PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA
Tehran is burning. It is burning for the same reason that Kiev turned orange in December 2004 through January 2005 as Ukrainians protested the massive rigging of votes that saw the establishment candidate Viktor Yanukovych beat the peopleâ€™s candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
Through civil disobedience, strikes and sit-ins organised by the opposition, the Ukrainian Supreme Court annulled the rigged results, ordered for fresh free and fair elections which Yushchenko won by a landslide.
Tehran is burning for the same reason that Kenyan towns went up in flames in late 2007 and early 2008 after the fraudulent Kenyan election that brought back Mwai Kibaki as president. Tehran is burning for the same reason that tens of thousands angry demonstrators smashed their way through police barricade in Tbilisi following Georgiaâ€™s disputed elections in May 2008.
The trend across the world seemed to be clear: Democratic ideals are principles for which many around the world, and including Iran this week, are willing to die.Tehran is burning as a warning for those who believe that the only way to stay in power is through fraudulent elections whose outcomes are already decided. It is proof that democratic ideals in which the people choose their leaders are universally cherished principles for which many will willingly lay down their lives.
That was the story of the martyred beautiful girl Neda who died right before the camera, the white of her eyes rolling in her bloody head as she went into shock, shot while demonstrating this weekend by an increasingly repressive Iranian police. She has become a symbol of the irrepressible spirit of freedom that saw millions of Iranians march through Tehran last week following the disputed presidential elections.
Millions around the world have downloaded Nedaâ€™s last moments from YouTube and other internet websites.
The riots were not what the Ayatollahs had in mind. By their calculations, the ruling clerics imagined Iranians going through the motion of voting in the sham elections, knowing full well that only the chosen candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would emerge the victor. In a cavalier â€œI donâ€™t careâ€™ attitude, elections results were quickly counted under mysterious circumstances and announced within a few hours after the end of voting. As expected, the chosen candidate Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. The problem was that the Ayatollahs were using an old script from the old Iran where whatever the state said happened was accepted without question. They did not budget for the fierce hunger for a genuine democratic election, and failing that, the fiery response by those who felt cheated.
Caught with their tarboosh down, the mullahs quickly decided to use deadly force to crack down. In so doing, they finally shattered the notion that the clerics stood for the people of Iran, an illusion that was crafted over the last three decades since the peopleâ€™s uprising in 1979 that overthrew the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi and brought in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Ironically, the bloody crackdown in Iran has forever weakened the hold that the clerics had over the Iranians. By using force to break the uprising, the clerics have in effect signalled that their popularity is waning, the power dwindling in the new Iran. While temporarily squelching the uprising, the use of force only engenders a deeper desire for change in Iran. From open protests will sprout underground movements, complete with suicide bombings, sabotage, and bloodletting. Iran could never be the same again. Meanwhile, there are many precious lessons to be learned here especially for countries like Uganda going into elections in the near futureâ€”make sure your elections are squeaky clean, free and fair.
For one, the Iranian uprising serves as a reminder for incumbents everywhere who are bent on stealing the vote that the world has completely changed. The gender and demographic factors are not surprising given the prominent role that women and young people now play in politics worldwide. In the run-up to the botched elections in Ukraine, and the subsequent Orange Revolution that followed, the youth and women were at the forefront of activism.
Long after the older generations had given up and gone home, young people remained on the streets until change was effected in Ukraine. Kenya was no different. Young people fought for change.
The other factor that worked effectively in Ukraine, Georgia and Kenya, and is working in Iran is the international boom-echo media effect whereby those engaged in the street protest are emboldened further when they read and watch international reactions to their street actions.
What goes â€˜boomâ€™ on the street is looped through international media and internet, and returned to the street as an echo, further encouraging those on the street.
The Iranian government was slow to appreciate this phenomenon, but once they caught on, they censored international media, shut down many internet sites carrying live feed of the struggles in the streets, and banned filming of the protests.
However, in the age of mobile phone cameras, Twitter, Face book, Google and so forth, trying to plug information leaks is like carrying water in a rattan basketâ€”it is an impossible act. Barely seconds after she died in the street of Tehran, Neda was already a cult hero around the world. So Tehran is burning, and the Ayatollahs are plucking their long white beards out wondering what to do next. The problem for them is the more repressive they hit at the protesters, the faster they seal their own fates.
And thatâ€™s the lesson for incumbents everywhereâ€”in todayâ€™s age, if you plan to steal votes, think long and hard because you may just be putting the nail in your coffin. Tehran is burning.
Tehran is a warning to all vote thieves on the globe