There have been several positive indicators in the Middle East and surrounding regions since Obama’s Cairo speech – from the survival of the pro-Western government in Lebanon to the growing opposition of ordinary Pakistanis to the Taliban. It seems in both places – as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan – that the best strategy taken so far has been George W. Bush’s unintentional one of letting Al Qaeda win – and then stepping in to clean up after the fact once people have become disillusioned. But so far, the issue that has gotten the most attention has been Iran’s election.
Still, I’m not quite sure what to make of Iran’s election tomorrow. International newspapers seem to be hyping Mir Hossein Mousavi as Iran’s answer to Barack Obama. He is – it seems – an individual who has come to personify “change” and engagement with the world at large standing against a radical, polarizing, religious right-winger. At the same time Mousavi has close relations with the establishment of Iran – which allowed him to run. But he, like Obama, is not comfortable being a populist. His main opponent, Ahmadinejad, is. As Cameron Abadi described Mousavi’s defects in the Foreign Policy:
He talks only in generalities about his plans, his emphasis on competence and “scientific management.” He’s made promises to loosen restriction on personal freedom, but his ire is more drawn by Ahmadinejad’s “dictatorial” flouting of the checks and balances of the Islamic Republic’s constitution. Mousavi promises change, but no one would mistake him for Barack Obama. He might not even qualify as a Michael Dukakis.
But somehow this establishment technocrat continues to routinely elicit rock-star receptions across the country. In the run-up to the election, much of grayish Tehran has been draped in green, the official color of the Mousavi campaign. The police and khaki-clad national guards have been forced to watch every day as Tehran’s youth — Iran’s baby boom generation of the 1980s — assemble in giddy pandemonium, distributing green bracelets and banners of protest against Ahmadinejad’s presidency, proselytizing to undecided pedestrians and whenever in doubt shouting taunting cries of “Ahmadi, bye-bye!” At night, the chorus of chants and laughter and hastily written campaign songs mingle with the din of car horns…
“We’ve never seen this before,” she said with a tremble. “This is our revolution.” [my emphasis]
Other reports have focused on Ahmadinejad’s large and boisterous crowds – and the excitment propelling him. Some have likened Ahmadinejad’s place in Iranian politics to Sarah Palin’s.
One recurrent theme in the reports on the Iranian election is that economic rather than foreign policy issues will determine the result. The downturn in Iran’s economic fortunes has brought to the forefront festering social issues such as the “marriage crisis” in which many Iranian men are being “priced out” of the marriage market and the ambiguous role of women in Iranian society (as they are more educated – 60% of university students are women – yet much more likely to be umemployed – as only 15% of the workforce is female.)
It’s not clear which way this election will go – and even if Mousavi wins in a landslide, it will not change the power structure in Iran significantly – as the power is concentrated in Khamenei’s hands.
But a hopeful sign is not something to be dismissed – and the desire for change moderately expressed can bring about a better world than most revolutions.
[Image by Shahram Sharif licensed under Creative Commons.]