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Dashed hopes

August 3, 2009

The mass trial of post-election protestors and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's confirmation of President Ahmadinejad's re-election both underscore the disconnect of those in power in Iran, says Peter Philipp.

Opinion graphic

Anyone who was expecting or at least hoping that the officially announced results of the Iranian presidential elections might be reversed has now definitively been shown to be wrong. The incumbent and ostensible winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been confirmed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Now there is little doubt that two days from now the parliament will approve the election of the new old president.

From the perspective of those in power, it's simply logical. Since the day of the vote, they have insisted that everything was handled properly on June 12 and that Ahmadinejad, who is controversial both nationally and internationally, won a massive majority on that day. For the opposition and the disappointed voters, however, the official confirmation that Ahmadinejad was rightfully elected is another slap in the face.

Weeks of protest have had no impact. On the contrary, pressure from the government has grown. Demonstrations have been banned and violently broken up. News coverage of the protests has been suppressed. And most significantly, thousands of protest organizers and participants have been jailed and hundreds of them have been put on the stand in a mass show trial.

Peter Philipp
Peter Philipp

This too is a well-timed orchestration: As Ahmadinejad begins his second term, his opponents are denigrated as insurrectionists, puppets of foreign governments and enemies of the Islamic Republic. The only people who believe that are those who want to. Because even the statements that some of the accused have made – most likely under pressure – don't support these charges, including the implication that opposition candidate Mousavi and the two former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani joined forces before the election to prevent Ahmadinejad's re-election.

What in a democracy would be described as a political alliance is seen by the Tehran Revolutionary Court as treasonous; the court claims the three politicians clearly wanted to damage Khamenei above all. Given his thus far inviolable position, that is almost sacrilege, or in any case, an act against the regime of the Islamic Republic.

But when instead of the three politicians, their staff members and demonstration organizers are put on the stand, this shows that those in power don't feel comfortable with the situation. They know, just as everyone in the country does, that the recent protests weren't a coup attempt controlled from abroad, but rather the expression of broad dissatisfaction – with the way the elections went but above all with the general conditions in the country. And they also know that the demonstrations were an external expression of an internal power struggle that remains unresolved. Ex-presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, in particular, are calling for more freedom than they were ready or able to provide during their presidencies. As long as they continue to do so, the opposition will maintain a remnant of hope, but if they too are gagged or brought before court, then the violence could really escalate.

Peter Philipp is an expert on the Middle East.

Author: Peter Philipp/hf
Editor: Nancy Isenson