Tuesday, June 21, 2005

This was my plan: vote for moeen in the first round, switch to rafsanjani in the run-offs. I'd thought a lot about it and had many reasons for my decision, but its all moot now, isn't it?

i never thought moeen would be a hands-down winner, but fifth place? And the ultra-conservative Ahmadinejhad as the very close second runner up to Rafsanjani?

The losers--particularly Karroubi-- were quick with their claims of fraud and voter intimidation. And though i don't doubt either of these accusations, i can't quite believe that they account for Ahmadinejhad's strong showing on friday.

Maybe the sense of outrage and shock, my own included, should not simply be directed at the basiji's harassing voters and rigging the elections or at Bush's clumsy interferences. Maybe instead we should ask: how well do we really know ourselves anyway?

In the two weeks of campaigning preceding the elections the iranian blogosphere sparked with heated debates and queries:

should we vote pragmatist or reformist?
was the reform movement dead or rejuvenated?
would rafsanjani respect our personal freedoms more or qalibaf?
why was larijani's campaign so lackluster?
could Moeen deliver on any of his radical rhetoric?
should we even vote?

Amid these and the many other issues that filled our papers and blogs, what do you suppose dominated discussions about Ahmadinejhad and his campaign?

I'll tell you: people couldn't stop talking about how ugly he looks. Practically everyone seems to have taken a shot at his appearance if they could get away with it, including the satirist Ebrahim Nabavi, who can't seem to make enough quips about Ahmadinejhad face and has ridiculed him as a "symbol of Aryan beauty".

But maybe all of us who either ridiculed or dismissed ahmadinejhad should have taken a closer look at who he is and what he represents to his supporters. Maybe Raed is right when he pointed out during a discussion we were having about the outcome of the elections that people voted for ahmadinejhad because he is ugly.

Maybe Ahmadinejhad, with his raggedy appearance and willingness to sweep the streets alongside Tehran's garbage men, appeals to a constituency of people who don't see themselves reflected in any of the other candidates:

Not in the multi-millionaire Hashemi "the Shark" Rafsanjani
Not in the physician Moeen
Not in the handsome pilot Qalibaf
Not in the Philosophy PhD Larijani
Not in even in the reformist cleric Karroubi, who essentially tried to bribe people with campaign promises of a $62 per month stipend

It seems that hardly anyone--including many in the IR elite who were borne out of the revolution's rhetoric of the dowlat-e mostazafeen (The Government of the dispossessed)--remembered to address the needs, or to even acknowledge the existence, of that class of people who are both poor and religious and who still have faith in what the revolution promised them.

It is no wonder that Ahmadinejhad--who himself seems a relic from 1980--appeals to such groups.

Try asking one of the thousands of people living in the shanty-towns of Tehran whether freedom of speech for bloggers (which, say, moeen could maybe deliver)or a paved streets in city slums (which Ahmadinejhad will for sure deliver) is more important to her? As the well known photojournalist Nader Davoodi insinuates, if we had "botheredto go to south Tehran, then [we] would know Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad".

Now with the nightmarish prospect of an Ahmadinejhad presidency so close at hand, I hope we spend less time on the mean-spirited and all-too-easy attacks on his looks, and focus instead on what we can do to make sure that he doesn't come to power now or ever.

In the short term, the strategy is clear, though painful: hold your nose and vote for rafsanjani. A long term plan, of course, is not so simple, but as long as the most extremist elements in our society are the only ones who address and acknowlege the needs of the most disenfranchised Iranians, then the threat of a Ahmadinejhad will always loom.