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June 15, 2009


Thanks for this reminder.

In that context, denial-of-service attacks aimed at government servers seem incredibly short-sighted and stupid: They hand to the state the excuse to shut things down.

I think I got stuck in the filter. Little help?

What is unknown is the extent to which the government and the military of Iran need the internet to function. As well as the economy - it would be kind of a drag to have to kill the country in order to keep it for yourself?

Can you picture the mindboggling disruption of shutting off the internet in the US? I really don't think people appreciate just how much everything now depends on the flow of information. (I'm not saying Iran is as dependent on the internet as the US is; I'm saying their dependence is unknown.)

I think I got stuck in the filter. Little help?

You have to send your post to Kansas!

The DOS attacks are a terrible terrible terrible idea. They always are, and in this case where the whole point is for the impetus to come from inside Iran and not from outside, they're entirely counterproductive. But idiots will be idiots.

From what I have been reading some fairly large proportion of the traffic was coming through 2-way satellite internet connections, entirely bypassing the Iranian network itself. Those can use a pretty small dish and are hard to detect unless you are very close to the beam path (presumably there is some transmission leakage nearby but being in a walled backyard ought to make it hard to detect from the street).

That isn't to say it's impossible to crack down on these things, but it is pretty much impossible to have satellite TV available and not open the door to satellite Internet.

Apparently they were trying to jam the satellites but the problem with that is that you also screw up everyone else using that satellite for uplinks. And it obviously was nowhere near completely effective.

Phones are tougher to keep working for obvious reasons. I wish Iridium was cheaper and had better data service, as again it completely bypasses national networks (except those of the US, ahem).

I don't want to be an Internet triumphalist but there is definitely something new and interesting about the ability of many many people to get news out of - and back into, just as importantly - a zone where the government has tried to lock down news availability. It's the "many" part that is really key, not only does it improve the credibility of the news (it's tough to imagine so many individual accounts being the product of a government propaganda exercise) but it also makes it much harder to locate and shut down those reporting.

There is something new also in the way that it bypassed international media coverage and reached a large audience of politically-minded people in the rest of the world on Twitter/Flickr/etc without filtering.

I am on record (ad nauseum) as being concerned about the problems with Twitter but I think this really proved the value of it. And as services like these become more popular and accessible tactics for using them to organize will get more sophisticated. As will tactics for suppressing them, but hopefully not fast enough to keep up.

An important point about almost all technical issues: the question isn't whether it's possible, but how easy it is and at what cost.

Iran, after all, is not isolated from the rest of the world like North Korea is. It has trading partners. It's part of the international financial system. Even parts of the internal Iranian network might depend in some complicated way on servers outside the country. It probably wouldn't be hard to get rid of Internet communication between Iran and the rest of the world if you don't care about the cost, but I'd think the Iranian government would care.

It probably wouldn't be hard to get rid of Internet communication between Iran and the rest of the world if you don't care about the cost, but I'd think the Iranian government would care.

Exactly right, I think. Access to the internet brings with it vast economic, technological, and strategic benefits. Yes, it is possible for an authoritarian regime to cut it off, but doing so entails enormous costs.

Furthermore, once people have experienced the free flow of information, it's very hard to stuff the genie back in the bottle and get them to forget about it - this is why North Korea and Myanmar have been so fanatical about preventing even the beginnings of an information flow across their borders. The Iranian government shutting down internet and SMS access is going to be remembered as just another heavy-handed anti-democratic tactic by those who feel disenfranchised by this election, and while it may work in the short run, in the long term it merely adds another chip in the regime's foundation.

It may take years for it to happen, but any regime that has to cut itself off entirely from the global system in order to maintain power is eventually going to deteriorate due to the limitations it imposes on itself by doing so. I dislike triumphalism of any sort but history has pretty conclusively shown that free access to information on the part of the citizens, of which the Internet is the greatest enabler yet devised by mankind, is pretty much uniformly fatal to dictatorship.

Agree in totality with Matthew and Xeynon. Would add that even shutting down the internet doesn't solve the problem because you can tweet from any mobile device. So unless you shut down the entire telecommunications network, people will find a way to make their voices heard.

Now "shut down the internet" and "shut down the telecoms" are very heavy-handed ways of going about accomplishing this. And if you don't have a detailed plan to deal with this, which the government apparently doesn't, then they're the only option.

If they did have emergency plans, they could shut off all communication except a white-listed site which would have to be compiled and maintained to ensure you still have access to everything you need to function as a government/international banking/etc. But that too is an elaborate project which requires constant upkeep.

Let's say you want to send a letter to San Francisco, but the post office doesn't allow it. Well, if you know that some dude in Kansas would forward your letter on to San Francisco, then you could go ahead and mail your SF-bound letter, but it would appear to the post office like it's going to Kansas.

To be technically correct it's more like this: you want to send a letter from New York to San Francisco, but it's the New York post office that is refusing to handle outgoing mail addressed to San Francisco. The proxy is your friend in Kansas. So you address your letter to the friend in Kansas with an understanding that she will forward it to San Francisco. Since the NY Post Office has no issue with Kansas, your letter gets past their filter and makes it way to it's final desination

Another point is that Twitter, despite having shown itself to be a valuable tool, is just that, a tool. Not even the most important one. The vast majority of Iranians protesting do not have Internet access and, likely as not, have never even heard of Twitter. Obviously organizing them collectively has occurred through traditional routes (presumably).

Cutting off the Internet completely would, of course, eliminate a tool that's proved valuable. But there would be immediate and very substantial costs, both economic and political. If the entire Internet were shut down, it would leave everyone temporarily in a state of confusion and piss them off, but soon afterward it would rightly reveal to them that the Islamic Republic is in dire straits. That blood in the water would just incense them as they turn to more traditional organizing mechanisms.

Zephyrus, if so few Iranians have internet access, how is it that Iran is listed as the third most "blogging" country in the world today?

Short of shutting down the entire telecom infrastructure, there is absolutely no way that they could actually prevent people from accessing the Internet. If you can access the internet, you can get to Twitter or Facebook as long as those services exist.

If you have a computer, a modem and a phone line, all you need is access to an internet account somewhere in the world. It might be slow as dirt and the line noisy as hell, but that's one place where twitter excels. It is very low bandwidth (as is email).

Back in the 80's, people used phone cards to call into long distance BBS'. There was a strong underground traffic in Sprint and MCI calling cards.

Nowadays you can get a phone card just about anywhere in the world. Call outside of the country to an ISP, set up an account and dial into it.

There is also an active underground traffic in "shell" accounts on the internet, typically through IRC, that can also be used to bypass the various filters out there that the governments set up.

If you have a shell account in a country that doesn't filter traffic a simple SSH trick would enable you to get through the filters set up with virtually no effort, your traffic is encrypted and DNS can be handled by the shell, making your traffic very difficult to examine at all.

It would be a game of cat and mouse just like we see in China today with the so-called Great Firewall.

Now if you shut down the entire telecom system, well there is much anyone can do about that. Of course doing that would cripple a nation's economy in a matter of days.

Awktalk: as Xeynon pointed out, the Iranian government reportedly shut down SMS early on in the uprising, effectively gutting mobile access to Twitter.

I have a feeling the Iranian Government needs the internet to communicate amongst itself more than the revolution. Just a hunch.

Right now, governments are looking at the massive protests happening in Iran and asking themselves how they would handle similarly disruptive protests in their own countries. Just last week, the ACLU discovered that “Among the multiple-choice questions included in its Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness training course, the DoD [Department of Defense] asks the following: ‘Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorist activity?’ To answer correctly, the examinee must select ‘protests.’” (ACLU)

In the next few years, military & law-enforcement agencies, along with copyright holders, will try to pass more and more laws under the guise of security, fighting piracy, protecting the kids, etc etc. They will be tailored to track & record your tweets, blog posts, searches, text messages, phone calls, email, and your location.

In China, Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government that led to a 10-year jail sentence for Chinese journalist Shi Tao. (CNN) Nokia and Siemens “last year installed an electronic surveillance system for Iran that human rights advocates and intelligence experts say can help Iran target dissidents.” (Washington Times)

The EU's Data Retention Directive forces ISPs and search engines to retain records to help track people down. The European Commission is now suing Sweden to force them to comply. (Ars Technica)

In the US, “the NSA [has] gained access to massive amounts of e-mail and search and other Internet records of more than a dozen global and regional telecommunications providers.” (Washington Post)
National Security Letters allow the FBI to demand records from web sites, ISPs, and banks with no judicial oversight, no probable cause, and a built-in lifetime gag order. Almost 200,000 NSLs were issued between 2003 and 2006. “About 60 percent of a sample of the FBI’s NSLs did not conform to Justice Department rules, and another 22 percent possibly violated the statute because they made improper requests of businesses or involved unauthorized collections of information.” (Wired)

In California, “StarChase LLC is even working with the Los Angeles Police Department and others to test technology in which squad cars shoot miniature GPS tags onto passing vehicles.” (Associated Press) According to a Wisconsin appeals court, “police are seemingly free to secretly track anyone's public movements with a GPS device.”

Publius is right: “An open Internet depends on policy choices — it's not a independently-living organism that can overcome repressive policies.”

Thanks for posting this, publius -- I basically asked the question in another thread. The DOS attacks I can't countenance -- "Don't break the Internet!" is one of my first rules.

The vast majority of Iranians protesting do not have Internet access and, likely as not, have never even heard of Twitter.

Median age in Iran is 26 - half the population is under 26. I expect the vast majority may not have internet access in their HOMES, but that doesn't mean they don't have access to the internet, at least in the cities, where the protests are. Most of the people on the streets appear to be young enough to be students.

When you add that to the fact that at that age you really think you're immortal, I think the regime is in a world of hurt.

I've enjoyed the thread -- I'd just add this.

Some of these options are so-called "SuperUser" options. That is, only the most savvy of the savvy could figure this stuff out. If a regime can shut down everything except for what a tiny tiny minority can do, then that's basically good enough.

Here, though, you had a LOT of tweets from lots of people. the idea of using proxy servers isn't all that hard to figure out and to spread.

So if Iran shut down the Internet, it would basically cut off the country. Yes, a few people could probably still figure out some ways out, but not enough to matter.

That said, I think people are right that closing it entirely would have enormous costs, more than IRan seems willing to bear.

People could still send SMS text messages with Thuraya phones, a satellite system that is relatively cheap and very common in the region.

I've been trying to figure out how the SMS system gets shut down too (but not much luck on teh google). Anyone know? I mean, I assume Iran has a nationalized carrier who could then just disable it. but i'm sort of curious to look closer at the nuts and bolts of it

I'm not sure that the comment about using satellite technology is correct. My understanding is that satellite Internet systems use a satellite dish to receive data, but data must being sent out via a phone line or other means. No upload from your personal satellite dish to the big satellite in the sky. And it seems the technical problem of getting your dish to exactly hit the satellite in the sky, and with enough power, would also make it near impossible.

Anyone know if I'm wrong on this?

Kenster999: Nope. Satellite internet uses a two-way link between your dish and the satellite. Some providers, especially in the US, will only give you the downlink via satellite and require you to have a phone or cable line for uplink, but that's not the case for all providers.

Satellite link budgets are something of a dark art, even among the engineers who design and build satellites, but it is possible, if you are in a decent G/T area (gain to noise ratio in the path between you and the satellite, which is dependent on your location, the location of the satellite, vegetation in your area, typical humidity/rainfall) you can transmit with as little as 1W.

The real question, however, is whether the satellites that have physical coverage over Iran will allow uplink from Iran. Viasat's Linkstar, for example, does not allow uplink from Iran. Also, I know for sure that all satellites, even 100% civilian telecom satellites, fall under ITAR and are highly regulated by the US State Dep't, but I don't know whether that extends to small home antennas. There is also the question of the cost of the antenna and modem, which run about USD500.

I'd think that the people in Iran talking about how they were using satellite internet services would be a pretty good indication that satellite internet service is available in Iran. I'm just saying.

One thing to remember - I live in India and India is a lot similar to Iran. If there are two factions in this civil war, I would not go exactly by the accounts given by tweets. It SEEMS the Iranian fight is along class lines - between urban middle classes and the rural poor (for whom Ahmadinejad has done a lot). It is likely that the tweets are dominated by one faction and not the other. The other faction may have its opinions too (I am not talking about the state - I am talking about the common people who voted for the ruling faction).
Those opinions would never come out.
I think the people who are twittering are brave, but I am not sure they are the "correct" side. The reason I am saying this is because Americans tend to look at other countries in their own image. Remember that the digital divide is very potent in countries like Iran, Pakistan or India. Most of the time, you do not hear all the sides of a story.

Ramiah, I'm quite sure we're not hearing all sides of the story. I don't doubt that Ahmadinejad has a significant base of support among the Iranian population, perhaps even enough to have actually given him 63% of the vote. He is, however, an intransigent nationalist demagogue with retrograde social views and a nasty habit of spewing toxic rhetoric that contributes to violence and instability in the region, whereas his opponents favor liberalizing society and taking a more open, conciliatory approach in foreign affairs. Therefore, I likewise don't doubt that the one side from whom we're hearing is the "right" one.

If the majority of Iranians DID vote for Ahmadinejad, I'm prepared to acknowledge and respect that preference, as distasteful as it is. But I don't feel bad about hoping that's not the case.

Jacob: I hadn't seen those reports. Thanks.

Ramiah: Good point. Also, most of the messages from Iran we are seeing are in English. I haven't seen many Farsi messages that have been translated into Western languages. I don't know what language politics look like in Iran, but in Pakistan, the ability to speak and write English is very much a class issue as well.

Another thing for all of us in the West to remember is that Mousavi is not an angel. He holds just as noxious opinions about Israel as Ahmadinejad, and is just as pro-nuclear development. We absolutely can't choose to back the protesters solely because we think Mousavi will be "better" than AN.

On the other hand, the ruling faction has brought in hired guns from Lebanon, because their own police and military (the non-basiji) won't shoot protesters. There is also strong evidence that votes were tampered with. So even knowing that we are only hearing part of the story, I think it's fair to say that there are some seriously troublesome human rights abuses and election fraud that need a proper investigation.

I will point out a couple of things - I think most "Westerners" judge leaders in the former colonized countries a bit too quickly and too harshly.
Nationalism is a necessary evil in most colonized countries - peoples and leaders of colonized countries see the threat to their sovereignty ABOVE threats to libreties. This is a result of having lived under colonialism. On the other hand, when Americans are nationalistic, the rest of the world has to cower under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Nationalism in a country like Iran has no comparable consequences.
Secondly. Much has been made of Ahmadinejad's statement about the non-existence of gays in Iran. This has been attributed to his "fundamentalist" view. The truth is, a question about homosexuals in most countries in the East would bring about the same response. India still has laws written by the British that outlaw homosexuality.
We should not forget that homosexuality was considered a criminal act in that ideal of democracy, Britain till the 70s atleast. Alan Turing, the founder of Computer Science, committed suicide because the British justice forced him to take medicine to cure homosexuality. This was in 1954.
The last lynching of a black person happened in the USA in the 1950s too.
Why am I bringing this up? Because the West has ALWAYS judged Eastern countries based on current moral standards in the West, even though the West itself is only a few years ahead. Then this judgement is slowly used to justify a hidden war and serves to delegitimize leaders of colonized countries and to bomb their peoples.
There have been concerns about Iran nuclearizing. The reason given is that it is a theocracy. But India performed a nuclear test in 1998 and was hit with sanctions. Tony Blair called the test "disgusting". Blair's country meanwhile has hundred times the stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
I am sure Ahmadinejad is a radical fundamentalist. But I disagree with the points the West makes to justify that he is, indeed, a crazy man. The gay quotation in Columbia or his nationalism are not enough to convince me that he is evil. I think he is being judeged on the West's standards, which have always been conveniently positioned at any time.
By our standards (by which I mean many people who live in the Third World), we are aghast by a culture that invites a legitimate, elected head of state to visit an educational center and then proceeds to insult him as a cruel dictator. This same culture having re-elected a guy who lied about a war and killed tens of thousands, just 3 years back.
My point is that Iran is a soveriegn country and they are obviously having some issues now. I would not jump into conclusions about either side at this point.

Ramiah Ariya: We should not forget that homosexuality was considered a criminal act in that ideal of democracy, Britain till the 70s atleast. Alan Turing, the founder of Computer Science, committed suicide because the British justice forced him to take medicine to cure homosexuality. This was in 1954.

1967 in England and Wales; 1980 in Scotland; 1982 in Northern Ireland: later still in some of the smaller islands.

I take your point, Ramiah, and I agree with you - just as the spectacle of conservatives trying to claim they wanted to bomb Afghanistan out of their respect for women's rights was distasteful, so is the spectacle of conservatives trying to claim they want to bomb Iran out of their respect for women's rights and LGBT equality.

One, because neither one is any justification for an aggressive attack on another country; two, because the same people who condemn Iran and Afghanistan for their failures in equality, are themselves pretty damned indifferent or hostile to advances in equality and human rights for women - or for LGBT people - at home, where they could have a direct and positive effect if that was something they actually cared about.

LGBT people in Iraq are being murdered for their sexual orientation or their gender identity; yet we see no mass determination to help LGBT people in Iraq. The mistreatment of LGBT Iranians is found useful as a stick to beat Iran with, nothing more.

I want human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. But it's not going to come as a colonialist endeavor, imposed by force from above: you cannot fight for human rights with bombs.

FWIW, Thuraya is not a "satellite internet" service that uses dishes by default; it is a self-contained satellite telephone. (Do kids these days really not remember the phone-in-a-bag that you could use in the Amazon if the weather was clear enough?) Thuraya even uses GPS data to provide times and directions for daily prayers. Though it is run out of the UAE, so it's possible they wouldn't like the precedent of political dissidents using their services. And apparently, it was a Thuraya phone that allowed the targeting of Zarqawi, so there's that to keep in mind.

Ramiah, as an ethnic Croat (albeit an American born and raised one), I am well aware of the power and importance of nationalism in the forging of a modern nation-state, both for good and for ill, and as someone who's lived abroad in a formerly colonized country (albeit not one colonized by a western power - South Korea) I know how residual bitterness from the experience can leave people in such countries highly sensitive about sovereignty issues. That said, I respectfully disagree with you on several points -

1.)I think, if the rest of the world's response to American nationalism is to "cower in fear of nuclear annihilation", the rest of the world is being just a teensy bit paranoid, since AFAIK annihilating the rest of the world with nuclear weapons is not a position that is commonly held by even the most nationalistic Americans. Blustery, bullying, unilateral militarism, maybe. Nuclear annihilation, no.

2.)I think that while the dangers of nationalism in a country such as Iran are wildly overstated, particularly by those with a vested interest in demonizing the country (e.g. the right wing in Israel or the neocons in the U.S.), they are far from insubstantial. Iranians have every right to demand that their sovereignty be respected, and I happen to think that extends to the right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful reasons. But blaming Iran's problems on other countries, making inflammatory statements about wiping Israel off the map, etc. are a whole different kettle of fish. It's wildly irresponsible and provocative to say such things. To put it to a point - as an Indian, how would you feel about a Pakistani leader who publicly entertained fantasies of destroying India? I'd guess rather ill-disposed, and with good reason. International leaders should not publicly advocate such dangerous ideas.

3.)My opinion of Ahmadinejad's views on social issues is based on more than just his remark about homosexuals at Columbia. First, there is good evidence his government routinely carries out brutal punishments against people caught being gay in the country with no gays. Second, his views on womens' rights are backwards. Third, by any reasonable definition he qualifies as a raving anti-Semite. Note that I am in no way making any claim to moral superiority for my own country by criticizing him for these views. Womens' and gay rights are enlightened principles, not specifically American or western ones. Also, I happen to think people like James Dobson, who wield considerable power in American politics, hold views on many of these issues not much better than Ahmadinejad's.

I've been fortunate enough to travel fairly widely in the developing world, I've got many friends from various countries thereof, most of whom still live there, and I in no way hold myself or my own country superior to them - experience tells me that people are people, everywhere, and that if the U.S. or other western countries are more materially advanced at the present moment, it is the result of accidents of history, not because of some inherent moral superiority. I am deeply sympathetic to the perspective of people in these countries, IMO much moreso than the average American - but none of that changes my opinion of Ahmadinejad or his government. "Evil" is a strong word and one that I dislike using to describe any politician who's not Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot, but I do think Ahmadinejad is an irresponsible demagogue who needlessly inflames international tensions with his rhetoric and has created obstacles to lasting peace in the Middle East, and I'd prefer to see him go for those reasons - his domestic performance I'll leave up to the Iranians themselves to judge, but given that many of them seem to disapprove vociferously of it, and that his main appeal seems to be based on his credentials as a nationalist, it would appear that the reviews are at best mixed. I don't want my government to interfere to make his ouster happen, but I do have a preference, and I don't think I'm jumping to conclusions by having formed one, any more than someone outside the U.S. jumped to conclusions by deciding they'd rather see Obama than McCain win the U.S. Presidential election.

I see your point.
I agree that democracy and the values of universal human rights are, truly, universal. The right-wing's efforts to appropriate these rights for themselves, of course, clouds the issue.
I want to clarify some related issues here:

I believe that the tension that defines systems of government, the tension between individual liberty and social good, has an analog in intrenational relations. In the case of international relations, it is clear that there are these three parameters - universal human rights which compels the international community (as in UN) to act in favor of individuals affected by torture or ethnic cleansing; the soveriegnty of nations (irrespective of whether they are dictatorships or representative); and of course, cooperation between nations for global issues such as global worming (or alien attacks).
This balance is difficult to find;and is often exploited by the powerful. It is clear to most of us reading these blogs that the solution lies in working within the recognized international system - the UN.
If we have problems to resolve between individual liberty and social good, we have a constitution to refer to; precedents to follow; and courts to adjudicate.

But, (it seems to me), people do NOT look to work within the analogous system in the case of international relations.
For people in the colonized countries it looks like the West uses individual liberties as a thinly veiled excuse to violate soveriegnty and exploit natural resources. For the West, it looks like the reverse - that soveriegnty is used as an excuse for regressive stances in individual liberties.

The only solution lies in strengthening the UN; and working within it to resolve some of these issues. THAT is the most positive way for America and the West to contribute to international order. Instead we find them the most willing to bypass the UN.

Instead of talking about democracy promotion, it is vital that the United States and other Western powers concentrate their efforts on helping the UN evolve.

For people in the colonized countries it looks like the West uses individual liberties as a thinly veiled excuse to violate soveriegnty and exploit natural resources. For the West, it looks like the reverse - that soveriegnty is used as an excuse for regressive stances in individual liberties.

That is indeed a problem, and one that's not going to be easy to overcome. Obamaesque conciliatory rhetoric is a nice first step, but deeds will have to follow words. I agree that the UN, as a body that gives voting rights to both developed and developing countries, is a good model for international organizations. I'd like to see other, more exclusive organizations stipulate progress on domestic political and economic freedoms more clearly however.

I also think aiding internal economic development is vital - traveling to still-developing-but-up-and-coming places like Vietnam and China, it struck me that the main difference between them and truly destitute countries such as many of those in sub-Saharan Africa, etc. that have not made as much progress is that they are starting to develop functional economic infrastructures of their own rather than continuing to be dependent on outside aid and investment. Education and seed money are two of the most valuable resources the developed world can share, and neither is particularly expensive.

There is, I'm confident, a digital divide, and that's one of the limitations of relying too much on Twitter. I'm even more confident there's a generational divide.

But the North Tehran-rural split as a template for analysis of the election and the response to the regime's handling of it is also too simplistic to rely on.

This is a worthwhile counter-perspective from Laura Secor, who's been working in Iran for the New Yorker:

A pernicious cliche ...[is that]the Western press cannot be trusted because American reporters are too lazy to leave North Tehran and too dazzled by the appearance of a vocal minority of upper-class Iranians who are congenial to our self-image. We believe Iran is overrun with people who think like we do, the argument goes, because these are the people who talk to us. It is true that the movements of American reporters in Iran are controlled and curtailed to the point where Tehran is the main, if not the only, point of access, apart from the hard-line holy city of Qom. I cannot speak for all American journalists who report from Iran, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who is acutely aware of, and frustrated by, the lack of insight into the rural heartland this affords us. The best that we can do is to familiarize ourselves with the full spectrum of urban life, across class and cultural boundaries. Most Iranians, after all, live in cities, of which Tehran is only the most gigantic.

It is from this reporting that I have written, in this magazine and elsewhere, that the urban poor had ceased to be a reliable constituency for Ahmadinejad. They were in 2005. But by 2006, it was hard to find a South Tehrani who was pleased with the outcome of that vote or prepared to vote for him again. Why? Because under Ahmadinejad, the country’s economic crisis deepened in ways that hit urban populations—both the poor and the middle class—harder than anyone.

Ahmadinejad’s 2005 mandate was an economic one. Those who wish to argue that Western reporters, in their narcissism, have simply overlooked the widespread enthusiasm for the incumbent, need to explain the outcome of the 2008 parliamentary elections, which were carried by conservatives who were fiercely critical of Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and worked hard to distance themselves from him. These were elections that did not even include any reformist candidates, let alone lure a large North Tehrani vote.

Culture wars and deep polarities tear at Iranian society, but they are not as binary as they are often painted. Iran has a traditional and a modern lower class, a traditional and a modern middle class, even a traditional and a modern élite. The new generation of activists (students, democrats, feminists, journalists) comes largely from the traditional lower middle class—the same demographic that brought us the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and no less authentic a part of the social fabric. To dismiss these Iranians’ aspirations as the vain fancies of the isolated rich is insulting and misguided. Those élite North Tehranis have not been the ones populating rallies and prison cells. That work has been done by those whose lives are difficult and dangerous enough to feel that change is urgent at any price. And if there is a hard core of Iranian activists who will remain in Tehran’s mean streets in the days or weeks or months ahead, it will most certainly not be one comprised entirely of the well-heeled few.

Class dynamics in Iran are volatile, complex, and absolutely integral to the country’s politics and history. But the simplistic gloss that all but an élite and trivial minority support the fundamentalist outlook, irresponsible populism, and strong-man politics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not begin to do them justice, let alone to illuminate the forces currently clashing in the streets of Iranian cities large and small.

A related point: IMO, calling the response to the regime's handling of the election a revolution is not helpful to clear analysis or respectful solidarity.

I'm using a 2-way satellite internet connection with a UK ISP here in Iraq. I'm not too far from the Iranian border, and would expect the same satellites to have the footprint necessary to serve Iran as well.

Now, I may have the expertise to set up a satellite connection, but the other "customers" on my network don't. They just use the wireless signal just like they were at Starbucks in America. At any time, I could switch my whole network over to using a proxy without my "customers" noticing, except maybe a slight increased delay. In the same way, only a handful of people in Iran would need to be experts in routing for the group as a whole to get somewhat unfiltered access to the internet at large.

I don't know how many Iranian protesters might have a device capable of using a wifi connection, but the unfiltered wifi connection itself wouldn't be too difficult to set up in Iran.

MrsTurbulence et al: thanks for the info on satellite bi-directional technology. Hey look, everyone, I'm slightly less ignorant now!

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