat heads, in contrast with the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and basij militiamen. If we start seeing cracks in those forces, or the regular army, then the regime will really be in trouble. But it will take sustained pressure -- more demonstrations, strikes, and smart politics -- to get there.
As for Mir Hossain Mousavi, the unlikely leader of this uprising, he has reportedly declared his readiness to become a martyr and sent a letter to the Guardian Council demanding a new election. In it, he sounds reluctant to admit that he's past the point of achieving redress through the system. All he seeks, he says, is the restoration of the Islamic Republic -- not its destruction. That makes sense for political reasons, since he needs as broad a coalition as possible and can't afford to alienate potential conservative supporters. He's still hoping to attract the support of the clergy, who could lend his movement enormous weight.
But the clear implication of Mousavi's actions is that he no longer sees the supreme leader as the legitimate, unquestioned ruler of Iran. I'm sure an increasing number of Iranians feel the same way, even if the regime ultimately beats them into submission as we watch helplessly, glued to our monitors. And that will spell the end of the Islamic Republic in the long run.
Carnegie Endowment Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour sends along an update to his Q&A with CFR:
Q. In light of Khamenei's firm speech Friday indicating he was not going to support a new election, what do you think will happen? Do you think the opposition will have to retreat?
First, it was expected that Khamenei's first response would be very firm, that's his modus operandi as a despot: Never compromise in the face of pressure, it only projects weakness and invites more pressure.
Khamenei is [a] shrewder politician than Ahmadinjedad. Whereas Ahmadinejad has a penchant for alienating even hardliners, Khamenei reached out and for now seemingly co-opted some of those that seemed to be previously be sitting on the fence, namely Speaker of the [P]arliament Ali Larijani and Mohsen Rezai, both of whom are tremendous opportunists.
The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei's people have privately sent signals to him that they're ready for a bloodbath, they're prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?
Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to "martyrdom", and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.
The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It's become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people's support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.
Rafsanjani's role also remains critical. Can he co-opt disaffected revolutionary elites to undermine Khamenei? As Khamenei said, they've known each other for 52 years, when they were young apostles of Ayatollah Khomeini. I expect that Khamenei's people have told Rafsanjani that if he continues to agitate against Khamenei behind the scenes, he and his family will be either imprisoned or killed, and that the people of Iran are unlikely to weep for the corrupt Rafsanjani family.
Whatever happens, and I know I shouldn't be saying this as an analyst, but my eyes well when I think of the tremendous bravery and fortitude of the Iranian people. They deserve a much better regime than the one they have.
Certainly are some strange things happening on the interwebs these days. From Wired's Danger Room:
Anonymous Iran is a collaboration between The Pirate Bay — operators of the world’s largest torrent site, convicted in April of copyright infringement — and Anonymous, the prankster collective dedicated to exposing “Scientology’s crimes.”
The new site offers tips on how to navigate online in private, upload files through the Iranian firewall, find the best activist Tweeters, and launch attacks on pro-government websites.
A friend who wishes to remain anonymous e-mails from Tehran:
It's been nearly a week of nighttime riots and daytime protests. At
night things seem to have quieted down just a bit here, although I
should say that I'm not going all over the city looking for a fight
after dark. This is mostly due to the checkpoints everywhere. The
checkpoints that I've seen so far are not run by the police at all –
they're basij -- one of the few militia groups that run around the
country "keeping things (Islamically – the way the IRI likes it)
safe." It's true that a lot of the young men who get pulled into the
basij do it for the 'benefits' like getting into college and finding a
job and maybe even because all their friends are doing it, but times like this seem to really put one's commitment to the test. A few blocks before the checkpoint traffic is directed over to one lane and you are instructed to drive past a number of men who are oftentimes camouflaged and usually have batons and occasionally a machine gun.
If you’re lucky one of these men will ask you where you’re going and what you’re doing and where you’ve been, and if you’re really lucky, he’ll tell you to pull over, whence you’ll be asked by a fatter man the same questions. If you’re really, really lucky you’ll then have your car searched, while you stand aside and see how long your luck will last.
The past two nights the car I was in made it to stage two, i.e. the second man -- older and fatter -- who repeats the same questions, but our luck ended there and we were told to go along. I don’t know if it helped that all four of us were on the verge of shitting ourselves from fear and shouting out our excuses, but we weren’t searched.
If you’re having trouble picturing what this is like, imagine this: an
America where the neo-cons are running things and, after an election where they don’t like the results and the ensuing unrest in the country, they call upon the most right-wing, conservative, crazy men to make sure the streets are safe. These men are given uniforms, batons, shields, guns, and authority. Some are told to stay at a certain position; others are told to drive around with their friends on their motorcycles in big, noisy packs. This is fairly similar to what’s going on here – only these guys are way hairier.
If you think this sounds both ridiculous and terrifying, you’re right.
Just to reinforce that last point, let me tell you what happened to a friend of a friend last night. He and his wife were driving home when they came across a checkpoint and were told to pull over. A boy not older than thirteen and dressed in camouflage then came over and asked the man who was driving for his documentations for his car. The man told him to go get someone older because he wasn’t about to have to prove his ownership of the vehicle to a middle-school-aged child. A few minutes later an older basiji came over and asked for the documents, and then asked the man to open the trunk. He found a poster of Mousavi and started giving the driver trouble and asking him why he has this poster. He responded by saying that it was from before the election and, anyway, since when was it a problem to have a poster of a presidential candidate who declared the not-president less than a
week ago? After a short argument and torn poster the man was told to go on his way. Pretty lucky considering what could have happened.
Anyway, tonight, unlike the previous two nights, mobile phones worked past 6:00pm (with the exception of text messaging, of course). There have been two more huge rallies during the day in support of Mousavi in Tehran and Saturday there is supposed to be another one. Tomorrow everyone is to stay in. As for the nighttime street chaos - two nights ago in the western part of the city apparently all hell broke loose and people blew up a few cars and tore up sidewalks to throw at the militias who ran away.
No one seems to know how long this will go on for or what the end
result will be. The optimists think it will lead to definite changes,
while the pessimists are waiting for the government to crackdown hard and start killing. The next few days should be quite telling.
And here's an earlier dispatch from June 17:
This is a protest. No slogans. No shouting. Be quiet. This was the only noise that I heard yesterday -- June 16th -- on Valiasr Street in Tehran. The crowd wasn’t as large as the prior day where perhaps a million people gathered between Azadi and Enqelab
Squares, but it was significant. It filled the street for over a couple kilometers and brought traffic and business to a total standstill; thousands of people and not a single scream or one person shouting slogans. Those are to be saved for the rooftop, at night from 10:30 -- 12:00.
I don’t know what media there is saying, but there is a marked
difference between these protests and what goes on at night. The
burning of tires, clashes with the Basijis, and general destruction
that has taken place isn’t what these people are going for.
Everyone that I spoke with condemned that and most of them questioned who the real perpetrators of it have been. Even the official televised news denies that the people who have broken bank windows and burned cars are real supporters of Mousavi. Of course, this is immediately before they tell everyone that Obama and the presidents of most European countries support the rioters, who are enemies of the state.
Don’t listen to anything that that tells you that the green movement here wants to get rid of the Islamic part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. From what I can tell, people want reforms and change – not upheaval. They don’t buy the numbers that the government has fed them from the election and they’re not about to stop and step aside. I don’t know how long this will go on, but I don’t think it’s about to stop soon.
Those who have questioned the legitimacy of this movement seem to conveniently overlook the fact that the state is doing all it can to shut everyone up. Yesterday, in addition to blocking SMS messages – which has been going on since Friday – all mobile phone service in Tehran was cut off until the morning. BBC Persian is completely jammed and even with a filter breaker it’s very difficult to get a decent internet connection. If you’re wondering where the pictures are, this is the reason.
A number of Iran experts have begun speculating that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have to dump the evidently unpopular Ahmadinejad in order to save himself. The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour picks up the banner here in an interesting interview with CFR's indefatigable Bernard Gwertzman:
The supreme leader's decision to delegate responsibility to the Guardian Council was classic Khamenei in the sense that he doesn't cede authority--the Guardian Council is essentially under his jurisdiction--but he buys time and deflects accountability. He was calculating that if he could buy time, the scale of these protests would gradually diminish. So far, that hasn't been the case. He may eventually be faced with a situation of whether to sacrifice President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose "reelection" he announced, or go down himself with the ship.
It's interesting to note that Ahmadinejad has been strangely quiet of late -- a sign of either overconfidence or muzzling from the top. And then there's this bit of back-pedaling:
Mr. Ahmadinejad released a largely conciliatory recorded statement on state television Thursday, distancing himself from his past criticism of protesters he has compared to angry soccer fans and "dust.'' "I only addressed those who made riot, set fires and attacked people,'' the statement said. "Every single Iranian is valuable. The government is at everyone's service. We like everyone.''
It would be incredibly convenient for Khamenei to wash his hands of this mess and blame all the recent excesses on the president. But would it work?
UPDATE: After this speech, it's going to be hard for Khamenei to walk away from Ahmadinejad. It looks like we're headed for some real brutality now.
Since Twitter started getting coverage for its role in the goings-on in Iran, commentators have expressed concern over which Twitter feeds are fake, and whether Twitter could be used to spread disinformation. The unofficial Twitter watchdog Twitspam has a list of "fake Iran election tweeters," and their feeds make for fascinating examples of reverse propaganda in action.
Their techniques have different approaches and levels of subtelty. Some simply make up silly stories, like one user's claim "BREAKINGNEWS: Ahmedinejads plane take off from Russia 2 hours ago & lost over BlackSea! Does he know how to swim? confrmation?" or another's insistence that "Mussavi concedes, pleads halt to protest." Others take a more egotistical approach, such as this user generously volunteering to become the leader: "Saturday - small groups organized by "ERAN SPAHBOD RUSTAM" will attack government buildings and basij.women,children stay home." Finally, some Tweeters, in their rush to spread violence, seem rather unclear as to correct grammatical usage of Arabic words: "Get a mask and gloves - lets intifada tonight on the streets of Teheran - My group will barricade one street. Make your group 2. kick ass"
The most pernicious fake Twitter user, though, has been Persian_Guy, who's not only provided fake news ( "Mussavi overheard: 'We don't need a black man's help, that's humiliating, at least not arab.'") and calls for violence (""non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. Kill Arabs now, they are scums!"), but has even brought Twitter into the fake narrative. According to this user, "Twitter's staff are ecstatic by what's happening in Iran, "We're so glad there's chaos in Iran, finally Twitter is 'useful.'"" Somehow, I doubt that will endear him to his fellow Tweeters.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images
Shanghaiist has a very interesting roundup of Web message board reactions to Iran's election from China, a country that knows a thing or two about the government stifling dissent. Many of those commenting faulted the government not for cracking down on the protests, but for bothering to hold sham elections at all, and allowing the protests to get out of hand:
"The Iranian presidential election evolved after decades but now is triggering so many protests and riots; I am not sure how the liberal wings of the party would think? Use the army. Whoever fights against the government should be killed. There are so many people in Iran so killing several hundreds of thousands is not a big deal. What does the army do? Foolish (Iranian government)."
Barack Obama's caution also doesn't seem to have convinced Chinese netizens that the U.S. isn't behind all of this:
"America is always opposed to the other countries' democracy because American politics is a fake democracy; it is really the 'presidential dictatorship.' However, America asks other countries to be 'fake democracies' -- killing the real democracy!"
"When Bush was elected as the American president, he cheated too. But Al Gore was rational and admitted that he lost because of national stabilization. Mousavi has America as his biggest backer but not many Iranian supporters. He should admitted that he lost."
It's a very small sample size and I'm sure not universally representative of Chinese opinions, but telling nonetheless.
(Hat tip: Josh Kucera)
I see that a number of people are still throwing up their hands, unsure if the Iranian election was really fraudulent.
Give me a break, folks. It's true that Ahmadinejad is popular. But he's just not that popular. There's no need to throw up our hands and say, "Aw shucks, it's all too complicated and we'll never know if he really got 24 million votes." This was fraud on a massive scale.
The Guardian is now reporting that many towns in Iran reported turnout figures in excess of their population:
In the most specific allegations of rigging yet to emerge, the centrist Ayandeh website – which stayed neutral during the campaign – reported that 26 provinces across the country showed participation figures so high they were either hitherto unheard of in democratic elections or in excess of the number of registered electors.
Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141%, the site said, quoting an unnamed "political expert". Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132% turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120%.
Ayandeh's source said at least 200 polling stations across Iran recorded participation rates of 95% or above. "This is generally considered scientifically impossible because out of every given cohort of 20 voters, there will be at least one who is either ill, out of the country, has recently died or is unable to participate for some other reasons," the source said. "It is also unprecedented in the history of Iran and all other democratic countries."
The claims are impossible to verify, but they are consistent with comments made by a former Iranian interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who said on Tuesday that 70 polling stations returned more completed ballot papers than the number of locally eligible voters.
But even if we can't verify such reports, common sense ought to suffice to persuade us that Ahmadinejad and co. cheated. As one Iranian intellectual put it, "A president that has received 24 million votes doesn't need to imprison hundreds of people and cut all lines of communication."
Most Iranians seem to grasp this point intuitively. Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist and author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, explained at an event yesterday why the rigging has Iranians so upset. "The vote is the one thing Iranians still had," he said, saying that presidential elections -- within the parameters set by the Guardian Council -- had generally been considered fair until now. "There's a rage that comes from that."
Neil MacFarquhar tries to count the votes on Iran's Assembly of Experts, the only institution with the (theoretical) authority to remove the supreme leader. If these numbers are right, things could get interesting:
The analysts say about a third of the Assembly members are loyal to [former President Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani. Of the other members, perhaps a quarter are considered loyal to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a mentor to Mr. Ahmadinejad and a staunchly conservative figure who has suggested that allowing the public a voice in elections serves only to sully God’s laws. The rest are viewed as independents who could vote either way.
This bit is also interesting:
Analysts suspect that Mr. Rafsanjani’s message to the rest of the religious establishment is that they are about to be eclipsed by the military, which supports the government.
There is a certain delicious irony to the idea that we're hoping a bunch of black-robed clerics in Qom will challenge Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Just a week ago, we would have been talking about the need for Iran to reduce the influence of the mullahs. Now, there's an outside chance they could be the deus ex machina that helps bring Mousavi to power.
AMIR HESAMI/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, James Downie wrote about the U.S. State Department's request to Twitter that a scheduled maintenance period be postponed — so that news could continue to stream out of Iran. Twitter apparently complied, delaying the outage until 5 p.m. EST yesterday.
But, says Twitter CEO Biz Stone, the State Department in fact had very little to do with Twitter's decision to push off its server downtime:
'When we worked with our network provider to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network.
'We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event.'
This explanation seems to dovetail with current circumstances on multiple levels. For one, it makes good business sense — the defiant use of the social networking tool in Iran makes for good publicity. And for another, it shores up U.S President Barack Obama's statements pledging non-intervention.
The ongoing tumult in Iran over the country's election results got another jolt of international attention today, as members of the Iranian soccer team wore green wristbands to their World Cup qualifying match with South Korea — in a show of support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Dan Senor and Christian Whiton have an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal with some suggestions for how the United States could effectively help the reformists in Iran. It's a tricky subject and creative thinking is certainly welcome (my colleague Chris Brose has weighed in on this), but Senor and Whiton's bold declaration that "Our own experience with dissidents around the world is that proof of concern by the U.S. government is helpful and desirable" worries me a bit, paritcularly in their choice of Ukraine's 2004 Orance Revolution as a model:
Mr. Obama should deliver another taped message to the Iranian people. Only this time he should acknowledge the fundamental reality that the regime lacks the consent of its people to govern, which therefore necessitates a channel to the "other Iran." He should make it clear that dissidents and their expatriate emissaries should tell us what they most need and want from the U.S. This could consist of financial resources, congresses of reformers, workshops or diplomatic gatherings. The key is to let the reformers call the shots and indicate how much and what U.S. assistance they want. Simply knowing we care, that we are willing to deploy resources and are watching their backs -- to the extent we can -- often helps reformers.
The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine is a model. In that case the West joined Ukrainians in refusing to accept the results of a stolen election. This combined effort helped to force a final run-off vote that reflected the people's will. In Iran, this would mean not only redoing elections but also allowing a full field of candidates to run. As with Ukraine and the Soviet Union before, Mr. Obama could at least make it clear that the U.S. will separate the issues of engagement and legitimacy. Our engagement of the Soviet Union in arms-control talks did not prevent us from successfully pressing human-rights issues and seeking an alternative political structure. So it can be with Iran. Engagement without an effort to talk to the "other Iran" would not only be a travesty but tactically foolish as well.
Not every revolution is a "color" revolution. The visuals from Tehran may resemble Kiev in 2004, but the message from the streets is different. Both are nationalist movements in addition to democratic movements (as most successful democratic movements are) but Ukrainian and Iranian nationalism are very different beasts.
In Ukraine that nationalism could be directed against a government dominated by an outside power, Russia. The orange coalition (like the Polish Solidarity movement, which Senor and Whiton also cite) welcomed overt U.S. signs of support because it counteracted the support the pro-government forces were receiving from the Kremlin. The coalition billed itself as pro-Western.
In Iran, the protesters are crying allahu akbar from the rooftops and marching behind a fairly conservative hero of the 1979 revolution. They're protesting a probably rigged election, yes, but the nationalist rhetoric coming out of the movements leaders is not about rejoining the West but about protecting the Islamic state from Ahmadinejad's corrupt and bungling rule.
On a more practical level, U.S. NGOs were involved in the run-up to the Ukrainian election, supporting poll monitoring and training activists so when the trouble started, they were in place to help out. This is certainly not the case in Iran.
This is not to say that a Mousavi presidency wouldn't be better for the United States, or that the U.S. government shouldn't be seeking out ways it can help (Evgeny Morozov has one novel idea) but it seems odd to assume that the young people marching in the streets of Tehran would welcome the outspoken support of the U.S. president just because other young people marching in other streets have welcomed it in the past.
The Iranian regime's crackdown is proceeding apace, with new detentions of reformist leaders and new restrictions on journalists and social networking tools.
As always, treat unconfirmed report with caution. This from the Guardian:
There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran's interior ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president.
The article also notes that Isfahan's prosector general -- who seems like a real peach -- warned that the penalty for organizing protests could be death. "We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution," he said.
Also of note: Ayatollah Khamenei reportedly referred to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's "elected president," which tells you as much as you need to know about the integrity of this recount business.
And here, via NIAC, is an intriguing nugget from Reza Aslan:
Some of my sources in Iran have told me that Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who is the head of the Assembly of Experts — the eighty-six member clerical body that decides who will be the next Supreme Leader, and is, by the way, the only group that is empowered to remove the Supreme Leader from power — that they have issued an emergency meeting in Qom.Now, Anderson, I have to tell you, there’s only one reason for the Assembly of Experts to meet at this point, and that is to actually talk about what to do about Khamenei. So, this is what I’m saying, is that we’re talking about the very legitimacy, the very foundation of the Islamic Republic is up in the air right now. It’s hard to say what this is going to go.
Bill Keller describes what it's like outside Tehran. Horror:
At one point, a white S.U.V. with a red ambulance-style light raced up behind a knot of protesters and smashed into them, running one over before racing a few blocks to the protection of the riot police.
Bands of Basiji, the authorized plainclothes vigilantes riding motorbikes and wielding long truncheons, were let loose by the hundreds to sow fear far afield from the actual unrest. Many wore the green headbands of the opposition — possibly to camouflage, or to confuse.
At one point a group of bystanders (including one journalist with a gift for being in the wrong place) was cornered on the ancient Si-o-Seh Bridge and faced a choice between getting their heads broken or tumbling 20 feet to the dry Zayandeh River bed. At the last minute, the thugs were distracted by other prey to beat on.
Are we approaching a point where political information is processed so fast that an event happens, information elites weigh in to shape the discourse surrounding it, the conventional wisdom is communicated to Congress, and elected leaders formulate reactions based on public opinion... all before most of even the formerly plugged in members of the public ever learn what on earth is going on, or have a chance to form an opinion? Is anyone who works at a company that blocks their Facebook feed going to be meaningfully disadvantaged in the political process? Egalitarian concerns aside, are the information elites going to set a course, ossify as they always do in their opinions, and influence the nation's course too hastily? Are we on course for a kind of political singularity?
In short, no.
Let's remember that those of us who are obsessively following Iranian Twitter feeds and refreshing NIAC, Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney, and The Lede are kind of freaks. And the truth is, we don't really need to know all of the details we're sorting through when we do -- we're just fascinated by what is going on in Iran and want to stay on top of the news. For most folks, the Nazila Fathi/Michael Slackman stories offer plenty of rich information and context, while filtering out details.
As many other outlets have remarked, Twitter has been a critical lifeline for news coming out of Iran, with bloggers combining Tweets and grainy cell phone footage for indispensable running coverage (the best example of this has been Andrew Sullivan, who George Packer rightly calls "the number one source for Iran news these days"). The role has been so critical that when Twitter announced a temporary shutdown last night for an important network upgrade, even the State Department asked it to delay the upgrade:
The US government asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans in order to allow Iranians to communicate while their government banned other media following elections, a US official said Tuesday.
The official said the State Department had asked the social networking firm to delay shutting down its service to "highlight to them that this was an important means of communications... in Iran."
The State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that the Twitter service was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.
"One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter," the official said. "They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to."
Twitter eventually postponed the upgrade until later today. Some might say this is an example of American interference, but, as (ironically) CNN points out, Twitter is just as crucial an information source for the State Department as anyone else:
Because the US has no relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there, it is relying on media reports and the State Department’s Iran Watch Offices in embassies around the world. The largest such offices are in Dubai, Berlin and London, all home to large Iranian expat communities.
But officials say the internet, and specifically social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are providing the United States with critical information in the face of a crackdown on journalists by Iranian authorities[...]
While officials would not say whether they were communicating with Iranians directly, one senior official noted that the US is learning about certain people being picked up for questioning by authorities through posts on Twitter.
“It is a very good example of where technology is helping,” the official said.
NIMA DAYMARI/AFP/Getty Images
Given the agency's, er, controversial past in the country, the best thing the CIA can do for the cause of regime change in Iran right now is probably to stay as far away as possible. But CQ's Jeff Stein reports that the U.S. intelligence community is looking to take advantage of this week's situation:
Iran's political crisis provides the CIA with an opportunity to provoke the defection of Iranian military, intelligence and diplomatic representatives abroad.
(After the Soviet Union crushed the "Prague Spring" in 1968, Czech officials defected in droves to the CIA.)How it handles a similar scenario now, and the possible windfall of inside information on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear program, will be far more beneficial than clumsy attempts to manipulate the protests sweeping Tehran.
Yesterday and today, a plethora of U.S. editorials and articles and blog posts have forcefully debated whether incumbent conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or challenging reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi won the Iranian election.
"The shock of the 'Iran experts' over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking," Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote in Politico, in an article titled "Ahmadinejad won. Get over it."
The word most commonly used elsewhere, though, is "theft." Senator John McCain, for one, called for Obama to "condemn the sham, corrupt election" to "make sure that the world knows that America leads."
Certainly, the evidence of tampering is everywhere. Millions of paper ballots were counted in just two hours. Mousavi lost his home district. (Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight has excellent empirical posts on the subject.)
But we have no smoking gun and no decisive determination of what happened -- no sure way of knowing if Ahmadinejad stole the election from Mousavi, or the election was fair, or Ahmadinejad stole an election he won.
And, in some way, I find the uncertainty of what happened in Iran a bigger concern than obvious fraud. We know how to respond to election-thieves. But how do you react to a question mark?
France and Britain have come out against the results. The Obama White House, characteristically, has responded with a light touch, little more than prudent-seeming and non-speculative statements -- condemning the violence and offering respect for Iranian self-determination.
But with no sense of what really happened in Tehran, it's hard to assess the policy responses as well. If Ahmadinejad tamps down rebellion and continues on the same path, what would be the best response, then?
The big Iran news today is that the Guardian Council, the clerical body that oversees elections and is controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has agreed to recount certain ballots disputed by Mir Hossein Mousavi's campaign.
This is, of course, a ruse -- a delaying tactic meant to divide the opposition by peeling off its most moderate members. Mousavi wants a complete annulment of Friday's official results.
Also of note: Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani -- who has congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his "victory" -- blamed the interior ministry for the recent attacks on students at Tehran University.
Hossein Ali Montazeri -- Iran's most prominent "dissident ayatollah" -- is now telling the protesters to use peaceful means to express their grievances. I'm not sure how influential Montazeri, once thought to be Khomenei's heir, really is today, but his opinion surely carries some weight. There's still no word from Rafsanjani. [UPDATE: Translation of Montazeri's statement.]
Finally, I'm sad to learn that reformist cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi has reportedly been arrested. I've been reading his blog sporadically for years, but it seems to be offline now. Abtahi, a former Khatami deputy who backed Karroubi in these elections, was frequently quoted in the Western press.
It will be interesting to see what happens during today's dueling demonstrations, and whether Mousavi's call for a general strike is being observed. State media has called on Iranians to protest against "outlaws," and Mousavi is reportedly telling his supporters not to demonstrate today. Still, that's what he said yesterday -- and people came out in droves anyway. It's not clear to what extent he controls this movement.
One ominous sign that Ahmadinejad thinks he has this situation under control? He went ahead with a planned trip to Russia despite the unrest back home. I see that he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Perhaps the two of them compared notes on how to steal an election?
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
Writing on ForeignPolicy.com late last month, analyst Mehrzad Boroujerdi described Mir-Hossein Mousavi's Iranian election campaign as something of a potato revolution:
[P]otatoes, it seems, have everything to do with the Iranian elections this year. Ramping up the public distribution of potatoes, along with a wide range of other government subsidies and alms, has become Ahmadinejad's preferred strategy for buying votes. While the Western world has focused on the incumbent's inflammatory statements about the Holocaust and his confrontationist nuclear policy, his domestic critics have focused their ire on his flawed economic remedies and populist demagogy, in addition to his erratic diplomatic style. Hence, potatoes, and the surprise return of Mousavi, a man little known outside Iran.
Well, Mousavi looks to agree. Speaking at a rally today, an observer's twitter feed reports him saying:
These masses were not brought by bus or by threat. They were not brought for potatoes. They came themselves."
Potatoes, it seems, just don't buy what they used to in Iran... and I doubt revolution was the purchase that Ahmadinejad had in mind.
I remain a little taken aback that some people -- like Newsweek's Christopher Dickey in the below quote -- seem ready to believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the Iranian presidential election fair and square:
It appears that the working classes and the rural poor—the people who do not much look or act or talk like us—voted overwhelmingly for the scruffy, scrappy president who looks and acts and talks more or less like them. And while Mousavi and his supporters are protesting and even scuffling with police, they are just as likely to be overwhelmed in the streets as they were at the polls.
Juan Cole has already ably dispensed with such arguments, but here's something else to consider. If Ahmadinejad were really the victor, why would he be detaining the opposition? Why kick out foreign journalists? And check out this chilling quote, referring to Mousavi:
He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of his rival, during a news conference at the presidential palace.
According to the New York Times, Mousavi remains at home "with police closely monitoring his movements."
These are not the actions of a magnanimous, confident victor:
Three Middle East experts weigh in on the situation in Iran, and what the United States should do about it. Versions of the first two comments were originally posted to a private listserv and are reprinted here with permission:
F. Gregory Gause III:
that it is way early, and we have to see how things develop, but let's assume
that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the clerical elite get away with the power grab.
What does Washington do? Put the outreach to Iran on hold?
I'll start with a provocation: I think that the diplomatic outreach should continue as it started. It would be great if there were real democracy in Iran and the United States did not have to deal with the execrable incumbent president. But American interests here are not about Iranian domestic politics. They are about Iran's role in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Arab-Israeli arena, and the nuclear program.
I acknowledge that it would be much easier to come to some understanding on these issues with a different, more representative Iranian government. But it looks like we might not get that. So the United States might as well try to engage the incumbents in order to see if it can get some kind of deal on at least some of these issues that will help avoid a confrontation down the road.
America deals with all sorts of governments whose domestic arrangements are, to put it mildly, less than compatible with American ideals. (The Saudis are Exhibit A.) I think that's how to deal with Iran.
F. Gregory Gause III is professor of political science at the University of Vermont and author of Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States.
As a former advocate of robust engagement with Iran, I will throw my two cents into the discussion suggested by Greg Gause, if somewhat hesitantly at this early stage of what is unfolding in Tehran.
I would have preferred to wait to see the full extent of the evidence (or lack thereof) concerning what appears to be a relatively more determined and forceful power grab in Tehran before doing so, but what real harm is there in airing some of my concerns -- concerns that incline me toward an admittedly rather tentative conclusion at variance with that of my friend Greg Gause?
In order to have an effective dialogue, the other party must have a certain measure of credibility. One must be able to trust that such a dialogue is being conducted in reasonably good faith, not just a far less promising "going through the motions" affair. If we have witnessed an unprecedented, bare-knuckled power grab overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, what does that tell us about his inclinations about meaningful compromise on the nuclear issue?
In Iran, there always has been, of course, some separation between domestic and foreign affairs, as with many largely authoritarian governments. Yet, it could be that Khamenei is considerably more hard-line on the nuclear issue than was previously thought. I realize that his motivations for engaging in what many say now has been unusually interventionist behavior to keep Ahmadinejad in office almost certainly would have been domestic, but can we exclude the possibility that the nuclear account played into this as well -- or other issues that could well come up in a more generalized dialogue with Iran?
As a result, I question the prudence of simply plowing ahead on engagement as if nothing has changed the potential state of play between Tehran and Washington (if our worst fears pan out about what has happened in Iran). One reason, albeit certainly not the only one, that I have been a strong advocate of dialogue is to avert an Israeli attack on Iran. Because of that factor alone, many readers might be unmoved by what I've tapped out above.
However, whereas I had no qualms about engagement before -- even had Ahmadinejad been largely legitimately elected -- I now do have a measure of hesitation (pending, of course, a full accounting of what has transpired concerning the election). Unless the shock in so many quarters over the election's outcome turns out to be largely the result of wishful thinking on the part of those who yearned to be rid of an Ahmadinejad presidency (me included), I do not believe the equation remains necessarily unchanged regarding engagement.
Should the worst interpretation of the election and its aftermath turn out to be true, even I might conclude in time that those adverse developments are still outweighed by the need for engagement. At the moment, though, I am experiencing some hesitation about simply waving aside what we may have witnessed in Iran and moving forward toward serious negotiations with such a government.
Wayne White is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and was head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team from 2003 to 2005.
Few doubt that the results presented by the interior minister are rigged. In fact, there are increasing questions as to whether the votes were ever even counted. If this were really a landslide in favor of Ahmadinejad, where are those 63 percent of the people right now? Shouldn't they be celebrating their victory on the streets?
Clearly, the anti-Ahmadinejad camp has been taken by surprise and is scrambling for a plan. Increasingly, given their failure to get Khamenei to intervene, their only option seems to be to directly challenge -- or threaten to challenge -- the supreme leader.
Here's where the powerful chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Mousavi supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, comes in. Only this assembly has the formal authority to call for Khamenei's dismissal, and it is now widely assumed that Rafsanjani is quietly assessing whether he has the votes to do so or not.
It may be that the first steps toward challenging Khamenei have already been taken. After all, Mousavi went over the supreme leader's head with an open letter to the clergy in Qom. Rafsanjani clearly failed to win Khamenei's support in a reported meeting between the two men Friday, but the influential Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who heads the vote-monitoring committee for Mousavi and fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi, has officially requested that the Guardian Council cancel the election and schedule a new vote with proper monitoring.
The implications for Washington's agenda, meanwhile, could be extensive. Although the United States is pursuing diplomacy with Iran in its own self-interest, electoral fraud (or the perception of fraud) complicates this strategy. And if political paralysis reigns in Iran, valuable time to address the nuclear issue through diplomacy will be lost. The White House's posture thus far is a constructive one -- while it cannot remain indifferent to irregularities in the elections, it must be careful never to get ahead of the Iranian people and the anti-Ahmadinejad candidates.
Finally, the Iranian-American community is deeply concerned about the situation. Sporadic protests have been taken place worldwide, including in Washington, D.C. Last week's campaigning -- with unprecedented debates, genuine grassroots mobilization, and major voter participation in the elections -- raised hopes that Iran was moving in a democratic direction, but the developments of the past 24 hours have dramatically changed the mood in the community.
Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S.
Joe Cirincione weighs in:
This is not the election result anyone but Iranian and Israeli hardliners hoped for. But all is not lost. While the Iranian leadership remains the same-at least for now-trends in the country and the region may still help President Obama's strategy to contain and engage Iran.
Post election, the Obama administration faces the same diplomatic challenges with Iran as before -- chief among them containing Iran's nuclear program. While Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist hope, might have been able to reverse the fierce nationalistic politics Mahmoud Ahmadinejad injected into the Iranian nuclear issue, the ultimate arbitrator of Iran's policy is neither man, but the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
As Carnegie Endowment scholar Karim Sadjadpour notes, "We should be clear about what we're dealing with. Just as we deal with Assad's Syria and Mubarak's Egypt, we now have to deal with Khamanei's Iran."
Despite the unfortunate result, the process of engagement must continue and the illusion of quick military or coercive options rejected. We do not negotiate with countries as a reward, but as a normal part of statecraft. The new challenge is to balance support for reformist and democratic movements in Iran with strategic diplomacy with Iran's leaders.
Senior administration officials struck the right chords with their comments over the weekend. "The administration will deal with the situation we have, not what we wish it to be," said one senior official. The task remains the same -- we must engage Iran in order to contain its nuclear program and channel its regional ambitions.
Obama's pragmatic approach should follow three simultaneous tracks: bilateral and multilateral talks over regional issues of common concern (Iraq and Afghanistan, chief among them); formal P5+1 talks with the other Security Council members and Iran on the nuclear program; and bilateral discussions on the broader US-Iranian relationship.
Contrary to what critics may argue, this does not imply caving in or giving away the store. This is hard-headed strategic diplomacy that has worked in the past to convince other countries to end nuclear. There are three developments that offer some promise that such an approach could succeed with Iran.
First, the election has exposed deep fissures in Iranian society and deep distrust of the ruling regime. Despite their triumphalist rhetoric, Iran's leaders must be troubled by the growing opposition to their dictatorial rule. The BBC reports that the situation inside Iran "is becoming unpredictable and potentially explosive." There is no telling where this could lead. Even if the protests subside, pragmatists among the elite may now push for greater accommodation with the West -- including compromise on the nuclear program -- in order to open trade and relieve the national economic distress that fueled Mousavi's unlikely rise.
Second, the continued pursuit of nuclear weapon capability carries risks for Iran. An Israeli military strike is one, but more ultimately menacing may be the reaction of Iran's Muslim neighbors. In the past three years, over a dozen Middle Eastern states have suddenly expressed interest in their own civilian nuclear programs, including Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is not about reducing their carbon footprint, it is a hedge against Iran. Iran's leaders have an interest in ending this nascent nuclear arms race before it is faced with multiple, nuclear-armed adversaries.
Third, Obama's Cairo speech demonstrated the renewed appeal of American ideals and began to rebuild ties to the Muslim world damaged by the brutal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Obama can back up his words with deeds through bold cuts in U.S. and Russian arsenals to show that the is serious about the global elimination of nuclear weapons, with serious efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with support for the democratic aspirations of all Muslim people, and with the continued withdrawal from Iraq and new campaigns against violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan that do not rely primarily on military attacks. If he can take these steps, Obama could undercut the appeal of Ahmadinejad's brand of anti-Americanism in the greater Middle East.
The patience and balance that Obama has show thus far in his Iran approach must continue. There was never any indication that the president thought this was going to be quick or easy. The Iranian nuclear program built up a fierce momentum in recent years thanks to Bush's bungled efforts to overthrow the regime. It will take some years to slow and reverse this deadly direction.
Joseph Cirincione is President of Ploughshares Fund and author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.
UPDATE: FP's David Rothkopf weighs in. "Since governments rather than general populations control nuclear programs, shouldn't the recent events give us reason to reconsider our recent drift toward acceptance of Iran's nuclear aspirations?," he asks.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Gary Sick, the dean of U.S. Iran experts, cuts to the heart of the matter:
The Iranian opposition, which includes some very powerful individuals and institutions, has an agonizing decision to make. If they are intimidated and silenced by the show of force (as they have been in the past), they will lose all credibility in the future with even their most devoted followers. But if they choose to confront their ruthless colleagues forcefully, not only is it likely to be messy but it could risk running out of control and potentially bring down the entire existing power structure, of which they are participants and beneficiaries.
He goes on:
In their own paranoia and hunger for power, the leaders of Iran have insulted their own fellow revolutionaries who have come to have second thoughts about absolute rule and the costs of repression, and they may have alienated an entire generation of future Iranian leaders. At the same time, they have provided an invaluable gift to their worst enemies abroad.
However this turns out, it is a historic turning point in the 30-year history of Iran’s Islamic revolution. Iranians have never forgotten the external political intervention that thwarted their democratic aspirations in 1953. How will they remember this day?
By the way, you can also follow someone claiming to be Mousavi's Twitter feed here. His latest post reads "Dear Iranian People, Mousavi has not left you alone, he has been put under house arrest by Ministry of Intelligence." No word from any media on whether this is true or not.
There's also a link to an English translation of Mousavi's letter to the Iranian people. It begins:
The reported results of the 10th Iranians residential [sic] Election are appalling. The people who witnessed the mixture of votes in long lineups know who they have voted for and observe the wizardry of I.R.I.B (State run TV and Radio) and election officials. Now more than ever before they want to know how and by which officials this game plan has been designed. I object fully to the current procedures and obvious and abundant deviations from law on the day of election and alert people to not surrender to this dangerous plot. Dishonesty and corruption of officials as we have seen will only result in weakening the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran and empowers lies and dictatorships.
I am obliged, due to my religious and national duties, to expose this dangerous plot and to explain its devastating effects on the future of Iran. I am concerned that the continuation of the current situation will transform all key members of this regime into fabulists in confrontation with the nation and seriously jeopardize them in this world and the next.
I advise all officials to halt this agenda at once before it is too late, return to the rule of law and protect the nation’s vote and know that deviation from law renders them illegitimate. They are aware better than anyone else that this country has been through a grand Islamic revolution and the least message of this revolution is that our nation is alert and will oppose anyone who aims to seize the power against the law.
See also Mousavi1388's Flickr account, which includes dozens of photos of today's riots.
7:58 PM ET: NIAC reports: "Through Facebook we have received news that Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Gholamhossein Karbaschi are under house arrest." The usual caveats for unconfirmed reports apply.
After a very exciting week, it appears increasingly likely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will once again be Iran's president.
Mir Hossain Mousavi, the challenger, has been unyielding in declaring the official results a farce. He insists he's the winner. "I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny," he said, in a statement cited by Reuters.
But just a few thousand of Mousavi's supporters defied government orders and protested in Tehran Saturday. Security forces sent them packing and threatened arrests. Meanwhile, Mousavi's press conference was mysteriously canceled, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was told in no uncertain terms to concede defeat.
And here's where "anyone but Ahmadinejad" probably isn't enough. People may be willing to form a human chain in the streets and wear green when such activities are sanctioned by the regime in the context of an election campaign. But are any but Mousavi's most ardent supporters willing to risk arrest, or even death, to see him elected? I tend to doubt it. The man just isn't that inspiring.
This is Iran, of course, and therefore anything could happen. According to some reports, Mousavi has called on his supporters to rally Saturday evening. But my gut tells me that it's game over.
As Rand's Alireza Nader put it, "The power of the traditional ruling elite -- men such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani -- has been effectively challenged by Ahmadinejad and his supporters, including top-ranking and fundamentalist members of the Revolutionary Guards."
This was hardball, and Ahmadinejad and Khamenei [appear to have] won.
As for the Obama administration's efforts to engage Iran, this is a huge setback. Because now, the U.S. will be dealing with a government that just stole an election, and used violence and threats of violence to enforce the results it wanted. Or, if the opposition does mobilize, there could be months of paralysis while the nuclear clock keeps ticking.
UPDATE: Several Iran hands emailed to say that I'm calling this way too early. As one of them put it, "Remember we haven't heard [from] Rafsanjani at all yet, or Khatami."
Of course, I'm not 100 percent sure that it's over. But the early signs don't look good for the Mousavi camp. Why weren't they able to put more people into the streets?
That's the early word from Iran's election chief. CNN reports:
With almost 20 percent of ballots counted, Election Commission Chief Kamran Daneshjoo said Ahmadinejad was leading with 69 percent of the vote.
Daneshjoo said Ahmadinejad's chief rival, reformist candidate Mir Hossain Moussavi, had 28 percent.
7:43 PM ET: Robert Worth reports on the latest from Tehran, where Mousavi is claiming irregularities and that, despite the official vote count, he is "the absolute winner."
Turnout is "extraordinarily high" in Iran, Robert Worth is reporting for the New York Times:
Polls were originally due to close at 6 p.m. (9:30 a.m. in New York), but voting was extended for at least two hours due to the strong turnout. Initial results are not expected until 12 hours after the polls close.
According to Iran's interior minister, more than 70 percent of eligible Iranians may have voted. "The reports received from all over the country show that people's presence at the polling stations has been high-spirited and indescribable," he said. (More on the turnout story here.)
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also voted Friday morning. He seemed only vaguely up to speed on the election fever sweeping the country in recent days. "I am hearing about a vast participation of people, and I hear there are even gatherings at night," Khamenei said. "This shows the people's awareness."
Here's Khamenei casting his ballot:
And here's incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showing a purple finger:
And finally, the challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, with his wife, who has been a huge player in the campaign:
The Mousavi camp is already complaining of irregularities, including a shutdown of text messaging. "Presently they have prevented some of our representatives from being present at polling stations and they do not let us monitor (the vote)," Mousavi was cited as saying. "We expect that officials would solve this problem as soon as possible."
We'll keep you posted.
UPDATE: Reformist former PM Mohammad Khatami is already declaring victory for Mousavi:
All indications suggest that Mousavi has won,'' he told reporters.
2:54 PM ET: Now both sides are predicting victory:
Sadegh Kharazi, a senior backer of former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi, said surveys made by reformers showed that Mousavi was getting about 58-60 percent of the votes.
But an Ahmadinejad representative, Ali Asghar Zarei, said the incumbent was ahead with about the same level of support, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.
Photos: AFP/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.