[R-G] How news media and Iran bloggers got the elections wrong
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jun 27 05:21:47 MDT 2005
Very interesting comment on how ignoring the class divisions in Iran, in
favor of a middle-class and intelligentsia dissident bias, fostered a
misreading of the Iran elections, where the great majority of the
working people supported the Tehran mayor, who had appealed for their
votes in part by his record of making small improvements in their
situation, against the burned-out and corrupt Rafsanjani. The election
also showed popular disillusionment with Khatami's failed "reform"
The bias the author criticizes is actually reflected partially by her
description of the problem as a "Tehran bias." It is actually a North
Tehran bias, for that is where the city's quite massive middle classes
are concentrated. South Tehran is where the even larger masses of
workers, small pedlars, craftspeople, unemployed, and peasants coming in
from the countryside are concentrated.
Some news media in the US took note of the surge for Ahmadinejad in the
second round, noting the strong working-class and poor base of his
support. I think they did this as a warning to Washington, not to
assume that the victory of the "hard-liners" means that Iran will now be
a pushover for increased US pressure.
The strength of the Islamic military in the elections may mean more
repression and bullying of people around various religious and
culture-war issues. But it also is a useful reminder that the
Revolutionary Guards have a strong base of support and identification
among the working and poor people of the cities, especially when it
comes to the defense of the country. Misreading this is what led to a
debacle the last time Washington thought Iran would be a pushover, when
they backed Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq, expecting it to rapidly
capture Tehran. (They never got much past the port of Khoramshahr.)
This was also a product of a "NORTH Tehran bias," but the issue was
really decided by all the "South Tehrans" in the country.
The article's conclusion, that the election showed discontent and desire
for sharp change are wider than the bloggers and news media demanded,
and not limited to followers of the Khatami trend, seems right to me.
There will be a great deal of propaganda now about the pure fraudulence
of Iranian elections. In fact, the election scam in Iran has more in
common with imperialist consensus democracy in the United States, where
the rulers put forward a couple candidates who all run, with minor
modifications, on the same program. This, rather than repression alone
or vote-stealing, helps preserve the stability of the regime, and
provides an electorals safety valve for opposition.
Of course, the US imperialists are outraged that the Iranian bourgeois
consensus is not dictated by US financer capital but by local capitalist
forces. And that's what the shouting about democracy in Iran from the
United States is about.
I don't know what will result from this election -- quite possibly very
little -- but if I were in Hezbollah, Hamas, or Sadr's militia in South
Baghdad, I would be pleased with the outcome. Fred Feldman
A Tehran Bias: Why We Iranian Bloggers Were Wrong About the Election
Nema Milaninia, Pacific News Service, Jun 22, 2005
Editor's Note: Iranians will go to the polls again on Friday, June 24,
in a historic run-off election for president. One Iranian blogger looks
at his colleagues' failure to predict the strong second-place showing of
the conservative hardliner candidate in the first round.
TEHRAN, Iran--In covering the recent Iranian election and upcoming
runoff, English-language media discovered the Iranian weblog, and a
society more complex than they had imagined. It's true that we bloggers
in Iran are an important example of the multi-faceted nature of Iranian
culture and politics. It's also true that we were blindsided by the
For the first time in Iranian history, a run-off election will be
conducted between the top two candidates for president, moderate former
president Hashemi Rafsanjani and conservative hardliner Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad. While Rafsanjani has always been considered a leading
candidate, Ahmadinejad's success was a surprise.
Most journalists and bloggers supported reformist Mostafa Moin's
candidacy and envisioned significant support for him. Even blogging guru
Hossein Derakhshan ("Hoder") predicted on his Persian weblog,
www.i.hoder.com, that "Moin was going to beat Rafsanjani in the first
round." In the end, Moin finished fifth in a seven-man race. Two
candidates generally overlooked by bloggers and who never cracked the
top three in polls before the election, Ahmadinejad and moderate cleric
Mehdi Karroubi, finished second and third respectively. That caused many
bloggers, such as Mr. Behi (www.mrbehi.blogs.com), an anonymous blogger
from Iran, to state, "It is hard to write. Everyone is in ultimate shock
of these unprecedented, unbelievable and horrible results."
Ultimately, the election demonstrated how limited and misleading the
perspective of bloggers and journalists can be. As Shahram Kholdi noted
on his blog, S'can-Iranic (www. secularcaniranik.blogs.com), "Moin's
blogosphere supporters did their best to help him to find a niche
amongst the younger Iranians population, but they too failed to stir
much excitement, as weblogs' reach to Iran cannot compete with those of
the mass media outlets."
There are almost 100,000 weblogs written in Persian, the language of
Iranians, and over 5 million Internet users in Iran, out of a population
of 70 million. Though these are significant numbers, they are
overshadowed by the fact that the vast majority of Iranians do not have
access to the Web. Rather, as with most countries, bloggers represent
the views of a very limited demographic group: affluent and otherwise
privileged individuals who already have access to independent foreign
news sources. Bloggers alone, therefore, are incapable of representing
the way most Iranians think.
The failure by bloggers, reporters and analysts to accurately predict
the election results is largely due to our "Tehran-centricism." As the
country's large metropolitan capital, Tehran is the focal point of most
news coming out of Iran. The vast majority of journalists, including
bloggers, focus on the ambitions and struggles facing Tehran's
disgruntled youths, rather than Iran's disgruntled poor. While almost no
blogger or news agency gave significant attention to Karroubi's campaign
promise to give every Iranian an $80 monthly stipend if elected, that
strategy almost placed him in the top two. In the end, Karroubi finished
behind Ahmadinejad by less than 1 percent of all votes.
Similarly, few bloggers anticipated that military groups like the
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and paramilitary groups, like the
Basij, would come out in such large numbers to support Ahmadinejad. A
month ago, I had written on my own blog, Iranian Truth, about the
possible rise of militarism in Iranian politics and mentioned
Ahmadinejad's support among different military groups. However, neither
my post, nor that of most journalists and bloggers, portrayed military
and paramilitary groups as significant lobbyists. Now, Ahmadinejad's
military backing is beginning to look insurmountable, thus causing Yaser
Kerachian to state on the group blog "Free Thoughts on Iran"
(www.freethoughts.org), "Having Ahmadinejad as Iran's president for the
next four years is not far from reality. If it happens, it will be the
start of one of the darkest years in Iran's contemporary history."
The success of Ahmadinejad, Karroubi and Rafsanjani demonstrates that
discontent among Iran's poor, military, working and rural classes is
more powerful then anticipated. As bloggers and journalists, we must
reconsider not only the accuracy of our perspectives, but also the
nature of Iranian politics altogether. Journalists and bloggers tend to
think that conservative politicians are anomalies in our society. It is
important to remember, however, that conservative elements in Iran are
not only political units, but also have significant grassroots support.
As Trita Parsi recently stated on Iran Scan (www.iranscan.net),
"Everyone seems shocked, and yet no one really should be -- we knew,
though we so often forget, that 15 to 25 percent of the Iranian
population back the conservatives."
Blogs are still powerful tools in Iran and will continue to grow in
strength as long as the Iranian government continues to repress freedom
of speech. However, it is easy to rely on the English media and bloggers
to provide us with the tools for understanding and interpreting Iran.
But these are limited perspectives of Iranian society. To better relay
Iran's dynamic culture, it is fundamental that journalists and bloggers
expand their points of view, rather then relying on such a
PNS contributor Nema Milaninia is editor of the blog Iranian Truth and
executive director of the International Students Journal, a bi-lingual
(English and Persian) publication in Iran on human rights, international
law, economic development and good governance.
(PS As of the posting of this article, the BBC reports that Ahmadinejad
is winning by a landslide - 63% SR)
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