Is "Change" Also an Iranian Election Theme?

07/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Babak Rahimi, an assistant professor of Iranian and Islamic Studies at the University of California, has been in Iran since March to cover today's elections, and files a special online exclusive report for NOW on PBS.

As I watch thousands of young Iranians energetically dance to the fast beat of techno music at a major political rally, a popular slogan can be heard from the crowd: If [the elections are]
rigged, we will raise hell in Iran!


This is the new voice of Iranian politics that has taken the country by storm over the last few weeks. Swathed in the color of green that symbolizes the nationalistic theme of rebirth and the Shi'i Islamic ideal of purity, these Iranians, mostly the younger generation born after the 1979 revolution, represent the most ardent supporters of Mir-Hussain Mousavi. A reformist candidate and a major rival to the incumbent hardliner president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mousavi is seeking to bring a new era of reform to Iran.

For the most part, Mousavi's supporters have swarmed the streets of Tehran by the thousands every day and night, turning ordinary life into a party scene with their impromptu campaign songs and masquerade rallies. With a carnival-like attitude, young women call for equality while young men debate, and at times even engage in bloody scuffles with pro-Ahmadinejad supporters. "We want change and we want it now!" Reza, a 25 year-old student, tells me at one of the rallies in central Tehran. He then continues to dance to the loud sound of techno music while screaming anti-Ahmadinejad slogans.

Rarely have Iranian electoral seasons so openly and bluntly witnessed such high fever on the street-level. As an academic and a keen student of Iranian political history, I am reminded of the heydays of the 1979 Iranian revolution, when thousands of men and women stormed into the streets of Tehran and other major cities. They were calling for an end to the Shah's regime, which was seen by many Iranians as the embodiment of tyranny and oppression.

On my arrival to Tehran in March, I hardly felt any public interest in the June election. Unlike the U.S., the Iranian campaign season is less then a month and with such apathy in early spring, it appeared that this election would simply be like the previous one in 2005 with low voter turnout and little enthusiasm for the candidates. But the last few weeks of campaigning have simply produced the most astonishing political ambiance in Iran's post-revolutionary history; a blunt expression for change -- not any change but democratic change -- on the street level...