As the 52-year-old Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in Wednesday for his second term as president of Iran, following eight weeks of dissent, protest, and official crackdown in the country, the protests inside the halls of parliament today are a more significant sign of a lingering crisis than the protests outside.
Prominent opposition leaders boycotted today's ceremony, including powerful cleric and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former President Mohammad Khatami, and Ahmadinejad's main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Also absent: Mohsen Rezaei, once commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, who also ran against Ahmadinejad in the contested elections. Tehran news outlets telecast footage showing a number of empty seats in the chamber-reflecting the continued dissent among ranking political and clerical leaders over the disputed elections that expert Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, has called "the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic."
Only 13 of about 50 members of the parliament's reform faction attended the ceremony, according to Parleman News, and they all walked out when Ahmadinejad began to speak.
"We must play a key role in the management of the world," Ahmadinejad said. "We will not remain silent. We will not tolerate disrespect, interference, and insults. I will spare no effort to safeguard the frontiers of Iran."
Protesters did take to the streets today, despite state-run media claims that the ceremony took place in "full security and tranquility." Already on YouTube are several videos showing protests and confrontations with law enforcement in Tehran. One of the videos, showing protesters on a subway shouting "down with the dictator," was followed by a police shutdown of the city's subway system. There also are reports that police arrested opposition activists Wednesday morning, including the daughter of prominent reformist Ezzatollah Sahabi. According to Reuters, at least 5,000 police are on the streets and at least 10 protesters have been arrested. Opposition groups say they are planning more demonstrations beginning later in the day.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has continued to distance itself from reformists and protesters. At yesterday's daily State Department press briefing, deputy spokesman Robert Wood made Iran the last item on his agenda, and rather than focusing on the president's impending inauguration he focused on the detained Iranian American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh. "We are deeply concerned of reports that Iranian American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was recently charged by an Iranian court without the benefit of a lawyer," Wood said, telling reporters that charges against Tajbakhsh, a U.S. citizen who has taught at American and Iranian universities "are without foundation." But Woods justified his release by noting, "He has played absolutely no role in the election and poses no threat to the Iranian Government or its national security"-begging the question: How does the State Department respond to Iranian Americans who do participate in opposition activities?
As Roger Cohen illustrates in a noteworthy article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, the Obama administration remains content to deal with whoever is in power in Iran:
"Who they select as leader in Iran is their prerogative, and there's nothing we can do to control that," Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-born adviser to Dennis Ross, the veteran Mideast negotiator who has been working on Iran for the Obama administration, told me before the election. "We're trying to deal with Iran as an entity, a state, rather than privileging one faction or another. We want to inject a degree of rationality into this relationship, reduce it to two nations with some differences and some common interests-get beyond the incendiary rhetoric."
But given the events of the last two months in Tehran, those statements contrast with President Obama's own inaugural address seven months ago, when he said those who cling to power "through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."