In the wake of the Iranian presidential election on June 12, 2009, which critics charge was stolen from Mir Hussein Moussavi by forces allied with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a public August 19 teach-in at Columbia University, sponsored by members of Where is my vote? addressed "The Coup of 1953 and the movement of 2009."
Navid Hazeghi of the National Iranian American Committee covered the event; this analysis draws on his report. (http://www.niacouncil.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1489&Itemid=2)
Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University, Ervand Abrahamian of Baruch College, and Arang Keshavarzian of New York University spoke on the panel.
Dabashi, dean of Iranian Studies at Columbia, was optimistic that events in 2009 signify not a repeat of 1953, but "the beginning of a new era." As Hazeghi reported:
To him, the events of this summer have replaced the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mosaddeq as a historical pivot point for Iranians. 'Since the 1979 Revolution, the bitter memory of the coup has been abused for a specific political purpose by those in power,' he said, only now the specter of foreign interference has given way in the minds of the people to the question of their own government's legitimacy.
NYU's Keshavarzian's saw the events of 2009 resembling those of 1953:
'Just like the Shah after the summer of 1953 had to reconstitute and reconsolidate his position in Iran, ... Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have to re-impose their authority over society through various means.'
Yet he argued things could have a happier ending:
'Hope comes from the fact that Iranian society today is very different from 1953, far more urban, far more literate, far more politicized. Globalization and technology make it difficult to manage information and arresting a bunch of people is not going to stop the movement like it did in 1953.'
Abrahamian of Baruch noted that the CIA wasn't involved in the 2009 protests—unlike the '53 coup—and that the suspicious outcome of the vote explained the uproar:
'There was a shift in public opinion during the campaign. I'm not sure whether Mousavi generally won the election or not but clearly Ahmadinejad did not get the 50% that would have prevented a runoff.'
The authenticity of the protests can't be doubted, he added:
'This is not a velvet revolution from outside, it is a genuine grassroots protest against a government that not only rigged the elections but also tried to suppress basic liberties.'
The accuracy of Abrahamian's observations were demonstrated by reports in the days following the election. The New York Times on June 13 of that year quoted Moussavi as saying: "Today the people's will has been faced with an amazing incident of lies, hypocrisy and fraud. I call on my Iranian compatriots to remain calm and patient."
Similarly, the Guardian reported on June 15 that, "more than 500,000 people were involved in the protest against the election 'theft'. Such large-scale protest has not seen in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution."
The subsequent brutal crushing of the protesters proved Dabashi's optimism to be woefully misplaced. The deaths of dozens of protesters and the arrests of thousands more, including former high ranking government officials, underscored the severity of the regime's crackdown on dissent. Widespread prison torture was also reported. Ahmadinejad was sworn into his second term as president on August 5, 2009.
Mr. Myers is director of academic affairs and of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.