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So our mainstream press and the media is rife with reports, some of them based on speculations rather than facts, about the situation in Iran and how it is handled by the authorities in Tehran. Is this important country in the Middle East going through a political turmoil? Is the rift between the educated urban middle class and the rural working class widening? Are we going to witness a counter-revolution in Iran spearheaded by secular elements of the society that will take on the conservative religious regime? How deep is the impact of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Iran given the fact that it is surrounded by the US-led troops on both its eastern and western flanks? Questions like these and many others linger on the mind of millions of people inside and outside Iran.
I’ve been in contact with a few Iranians for quite a long time but our discussions centered on food and culture rather than news and politics. “There is nothing new to report Mr. Journalist,” Afshan always told me when I tried to initiate a political conversation. “I know you’re a very curious creature so I’ll let you know as soon as there is some development,” said the 23 year old female student studying petrochemicals at the University of Tehran.
Saeed is my other friend in Iran. He also studies at the University of Tehran doing a diploma in bio-engineering. “I study during the day but in the evening I work in a restaurant. It’s hard work. I know I have to work hard in order to continue my studies and support my family,” the 25 year old said when asked about his routine.
To me Iran is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. From its diverse geography to magnificent history and from its rich culture to tempting cuisine, the country captures my attention and makes me learn more and more about one of the oldest civilizations of the world that rivaled the Romans and the Greeks. The fact that my grandmother spoke fluent Persian, as it was the language of Indian aristocracy, only fueled my interest and brought me closer to Iranian affairs.
Recent elections in Iran reignited my curiosity. My friends Afshan and Saeed sensed my new level of interest and gave me exclusive information about their political views and the type of activity they’re engaged in. Afshan passionately rallied for the reformist candidate and was certain about his win. Saeed, though admitting he had no time for politics, voted for current Iranian President Ahmedinejad. The zeal and vigor of my friends was something I have seldom come across in my life. “This is the election that will change the future of Iran,” both of them insisted. I wondered how wrong they could ever be.
The polling in Iran was brisk and the turnout was very high. People turned out in droves to vote for their candidate. Afshan and Saeed also flocked to the polling booths with their friends and family. Peaceful by nature, they both described the voting experience as exhilarating and waited impatiently for the results.
I woke up to a bright sunny day with clear blue skies and gentle breeze blowing. It reminded me of the lovely days I had in Iran years ago. With pleasant memories of that trip on my mind, I switched on the television to get some news regarding the Iranian elections. Pretty confusing news was coming from the Iranian capital. News about protests and discontentment in the streets of Tehran dominated the headlines. Some media outlets talked about a counter-revolution brewing in the country on the same lines of 1979 Islamic revolution instigated by Imam Khomeini and his associates.
I rushed to close my bedroom window as warm sunshine was suddenly replaced by heavy thunderstorms. “Typical English weather,” I said and shrugged off the grim weather prospects only to notice that the political weather of Iran also changed abruptly. The hot spell of political campaigning came to an end when peaceful voting took place across the country. People waited for the election results anxiously, the same way they await the first rain of the summer. There were dark, thick clouds in the sky. No one knew if a political thunderstorm was on its way. Uncertainty made everyone anxious in the streets across the country.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that my friends in Iran were anxious. After a soft formal introduction, my friends began to tell their experiences and views. “I truly respect Mir Hussein Mousavi and find his policies interesting but I do not think they’re enough to steer our country out of severe problems we are facing today,” said Saeed in a very reconciliatory tone in the very beginning of our conversation. Afshan, on the other hand, was all set to explode.
“We need more than respect. We need more than recognition. We need justice. We need equality. We need to be treated as equal citizens of Iran and to be seen as part of the state rather than enemy of state,” charged the young Tehran woman adding that the state is taking measures to push people like her against the wall. “Where is impartiality when the state media gives more coverage to rallies held by the sitting president? Is it fair to block the voice of Mr. Mousavi and ban his newspaper? How can you let a candidate run an election while his campaigners’ movements are monitored and restricted?” Afshan asked in an upset tone.
Saeed began his defense by admitting that some unfair measures were adopted by the state machinery but it is not fair to say that Ahmedinejad benefited from them. “The president is the son of a blacksmith. He is an honest man who has lived a modest life. His popularity does not hinge on media and the Internet. His ground support comes from regions that lack modern communications. He has not prospered on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook. He lives in the hearts of millions of Iranian people,” Saeed said resolutely. He vehemently denied that Mr. Ahmedinejad is the candidate of the establishment.
“He is running against the tide. Many elements in the establishment do not like him, e.g. Mr. Rafsanjani. The West does not like him because he wants to restore our national pride and rejects imperial hegemony. The so-called ‘reformists’ do not like him because he wants to empower the powerless people of Iran.”
New Clear Policies
So what are the thorny issues that divide this nation of around 80 million souls that are frustrating the people on the streets of Tehran and have become the object of fascination for its Western rivals? Supporters of the current Iranian president are upbeat about his sound economic policies on the domestic front and his brave foreign policies on the external front. I asked Saeed to explain them.
“Ahmedinejad has done a great job for our country and has successfully restored the glory of Iran which was somehow overshadowed by our former reformist president Mr. Khatami. He has adopted a brave stance on the nuclear policy and has refused to bow before the bully ‘America’ and its allies. I strongly believe that he is the right person when it comes to foreign policy and national interests of the country,” Saeed’s defense of Mr. Ahmedinejad continued.