Like Jamie I don’t share the Foreign Policy magazine’s experts certainty that the Iranian elections were rigged. Iran has a reasonable reputation for holding honest elections, even if they are, as Jamie puts it “engineered to produce the right results from the outset through candidate selection and so on”. Western experts and expat Iranians may have been convinced that Ahmadinejad was to be wiped from the pages of time and see the failure of this as evidence of voting fraud, but that doesn’t mean reality has to conform to their wishes.
The reason expert opinion has gotten it so wrong it seems to me is not fraud, but the myopia with which western news media and experts approach Iran: through the prism of US foreign policy. Iran is only in the news whenever its supposed nuclear weapons programme is brought to our attention again, or it’s accused of meddling in Iraq or Afghanistan. In the same way Ahmadinejad is only quoted when he says something stupid about the Holocaust or is supposed to threaten Israel with extinction again. We only get to see Iran as a menace and Ahmadinejad as a clown, with nobody really covering the reality of Iran’s internal politics.
So we get an incredible distorted view of Iran and Ahmadinejad and because we don’t like him we automatically assume this is the default view in Iran as well. But as Splinty points out, in the country itself he has a quite different reputation; he may not be liked by the western-orientated middle class, but he’s a friend of the poor and the peasants and they vote too.
And of course, expecting Iranians to vote according to our views of their foreign policy is as absurd as to have expected the last Dutch elections to have been decided on the withdrawal of Dutch troops from Iraq.