Foreign Affairs Friday: Election/Revolution

Last week, as I eagerly anticipated the Iranian election, I surveyed the excitement for opposition candidate Moussavi and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if Ahmadinejad won, but everyone though the election was rigged?" That's what happened in Ukraine in 2004, leading to mass protests and the rise of a more democratic, pro-Western government. Protests also occurred in Moldova this year, as I recently wrote about, although lasting benefits have yet to arise there.

Well, my scenario is playing out in Iran right now. The benefit of having elections in an authoritarian regime is increased legitimacy for the government, at home and abroad, even if the elections aren't totally fair. The downside of having elections is that citizens might take them seriously, and expect to actually have a say in government. The Iranians aren't accepting what they see as a rigged election. Many US commentators have said that from a policy perspective, it wasn't going to matter who won the election. The Iranians appear to disagree.

Another factor that is present in Iran that may help the protestors is the split among the ruling elites. While the Ayatollah is behind Mahmoud, other big names, like Rafsanjani and Khatami, are behind Moussavi. When a regime stays united, like the Chinese were during Tiananmen in 1989, protests can be overcome, but when there are splits, as there were in Eastern bloc nations as the Soviet Union crumbled, then change is possible.

Here's hoping that we see some positive results from the events in Iran, not only for the US, but for the people in Iran. I don't think it would hurt things if Obama would express a little support for the protestors. I suppose he gets some credit, though, for the State Department's moves to keep Twitter open for the protestors.


  1. I dunno--it's possible that it would hurt if Obama made a strong show of support for the protesters. Ahmadinajad's side is already alleging that the protesters are under foreign influence, and it's better the clearer it is that it's genuinely domestic unrest. Also, I doubt the Mousavi people want to look buddy-buddy with the US anyway.

  2. I disagree, because the only thing that might restrain the Iranian regime from bloodily crushing the protests is world attention and the regime's concern for its image. That's why you see most of the protesters holding signs printed in English; they want outside support and attention. People always talk about Obama's international popularity; if he won't use it here, what is it good for?