Feature

Iranian unrest: Arabs see a fair vote

Accounts of the Iranian presidential election in the Arab press claim a fair victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but acknowledge Iranians' desire for reform.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election fair and square, said the pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi in an editorial. The massive demonstrations that the Western media is making such a fuss over are limited mostly to Tehran, which suggests that the protesters are “elitist and middle class.” That’s no surprise. Ahmadinejad won the election because he “sided with the crushed working class” during his first term, offering them loans and grants instead of concentrating on the economic reforms demanded by the rich. Iran’s majority poor also support Ahmadinejad because of “his fight against corruption, his extreme modesty, his ascetic life, and for coming from a humble, poor family.”

There’s certainly “no reason to doubt the integrity and honesty of the vote,” said Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan. But that doesn’t mean that the election was entirely democratic. The win was largely the result of near-universal support for Ahmadinejad by the army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had already decided he wanted Ahmadinejad to win, and he directed the armed forces to make it happen. Iran is similar to “Turkey and Pakistan, where so-called democracy is really controlled by the military.”

Ahmadinejad may have won the election, said the Dubai Khaleej Times, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Iran is witnessing the largest street demonstrations since the 1979 Islamic revolution—and they are directed against the president. “Clearly, this is not just about the alleged poll irregularities.” The Iranian people “are apparently unhappy and unsatisfied over the direction in which their country appears to be going.” Ahmadinejad would be wise to take notice. For his second term, he should abandon the “hawkish rhetoric” that has “made Iran one of the most reviled and distrusted nations on earth” and focus instead on his country’s major domestic challenges. Iran is one of the largest oil producers in the world, yet it is still “a largely underdeveloped country.” No wonder its people are angry.

Even the Iranians who chose Ahmadinejad want change, said Lebanon’s Daily Star. A nationwide survey found widespread support for both Ahmadinejad and “a clear, pro-reform agenda.” Most of those polled said they wanted the supreme leader to be elected directly by the people, “a truly radical step.” They also wanted more press freedom. “Thus, we have a situation in which—if there was fraud—the people supported opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi and reform, or—if there wasn’t fraud—the people supported Ahmadinejad and reform.” Either way, Iranians are demanding more freedom. Good luck to them.

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