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The Iranian Elections

The End of the "Obama Effect" Myth

by RANNIE AMIRI

The adulation of tens of thousands of Iranians that greeted Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his equally popular wife, Zahra Rahnavard, during the country’s presidential campaign has now transformed itself into righteous indignation and anger.

Shortly after the final election results released Saturday showed that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won – not in the extremely close count expected but in a landslide 2:1 victory – reports of civil unrest, street protests, police clashes and cut text messaging service followed. Events continue to unfold at the time of this writing as the government counters the demonstrations in heavy-handed fashion.

The results indicate that either a groundswell of support for Ahmadinejad among his base of poor Iranians or those in rural areas where he is most popular was underreported in polls, or there was massive ballot fraud and vote-rigging. The writer will refrain from passing judgment on this until more facts are known, but evidence seems to be pointing to significant irregularities.

Of note was how the American media’s coverage of the race seemed to be continuously punctuated by mention of the “Obama Effect” and how it might influence its outcome.

Completely ignored were the vigorous, contentious and often downright nasty campaigns of the two major candidates and their supporters or the multiple, lively televised debates conducted during it. In a country purported to be a regional threat, this was never contrasted with the sorry state (or non-existence) of elections among the U.S.-allied Arab regimes, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (the latter recently cancelled municipal elections).

Mousavi’s supporters, especially the youth donned in the trademark green of his campaign, spoke openly of “change” and “reform.” They brazenly mocked Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy and the Ministry of Agriculture’s free distribution of potatoes to low-income families as a way to win votes. “Death to the government of potatoes,” they chanted.

So is the enthusiasm of Mousavi’s backers a reflection of the “Obama Effect”? That is, the manner in which Obama conducted his own presidential campaign, his greeting to the Iranian people on the occasion of Nouruz (the Persian New Year), and his June address to the Muslim world in Cairo? Has Obama inspired Iranians to “vote for change”?

No. There was never an “Obama Effect” and the mere suggestion of one is the epitome of arrogance and an insult to Iranian voters.

The relative freedom of expression seen during the election (another unheard of phenomenon in the vast majority of Arab countries) allowed Iranians to voice their own thoughts and concerns about the direction in which their country is headed.

With inflation approaching or exceeding 25 percent, poor management of the nation’s oil revenue squandering the country’s wealth, Ahmadinejad’s persistent, unnecessary opining on the Holocaust at a time when Iran faces far more pressing issues; to suggest they were not acting on their own initiative but needed an Obama’s “effect” to inspire them is disingenuous.

Indeed, intimating that the U.S. president somehow imbued them with the courage to challenge the established order speaks volumes of the American media’s haughtiness and how lowly they regard the Iranian electorate.

The present controversy over the vote tabulation aside, it was the Iranian people who took it upon themselves to gather by the thousands to voice their support for Mousavi; to attempt to elect a leader who would conduct himself like a statesman pledged to domestic and economic reforms; and to rid the nation of the reckless rhetoric to which Israel so desperately clings in order to justify a military attack.

What will happen next in Tehran in the aftermath of the election remains unknown. But as for the candidacy of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his run for the presidency, credit should be given where credit is due. And none of it goes to President Obama.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator.