Steve Chapman

Ahmadinejad is not the first autocrat to learn the perils of democracy. Last year, longtime Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe came in second in the first round of balloting, though his goons so terrorized the opposition that he ended up in the curious position of being alone in the runoff.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile submitted himself to a national referendum in 1988, only to be surprised when his people voted to show him the door. Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega underwent the same shock therapy in 1990.

While those tyrants deferred to the election outcomes, Ahmadinejad refuses to be a hostage to the will of the people. But if the regime can pretend to have won the election, it can't pretend there are not throngs of citizens in the streets protesting the apparent fraud.

So it had to abandon the fiction that Iranians enjoy such fundamental rights as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. If they really did, we would not see security forces attacking dissenters with tear gas, truncheons, water cannons and live ammunition. Nor would we hear of up to 2,000 opposition activists being arrested, as estimated by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

We would not find the government forbidding a memorial service for Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman fatally shot at a protest -- or commanding mosques not to hold such ceremonies for anyone killed in demonstrations, as at least 17 people have been. We would not see the "supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decree that "street demonstrations must be stopped" because the government cannot "allow itself to be intimidated by such initiatives."

Shame on the people of Iran for trying to "intimidate" their foes. That, as they should know better than anyone, is the prerogative of the oppressors, not the oppressed.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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