Ahmadinejad Slams Obama; 70 Professors Arrested; Wednesday Protest Violently Attacked

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stands accused of stealing the recent election in Iran, lashed out at Barack Obama on Thursday. He demanded an apology from the White House for what he termed interference in Iranian affairs, and said Obama had started talking like George W. Bush. He said that Obama’s current stance was not a promising basis for going forward with direct talks, a clumsy threat to refuse to cooperate with Washington in any way.

Obama, of course, has not in fact interfered in Iranian domestic politics, for which he has been slammed by hawks who apparently want an invasion. All he did was to object to regime violence toward peaceful protesters and regime abrogation of the right to peaceable assembly.

The BBC is reporting that a victory celebration by the Iranian elite to which 290 MPs were invited ended up being poorly attended, with only 105 showing up.

Ahmadinejad’s attempt to shift the blame for the crisis to Obama is an appeal to his base, which I would estimate at 20% of the population, who live for conspiracy theories. But if he were really a politician instead of just being a martinet he would be trying to craft a discourse that would attract the center and mollify the reformists. He is incapable, obviously, of achieving such broad appeal, and no doubt deeply envies Obama’s widespread popularity, even inside Iran.

The LAT reports that 70 professors have been arrested in Iran for meeting with Mir Hosain Mousavi, the opposition leader who alleges that the vote in the recent presidential election was rigged. The report in Persian is here. They are members of the Islamic Association of University Teachers.

Hundreds of rock-throwing demonstrators tried to gather in downtown Tehran on Wednesday afternoon, but they met a phalanx of determined security forces who dispersed them by main force. Some 1,000 protesters were said to have gathered near the parliament building before allegedly being attacked.

Opposition leader Mir Hosain Mousavi’s web site denied that he was under house arrest, as some observers had alleged, but acknowledged that he was under surveillance. He vowed to continue to attend peaceful rallies. His wife, Zahra Rahnevard, said at the web site that Iran had descended into “martial law.”

Patrick Martin at the Globe and Mail wonders if the mass protest movement is petering out in Iran. He raises the question of whether the process of a successful crackdown on the reformists will leave Iran more militarized and more rightwing than ever before. Chilling.

Then there were two. Mohsen Rezaie, one of four candidates for president in the recent elections, has withdrawn his objections to the vote tally, which alleged that Rezaie got less than a million votes and that incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained almost 63%. Rezaie, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is, like Ahmadinejad, a hard liner. But he had joined his two reformist rivals in questioning the official vote tallies. He said he was withdrawing his complaint because “political, social and security situation has entered a sensitive and decisive phase, which is more important than the election . . . I feel it is my duty… taking into account my pledge as a soldier of the revolution, the leader and the people, to inform you that I renounce following up on my complaints.”

I stressed last week that the outcome in Iran would depend in some large part on whether the security forces split. Neil MacFarquhar has been doing good analysis at the NYT on the new leader of the Revolutionary Guards, Muhammad Ali Jafari, a counterinsurgency specialist; and the way in which Ahmadinejad packed these security forces’ leadership with his men.

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