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Sara Dehghan Headshot

Growing Up in Iran and Watching the Election From the U.S.

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I didn't see the Islamic Revolution. I was one month old when the Iran-Iraq war began. 8 years of my life were spent in an absolute fear. The soundtrack of my childhood was the air strike red alarm with that strident sound which was usually followed by the sound of bomb. I still have dreams of those dark days. I see my mother's pale face and my father's shivering hands clearly as if it all happened yesterday. 29 years later, I still see the dark cloud over the city and I still see desperate people running , screaming, and yearning for freedom . And I wonder why.

I grew up under the Islamic Revolution. My teenage years were empty and I don't remember how I grew up to become a woman. Since being a "woman" in the Islamic Republic of Iran is like being burried alive, my father provided me with another alternative: living in a free world!

In 1997, Mohammad Khatami, a so-called reformist ran for presidency with a message of "liberalization" and "reform" and unleashed our passion for democracy. I joined his campaign and did everything in my power to help him win. In August 2, 1997, he captured 80% of the votes. In 1999, I left Iran and came to the United States to study and enjoy freedom, but I was deeply involved with my country's politics. When Khatami was in office, hard-liners opposed to presidential reforms closed down many pro-democracy publications in a media crackdown and arrested several journalists. The massive closures came three days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the hard-line supreme leader whose powers supersede those of the president, said there were some reformist papers undermining Islamic and revolutionary principles, insulting constitutional bodies and creating tension and discord in society. The infamous "serial murder" of the leaders of the opposition, both inside Iran and abroad happened during Khatami's presidency and he chose to take no action because he couldn't.The fact is that Ayatollah Khamenei has the final say over Iran's social, domestic, and foreign affairs and the President has to obey orders from the Supreme Leader and work within the constitution, which I believe is corrupt and needs a major reform.

As a young Iranian who supported Khatami and voted for him in hope of change, I expected Mr. Khatami to resign after he realized he cannot oppose the Supreme Leader, but he chose to stay and hide his true face behind a smile mask. I do not deny the fact that during Mr. Khatami's presidency, there was more social freedom and as a matter of fact more newspapers emerged. This is why there were more closures and murders of intellectuals by the hard-liner.

On the other hand, we observed what's referred to as 18 Tir (Iranian date corresponding to July 8th). 18 Tir marked the students' opposition with the Islamic regime and showed their lack of trust in the government. When Ayatollah Khamenei ordered revolutionary guard to suppress the students' movement, to the astonishment of all of us who had elected Mr. Khatami in hope of democracy, he approved the Supreme Leader's decision by not opposing to it. I understand that he was not able to oppose to the Supreme Leader ,but he could have resigned to show his disapproval of what was happening.

In another retrospect, we experienced having Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president whose firebrand style and statements have downgraded Iran in the eyes of the world (As Mr. Mousavi said in a televised debate during the 2009 presidential election). Therefore, people of Iran who have had extensive hunger for democracy and freedom for years sought hope in Mir Hossein Mousavi. Khatami's endorsement of Mousavi's candidacy caught the attention of those who still have sympathy for the charming former president. 2 Khordad (Iranian date corresponding to August 2, 1997 when Khatami took office) repeated again. Only the name of the movement was different. Instead of "2 Khordad movement" it was a "Green Wave," which refers to Mr.Mousavi's official campaign color, green.

As somebody who was actively involved in "2 Khordad movement" , I was in a very difficult position and I couldn't decide. First of all, I don't believe in boycotting election and I think the reason Ahmadinejad was elected 4 years ago was the so-called intellectuals and liberals who boycotted the election and encouraged people not to participate.On the other hand, I was very disappointed in former President Khatami and I saw no reason to repeat the same mistake and expect either Mr.Mousavi or Mr.Karoubi who both vow Islamic-based reforms to bring freedom and demoracy to Iran.
However, I decided to support the reformists just to say NO to Ahmadinejad's government. I also thought it MIGHT be easier with the U.S to engage with a reformist government in Iran although it's the Supreme Leader who decides on foreign policies.
Whatever their ideology was, on June 12th, 2009 millions of passionate and hopeful Iranians inside Iran and abroad put their votes in the ballot boxes . But in a fraudulent election, which was fabricated from the very beginning, Ahmadinejad declared victory with 24 million votes.

As an Iranian-American journalist, I think foreign media is being a little naive in covering the election's aftermath. First of all, we have to acknowledge that neither Mr. Mousavi nor Mr. Karoubi (the other reformist candidate) were elected by people of Iran. Unlike the United States' electoral system in which voters in each state choose among slates of electors pledged to one candidate or another, in Iran candidates have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, which is selected by the Supreme leader.

Therefore, the candidates who run for presidency are all selected and trusted by the Supreme leader and people don't have a say in this process. On the other hand, unlike American voters who have almost two years to get familiar with each candidate and his platforms, Iranians only have less than a month to think about the already "selected" candidates. Among those candidates who were selected and trusted by the Supreme Leader, the so-called reformists appeal to young people, who want freedom and democracy and have little sympathy for the Islamic Revolution due to the fact that the majority of them were born after the revolution.

We also have to acknowledge the existence of traditional and religious people who uphold the banner of Ayatollah Khomeini's heirs. "Reform" doesn't appeal to these people and these are the ones who vote for Ahmadinejad. Even the reformist candidates had anticipated about 13 million votes for Mr.Ahmadinejad and we simply cannot ignore millions of people who support Iran's hardline president. The root of many social and political problems in today's Iran is the paradox of tradition and modernism . There's also a population of Iranians in exile with a broad spectrum of perspectives. Some of them boycott the election, some support the return of monarchy, while some others call for a referendum. Therefore, when we say people of Iran, we have to be careful that we are referring to a highly diverse society inside Iran and abroad.

Now that there's a high level of fraud in Iran's election, the international community and people who are living in a free world must take action and be on Iranian people's side and don't let their voices to be silenced.

On Sunday June 14th, Mr. Ahmadinejad held a press conference and he said he is the president for all Iranians and when asked about those who are protesting the election and those who got arrested, he dismissed the unrest as "passion after a soccer match" and called the level of violence "insignificant".This is a huge slap in the face to all the Iranian people and I believe that the only way we could support them is by asking the international community to condemn this sham election instead of legitimizing Ahmadinejad's government.

As an Iranian woman who lives in the Unites States, it really hurts to see people's votes being stolen, their voices being silenced or to see them being beaten up . Many young Iranian women bravely and actively participated in the election in hope for freedom just like I did in 1997. I have the opprotunity to live in a free country and it's my duty to stay on their side and show my support. It's the responsibility of all of us , Iranians and non-Iranians. I voted for President Obama in hope for change and I expect him to genuinely support people of Iran and think beyond "nuclear weapons" and "terrorism". By supporting, I don't mean interference because change has to come from within the soceity. Even in my opinion , Iranians living abroad cannot decide for people who are living in Iran. By supporting, I mean NOT engaging with this illegitimate government.

Iranian people have experienced the harms of a revolution and I don't support another revolution. I think change has to come gradually.

Now, the momentum is right to call for change, but some questions remain unanswered:
Are all the Iranian people on the same page?
Are the world leaders really concerned about human rights in Iran or they just think about "Terrorism," "Nuclear Weapon," and "Threat" for the sake of their own safety?

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