Friday, June 10, 2005

From Tehran--Election Update

I'm writing from Tehran where the football match against Bahrain is still a cultural and media phenomenon, tied inextricably with the campaign. The accounts of some of the incidents surrounding the football game are true, but it would be wrong to overlook the overwhelmingly positive feelings that emanated from this event. The women who chanted their way into the game are viewed as heroic by almost everyone. The women removing their headscarves were definitely doing so out of protest, but they were amazed that nothing happened to them, and there are a variety of explanations--as there always are--too many people, too dangerous for the police (so that is why the incidents in the far eastern suburbs rather than in the center of the city). The mixing of young men and women in the post-game festivities was notable, as well as the extensive dancing in the streets where men and women danced together. It was the women dancing in public with no head scarves and without any prohibition from the police or others that astonished the public--even the Westernized folks who are now living a pretty unfettered life in Tehran with all the acoutrements of the US. Cuts from the football game are being rebroadcast continually.

I do wish that members could be here for the campaign. There must be media consultants involved. Some of the campaign material is amazing. It pushes all the cultural buttons. The most wonderful posters are of Qalibaf, who has been given the glam treatment. This 40ish guy looks like a movie star, and he has been given electric blue eyes in most of the representations. He has turned his name into a stylish caligraphic logo. Some real talent went into his campaign.

Ex-Majlis speaker Karroubi uses images of Khomeni with himself in the background as a young cleric. Not to put too fine a point on it, the TV ads all circle his face in the background. He appears benign and avuncular--very interesting since he showed himself to be quite a firebrand in the past. The TV ads are effective, and will surely attract a number of folks who are religiously oriented. What was wonderful about one of them was that long, boring images of Karroubi campaigning were surrounded with a frame of beautiful caligraphic poetry and tasteful music. A very amazing double message.

Hashemi (Rafsanjani) is running on a platform that features rapprochement with the "world"--read US--and increased rights for women. He has a female spokesperson, whose name I have yet to discover--perhaps some of the correspondents here in Tehran know it--who is astonishing. She is one of the greatest political speakers I have ever heard. Some people called her "Rafsanjani's Zeinab" but I think of her as Rafsanjani's Karen Hughes.

Dr. Mo'in--as he bills himself--seems to have fewer resources, but he also has some arresting graphic posters.

Whatever one may think about Iranian governement, this is a real campaign. The biggest push is actually just to get people to vote. A lot of folks in Tehran are refusing--but their reasons appear to be varied--and they sound for all the world like voters in the US--"it won't matter," "X is going to be elected anyway." "They're all the same" "I don't know enough." Of course, there are the protest non-voters as well. It should also be pointed out that although most people I have talked to think Hashemi (Rafsanjani) will win, the election is by no means a foregone conclusion, and there are many sincere folks supporting other candidates, who are optimistic that their candidate will win.

In any case, it is a very interesting time to be in Tehran.