Ahmadinejad's Victory Amid Allegations of Electoral Fraud Sparks Protests in Iran

Clashes broke out between police and groups protesting the election results from early morning on Saturday onward.

The protests were initially mostly peaceful but became increasingly violent. Angry crowds in Tehran broke into shops, tore down signs and smashed windows. The worst civil unrest in Iran for over a decade took place as protesters set fire to tires outside the Interior Ministry building and others formed a human chain of around 300 people to close off a major Tehran street.

If the reports coming out of Tehran about an electoral coup are sustained, then Iran has entered an entirely new phase of its post-revolution history. One characteristic that has always distinguished Iran from the crude dictators in much of the rest of the Middle East was its respect for the voice of the people, even when that voice was saying things that much of the leadership did not want to hear.

In 1997, Iran’s hard line leadership was stunned by the landslide election of Mohammed Khatami, a reformer who promised to bring rule of law and a more human face to the harsh visage of the Iranian revolution. It took the authorities almost a year to recover their composure and to reassert their control through naked force and cynical manipulation of the constitution and legal system. The authorities did not, however, falsify the election results and even permitted a resounding reelection four years later. Instead, they preferred to prevent the president from implementing his reform program.