Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Indiana University expert available to discuss events in Iran

June 15, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Hundreds of thousands of Iranians are rallying in support of pro-reform presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who made his first public appearance today (June 15) since elections he claims were marred by fraud. The government says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election with 63 percent of the vote, but Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the Guardian Council to examine Mousavi's allegations.

Jamsheed Choksy

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Jamsheed Choksy

Print-Quality Photo

Indiana University Professor Jamsheed Choksy, a specialist on Iranian history and religions, who has traveled throughout Iran, is available for comments. Choksy, IU professor of Central Eurasian Studies, history, ancient studies and India studies and an adjunct professor in religious studies, can be reached at 812-855-8643 or

Role of Iran's Guardian Council

While Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the Guardian Council to examine Mousavi's allegations, it is very possible that this process will help President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be seen as credible, Choksy said.

"Those individuals who are extremely fundamentalist and/or xenophobic among the Shi 'ite clerics or mullahs, plus portions of Iran's population from among the poor in cities and rural areas, will continue to regard his election as credible," he said. "It is quite possible, as well, that the Guardian Council will validate the results for even some clerics who have opposed Ahmadinejad in the past.

"Khamenei and the mullahs may have played roles actively or tacitly in facilitating both the election results and the quick announcement of Ahmadinejad's victory, and so they may have to support him now to hold on to their own authority."

Religion's political role

"Mullahs and Shi'ite Islam are basic components of Iranian society; that is unlikely to change in the near future. More contested among Iranians, however, is whether religion should dictate social and political norms and what role if any should be played by religious leaders in that nation's politics," Choksy said.

Mir Hossein Mousavi and possible coalition government

"While a collation government in which Mousavi becomes prime minister is possible, whether moderates like Mousavi, (former President Mohammad) Khatami, and others will be granted real political authority remains unclear and perhaps unlikely unless they and their very numerous supporters are able to wrest some degree of real political participation in day-to-day decisions away from Ahmadinejad and the fundamentalists who support him," Choksy said.

What the public rallies and protests say about Iranian society

Public protests in Iran led to the Constitutional Revolution against the Qajar monarchy in 1905/1906 and resulted in the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy in 1978/1979. Opposition to fundamentalists led to the election of Khatami as Iran's president from 1997-2001 and 2001-2005.

"Iranians are politically active, generally well informed, constantly articulate, and passionately involved in their nation's past and present," Choksy said. "Opposition to the theocratic governance of Iran has been building steadily, especially among an ever-burgeoning urban middle class, whose members seek personal and religious liberties, enhanced civic and civil rights, free trade and other interactions with the West, and who wish religion to be one part of their lives rather than the determinant of all actions.

"Ahmadinejad's presidency has witnessed a major deterioration in Iran's economy, increasing unemployment and underemployment, rising inflation and concomitant degradation of Iran's currency, and diminishing foreign currency reserves," Choksy said. "Taliban and al-Qaeda activity to the east in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- both sharing borders with Iran -- and al-Qaeda activity to Iran's south across the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia also prose a potential threat to Iran's stability, a threat recognized by Iran's theocratic leaders and by its general population.

"All those issues have contributed to, though are not the direct cause of, the protests against the current election results. Ultimately, Iranians -- especially urban residents -- are seeking to expand the political, social, and confessional paths available to them."

What role the West should play

"It is important for us in the West to remember . . . that this is an internal Iranian matter, not one in which we should or could get involved," Choksy said. "The Iranian people have to work toward and decide their own future. Involvement by Western governments may only strengthen the hand of fundamentalist xenophobes in Iran at this time. That does not mean we should not praise those in Iran who seek to ensure justice, fairness, transparency, civil rights and democracy in their society."