I appreciate that some respected observers remain doubtful about the extent of the protests in Iran. Yet as I (Scott) see and sense it, the evidence has been building for several days that popular disquiet over the recent elections returns is nationwide, in all regions, across all socio-economic, ethnic, regional, and linguistic groupings.
Two quick items for consideration:
1. Five pictures from Esfahan, Iran’s second largest city (and among my favorite places in all the world), showing perhaps a million protesters jammed into and spilling out of the world famous Imam Square. (aka maidaan-e naqsh-e jehaan)These pictures were forwarded to me via a western based Iran scholar, who received them directly from a relative in Esfahan.
To grasp how huge Imam Square is (80,000+ square meters), try visualizing a football field, turn it sideways at one “narrow” end of Imam Square, and then add 14 (fourteen) more football fields after it. Or for the google maps generation, try this image.
That Esfahanis might show up in such large numbers to protest does not surprise me, as a week ago, I highlighted a huge rally in the same spot for Musavi during the campaign. (See these pictures.)
2. An important oped essay by my long time friend Eric Hooglund, syndicated by Agence Global, entitled “Iran’s Rural Vote and Evidence of Election Fraud.”
Professor Hooglund (now of Bates College) is an authority on the subject, having lived in and frequently traveled to rural Iran for nearly four decades. He literally witnessed Iran’s revolution unfold, as he was there working on a dissertation later published as Land and Revolution in Iran. Earlier this year, he wrote a splendid review of 30 years of post-revolutionary rural development achievements and problems for Middle East Report. He was again in Iran recently, and I know of no one with a broader network across Iran’s diverse rural landscapes.
In his oped, Hooglund – Eric – challenges the widely heard media refrain of Ahmadinejad’s strength being “rural” by giving us details of what is happening in just one of the villages he knows well. (though I understand he prudentially changed names.) I encourage readers to read the whole essay, to find out why even in a rural village, Ahmadinjad had become quite unpopular, and why it is now “seething” with “palpable moral outrage” over the irregular handling of the local ballots and by the results.
Eric has shared with me multiple accounts of similar anger building all across the country. Eric also adds a critical distinction: the disquiet he senses is not so much a blanket referendum against the system, but for reform from within it, and that’s the hope they saw in candidate Musavi, even as he indeed is one of the elite. Yet within that political elite, a profound division has erupted., as Eric well summarizes it,
“over how Iran should be governed: a transparent democracy where elected representatives enact laws to benefit the people or a ‘guided democracy’ in which a select few make all decisions because they do not trust the masses to make the right ones.”
This dispute exposes core fissures at the heart of the system that cannot be easily swept back under the Persian carpet. The smoldering discontent will not be easily extinguished, and it’s far too early to declare a winner in the deeper contest.
Today (Thursday) will likely be an interesting further barometer of these pressures.