June 18, 2009

NO ONE CHOOSES IMPOVERISHMENT:

Inside Iran, a rebellion that is familiar and unpredictable: As I walk through Tehran, scenes bring back childhood memories of the 1979 revolution. But this is a very different kind of uprising. (Babak Rahimi, June 18, 2009, LA Times)

As an academic who studies Iranian politics, the recent developments in Iran have taken me by surprise. I originally left Iran for the U.S. in the mid-1980s, when the political situation in the country was highly unstable. But since 1997, when Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president, was elected, I have been back frequently. This year, I traveled to Tehran in late March to study the presidential elections and how Iranians perceived the electoral politics. I have been in Iran since that time.

During the first couple of weeks after I arrived, I sensed little public interest in the election. But in the weeks before the election, the country underwent a dramatic change of attitude. I watched passionate supporters of Mousavi dance, sing and chant anti-government slogans on the streets of Tehran, despite a ban on most of these activities under Islamic law. From the southern port city of Bushehr to the northern towns of Mazandaran province, an astonishing sense of enthusiasm spread throughout the country. "I have never voted before, but I will vote this time," a resident of Bushehr told me, expressing a sentiment I heard again and again.

One major claim of those in power is that although there is some dissent in the cities, the countryside voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, which accounts for his win. But in my preelection fieldwork in a number of southern provinces, I observed major tensions between provincial officials -- especially the local imams -- and the Ahmadinejad administration in Tehran. I saw far lower levels of support for the president than I had expected. In fact, I heard some of the most ferocious objections to the administration in the rural regions, where the dwindling economy is hitting the local populations hard. As one young Bushehr shopkeeper put it: "That idiot thinks he can buy our votes. He does not care for us."


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2009 6:31 AM
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