Analysis: Empty seats, silence speaks for protesters

Ahmadinejad waves after being sworn in as Iranian president for a second time.
In his inauguration speech at the Iranian parliament, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had something to say for almost everyone — his supporters, his opponents and those he called "enemies" without naming names.

He hailed what he called an “epic election” but didn’t go into the turmoil of the past two months that ensued. No word on the reformist movement calling the vote rigged or demonstrators who chanted for weeks slogans such as, “Death to Ahmadinejad.” No mention of those who demanded new election and posted messages on the Internet as they did repeatedly today on the social networking site Twitter saying, “This is the voice of Iran, Ahmadinejad is NOT our president.” Instead, Mr. Ahmadinejad stressed that, “The victor is all the people, the revolutionary values, and the Islamic establishment.” Above all, his message carried a religious tone and a special appreciation for Iran’s Islamic revolution. Experts and analysts across the Middle East searched for clues in the speech and body language. They picked up on the fact that the reformists did not show up at the inauguration ceremony. Not just the candidates who lost to Ahmadinejad, but two former presidents of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami.

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Even Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was absent. A pro-reformist blogger showed pictures from Ahmadinejad’s first inauguration four years ago and compared them to today’s ceremony. He points out, that instead of the two empty seats the missing former presidents weren’t present to fill, parliament had other people sit instead. An analyst on Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel observed Ahmadinejad had toned down his adversarial rhetoric towards the West and showed signs of openness. According to Iran expert Najah Mohammed Ali, Ahmadinejad spoke of the “enemies” but did not mention the U.S. or Israel by name. He also pointed to a part in the speech where Ahmadinejad says “Iran is not waiting for anyone to send in congratulations.” He concluded this was proof that “Ahmedinejad accepted the western snub, answered it, but chose not to go his old route and attack.” The expert warned that with the ongoing trials in the country, chances are high that some leading opposition figures might be blamed for the unrest that followed the election and might be arrested as a result. Al Jazeera’s own Iran analyst concluded that the upcoming period will serve as a tough test for both Ahmadinejad and the reformists. Hussein Rawi-Warran said Ahmadinejad has to navigate “severe divisions within his own hard-line ruling party as well as the danger of reformists that were empowered by eight weeks of disobedience.” Now his challenge is to form a government that parliament can approve and “that’s no easy task — the reformists and those within his party who oppose him — make up a majority in parliament that’s against him.” Reformist supporters were busy on social networking sites today just as they were throughout the election crisis. They posted messages ranging from defiance to offering an action plan. One message on Twitter reads, “Lots of empty seats in the Majlis (parliament) today. Well done to those who kept away. Now we need leadership committed to regime change.”

A pro-opposition group on Facebook posted a statement that reads in part, “The recognition of Ahmadinejad as Iran’s ‘ELECTED’ leader is nothing more than an insult to the people of Iran, who have resisted and continue to resist this fraudulent election and the injustices committed against them.” A political cartoon expresses the general mood of those who know that Ahmadinejad is starting a second term and they can’t do anything about it. It shows a disfigured map of Iran saying to a particularly small Ahmadinejad figure, “Now that the country is a caricature, it makes sense that you’re the president.”