Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Karroubi softens stance? Desperate regime clutches at straws

My apologies for such a short post on a topic which has sent shockwaves through the press, but I believe that the following video goes a long way towards mitigating the importance of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi's alleged turnabout concerning the legitimacy of the presidential election and recognition of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president.

Yesterday, the semi-official Fars News, close to the Revolutionary Guards, rushed to release the following report:

Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with Fars: 
I recognize the president elected by the Iranian people
Fars News Agency: Concerning the legality of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency, Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karroubi said, I recognize the president

In an interview with Fars News Agency, in response to the question, Do you recognize the legal president elected by the Iranian people?, declared: I still maintain that the problems I raised apply, but with regard to your question, I must say that yes, I recognize the president.'

It is worth mentioning that Fars's supposed interview is the hasty exchange seen in the following footage which was taken at the conference of the Mardom Salari (People's Sovereignty) Party, headed by reformist Majlis representative Mostafa Kavakebian. Karroubi had just made a speech and was leaving the hall, followed by a coterie of journalists. None of the other reporters filed an article on Karroubi's alleged turnabout.

The video was released by the Bashgaheh Khabarnegaran (Journalists' Club) which is run by the political division of the Islamic Republic's radio-television. The regime therefore felt it important to distribute this video clip to support Fars's claim. To say that it is a weak endorsement is an understatement.

The Fars journalist sticks a microphone in Karroubi's face and asks, 'Do you recognize the popularly-elected president?'

Karroubi looks at the man, chuckles, and kisses him on the forehead. Then he walks away.

A column comes between Karroubi and the cameraman. At this point the ensuing conversation is inaudible. However, Karroubi can be heard uttering the word 'president.' He then turns to leave once again and the Fars journalist asks again, But do you recognize him?' Karroubi nods and continues on his way.

If Karroubi had clearly voiced his opinion on the subject during the inaudible part of the exchange, the Fars journalist would not have had to repeat the key question. In response, he got a nod.

A nod is not insignificant, but given the context, was it important enough to justify the ensuing uproar from Tehran to Berlin to Washington? You be the judge.

Close-up: Pro-regime satirical video ends with Mousavi's execution

Much of the information coming out of Iran is in the form of footage uploaded to the Internet without the benefit of any description or explanation. Each installment in the Close-up series will provide an in-depth analysis of a single video or a series of videos covering one event.

A satirical video clip released by a pro-regime blog portrays opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi as a would-be dictator supported by the West and leading fanatical mosque-burning protesters. The film ends with Mousavi's trial and execution.

Bachehayeh Ghalam (Children of the Pen), a blog which delivers a mix of fact, conspiracy theories, and disinformation in support of the legitimacy of the regime and against imperialism, posted the video entitled 'The Great Dictator' this week (film and translation at the end of this report). The site appears close to the 'pragmatic conservative faction' led by the likes of Ahmadinejad rival and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and Majlis research center head Ahmad Tavakoli. As such, the fictional trial and execution of Mousavi appears to conform to the hardening stance of the pragmatic conservatives.

One of the latest posts on the site explains that the earthquake in Haiti was triggered by the United States using a HAARP weapon (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program). Hugo Chavez, Ahmadinejad ally and idol of some young Iranian radicals, made the same announcement last week, claiming that the Haiti earthquake was just a drill and that the ultimate target of the weapons system would be Iran:

Bachehayeh Ghalam is run by a young Iranian man who is also involved in a drive to boycott 'Zionist products.' He is linked to Majlis research center head Ahmad Tavakoli's news site, Alef. I am not divulging this person's identity because as far as I can ascertain he has exercised his right to free speech without directly calling for violence.

The well-produced clip pays more than nominal homage to Chaplin and is made to look like an old silent movie. It paints the opposition as a tool of foreign media and governments, and suggests that protesters are rioters and pushy women with no real links to Islamic values:

Video highlights:

0:00 - 0:28
Panel: 'The Great Dictator'
Footage of Mousavi on the night of the presidential election, June 12, 2009.
Panel: 'Ladies and gentlemen! The election is currently taking place...'
Panel: '...but I am the definite winner with a high proportion of the votes.'

0:29 - 0:45
Footage of BBC Persian newscast.
Panel: 'Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become president with 24 million votes.'
Footage of jubilation in the streets with the sound of cheering in the background.

0:46 - 0:58
The music becomes morose as we see footage of a round table on BBC Persian which includes Sadegh Saba, the new head of the service, and Ahmad Salamatian, former Islamic Republic foreign minister (1979) and post-revolution Majlis representative from Isfahan who has been a dissident based in Paris for over 25 years.
Panel: 'We are worried and there was definitely fraud...'
The regime has accused the foreign media of provoking the post-election unrest.

0:59 - 1:33
Mousavi with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, at his side. Rahnavard, a successful and influential intellectual, is another favorite target of the regime.
Panel: 'Iran will erupt in flames.'
Protesters, fires in the street, motorcycles ablaze...
Melancholy music as scenes of devastation are shown.

1:34 - 1:53
Barack Obama being interviewed on CBS.
Panel: 'We will support the people of Iran.'
Women demonstrate. The fact that they are wearing relatively skimpy outfits and no headscarves is a less-than-subtle way of suggesting they are loose and foreign-based.
Panel: 'Give back our vote.'

1:54 - 2:06
BBC Persian newscast.
Panel: 'Mrs. Rahnavard, what is the proof of fraud?'
Panel with laughter in the background: 'Because Mr. Mousavi is a Turk and married to a woman from Lorestan [Province].' Mousavi is from Azerbaijan Province, hence the reference to being Turkish. Rahnavard is from Lorestan Province. The opposition questioned Mousavi's low turnout in his 'home state.'

2:07 - 2:21
Footage of Mousavi's press conference.
Panel: 'I will hold firm until the end.'
Fire and destruction in the streets...

2:22 - 2:30
The show trials, including a closeup of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, close adviser to Khatami and senior member of the Association of Combatant Clerics. Abtahi, one of the most popular political bloggers in Iran, was arrested shortly after the election and is believed to have been coerced into giving a televised confession.
Panel: 'The fraud was an excuse. Everything was planned.'

2:31 - 2:37
Street protests.
Panel: 'Independence. Freedom. Iranian Republic.'
The original revolutionary slogan was 'Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic.' The new counter-slogan voiced during the post-election protests has particularly stung the regime and its supporters.

2:38 - 2:46
'Decent Iranians' being interviewed.
Panel: 'These people must be confronted with determination.'

2:47 - end
Footage of the show trials, presided by Judge Abolghassem Salavati.
Forrest-Gump-like special effect of Mousavi in prison garb and on trial.
Judge Salavati reads the verdict.
Panel: 'Mr. Mousavi will be severely punished.'
Footage of Saddam, his face pixelated, being hanged.
Panel: 'The End'