From Dubai, a tiny city on the coastline of the Persian Gulf and only a few kilometers from my country, Iran, I do my best to monitor the upcoming presidential election. I'm not able to travel to Iran. Don't judge me, I didn't kill, steal, or commit treason. I am not a fugitive, I am just a journalist!
For the ruling system, an independent or reformist journalist is tantamount to a terrorist. Journalists are often labeled as "collaborators with the enemy of the state." If a journalist is so unfortunate to face these charges, it can mean imprisonment and the end of their writing career. In this crazy circus, I failed at being a good trapeze artist and could not walk the narrow tightrope of national security concerns -- from the regime's point of view at least. And, I was punished for it, like many others.
I usually avoid any conversations leading to the reason I left my homeland. It hurts just thinking about relatives and friends I haven't seen for 13 years and the countless family occasions I have missed, whether the birth of a new child or the death of a beloved elder.
Years have gone by and there have been two presidents since I left the country but the situation has remained very much the same. Here we are again, facing another election and nursing the hope for great changes despite the challenges stacked up against us.
There was frustration across the board following the disqualification of two major popular candidates, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Isfandiar Rahim Mashaie. There had been some enthusiasm when these two candidates registered, but this quickly dissipated after they were made to drop out of the race.
On June 14, the 11th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be elected whether or not the majority remains silent. Surveys show that many eligible voters are still undecided and may not even bother to vote. With a very short time left before the election and in spite of reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref dropping out to boost Hassan Rouhani's chances, people haven't moved.
Nor has this sense of complacency plaguing Iranian society altered even with statements by Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani endorsing Hassan Rouhani.
What's important to bear in mind about this election is if the conservatives win the race, it will be very hard for the reformists to return to power any time soon.
The person who takes office will easily win a second term, which means conservatives would remain in power for eight long years.
By the elections of 2017, the supreme leader would be much aged, which might make it easier for the militia -- Basij and the Revolutionary Guards - -to stage arbitrary interventions. In post Khamenei Iran or even if the supreme leader is in retirement, it's hard to believe the militia would tolerate reformists and intellectuals.
While people sleep during this historic moment, Iran stands between two worlds; either it will become ultra conservative or it will shift course and adopt a more moderate system.
I am not saying the six remaining candidates represent the desires of all groups and cross-sections of Iranian society but they are the only options at this time.
Iranians will not rise up against the system like people in neighboring Arab countries. Iranians are by nature very patient and history shows they prefer to avoid violent confrontation as much as possible.
The 1979 revolution is a case in point. Mohammad Reza Shah refused to slaughter his fellow Iranians to stop the revolution and instead opted to leave Iran for self-imposed exile, allowing Ayatollah Khomenei to take over the reins of power peacefully. The so-called Green Movement in 2009 led to about 40 deaths then again, the current system doesn't share the concerns of the late Shah.
Those who protested against the last election were killed, imprisoned and tortured. The clerical system's message was clear to those who dared to take to the streets; and so, people promptly went back home.
The prevailing passivity doesn't mean they do not care. It means they do not see an opportunity to express themselves peacefully.
A few days ago, I was having dinner with a well-known Saudi writer in Dubai. Of course we discussed Iran and the election. We also discussed our dreams after retirement. My writer friend said he was planning to live in Cairo, a place that inspired him and was filled with intellectuals. I said casually that I would teach at Columbia University's journalism school and live in NYC in peace. He gave me a deep look and said, "No! This is not you! You will be in Tehran and leading a newspaper as editor in chief."
I felt like a cold bucket of water had suddenly dropped over my head. He confronted me with the reality that I often ignore. That night I came home and looked for my Iranian passport.
I am going to vote on Friday even if my preferred candidate doesn't stand a chance at becoming president. I have patience, like my people. If they can wait, I can also wait no matter how long it takes.