Thursday, June 11, 2009

Something Big May be About to "Pop"

By Justin and Andrea McMahan

TEHRAN - At 4am this morning, on the way from Khomeni international airport to the Korzar hotel in downtown Tehran, we drove through the city’s main square. It looked as if a confetti bomb had exploded. The streets were littered with paper, glitter, posters and various other election rally remnants. During each of the past ten nights, scores of thousands of Tehranis have taken to the streets to rally for one of the four Presidential candidates.

Tomorrow, Iranians around the world will go to the polls to vote for a new President. Unlike some countries, like Lebanon and Israel, Iranian nationals living overseas are permitted to vote. Friends with whom we had lunch today describe the election as the country’s most important civic event in years, if not decades. Until a few weeks ago, it looked as if President Ahmadinejad would cruise easily to reelection. Should that happen, and assuming the election is free and fair, it will signal a desire to maintain the status quo.

However, the situation on the ground is fluid. In the past week or so, former Prime Minister Mousavi has gained in the polls as more Iranians increasingly favor a return to a reformist government. Signs of easing social hard line policies are everywhere. On the streets of Tehran, women wear the hijab on the backs of their heads, with most of their hair showing. Short sleeves and painted fingernails are widely visible while the Basijis, the country’s moral police, refrain from cracking down.

Friends here are also in agreement that President Obama’s Cairo speech was well received by the Iranian people. It could be argued that it was his speech that swung the recent Lebanese election in favor of the US-backed March 14 coalition. Whether it will have the same effect on the election here in Iran remains to be seen.

Last night, a friend attended a dinner of foreign correspondents in Tehran. Although the guest of honor, Tehran Mayor Qalibaf , never showed up the event still managed to attract an A-list of foreign journalists including Bill Keller, Managing Editor of the New York Times, op-ed columnist Roger Cohen and Time Magazine’s Joe Klein. All were in agreement that the environment is ripe for something to “pop.” Indeed, some say they have not seen this level of civic fervor since 1979. No one knows what will be the outcome of tomorrow’s election, but what is certain is that millions of people will be elated with the result while millions will be gravely disappointed.

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