Thursday, June 16, 2005

Iranian spring, part 2: "Hash - for the good of Iran" 

Fact: half of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 25. Not only they don't have any memory of life under Shah, they weren't even born when Khomeini took over, and so know nothing but the dreary life under a government that has turned their country into an international pariah, crushed dissent, and ruined the oil-rich economy. Iran under mullahs is the sort of society that many teenagers and leftists imagine America to be - except for real. Seeing their present stifled and their future opportunities being wasted away by old men in robes, young Iranians are growing increasingly alienated. Great Satan is no longer a bogyman, more an inspiration.

Young electorates tend to cynical and disillusioned the world over, but nowhere more so than in Iran - and yet, this is the very electorate that the presidential candidates have to appeal to:
If car bumper stickers are any indication of electoral success, it is no surprise that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is the front runner in tomorrow's Iranian presidential polls.

As part of a marketing campaign designed to shed his hardline image, the 70-year-old cleric and former revolutionary has been encouraging young Tehranis to plaster his name anywhere they can. Stickers saying "Hashemi - for the good of Iran" now adorn cars, bags and even the odd teenage girl's forehead, poking out from beneath the compulsory headscarves that his manifesto pledges to scrap.
That could be, as Regime Change Iran reports, some students are being paid $200 to carry around Rafsanjani's propaganda. Still, if you think that attempts by middle-aged American politicians to woo young voters generally range from sad to ridiculous, consider these efforts by the mullah-approved candidates trying to be hip and happening:
Hardliner Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, for example, once head of the police service, has scrapped his old military uniform in favour of dark glasses, trendy stubble and natty casual suits.

Mr Rafsanjani, who has already served as president from 1989 to 1997, has daringly declared that friendships between unmarried young men and women are a "good thing", and even admitted to "doing things as a young man that I would not confess to" - a comment that has prompted many youthful sniggers.
Meanwhile, Mustapha and his Rafsanjani sticker seem to be more representative of the mood of the youth demographic:
"I have rubbed out the last three letters of his name so that it says "Hash - for the good of Iran," says Mustapha, 21, grinning slyly. "Most people round here wouldn't understand that it's a joke about drugs, but if anybody complains I will just say it was accidental."

Mustapha - not his real name, will not be making his mark in any other way when the polls open tomorrow. Like many other young Iranians, he plans to boycott the vote in protest at the strict vetoing of candidates by the country's conservative guardian council, the 12-strong clerical body that still wields the real power in the land. Those on the shortlist, he says, are all either "retread" hardliners, or people who have promised reform in the past but failed. "Voting this time is not going to make a difference, as Hashemi is going to get in anyway," he says. "All we will do is give the conservatives confidence that people have faith in their election system."
More popular abroad than at home, as Anthony Loyd of "The Times" of London writes,
a Machiavellian figure with little concept of human rights, civil liberties or democracy is the default darling among Western diplomats to win the Iranian presidential election on Friday. They see Hojatoleslam Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70, a former President and the front-runner this time, as the only chance to halt Iran's nuclear programme.
It's been a clever tactic by Rafsanjani, who said a few days ago that he had "always been hostile to the construction of nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction". Whether or not he means it (this is the same man who once proclaimed that "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."), Iranian nukes (or potential nukes) are proving a good bargaining chip in exchange for international legitimacy and the recognition of his victory in elections boycotted by the opposition. The European Union, which doesn't give a stuff about things like real democracy in the Muslim world, but cares marginally about nuclear proliferation, will in particular fall for it.

By the way, MEMRI has a good and comprehensive guide to the elections.


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