Robert Fisk: Iran's old guard are poised to crush any hope of revolution

The West has no right to expect the polls to bring in radical change

All the world wants to know the results of today's presidential election in Iran, not least the Republican Guard supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But will it make a difference, either to the Iranians or to the rest of the world?

Of course the West wants to be told that this dramatic poll will change Iran's desire for nuclear facilities. Whatever it is, this election is not about nuclear power. It may be about presidential arrogance and stupidity and fear, or about responsible government or unemployment or the economy. But the West should abandon hope of any real change in Iran's nuclear strategy. Mirhossein Mousavi may talk more sense to the Americans – if he wins – but the nuclear facilities will keep functioning. It is all a matter of pride in Iran – where pride is a special quality.

And the thick, dark skin of clerical rule that covers Iran will remain, scratched occasionally perhaps, but unable to bleed or to re-imagine history or to reform a nation which so badly needs the change that only Mousavi, among the candidates, dreams of. Government for and by the dead – symbolised in the continued "supreme leader" ethos that old Ayatollah Khomeini constructed before his death, has effectively sealed off Iran from those human rights which obsess the West.

Only one month ago, a 22-year-old woman was dragged shrieking to the gallows as she pleaded with her mother on a mobile phone to save her. Delara Darabi was hanged for a murder supposedly committed – if indeed she was guilty – at the age of 17. In any Western election, this would cause an earthquake, the resignation of governments, the destruction of whole political parties. In Iran, the most serious scandal involving a woman during this election has been an apparently slanderous remark by President Ahmadinejad about the university qualifications of Mousavi's wife. Is there something sick in all this? Or is savage childishness the word we are looking for?

Mousavi is at least backed by the saintly ex-president Mohamed Khatami – the West's rejection of his rule brought us the triumph of the oddball Ahmadinejad, another victory for America at the time – and this might just give Mousavi the 50 per cent plus one seat for a clear win. But the Basiji and the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) scream about velvet and green revolutions à la Ukraine, as if threatening a coup to overthrow a coup. It is interesting to remember that only a month ago, the corps stated that "on the eve of elections, the IRGC, as a matter of policy, does not let its official and contractual personnel nor the special Basiji interfere in election affairs, including support for or against a particular candidate." A month is clearly a long time in Iranian politics.

True, the campaign has given us some spectacular television bust-ups in which Ahmadinejad's loopy views on the world – not to mention his doubts about the Jewish Holocaust – have been held up to ridicule by Mousavi. But does that have them laughing in the millions of villages and hundreds of cities across Iran where the poor last gave their vote to the humble man who is the incumbent President and claimed a "halo" shone around him at the United Nations, causing his listeners not to blink for 25 minutes?

Iranian politics has always produced a weird combination of sacred old men and smart economists – occasionally in highly unsacred coalition – and Mousavi's steady hand as prime minister during the Somme-like Iran-Iraq war may add to his popularity. But this was a war fought largely by the Basiji and the Republican Guards – as Ahmadinejad is well aware – and which Iran lost.

And now to find on the very eve of the election that Ahmadinejad is threatening to jail his opponents because of what he claims are their Hitler-like lies is surely moving towards infantilism of a unique kind. It is certainly odd that Ahmadinejad denies Hitler's greatest crime and then accuses his opponents of being Hitler. If Hitler didn't kill the Jews of Europe, which crimes, one wonders, was Iran's weird President thinking of?

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