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Iran's Rural Vote and Election Fraud


21 Jun 2010 14:2136 Comments

Photo/Nieman Foundation

This article was first published on June 17, 2009.

I just heard a CNN reporter in Tehran say that Ahmadinejad's support base was rural. Is it possible that rural Iran, where less than 35 percent of the country's population lives, provided Ahmadinejad the 63 percent of the vote he claims to have won? That would contradict my own research in Iran's villages over the past 30 years, including just recently. I do not carry out research in Iran's cities, as do foreign reporters who otherwise live in the metropolises of Europe and North America, and so I wonder how they can make such bold assertions about the allegedly extensive rural support for Ahmadinejad.

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock. The week before the vote had witnessed the most intense campaigning in the village's history, and it became evident that support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi's candidacy was overwhelming. Supporters of Ahmadinejad were even booed and mocked when they attempted rallies and had to endure scolding lectures from relatives at family gatherings. "No one would dare vote for that hypocrite," insisted Mrs. Ehsani, an elected member of the village council.

The president was very unpopular in Bagh-e Iman and in most of the other villages around Shiraz, primarily because of his failure to deliver on the reforms he promised in his successful 2005 presidential campaign. He did have some supporters. Village elders confided, "10 to 15 percent of village men, mostly [those who were] Basijis [militia members] and those who worked for government organizations, along with their families."

Carloads of villagers actually drove to Shiraz to participate in the massive pro-Mousavi rallies that were held on the three nights prior to the balloting. And election-day itself was like a party in Bagh-e Iman. Many people openly announced their intentions to vote for Mousavi as they cheerfully stood in line chatting with neighbors, and local election monitors estimated that at least 65 percent of them actually did so. "Although some probably really voted for [Mehdi] Karubi, who also is a man of the people," said election monitor Jalal.

Of course, the Basijis with their mothers, wives and sisters did come out in force but were quiet, apparently timid about revealing their voting intentions "because they probably voted for Ahmadinejad," continued Jalal. But he insisted that they did not count for more than 20 or 25 percent of the vote.

By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: "Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm," said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country.

By Saturday evening, small groups of demonstrators were roaming the main commercial streets of Shiraz, a city of 1.5 million residents, and protesting the announced results as a fraud. People refused to believe that Ahmadinejad could have been re-elected. Larger demonstrations took place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, beginning in the late afternoon and continuing long after the sun had set. These attracted carloads of supporters from Bagh-e Iman and other villages, including several that were 60 kilometers from Shiraz.

Although the crowds shouted slogans such as "Death to Dictatorship," most protestors shouted "Allah-o-akbar," the popular chant of the 1978-79 Revolution. Indeed, in Shiraz, thousands climbed unto the roofs of their homes Sunday to shout 'Allah-o-akbar' for several hours.

Most villagers are supporters of the Islamic Republic, but they are ready for the reforms that they say are essential so that their children will have a secure economic future. They saw hope in Mousavi's promise to implement reforms, even though he is a part of the governing elite.

But that political elite is divided over how Iran should be governed: a transparent democracy where elected representatives enact laws to benefit the people or a 'guided democracy' in which a select few make all decisions because they do not trust the masses to make the right ones. This astute political insight is one that is prevalent in Iran but seems to have escaped the notice of the Western reporters who are trying to explain Iran's political crisis with resort to simplistic stereotypes.

Eric Hooglund is professor of politics at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine, and editor of the scholarly journal Middle East Critique. He is an expert on Iran, and his most recent publication is "Thirty Years of Islamic Revolution in Rural Iran" in Middle East Report, no. 250, spring 2009.

Copyright (c) 2009 Eric Hooglund - distributed by Agence Global

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Well damn!


Jim / June 17, 2009 11:14 AM

Well it's true, the masses often make stupid decisions (Bush) but at least then they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

MNPundit / June 17, 2009 11:39 AM

An die Welt-Spiegel-Redaktion und die "Iran-Experten" der ARD,

die jeweils vollmundig erklaeren, der Wahlsieg Ahmadinejads sei wegen des grossen Einflusses der armen Landbevoelkerung auf die Wahlergebnisse sehr wahrscheinlich und mehr als 10 Millionen Stimmen koenne doch sowieso niemand faelschen, weshalb anzunehmen sei, dass das Wahlergebnis nur geringfuegig gefaelscht ist:

Bitte meine Damen und Herren,

lesen Sie die folgenden Berichtet - der eine von Eric Hooglund, einem Politik-Professor des Bates College, Lewiston, Maine,


und der andere von Ihren Spiegel-Kollegen:


Es ist mehr als aergerlich und beschaemend, wenn Sie die Protestbewegung im Iran als "Fussballfans, die eine Niederlage nicht akzeptieren koennen" behandeln - nicht zuletzt, weil Sie damit wunderbar den Verniedlichungskurs Ahmadinejads unterstuetzen, von dem das Zitat stammt.

Auch Wendungen wie "der angebliche Wahlbetrug" und "der scheinbare Wahlbetrug" sprechen fuer Ihr angebliches und scheinbares Expertentum. Sie sehen schon, wie verletzend diese Adjektive sein koennen, da sie in ihrer Bedeutung bereits beinhalten, dass der Sachverhalt mit hoher Wahrscheinlichkeit nicht zutreffend ist.

Natuerlich muessen Sie als Medienberichterstatter neutral bleiben. Allerdings scheint mir, dass fast jede Wortwahl tendenziell die eine oder andere Richtung beguenstigt. Vielleicht ist es deshalb schlauer, eher solche Formulierungen zu waehlen, die nicht diejenigen unterstuezen, die brutal gegen jegliche Meinungs- und Pressefreiheit, Menschenrechte und demokratische Grundprinzipien verstossen.

Ich hoffe auf eine der Sachlage angemessenere Berichterstattung,

Ihr Zuschauer

Ingo Beyerlein

Ingo Beyerlein / June 17, 2009 11:41 AM

Finally, someone hits back against the whole "rural Iranians are stupid country bumkins who will vote for racist because he's one of them" meme. Thank God.

Yekirani / June 17, 2009 11:51 AM

Well, just don't lose your ability to think critically. Sometimes people behave strategically lying about who the voted for or what their beliefs are because they think the truth will make them unpopular with their interlocutors or the world at large.

Private citizens among the Japanese, for example, when talking to Westerners or Koreans or Chinese, are individually always quick to concede national guilt over matters such as Nanking, comfort women, human experimentation, revisionism, and Yasukuni shrine, but at the same time they consistently elect politicians who foster a much more aggressively nationalistic stance on those matters, and enjoy a great deal of popularity for doing so.

It's possible that the two facts are not irreconcilable, but the far simpler solution is that many of them at least lie about feelings of national remorse. At a time when Iran's President is extremely unpopular abroad, even with other Muslim countries, it's possible that people lie to foreigners about their preferences and voting habits in an appeal for sympathy and status.

Martin / June 17, 2009 12:33 PM

I think a lot of journalist (especially those from the US) project their values/ideas about their country onto Iran.

That whole rural meme was very popular during the U.S. election and it was basically the same (rural Americans won't vote for ___ bc they are racists). Of course this didn't explain states like Iowa or anything and of course most US Americans live in cities and suburbs, however, most journalist still live and propagate the myth that people are more rural, or that rural people are somehow more authentic. Moreover, they tend to ignore the youth in their own country (so of course they ignore youth in other countries).

On of the more talked about issues that the US journalist didn't really cover was about Iran.

Also US journalist are incredibly lazy. Most younger people get their info from the net anyways.

Best of luck to y'all.

Lynn / June 17, 2009 12:41 PM

Loved the essay. Thanks!

Farzin / June 17, 2009 2:07 PM

I started taking notice of the Iran elections when Mousavi was really beginning to be popular with the people. There was a definite desire for change in the air. To my annoyance, I find that the MSM journalists seem to be covering up the extent of the protest over the election result. However, this story is just more evidence that the filtered results that I have seen (that Dinnerjacket was 3rd and Mousavi had 19 million votes) is the most likely truth.

I think it is true to state that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have in fact staged a coup. All of the signs are there for this to have happened, including the jamming of the SMS network, plus of course the fact that they imported Basiji from Lebanon and Syria. This was planned action if the Dinnerjacket did not win. Khamenei's insistence for breaking procedure by declaring the results as "divine" is actually further evidence that the result was rigged.

There are lots of anonymous complaints going around because of Twitter, including the complaint that one person's father had a truckload of ballots that were to be burned.

Because of the mobile polling stations there was ample opportunity at each location to stuff the ballot boxes with extra ballots for Dinnerjacket.

Thanks for this post.

Aussiewoman / June 17, 2009 6:07 PM

The recent plebiscite in Iran was a fraud...the declared winner was a sham.

shetty / June 18, 2009 4:36 AM

a very nice and informative article and makes sense. People in rural areas are more traditional and religious but they are not less innformed than urban dwellers. The article makes SENSE to me. Thanks professor Hooglund. It seems there might be a light at the end of the tunnel and Iran free itself from the domination of armed gangas.

gijovige / June 19, 2009 5:23 PM

Entire 2009 electoral process was managed and conducted by Interior Ministry (back then) reigned by Salehi close friend and buddy of Ahamadinnerjacket.
1- Interior Ministry like the others are part of executive branch under direct command of the president.
2- Salehi is a multi-billionaire who has made his fortune by working close to Dinnerjacket in several governmental position.
3- According to latest claim by Iran Police chief Moghaddam, entire police force had been put on alert 7 days before the election day. How did they know there will be mass protest and riots?

Those who believe that election was not a fraud have all the rights to continue living in illusion world.

Aryajet / June 21, 2010 7:09 PM


The result of the election at the village that Mohesen Rezaei was born and raised was strongly in favor of Ahmadinejad. And the same thing happened for Karoubi. This is funny considering the economical failures of the first term of Ahmadinejad which has/had no end. But I bet u are aware that nobody in villages protested as in big cities and Tehran. Probably because they could be identified way way sooner and more easily. This quietness in villages and small cities may have had something to do with the myth of Ahamdinejad rural support.

Thanks :)

Amin / June 22, 2010 1:27 AM

Proof. Where is the evidence? Don't rant about interviews of villagers who were shocked on June 13. Just present proof for your claims. Nobody has been able to prove that the election has been stolen so far. Poor arguments of trying to show the opposite only denigrate the human rights movement in Iran. It is the so-called Green Movement, led by Mousavi who is not a democrat, which claims election fraud.

It is not important to repeat, time and again, claims which cannot be proved. Fraud or no fraud, it is a dictatorship, in any case. Support Iran's human rights movement!

Fahad / June 22, 2010 2:40 AM

Eric, come to grips with this:


Pirouz / June 22, 2010 4:28 PM

Professor Hooglund,

With all due respect (and much is due to you), if our two articles about the 2009 Iran election were set side by side, and each was read by 100 well-educated, objective readers, I suspect you'd lose 100 times, 99 at the least. A few tough arguments might be made against my analysis, but I don't see any of them here.

I hope you'll do me the honor of trying to prove that prediction wrong. Read my article and then write a follow-up piece that addresses its central arguments. Though I'm hardly objective, I'll do my level best to make a fair new prediction (and certainly you may issue your own) of how those 100 well-educated, objective readers would vote on our articles.

Thank you.
Eric Brill


Eric A. Brill / June 22, 2010 6:19 PM

There is no way to have scientific evidence of an election held in a country controlled by a totalitarian regime. Any evidence, one way or the other, is going to tainted. That's the nature of totalitarian regimes. People are afraid of being imprisoned, tortured, killed, and disappearing.

Insisting on scientific evidence of an election that featured the blue Khamenei versus the yellow Khamenei, the red Khamenei, and the brown Khamenei is pointless. More fundalmental reforms need to be accomplished before any election result in Iran can be taken seriously.

muhammad billy bob / June 22, 2010 7:31 PM

@muhammad billy bob, you got it! Thanks a lot! Let's end discussions about proof or disproof of election fraud. It can never be proved from outside the country. Dictatorships are considered dictatorships because they are not conducting free and fair elections. The focus is on human rights.

Fahad / June 22, 2010 9:17 PM

Muhammad billy bob,

Before you make such a statement, I recommend you read the first three sections of my article. Then come back and let everyone here know whether you still believe your statement is valid.

Thank you.

Eric A. Brill / June 22, 2010 11:27 PM


"Fraud or no fraud, it is a dictatorship, in any case."

I do not understand this. Aren't you simply assuming your conclusion? If Mousavi had won, would you have said it is a dictatorship? Or would you have said he was elected by the people?

Eric A. Brill / June 23, 2010 1:37 AM


I am not an adherent of Mousavi or any of these stooges. I have never been. I have talked, before the 'election', in Iran, with people. They told me, it doesn't matter whom the GC preselects. You have never responded to my specific question: Have you ever been there? Get a visa and have a look!

Fahaf / June 23, 2010 10:26 AM

I guess thugs like Eric will never give up.

The march to war is on. One thing is certain, Iran must abandon its non-nuclear stance, publically or privately, and make what is necessary. And all this nonsense by Eric and the other thugs who are busy constructing a reality worthy for a war, will come to an end.

Iran tried negotiations, but in light of an avalanch of lies and threats and unjustified sanctions, there remains only one option.

Pouya / June 24, 2010 8:41 AM

Dear Eric,

A few questions:

1. Exactly what are your qualifications and background for undertaking the analysis which Pirouz has linked above?

2. I have not read your article in its entirety, nor do I have any intention of going through your article in detail to verify the accuracy of your claims. My question is this - what is your motivation for this analysis? It appears that this work took some time to produce so as with any (seemingly) rigorous academic article where are your acknowledgements and disclosures - i.e who funded this work and are your motivations a search for truth or more political spin funded by IRI cronies?

Agha Irani / June 24, 2010 9:55 AM


Your article is full of anecdotal observations regarding processes. There is no scientific evidence there.

Poll watchers, some poll watchers, expectations, reactions, etc. all are non scientific.

In any regard,I still believe my statement is valid. "Elections" in totalitarian states mean nothing.

If there were "elections" for supreme leader, judical leaders, police commissioners, judical and human rights reforms, do you think these would be fair? The fact that the ruling mullahs would not allow such elections might tell you they don't want to face the embarassment of having to supress the results. Of course, this is not scientific. Just common sense based on thousands of years of observations from other totalitarian regimes.

muhammad billy bob / June 24, 2010 6:24 PM

Dear "Eric" (Brill)

One other point - a Google search of Eric Hooglund returns many hits detailing his academic work and interests in Iran and the middle east.

A Google search of Eric A Brill returns only links to your one and only article about the stolen elections last year - no academic credentials and no track record of research interests in Iran prior to this.

So let me add another question to the ones I asked above: are you Pirouz in disguise - a petit propagandist for the foul corrupt election-rigging regime in Tehran?

Agha Irani / June 25, 2010 6:50 AM

Eric A. Brill

Before writing any more of your "scientific academic" articles about Iran, please take some time and actually visit there. Spend some time there so that you can learn a bit more about the country, the people and the way the government runs things.

Just be careful that in your pursuit for scientific proof of election fraud, you dont also find scientific proof of sodomy and torture at Evin.

Ahvaz / June 25, 2010 8:49 AM


You write, among other non logical things.."there remains only one option". What would that one option be?

Then you again write "the march to war is on." What possible logic do you have for this statement? War between whom?

muhammad billy bob / June 25, 2010 8:08 PM

@Eric A Brill

Agha Irani makes a great point.

Since you are promoting your article on this site(and multiple others, I have noticed) could you, as the author, please give us some background about yourself.
There is absolutely nothing on line that I could find about you. Zero. Google shows nothing else about you, other than this article.

So who are you?

---What is your education background and credentials?

---what is your background in studies of Iranian politics, history or social affairs?

---What is your background in statistics, political science or journalism?

---Have you written other articles, essays or books on political events of Iran or other countries?

---What organization(s) are you affiliated with?

---Did you have fincial support or sponsor(s) in writing this article?

---Have any reputable journals, papers or magazines where publish this article or any other works done by you?

Thank you

Ahvaz / June 26, 2010 2:41 AM

Ahvaz, Agha Irani, and others:

Eric Brill is an attorney. As I understand it, he is an old leftist, the anti-imperialist type who believes that anyone who stands up to the US is worth supporting. He has never been to Iran, he speaks no Farsi whatsoever, and had never written anything that at least I am aware of in the past, before his piece on last year's election.

That is what we get when people blindly follow their ideologies, with no regards for the realities, for the facts on the ground. For Eric Brill to lecture Iranians on what to believe is beyond the pale, beyond arrogance.

Asghar Taragheh / June 27, 2010 10:06 PM

Thanks for the info Asghar

Agha Irani / June 28, 2010 9:04 AM

Thanks A. Taragheh,

That explains it.

Ahvaz / June 28, 2010 6:59 PM


I am an attorney (Harvard Law School, 1974). I am not an "old leftist" as some have said, nor a leftist (or rightist, centrist or any other "ist") of any age, nor "old." Nor do I have any of the other political attributes that have been ascribed to me (though if any of you can think of anything nice to say about me, I'll probably see my way clear to accept that without a fight).

I find the speculation and personal criticism on this website amusing but baseless. And pointless. Arguments speak for themselves (or they don't, if they are weak). One does not weaken an argument simply by attacking the person who makes it, unless the person has done or written something in the past that affects the credibility of what he writes today. You will not find that to be the case about me.

Such personal attacks usually reflect either a failure to have considered the argument (which, certainly, is anyone's right), an inability to criticize the argument, or simple-minded anger at someone with whom the reader disagrees. None of those should concern the presenter of the argument, though, as a human being, the argument-presenter is naturally disappointed with displays of such shortcomings by his fellow human beings.

I welcome criticism from someone who cares to read what I've written and is a serious thinker. I think such a reader will quickly conclude that what I write in my article is not easily dismissed. There may be counter-arguments with some validity โ€“ several of which I've received in the past and have addressed in revisions or additions to my piece that one can now read โ€“ but those counter-arguments require a great deal of thought to develop and present. Nothing I've read on this website even approaches that level or, frankly, suggests to me that the critic has read more than a few sentences of what I've written. How can a writer possibly be upset by a criticism from someone who clearly has not read what he's criticizing?

Obviously I am biased on the topic of the 2009 election, though I did not approach the subject with a bias one way or the other. Nonetheless, I am confident that a serious reader of my piece is likely to come away with the same conclusion I reached. Like him or not, Ahmadinejad was fairly re-elected in 2009. Anyone is free to criticize him on any other ground (as I often do) โ€“ just not on this one.

Eric A. Brill / June 30, 2010 6:08 PM


I should add that anyone who is interested can learn more about me by following the raceforiran.com website, where I often post comments. Though Dr. Sahimi is an excellent writer on the nuclear issue, one from whom I've learned a great deal on that subject, you may find it useful to consider this other source on both the nuclear issue and other Iran-related issues. As on any website of this type, there is some mindless "shouting down" of those with whom the poster disagrees, and there is some regrettable Johnny-One-Note anti-Semitism (the unavoidable result of the Leveretts' permission of unrestricted expression), but you'll find, generally, a fairly wide range of views and an unspoken insistence on reasoned arguments.

Eric A. Brill / June 30, 2010 6:22 PM

Dear Eric A Brill,

Glad you personally responded.

First, it is well-known that IR spends great resources on PR outside Iran. So please understand that pro-IR articles are seen with some degree of suspicion.

Second, The credibility of the author is absolutely relevant. I generally research the author of a political piece, as one always should, for the reason you mentioned: "...unless the person has done or written something in the past that affects the credibility of what he writes today..." I researched, for example Dr. Sahimi, and there is an abundance of background information on him. But there was none that I could find about you! So how can we know if you, the author, are credible?
I do not see how you perceive my questions above as personal attacks on you! They were simple questions, which you by the way did not answer.

Some one else mentioned that you were "leftist" which would have sort of made sense, as leftists like Chavez and Castro openly embrace Ahmadinejad, simply because he is anti-US. It seems it was an incorrect assumption about you. appologies. Thanks for clarification.

But there are other questions that you, as the author of a political piece need to answer to establish credibility. I will respectfuly present my questions again, and I hope you can answer them this time, without becoming angry or getting offended. They are questions, not accusations. And you have every right not to answer them of course.

1. what is your background in studies of Iranian politics, history or social affairs?

2. What is your background in statistics, political science or journalism?

3. Have you written other articles, essays or books on political events of Iran or other countries?

4. What organization(s) are you affiliated with?

5. Did you have financial support or sponsor(s) in writing this article?

6.Have any reputable journals, papers or magazines publish this article or any other works done by you?
and two more:

7. Do you have knowledge of Farsi?

8. have you ever visited Iran?

I hope you dont find these questions offensive. Of course, as mentioned, you have every right to ignore them, but then what would that say about your credibility?

Again. Thank you.

Ahvaz / July 1, 2010 10:06 PM


We come from different intellectual backgrounds. That is clear.

When I approach a writing on a subject in which I am interested, if the writer is someone I know and respect, I am likely to read a good deal of it before determining that I ought to put it down. If the writer is unknown, I am likely to be less patient. But that is about the only difference for me between a known and an unknown writer. If the unknown writer has impressed me by the time my shorter attention span has reached its end, I read on.

What I never do is to compose a numbered list of personal questions to the author, asking him to explain to me his background, credentials, education level, language abilities, previous publications, affiliations and other information I consider necessary to determine whetherI should spend my time reading what he has written.

I just read it, or I don't.

That's what you ought to do, Ahvaz. Either read what I've written, or exercise your unquestioned right not to. If you choose to read my article, and have something interesting to say about it, I'll welcome your comments.

eab / July 2, 2010 8:16 AM


Eric A Brill,

I have read your article. There are creationist scientists who look at giant boulders in grassy hills of Ireland, and conclude that they could have only ended up there by Noahs flood. They present arguments that "no other force, other than a large flood would be big enough to bring such boulders to that area". Because of they are blinded by their bias, they look for evidence that supports their belief and ignore the rest, and come to their ludicrous conclusions.

As you said, you were biased to begin with, and amplified by a lack of understanding of Iranian politics, government, culture, farsi language(I assume), and having never visited or lived in Iran (I assume) your article is worth less than the paper it was printed on.

Ahvaz / July 2, 2010 7:36 PM

the zionist lies about fraud is just too pathetic, the zionist regime does everything to destabilize and dehumanize the Iranian state. There is to this date NO PROOF of fraud whatsoever, just a lie that have been repeated by the zionist controlled US gov and zionist controlled media.

Hefn / January 21, 2011 5:00 PM