Iranian Youth Protest Electoral ‘Coup d’Etat’ Outside United Nations

About 150 mostly young Iranians rallied across from the United Nations Sunday afternoon to demand that the results from their country’s presidential elections be annulled. Alternately chanting and signing in Farsi and English, they insisted that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to a second four-year term in office was fraudulent.

“If the election was not stolen, where are all the people celebrating? Why are people protesting in the streets?” Asked Shirin Irani (not her real name), an NYU student whose face was partially painted in Iran’s national colors of green, white and red.

“They want to hold power in their hands. It’s a coup d’etat, nothing less,” said Payman, a student at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We wanted to show the the name of coup d’etat to people around the world,” said Sadra Shahab, a graduate student at Pratt University who launched the call for Sunday’s protest from his Facebook page late Saturday night..

Sunday’s protest followed a stunning week of events. Reformist opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi enter Friday’s voting with an apparent surge of popular support, especially from young people (the median age in Iran is 26) and women.  However, the Iranian government announced Saturday that Ahmadinejad had won an improbable 28-point victory. An outpouring of protest followed and the Iranian government quickly shut down key online organizing websites like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and deployed large numbers of soldiers and police in the streets.

“Its sad here, I feel even worse for the people there,” said Ellie, 27, who works at a Manhattan hedge fund and who has family that lives in the U.S. and Iran. “… No one wants to be a prisoner of their own country.”

Many of the protesters voted absentee Friday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on 42nd St. On Sunday, many of them came out in green, the color of the Mousavi campaign.

At the beginning of the rally, several dozen of the demonstrators sat down in the middle of Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza holding hands and chanting in Farsi  “No to Mahmoud the coupmaker!” and “Mousavi. Mousavi. Take our flag back!” before signing a song that one audience member described as Iran’s unofficial national anthem. Later chants in English of “He’s a liar. He’s a cheater. He’s not my president!” sounded a painful echo of the protests eight years ago against the stolen election in Florida that brought the Bush administration to power.

“Everybody was waiting for this election and for the chance to vote for a reformist,” Payman said. “And this is what happened.”

Irani said the desire for change in Iran intensified with the election of a new U.S. president who offered the prospect of dialogue.

“We were so encouraged by Obama. He speaks with such a different voice,” she said, noting the positive impression Obama made when he sent Iranians a New Year’s greetings on the spring equinox, the traditional beginning of the Persian New Year.

Irini said Americans should become more aware of the ‘bitter’ history of U.S.-Iranian relations that includes CIA support for a 1953 coup that replaced Iran’s democratically-elected government with a pro-U.S. dictator and the U.S. role in backing Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the early 1980s.When asked if she trusted U.S. intentions during the current crisis, she said, “I think Obama has good intentions.”

As for the fate of the protests back in Iran, she was less hopeful.

“The government has the guns,” she said. “They can shoot people. They can throw people in the back of a pickup truck and take them to prison and maybe you never see them again.”


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