Updated 7.14.09, 7.25.09
ANN ARBOR, MI -- Years ago in Ann Arbor, an Iranian expat repaired part of my piano. Ahmad lived and worked in the basement of an apartment building on the leafy University of Michigan campus. His "space" was lined with musty old books and funky metal filing cabinets. An oscillating fan, a hot plate, and a dead computer were the only signs of life in the room.
Once upon a time this big bear of a man and his wife were prominent figures in Iran. She was the glamorous director of glittering cultural events. He was supportive and professorial -- the kind of man who spoke with a twinkle in his eye. Together they enjoyed the good life. But life turned on a dime when the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979. Suddenly everyone associated with the monarch found themselves in grave danger, especially the men. Ahmad dove into the Persian Gulf and swam to freedom.
By the time I met him in the early 90s, Ahmad had been living in Ann Arbor for over a decade. His children were attending school in New York City, and his wife had moved to Manhattan to be near them. Ahmad's melancholy living situation didn't depress his desire to teach, which he still does in Michigan.
While visiting Ann Arbor this week to check out the city's summer music festival and the newly expanded University of Michigan Museum of Art, I visited Ahmad. I was eager to hear what he had to say about events unfolding in Iran. I figured he would say he was pro-Mousavi, and very eager to see Iran revert back to the modern country it once was.
I was wrong on both counts.
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Are you following events in Iran?
Ahmad: A little. My computer doesn't work, but friends are calling me on the telephone with information.
Are you pleased that so many Iranians are protesting the Ahmadinejad victory?
Ahmad: Ahmadinejad won. Even if they do a recount, you will see that Ahmadinejad won.
Seriously? You think he won fair and square?
Ahmad: In Iran, many people believe Ahmadinejad is backed by Russia and China, and they believe Mousavi is backed by the United States. That is why it is not difficult to believe that Ahmadinejad is the choice of many voters. Maybe he did not win in the relatively cosmopolitan city of Tehran, but I think he probably did get more votes in the rest of the country.
But when the Shah was in power, Iranian girls wore shorter mini-skirts than American girls. It's hard to imagine any of these women, who are now in their 40s and 50s, voting for Ahmadinejad.
Ahmad: Well, today more women have college degrees because of Ahmadinejad's initiatives.
But when they graduate, can women find jobs?
Ahmad: These things take time.
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Of course not everyone agrees with Ahmad's gut feeling about the election results. Many Iranian women who supported Mousavi worry that the election may have been stolen from them. I wrote about it here.
HuffPost's Nico Pitney is liveblogging the events unfolding in Iran. You can read his updates here.
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5:00 PM Update
At first Ahmad's comments really annoyed me. I expected him to say that Ahmadinejad is a fanatic who wouldn't think twice about rigging an election. How could anyone vote for Ahmadinejad? But today the Russian news agency Rosbalt indirectly offered some insight when they published Eugene Pozhidaev's thoughtful analysis of the situation in Iran: The Middle Class Against The Ayatollah. Here are excerpts:
(The Russian-to-English translation is partly mine, so if you notice a crucial error, please let me know in the Comments thread.)
The election results coincide with Iran's geography. The riots are almost entirely concentrated in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, while the ever-rebellious Azerbaijan Tabriz is fairly quiet.
So who is for and who is opposed to the current Iran? Remember that with the coming of Khomeini, a large part of the modernized elite and middle class left the country. Meanwhile, under the Islamic regime, life expectancy in Iran rose from 50 to 70 years, the proportion of the population with access to safe water increased from 51% to 92%, and infant mortality fell from 169 to 35 per thousand. These successes were achieved against a background of extremely rapid population growth.
Iran spends 5% of its gross national produce on education -- more than Japan, Russia, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, and many other advanced countries. Equally impressive has been Iran's technological development. In other words, the Islamic revolution has not been a total failure, so the confrontation between the Iranian middle class and the traditionalists was inevitable.
What is my forecast? The revolution will not be -- yet. The protesters number in the thousands, not the millions. The new Iranian middle class is not sufficiently strong. However, with demonstrations like this, it is only a matter of time. Of course there is one important condition: that Iran not revert back to the Stone Age.
Iranians around the world are creating and signing a Green Scroll proclaiming Ahmadinejad is not Iran's president that they plan to unfurl from either the Eiffel Tower or Toronto's CN Tower on or before Ahmadinejad's inauguration. Read more. The post includes a slideshow.
The Green Scroll was unfurled in Paris today. At two kilometers in length, it is the longest petition on record. Read more, with video screen grabs from live coverage of the ceremony, posted on Ustream.