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Did Revolutionary Guards Rig the 2009 Election?

June 3, 2014
Reza HaghighatNejad
5 min read
Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Revolutionary Guards
Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Revolutionary Guards
Mohammad Reza Naqdi, Commander of the Basij paramilitary force
Mohammad Reza Naqdi, Commander of the Basij paramilitary force
Mohammad Nourizad, Iranian filmmaker, activist, and former journalist
Mohammad Nourizad, Iranian filmmaker, activist, and former journalist

A video posted on Facebook appears to support claims that Iran’s 2009 presidential election was rigged.

The clip, which was apparently leaked, shows Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari giving a speech about the Guards’ crucial role in Iranian politics and arguing the case for military intervention in the election. The date of the speech has not been verified.

In the video, Jafari concedes that there is widespread doubt about the election results. “The situation became complicated and many of the authorities and even many clerics still have doubts,” he says. “Many still have objections, and if things had continued the way they were going, a run-off election would be needed.” He also said that, if the election advanced to another stage, “it was not certain how things would turn out.”

Filmmaker and former conservative politician and journalist Mohammad Nourizad posted the film on Facebook. Though he no longer writes for the conservative press, he appears to have maintained his links with Guards’ insiders.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the clear winner of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, gaining an alleged 11 million more votes than that of his opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi. On June 29, 2009, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei criticized Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who led the country’s Green Movement, after they complained about the election results. “The legal procedures in our country do not allow for cheating,” Khamenei told people gathered for Friday Prayers. “This is recognized by anybody who has been involved in the elections. And we are talking about an 11 million difference [in votes]. When the difference between the two sides is 100,000 or 500,000 or a million, one can say maybe they have cheated. But how can one cheat when it is 11 million?”

In June 2009 an Iranian website reported that “some officials told Ahmadinejad that the votes cast for him were 16 million but it was going to be declared as 24 million so that there would be no accusations of cheating and the difference in votes would appear large.” The post was later removed.

But the newly-released film contradicts Khamenei’s assertion, and General Jafari’s statements give credence to earlier unconfirmed reports. It has also introduced a new angle to the scandal, revealing that the biggest worry was the possibility of a run-off and the opportunity for reformists to gain a foothold because the election was going to be so close. Therefore, the argument ran that intervention was justified.


New Tactics

Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basij commanders have made it clear that the return of reformists to power is a “red line” that must not be crossed.

Jafari’s speech provides new information about Revolutionary Guards tactics following Khamenei’s criticism of Mousavi and Korroubi: street rallies were to be crushed even if they were peaceful; reformist movement protesters were to be arrested; and Green Movement activists’ telephone and online communication was to be disrupted. Jafari tells his audience that the Revolutionary Guards successfully carried out all three tasks. Through creating confusion and organizing widespread arrests among Mousavi supporters, they effectively drove him out of the competition. Jafari also dismisses protesters, claiming they are from affluent northern Tehran neighborhoods, people who are unable to cope with even minimal hardship.

It appears that the speech was made some time before July 19, 2009. Only two days before, on July 17, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke at Friday Prayers, calling for “unity” and for trust to be restored. Mir Hossein Mousavi's was also present. The film suggests that, even before protests gathered real momentum, the Revolutionary Guards were determined to stifle dissent. 

Jafari says that the decision to crush demonstrations was taken after Khamenei’s speech on June 19—yet many pro-reform protesters were arrested on June 13, one day after the election took place. Reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh sets the clampdown even earlier, writing from prison in 2009 that arrest warrants for Mousavi activists were issued three days before the election. Jafari’s speech reveals that there was a clear and focused plan for mass arrests after the election and that the Revolutionary Guards acted on their own to arrest Mousavi and silence reformists.

Contrary to General Jafari’s claim that protest had been quashed, on September 18, November 10 and December 27, 2009, Mousavi supporters held massive rallies in Tehran.


Mousavi: The Real Target

But even though the Revolutionary Guards Commander explicitly talks about the fear of reformists returning to power, it is clear that a Mousavi presidency would not have produced such a scenario. During the 2009 campaign there were clear demarcation lines between Mousavi’s headquarters and the campaign headquarters of the reformists who supported him. Had Mousavi been elected, such differences would have been carried over to the drawing up of his government—as has happened with President Rouhani’s administration.

So the real target was Mir Hossein Mousavi himself. Conservative MP Ahmad Tavokoli expressed this view succinctly in an interview on May 20, 2011. He had voted for Ahmadinejad only because he had had no choice, he said. “Mr. Mousavi has a social base that can lead to an anti-leader [anti-Khamenei] movement, even if he does not want it to. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s social base has no such power even if he wants it to.”

Mousavi’s supporters aside, Khamenei and Mossavi have a history of conflict. Mousavi was prime minister during Khamenei’s presidency (1981-1989). The two clashed over a number of policy issues, and Mousavi was often successful in pushing his line further. Had Mousavi been elected in 2009, Hashemi Rafsanjani could have tipped the scale in favor of the president against Khamenei—perhaps not as much as Ayatollah Khomeini did through his support for Mousavi, but enough.

Such an interpretation potentially calls into question every policy put forth by the Supreme Leader from 1989 to 2009. In an interview on December 12, 2010, Mir Hossein Mousavi gave his own take on the subject: “After the election it took me two months to conclude that the confrontation was not targeted specifically against me or Karroubi, but its goal was to settle the account with all competing forces to homogenize the country,” he stated. “I was only one of the barriers in the way. The dominant forces in the country had planned and tried for 20 years to arrive at such an outcome and this election was supposed to be the last act in the play. Authoritarians want to clear the national arena of all critics and protesters and create an environment like North Korea, albeit with some democratic makeup.”


June 10, 2014

What I don't understand is, was this speech to have been given before or after the elections? If it was before the elections, what are we to make of the reference to the Leader's speech which was made several days *after* the elections? If it was made after the elections, then what are we to make of the spec ulation about the outcome of the elections. ... read more


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