From the moment cool, calm, collected Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi went all rhetorical guns blazing against President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in a debate on national TV, not only Iran but the West seem to have woken up and joined the fun.
As Mousavi put it: “He [Ahmadinejad] says, ‘why do you call me a dictator’? Well, I did not say that you are a dictator, but your methods definitely lead to dictatorship.”
Mousavi is the man of the moment. A former Iranian prime minister between 1981 and 1989 – the critical years of the Iran-Iraq war – and adviser to former president Mohammad Khatami of “dialogue of civilizations” fame, he’s an architect, an abstract painter, a former newspaper editor, and a very good manager. No wonder Khatami himself renounced his new bid for the presidency to the benefit of Mousavi, whom he judges much better equipped. Mousavi now has a clear shot at winning the most important election in the 30 years of the Islamic Revolution in voting on Friday.
No less than 23 million Iranians are Internet surfers – that’s 30% of the people in a very young country, where 60% are younger than 30. Ahmadinejad has his own personal blog, which features quite a few – usually angry – American entries. His campaign videos are on YouTube – from defending his (appalling) economic record to denouncing Zionism.
But this does not even come close to green power. Iranians on Facebook decided to go green. Psychedelic green. The color of Islam, the color of Mousavi and, for many, the color of hope.
The whole color scheme in this election spells poetic justice.
It was basically conditioned by the order in which the presidential candidates went on TV. Ahmadinejad drew red; and Mousavi drew green. As for the “poetic justice” green revolution, it has been driven by an ultra-energized, tech-savvy, and very young grassroots base, crisscrossing every variable, urban and rural, rich and poor, all ethnic minorities, the female vote, and even the hardcore Basij youth militias.
Iran’s election – echoes of the “Great Satan”, as the United States is often labeled – is also about red states and blue states. Red states, rather the poor, rural provinces, go red – Ahmadinejad’s color. Blue states – where the big urban centers are Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz and Isfahan, go green, Mousavi’s color. Those boycotting the election go blue. And that’s crucial, because this is an election that will be decided above all by non-voters.
What’s clear by the exhilarating noise in Tehran and across the blogosphere is that Mousavi is the sound of the new generation. The techno beat, live and virtual, of course is not ayatollah-sanctioned; it comes courtesy of the vast Iranian diaspora, from Dubai to Paris to Los Angeles.
To make it even more exciting, the party goes on amid the usual, non-stop Western corporate media hysteria over a “rogue” Iran about to go nuclear, and the usual Islamophobes, Likudniks and assorted neo-conservative suspects all voting, en masse, for Ahmadinejad. As the incumbent, Ahmadinejad still had more TV time and was ubiquitous in the rural Iranian provinces.
Mousavi is definitely also synonymous with girl power. They are young, beautiful, educated, love their make-up, and make the mullahs and ayatollahs – who brand them as decadent “feminists” – tremble with fear. Their role model is none other than Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, 61, a political scientist and sculptor who had to tell the ultra-excited world’s media she was not Iran’s version of Michelle Obama.
But attention is required. Mousavi is not an uber-reformist. He’s a pragmatic, moderate conservative. Interestingly enough, he is an Azeri, not a Persian. Of course, if he’s come that far it’s because the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – who, by the way, is also Azeri – let him. Or is it?
As the Tehran Bureau political blog points out, it’s important to remember that the father of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the 1980s, used Mousavi as prime minister to control Khamenei as president. Now there are no more prime ministers as Khamenei abolished the post. Incidentally, the Supreme Leader, where the buck really stops in Iran, has already cast his vote when he said, “Those who in the presidential debate claimed Iran has lost its standing among other countries in the world [under Ahmadinejad] are wrong.”
Any resemblance in all this green party to the US-engineered color revolutions in Eurasia? No way. Mousavi’s campaign director has said, explicitly, “Our symbol represents Islam, and not velvet – a subtle reference to the 1989 velvet revolution in the former Czechoslovakia.
And it gets better. In one of its official clips, the Mousavi campaign even used a famous song of the revolutionary left, those who were fighting the US puppet, the Shah of Iran, during the 1970s.
Would Mousavi in power be a game-changer? Most definitely. He wants a national mandate. He’s in favor of smart diplomacy and a detente with the West. The nuclear program – a matter of Iranian national pride – stays; the Bushehr nuclear plant, built by the Russians, starts operating in September.
With Mousavi in power it will be very difficult to brand Iran as radical or rogue. The anti-Iran “coalition of the willing” that Washington, from George W Bush to Barack Obama, wants in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf petromonarchies – will stand naked. What do they fear, these Sunni dictatorships? They fear Iran’s brand of Shi’ite democracy – imperfect as it may be. They fear something like the green revolution taking place in the streets of Cairo, Riyadh, Amman and Dubai.
The fight will be very hard. Employees of the Iranian Interior Ministry – which supervises the election – have warned that ultra-reactionary Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, aka “the Crocodile”, Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic spiritual mentor, has issued a fatwa to … turn the vote upside down. And the regime can always use the young – and very well-armed – Basij militias, the new generation of the revolution, to intimidate voters before the second round of voting.
The plot thickens. Ahmadinejad may have lost the support of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps – according to insistent rumors in Tehran. Should that be the case, even if he won he would be absolutely toothless. And a secret state poll suggesting Mousavi will win the first round by a landslide may – or may not – be true. Many in Tehran do not forget the regime’s back-door deals that led to Ahmadinejad’s victory in 2005.
Ahmadinejad has been soundly blasted by his utter incompetence in economic matters, his appalling foreign policy and the lack of civil liberties in Iran. But he was never more dangerous then when he was lying about inflation and unemployment in the Iranian TV debates, always with a straight face – a face the poor and disenfranchised in Iran identify as “one of us”.
But millions of young, urban, educated – and unemployed – Iranians would rather dream of “poetic justice”. The promise would be fulfilled if Ahmadinejad in the end were defeated by an electronic intifada. Fight the power – with green power.