mass protests erupt in Iran over election results

Mass protests have broken out after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the Iranian presidential election with more than 62 percent of the vote. Ahmadinejad needed over 50 percent of the vote to prevent a runoff election between him and top contender, reformist candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the results despite many claims of election fraud. There were expectations of neither candidate acquiring the required 50 percent of the vote and a runoff election taking place. It is estimated that over 100,000 anti-Ahmadinejad protesters have claimed the streets of Tehran, sometimes sparking violence in confrontations with police. The media has been blocked from leaving Iran so size of protests outside Tehran is unknown. Internet websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube along with pro-Mousavi sites have been blocked by the government. An AP photographer has reported that at least one person was killed as the militia fired on a rally. More than 130 prominent Mousavi supporters have been rounded up by police including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former President Mahmoud Khatami, a former speaker of the parliament, and the son-in-law of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a leader of the 1979 Islamist revolution.

The protests can be seen not just as a challenge to Ahmadinejad but also to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Moderate youth in Iran see a disconnect between their lives and ideas and the Ayatollah's hard-lined religious views. Ahmadinejad was elected as a populist, with policies helping the poor. But constant inflation, harsh penalties against unions, and rollbacks of government subsidies on staples has alienated the working class and poor. Mousavi has called for greater women's rights and political freedom strengthening his support among students and the middle class, but has made no outreach to the working class and poor living the group open to Ahmadinejad.

Even though neither candidate is truly the best choice, mainly due to required approval from the Supreme Leader to run, Mousavi's election would give Iranian people greater freedom to organize and have more control over their country. More importantly, this mass rising is a great opportunity for organization to be formed among the people for sustained grassroots control to not just elect a leader but hold them accountable, something I wish would happen with Obama's presidency. It is unknown if Khamenei will compromise with Mousavi some way or just wait for the protests to die down or crush them if they don't.

UPDATE: James sent me a link with some really good photos from Tehran.

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