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Game over in Iran?

Game over in Iran?

After a very exciting week, it appears increasingly likely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will once again be Iran’s president. 

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei apparently just pronounced the election results — deemed suspect by Iran analysts — a "divine assessment." And his word is final.

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?