A Busy Couple of Days in Iran

The NYT and the LAT offer some strong reporting

After a relatively quiet period that left media outlets stepping back and taking stock, events in Iran picked up again late last week, as former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s surprisingly bold sermon at Friday prayers triggered huge street rallies and heightened the split between leading clerics. The events have not exactly brought a new “green wave” of media coverage in the U.S., but the major publications have devoted renewed attention to the fallout of the disputed June 12 election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner over opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.

Among America’s major newspapers, all of which provided staff coverage of last Friday’s sermon, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have continued to offer the strongest reporting. The NYT’s live-blog of Friday’s sermon and protests, posted at “The Lede,” was a valuable addition to the conventional news stories written that day; read after the fact, it conveys the sense of a smart observer trying to sort through the meaning of momentous events as they happen. And the NYT’s Robert Worth—assisted by “independent observers” in Tehran, who are credited in several stories—has filed regular reports since Rafsanjani spoke, reporting on the subsequent pushback from hardliners, the reformist former President Mohammad Khatami’s call for a national referendum, and, most recently, Supreme Leader Ayatolloh Ali Khameini’s rebuke to Khatami and Rafsanjani.

In the LAT, meanwhile, reporter Borzou Daragahi has ably covered much of the same territory, and adds this information to his report on Khameini’s latest remarks:

Meanwhile, the elite Revolutionary Guard sought to consolidate its power by moving to take control of the oil industry and by meddling in higher education curriculum…

Gen. Mohammad Esmail Saeedi, second-in-command of the Revolutionary Guard’s Ashura Corps, said students should be taught at universities how to deal with “soft threats,” a call to inject the military branch’s view equating dissent with foreign conspiracy into higher education, according to Sepah News, its official website…

“The June 12 election let us take power in our hand, and it is the most significant political development,” Gen. Yadollah Javani, head of the guard’s political bureau, said today, according to Sepah News. “It was a turning point that has introduced substantial changes into our political conditions.”

The NYT, in turn, follows up today with Michael Slackman’s examination of the role the Revolutionary Guard plays in Iranian politics. Iran “is not a theocracy anymore,” an expert tells the paper. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

Two other interesting bits of news have been flagged by the NYT and LAT, and by various wire services: Rafsanjani traveled to the city of Mashad over the weekend, apparently to try to build support among top clerics. (Nico Pitney’s excellent running blog on all things Iran now has video of Ahmadinejad’s visit to the same city a few days earlier). And while hardliners make up Ahmadinejad’s political base, many conservatives are upset with his selection as vice president of the moderate Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to whom Ahmadinejad is related by marriage.

The British press, which has also continued to follow the story, offers some further nuggets of information. Citing Farsi-language websites, the Guardian’s Robert Tait reported Sunday that “[t]he Iranian army has arrested 36 officers who planned to attend last week’s Friday prayer sermon by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani in their military uniforms as an act of political defiance.” And while most of the coverage has been Tehran-centric, a correspondent for BBC News went exploring near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. There, he met Iranians who said “there had been no recent demonstrations on the streets of their hometowns”; one opposition supporter said he had wanted to join the protests, but in his small town, “it was simply too dangerous.”

It’s been a busy couple of days, and it may soon get busier. As a reader noted to The Lede, today is the anniversary of Mohammed Mosaddeq’s return to power after he was dismissed by the Shah in 1952. More protests are planned to mark the occasion.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.