"It's a coup d'etat," says an adviser to the defeated pro-reform Iranian presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to the telephoned question "So, what happened?" Then, with apologies because the staff is in an emergency session, he hangs up.
What the reformist calls a coup was described today as a great achievement by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who has the final say in all affairs of the country. It was an open secret that the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Khamenei's favorite candidate. If an electoral fraud, tantamount to a coup, had indeed happened, most believe that it was staged with Khamenei's blessing.
According Mousavi's supporters, based on their surveys before the election and their inside knowledge, he was the clear winner. A few minutes after the polling stations closed last night, a Mousavi adviser said that according to his credible sources Mousavi at that moment had 65 percent of the votes. Around the same time, many pro-Ahmadinejad Web sites said that the president also had 65 percent of the votes, a number which was later confirmed by Iran's Interior Ministry. According to the latest information, the ministry will later today announce Ahmadinejad's victory with 25 million out of 39 million votes, or 65 percent.
Saeid Shariati, one of the leaders of Mousavi's campaign, says that 17 million votes may be missing. Another Mousavi campaigner who did not want to be named said that in different cities around Iran, the result of ballot boxes were announced without even opening them. A relative of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who also didn't want to be named, said, "The masterminds of the coup had planned everything for a while. Just look at the way they have unleashed anti-riot police on people to find out how organized they are." Rafsanjani was accused by Ahmadinejad in televised debates of corruption and directing Mousavi's campaign.
Mousavi was supposed to have a press conference this afternoon but reporters were told by a large number of uniformed police that the event was canceled. A few hundred of Mousavi supporters were also waiting for their candidates to walk with them to the Interior Ministry about five miles down off Vali Asr Street, the main artery of Tehran. They were going to stage a vigil in front of the Interior Ministry building. As journalists and Mousavi supporters mingled, the police politely asked them to leave.
The riot police further south, around Vali Asr Square, where Mousavi's headquarters is located, and Jahad Square, the location of the Interior Ministry, were not as kind; they beat up anyone who did not move out of their way. When I asked them the reason for closing the streets, an intelligence officer in civilian clothes kicked me from behind and the riot police beat me with a stick. I was among the luckier pedestrians. A few meters away 16-year-old Reza was drenched in blood and caree for by medics. Reza's brother, Maysam, was insulting the sisters and mothers of the riot police. He said that they were coming back from language school when they were beaten on the head by the riot police. When Reza fell on the ground, an intelligence officer kicked him in the head. The medic, who did not want to be named, said that they were asked the night before to be ready today for the chaos.
A few miles north on Vanak Square, around 5,000 supporters of Mousavi had gathered and tried to walk south. But about a few hundred riot police, brought from a nearby barracks, started attacking the young demonstrators who were chanting "Death to the Dwarf Dictator" (a reference to Ahmadinejad's height). Although there are no confirmed reports of any deaths, the demonstrators also chanted, "I kill the one who killed my brother." There were many ambulances around Vanak Square, as well. An old man who witnessed the scene from his office said that it reminded him of Aug. 19, 1953, when the Shah of Iran was brought back to power with the help of Iranian Army and a group of hooligans, as well as the CIA and Britain's M.I.6.
Mousavi's whereabouts are unknown. He was rumored to be under house arrest, but his advisers deny that. They say that he and Rafsanjani are in an emergency meeting to coordinate their joint complaint and action against the re-election of Ahmadinejad.
Many demonstrators today are surprised by Khamenei's wholehearted support of Ahmadinejad. "If Mr. Khamenei cannot tolerate even a mild-mannered president like Mousavi, then I really don't know what to do," said Rana, who was among hundreds of students on Vali Asr Avenue before she started to chant "Death to the dictator" again.
We have to wait for the result of Rafsanjani-Mousavi meeting to find out how the reformists are planning to respond to what they call "the fraud of the century." Judging from their past actions they will most probably reluctantly will accept the result and will not do much. That will leave their supporters angry and suppressed. The events of the past few weeks, especially last night's result, have polarized Iranians. The political developments may not result in any mass demonstrations such as those that brought down the shah in 1979. But today's chaos on Vali Asr Avenue shows that a great number of Iranians, at least those millions who voted for Mousavi can at some point in the future ask for a change that may not only reform the Islamic Republic but undermine it as a political system.
For their part, Ahmadinejad's supporters are calling the pro-Mousavi demonstrators sour grapes. "Why they didn't demonstrate when Mr. Rafsanjani and [former pro-reform president Mohammad] Khatami were elected the second time," says Alireza Samadi, a student campaigner for Ahmadinejad. "People believe in Mr. Ahmadinejad's ideals and voted for him again." Ahmadinejad supporters are scheduled to celebrate his victory in a soccer stadium tomorrow.