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Two years after Iran's marred election, hard-liners anything but triumphant

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the 2009 winner by a landslide, and his aides have been dismissed by conservative rivals and clerics as a "deviant current" in Iran's theocracy.

By Staff writer / June 12, 2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a news conference in Tehran last week.

Caren Firouz/Reuters

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Hatay, Turkey

Two years ago today, Iranians cast ballots in a presidential election that would yield violence and change in the Islamic Republic like no vote before it.

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In an election marred with allegations of blatant fraud, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a landslide reelection victory that was hailed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “divine assessment.”

Yet today the testy president and his aides have challenged the power of Mr. Khamenei. Conservative rivals now dismiss them as a “deviant current” obsessed with the imminent return of the Shiite messiah.

Close aides have been arrested for sorcery and witchcraft, and there is talk that Mr. Ahmadinejad will not survive the rest of his four-year term. The leader’s deputy representative to the Revolutionary Guard even declared this week that “the current of deviation … is the gravest danger in the history of Shiite Islam.”

So while the regime was successful in brutally putting down the largest popular protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution, it appears anything but triumphant today.

Iran’s unique system of government – a blend of preeminent theological and declared democratic values that are often in tension with each other ­– once sought to offer a model to the world.

Instead, even as hard-line leaders proclaim the Islamic Republic to be at the peak of its powers, the events of the past two years have exposed political dysfunction.

Iran “simply has not developed the institutions and rules that are needed to prevent very unsettling change,” says Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “So rather than moving toward stabilization … what we see is a system that is constantly faced with deepening political turmoil.”

Reformists' hopes are fading

Two years ago, reformists' dream of change appeared for a moment real, in a ballot cast for Mir Hossein Mousavi, who they hoped might finally loosen the strictures of Iran’s self-proclaimed “government of God.”

But the immediate declaration that the archconservative Ahmadinejad had won by a large margin prompted cries of fraud, and weeks of unrest by millions of protesters asking “Where is my vote?”

Regime enforcers took to the streets in a crackdown that left scores if not hundreds dead, and countless portraits of Iran’s supreme religious leader Khamenei were burned and trampled upon.

The pro-democracy Green Movement was bludgeoned off the streets – an act that continued today, according to opposition websites, which reported that security forces “attacked the crowd with electric batons” during a modest gathering of people at a downtown square.

Today this chant was heard: “Khamenei should know, he’s soon to go.”

The vicious infighting between conservative factions has brought little hope to Green Movement sympathizers, however. In the latest blow, they woke to the second anniversary today to news that imprisoned journalist and opposition activist Hoda Saber had died in prison from a heart attack after a 10-day hunger strike.

"Today I sat at this computer and wept for an hour ... because I couldn't understand the point of another death; a hunger strike, any action, for such a sick and stupid nation," said one Green Movement supporter contacted in Tehran.

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