Bloggers get behind Mir Hussein Mousavi’s Iranian Presidential campaign

One thousand bloggers have announced their support for former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi’s bid for the Iranian presidency. The bloggers published their names and websites on www.mirhussein.com (in Farsi) which proclaims itself as a forum created by “a big group of bloggers supporting Mousavi.” The bloggers backing Mousavi come from a wide variety of viewpoints from reformist to fundamentalist.

Mousavi’s appeal across political boundaries makes him a threat to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 12 June election. The reformists have most hopes in Mousavi. His position as leading challenger firmed in March when endorsed by former liberal president Mohammed Khatami who pulled out to avoid splitting reformist votes. Mousavi’s campaign received another boost yesterday when former Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar also quit to support him. Ahmadinejad’s popularity has slumped as Iran suffers in the global recession with chronic unemployment and double-digit inflation.

Mousavi has labelled Ahmadinejad an extremist and attacked him for mismanagement of the economy. The New York Times reported Mousavi wants a more positive relationship with the US although, like his opponent, he refuses to back down on Iran’s nuclear program. “Weaponisation and nuclear technology are two separate issues, and we should not let them get mixed up,” he said. Mousavi is also in favour of freedom of speech and relaxing media restrictions including changing the law that bans private television stations.

Ahmadinejad’s economic record remains the focus of Mousavi’s campaign. Addressing his supporters in Qarchak near Tehran, he criticised the government for the “expansion of poverty under the excuse of administering justice” and claimed the government was making promises it was unable to keep.

The 68-year-old Mousavi has good economic credentials. He was admired for his management of the economy when Prime Minister during the difficult days of 1980s war with Iran. President Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, now supreme leader, changed the constitution to eliminate the Prime Minister when Mousavi resigned in 1989 and he (Mousavi) has not held a government position since.

Mousavi kept a self imposed silence until he re-emerged as a presidential candidate. His online support is significant as blogs were one of the few places where Iranians could find public dissent of Ahmadinejad’s recent stand-off with western powers. Iranian bloggers have paid a high price for taking a stance against the government and religious hierarchy according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ labelled Iran as the second worst country in the world (behind Burma) for bloggers who must all register their Web sites with the Ministry of Art and Culture. Hussein Derakhshan has been detained since November 2008 because of comments about a key cleric while another blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi committed suicide in prison in March. Mirsayafi was serving 30 months in prison for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Mirsayafi was not a political blogger. Most articles were about traditional Persian music and culture. His lawyer told Reporters Without Borders Misayafi’s death was “a sad reminder of the fact that the Iranian regime is one of the harshest in the world for journalists and bloggers”. In the press conference when he announced his candidacy for the president Mousavi told reporters his opposition to the government’s plan ‎to boost moral security, which includes monitoring the behaviour of Iran’s youth. ‎Mousavi said, “if I am elected president, I will put an end to inspections by the morality ‎police.” ‎It was this promise, more than any other, that has probably earned him the support of the country’s bloggers.

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