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Blinded by the light

Iran is in the grip of election fever, with vast spontaneous gathering on the streets that have not been seen since the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution. When Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s campaign team were ‘obstructed’ from securing a venue for a rally, they called on supporters to form a human chain across the 24-kilometre length of Vali-Asr. 

Vali-Asr is the longest avenue in the Middle East, which runs from affluent north Tehran through to traditional working-class neighbourhoods in the south of the capital. 

In 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini, who had promised ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’, was greeted as a saintly Saviour by millions of Iranians on the same avenue (named after the 12th Imam). Iranians are predominantly Shi’a Muslims who believe in the missing Imam Zaman, who vanished in the 10th century and whose return (accompanied by Moses and Jesus) will bring on an era of absolute justice. There is a traditional partiality for a Saviour, so much so that even our Marxist activists have been known to worship their political leaders like pure Imams, often giving them Shi’a saintly attributes.  

Yet 30 years after the Revolution, public debates and campaigning strategies point to a mature cynicism that was largely absent then. A repetition of the reverence for Ayatollah Khomeini - that even saw vast sections of the population maintain that they could see his face in the moon - today seems inconceivable. 

Modern Iran appears no longer to have patience for such things. Both Ahmadinejad’s reformist opponents have identified as a major chink in his armour his claim that he was surrounded by a divine light as he addressed the UN General Assembly in 2005. Bootleg tapes of Ahmadinejad expressing his mystical belief in his own mission are widely available in Iran and can be viewed on the web. He is clearly seen in the films telling Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli, that he was swathed in a ‘light’ while he addressed an enthralled crowd that watched him throughout ‘unblinkingly’. Yet during a televised election debate last week he damned the tapes as forgeries made to discredit him. His opponents have trumped him by publishing the telephone numbers of Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli in Qom (02517724424, 02517751199) - the Ayatollah has agreed to confirm all the details of their infamous conversation. 

It seems no-one can resist letting this one go. Faezeh Hashemi (ex-Parliamentarian and publisher of the feminist paper Zan) told the delighted crowd at Mousavi’s Tehran rally, that if Ahmadinejad is elected again ‘he’ll really think he is Imam Zaman’.  

Ahmadinejad, who has a PhD in traffic management, is often simply referred to as ‘Doctor’ by his loyal fans. Today one of the most common slogans chanted loudly by the crowds that have brought traffic to standstill in the capital is a taunt against Ahmadinejad’s divine light: ‘Doctor go and see a Doctor’.

For more background on Iran see New Internationalist 398

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