In the 2009 presidential elections in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly won 65% of the vote to Mirhossein Mousavi’s 35%. Tehran promptly broke out in riots, with very bloody results including the cell phone recorded, YouTubed death of an innocent bystander named Neda Agha-Soltan. The reason these protests did not succeed and were not a starting point for widespread protests such as occurred after Tunisia two years later was the simple fact that the Ahmadinejad regime had nearly bankrupted the country paying huge subsidies to the rural poor. The Parliament twice tried to impeach Ahmadinejad over those subsidies. Without the support of the poor, the protests were limited to the educated young.
In the aftermath of those protests, Iran’s opposition went underground, and opposition leaders were methodically harrassed.
In June, Iran will hold another presidential election. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is term-limited out of contention this time, and no clear candidate has been announced by his party or the Grand Ayatollah who really controls Iran. Nonetheless, the intimidation of the reformers and moderates has gone into full swing.
On Monday, the daughters of Mirhossein Mousavi and the son of fellow reformer Mehdi Karoubi were “detained for questioning” by the Iranian government. Karoubi had also stood as a candidate for president in 2009, and both men were the spiritual leaders of the protesters. They have been under house arrest for the past two years and are barred from participating in the upcoming election process. Their “crime” was calling on supporters to demonstrate after the start of the Arab Spring protests in other countries. Hardliners have demanded the two men be executed.
Officially, Zahra and Narges Mousavi were asked to give “explanations” to prosecutors, though officially there is no explanation of what they were supposed to be explaining. The two women had publicly complained of being denied access to their parents. A third daughter, Kokab, told the opposition website Kaleme that the security forces had stripped her sisters’ home of anything they thought could be used to implicate the family.
Karoubi’s website, Sahamnews, reported that his son Hossein’s laptop and cell phone had been confiscated.
All three adult children were held for several hours and then released.
Ahmadinejad may be out, and with him the constant tug-of-war over power between the secular government and the clergy, but the person who replaces him will probably be even more of a hardliner than he has been. The intimidation of opposition is being ramped up to prevent any possibility of a challenge to the fundamentalist rule of the Ayatollah.