After Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was proclaimed the winner of a presidential election widely believed to be rigged, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei deemed the results a "divine assessment." However, after 48 hours of intensive protests throughout Iran, Khamenei backtracked, calling for an investigation into election complaints. The probe is to be conducted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of clerics and Islamic law experts. As demonstrations blaze on across the country, do reform-minded Iranians actually have a shot at a revote?
It is unclear what evidence would be used in a voting probe. According to leaked election results, purportedly disclosed by disaffected government officials, Ahmadinejad came in third in the election, after reformist candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi. However, a poll of Iranian public opinion taken three weeks ago by the nonprofit Terror Free Tomorrow showed Ahmadinejad winning nationwide by a more than 2 to 1 margin.
Mousavi and another defeated candidate have filed complaints with the Guardian Council, and Council spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodayi told Iran's state-funded news agency that the election probe's results would be disclosed in ten days.
On the surface, the probe may seem an impartial investigation by an outside body. However, half of the Council is chosen by Khamenei, while the other half is elected by the legislature from among a group of jurists vetted by an appointee of Khamenei.
"The Council is selected directly and indirectly by the leader," Rasool Nafisi, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Strayer University and author of "The Rise Of Pasdaran," told Truthout. "It is the Council that has the power of vetting the candidates, and its chief, Ayatollah Jannati, sided openly with Ahmadinejad before the elections."
Mousavi himself seems doubtful that the probe will turn the tables on Ahmadinejad's alleged win.
"I have appealed to the Guardian Council but I'm not very optimistic about their judgment," he said on his web site, according to a translation printed by Reuters. "Many of its members during the election were not impartial and supported the government candidate [Ahmadinejad]."
As protests raged Monday night and state brutality abounded - including the death of one man when pro-government gunmen opened fire on a crowd of protesters - many foreign journalists were threatened, arrested or asked to leave Iran. An election probe by the Guardian Council would likely not be subject to direct international oversight.
Still, the groundswell of public expression that this election has sparked is proof that anything can happen, according to Jason Rezaian, a correspondent covering the Iranian election for Tehran Bureau.
"More than anything, people want their voices heard," Rezaian told Truthout. "A recount or revote seems really unlikely, but the last couple of weeks have seen many unlikely events here and I think it's shaken the entire nation. The people for the first time feel like they have a say, and that it's trying to be silenced."
Yet, with Khamenei still in place as supreme leader, the protests don't stand a good chance of affecting concrete official action, according to Juan Cole, president of the Global Americana Institute.
"The reformists will likely just be crushed," Cole told Truthout. "Khamenei cannot be challenged in that system, and there is no recourse. It would take a coup or revolution."
It is possible, however, that quiet sort of coup may be fomenting among Iran's Assembly of Experts, the scholarly body responsible for supervising the supreme leader. The chairman of the Assembly, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, supports Mousavi and favors the reformist agenda, including a diplomatic relationship with the US and Europe. Rumor has it that Rafsanjani has been rallying support among the Assembly to vote Khamenei out of his post, according to an op-ed in The Guardian by Simon Tisdall.
In a blog entry on ForeignPolicy.com, National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi observes that Mousavi has already challenged Khamenei's authority. To protest the election results, Mousavi wrote a letter to powerful clergy in the city of Qom, instead of to the supreme leader.
Already, a loud affirmation of Mousavi's complaint has come from Qom: Grand Ayatollah Sanei, who had previously termed vote-rigging a "mortal sin," is calling the Ahmadinejad presidency "illegitimate."
Moreover, last week, after being accused of corruption by Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani released an angry letter, which took the bold step of remonstrating the supreme leader for allowing public slander, and demanded that Khamenei ensure the elections were fair.
Despite the public outcry from influential Iranian voices, the reformists' calls may well fizzle and die eventually, especially if the voting probe comes back "clean." A revolution - even a quiet one - is a lot to ask for. Nafisi worries that another four years of Ahmadinejad might dash the incipient optimism of the reformist movement.
"If this election is not challenged seriously and effectively, it would put a damper on the youths' aspirations for change and improvement," Nafisi said.
Their hopes aren't dampened quite yet, though. Rezaian noted that, regardless of state-imposed obstacles, the reformists are rallying on.
"Tonight tens of thousands of people all over Tehran went to their rooftop to shout 'God is Great,' 'Death to the Dictator' and simply 'Mousavi,'" he said last night. "With text messaging cut, social networking blocked, they are doing whatever they can to keep the voice of dissent alive. I'm not sure if anyone knows what they're hoping to get out of it. They're just hoping."