The Media’s Go-to Iran Expert: Abbas Milani

Just over a month ago, Iranians first poured into the streets of Tehran to protest the results of their presidential election.  Though the U.S. media was initially slow to cover the eruption of unrest, a trickle of coverage gradually became a torrent.  By mid- to -late June, the protests dominated American headlines.

But the American media faced a problem. The story was complex, far off and taking place in a country largely cut off from the steely gaze of American journalism. The story was not something to report so much as to decipher. What did the protesters want? Were they pro-Western? What, exactly, set them off? What role does the US play? Will the protests topple the current regime?

To answer these questions, and more, many media outlets turned to Stanford University’s head of Iranian Studies Abbas Milani. Milani, an Iranian himself, a popular professor in the Political Science Dept. and a Hoover fellow, is head of the Iran Democracy Project (with Mike McFaul). He combines an understanding an understanding of America with a nuanced, insider perspective on Iranian political culture.

Since June 12th, the day of the election, Milani has published a veritable tsunami of articles and interviews on the uprisings in everything from The New Republic to Forbes.  Here are some of the highlights of his coverage cherry picked from a perhaps hundreds of possibilities:

Forbes, 6/15 – Iran: A Coup in 3 Steps – Milani’s first article on the election, heavily critical of the current regime. Main point:

What happened in Iran last Friday was a fully planned but clumsily executed coup, intended to obliterate the last vestiges of democracy in the country.

PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, 6/19 – Transcript of interview – Here Milani discusses the protests just as they begin. Main point:

Today’s demonstration apparently was the largest, it was completely peaceful, and it was organized in spite of the government’s very serious effort to disrupt the mobilizing network that people have been using.

Council on Foreign Relations, 6/29 – Op-Ed – Milani discusses the protests’ aftermath.

Iran’s contested presidential vote on June 12 has raised new questions about the regime’s long-term stability and prospects for U.S.-Iran rapprochement.

New York Times, 7/4 – Quote – Milani lends a quote to the Times regarding the Ayatollah:

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

The New Republic, 7/15 – Commentary – An intellectual history of the protest movement.

The roots of Iran’s current divide to a great extent lie at the turn of the century, when the country’s ayatollahs essentially split into two camps on questions of religion and politics.

The American media, as a general rule, invests little money and manpower into international coverage. American journalists are often well-versed in matters of policy emanating from Washington but rarely in the more opaque rumblings of foreign shores. This deficiency was particularly acute in the case of the Iranian protests. The strife didn’t fit into a standard narrative: the protesters were not overthrowing theocracy in favor of democracy; their leader was not a Western-style democrat; the U.S. could do little to influence the situation.

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