In a brief departure from my Middle East/South Asia blogging, I covered the death of the King of Pop here in Los Angeles yesterday for Polaris Images and the Huffington Post. I’ve never covered a non-political related event before but Jackson was a global star and it’s not the usual utterly vapid entertainment story. His early career and style shaped the lives on many from Brentwood to Bahrain.
Today I heard on NPR that some of Jackson’s most infamous concert gear would be on display at the Grammy Award museum downtown. With the help of the museum’s PR person, I was able to get access to a limited display to photograph including the white suit Jackson wore on the Thriller album cover.
Mir Hussein Mousavi is refusing to back down from an implacable Ayatollah Ali al-Khamenei. The Mullahs in Qom and the Assembly of Experts are under immense pressure to conclude the most chaotic episode in Iran’s revolutionary history. They may have just gotten their accidental reprieve as the celebrity website TMZ reports that Michael Jackson has just died here in Los Angeles and the world’s media will have to swing it’s attention deficit-plagued pendulum from the streets of Tehran to Westwood (which is somewhat ironic seeing as LA’s Iranian diaspora has been protesting in said Westwood daily and there was supposed to be some sort of Iranian solidarity day today).
NYT journo David Rohde escaped from a Haqqani network compound in North Waziristan this weekend after being taken hostage in Afghanistan’s Logar Province last November on his way to interview a Taleban commander. The commander set up Rohde, his driver and fixer in a ruse by granting him a faux interview request meant to entrap him. I have an uncredited quote on the Daily Beast about it here. Another colleague has a story about Rohde’s captivity and a semi-secret video that aired on Al Jazeera here which was later kept quiet.
As we all know it looks like Khamenei chose not to follow my advice for his Friday sermon last week. He may need to simply drop the velayat-e-faqih act and take the quietest stance of fellow Iranian and Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani in neighboring Iraq.
I posted a piece addressed to Ayatollah Khamenei last night on the HP here.
According to the Guardian, during the called-for day of mourning, protests are not letting up from Kurdistan to Baluchistan and Ahmadinejad has not been spotted since Monday’s meeting of the the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinberg. Today, the arm and headbands morphed from green to black in memory of those killed in the demo’s thus far. The democracy movement now appears to have gained enough momentum that real change may be afoot. It is up to the strength of the masses of the people at this point. Obama has not and really does not have a place to interject in Iran’s internal dynamics. People in the East have a long memory and if Baghdadis can bitterly compare the American sacking of Saddam Hussein to Hulagu Khan’s destruction of the libraries of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, then certainly Iranians will recall Operation Ajax just fifty-six years ago.
A bird’s eye view video, I’m guessing from a mobile phone, shows the breadth of the crisis the Iranian leadership must now genuinely face. The Iranian government’s strategy of blocking websites and giving foreign journo’s the shoe is inherently flawed. The regime is facing a sophisticated, erudite populace that will somehow be able to connect with the outside world no matter what e-fatwas they issue. Mobile and social networking technology is something the demonstrator’s predecessors a decade ago sorely lacked. This is not July of 1999. The post-revolution is and will be televised.
Tehran’s restive urban class does not appear to be slowing down its outrage over what opposition supporters are terming a “Stolen Election.” Though without maintaining empirical evidence thus far, those opposed to the Ahmadinejad government here in the West are absolutely inclined to support such claims. Thousands of people, who mostly appear to be under thirty, continue to pour into the Iranian capital’s smog choked boulevards not for another so-called revolution, but to make their voices heard and their votes counted. It remains to be seen whether Tehran today will be more like Beijing in 1989 or Tehran in 1979. The Dear Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, has indicated that his divine assessment may in fact need to be reassessed. No small feat for a grand man so divine, Khamenei may be genuinely worried about his and his Qom-based epigones hold on a tiered absolute power. As his history has shown us all with Shah Reza Pahlavi, there are moments in time where one man cannot withstand the will of millions of dissatisfied, motivated people. No doubt the present dualist Qom-Tehran based power structure has not lost this irony. Though admitting such after three decades of moribund revolutionary rhetoric is akin to heresy in modern Iran. Ahmadinejad, though somewhat charismatic and often inadvertantly amusing on the global stage, has largely been an abject failure domestically. Iran’s power projection into Iraq and Afghanistan during the calamitous Bush wars has been nothing short of remarkable. But as Iran punches its green fist outward into its neighborhood, its economy has remained thoroughly stagnant even as oil prices soared at record highs. Minority unrest has continued to flare up in the country’s remote corners (purportedly egged on by the CIA according to the New Yorker’s Sy Hersh) with discontent has been simmering among elements of the Left, Center and Right.
The United States has been trying to promote democracy across the Middle East for years and here it is in all of its blood red and Islamic green glory. It scored a recent coup with the victory of the Hariri-led bloc in Beirut last week and Islamism is not dogmatically triumphant in the Middle East contrary to the group-think following the Hamas win in Gaza. The U.S. has boxed itself into a bit of a foreign policy corner and only the most deft of manouveres may speed its hoped for exit. The demonstrations have certainly created a conflict for Israeli hawks who love nothing more than another unequivocal Ahmadinejad win to justify their often aggressive rhetoric. A Mousavi government in Iran would throw the arithmetic of the Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition out of whack and force groups like AIPAC in Washington to reconfigure their hardened stance towards a boogieman vanquished not by a calculated air raid, but by internally driven democratic transition.
UPDATE: According to what the BBC is reporting from a statement by the Guardian Council will be conducting a vote recount. Power to the people? We will see…
A lot of Iranian voters were absolutely crushed by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “Landslide” victory at yesterday’s polls. Unbeknownst to me, according to a piece in today’s LA Times, Iranian Americans and more recent Iranian immigrants were allowed to vote at a hotel near LAX. I highly doubt a single vote was cast for Axis of Evil spokesman Ahmadinejad here in Tehrangeles. Mir Hossein Mousavi was Ayatollah Khomeni’s Prime Minister during the 1980’s but two decades later he rebranded himself as the reform candidate in league with former president Mohammed Khatami of “Dialogue of Civilizations” fame. Many Iranians are out in the streets of Tehran claiming the vote was clearly rigged. It is unlikely protest will have an effect on the elections ultimate outcome but Iranians are clearly demonstrating their frustration with first the ballot and then the brick. If only Americans had been so vociferous in 2000 and 2004…
Was Mousavi “Swfitboated” by either Ahmadinejad’s Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran or by the office of the Supreme Leader? We will probably never know in the quintessentially cryptic machinations of Iran’s domestic politics.
Iranian Student Demonstrator, Tehran, 1999.
I can only hope that none of this weekend’s protesters end up like this poor man, who we now now as Ahmad Batebi, when I visited Iran ten summers ago.
Moussavi at the polls after casting his vote.Photo: Newsha Tavakolian/Polaris, The New York Times
We’re all on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of today’s elections in Iran. If Ahmadinejad wins a second term, either genuinely or by manipulation, it may be for Iranian voters what the second Bush term was for a lot of Americans in November of 2004. In other words, defeat and crushing disappointment. The Green Team, what I’m Mir Hossein Mousavi’s fervent supporters, decked often head to waist in brilliant green had been surging in pre-election activity in hopes Mousavi could perhaps “Obama-ize” Iran (not likely!). The tone in Washington has been that Ahmadinejad’s popularity has sunk as of late due to the economy and draught of reform and that the Expediency Council is not pleased with some of his international antics. Results are being counted this moment.