Election fever sweeps Iran

Mousavi appeals to young Iranians with superficial talk of reform.

mousavi supporters 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
mousavi supporters 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
As election fever sweeps Iran, freedom and civil liberties are turning into the dominant theme of Mir Hossein Mousavi's presidential campaign. Mesmerized by his promises of "change," youngsters are crowding the streets, holding up posters of the former prime minister and chanting idealistic slogans. In the same fashion as US President Barack Obama and his "Yes, we can" change mantra, Mousavi has brought together a coalition of young people who know exactly what they want: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of office and a reformist at the helm. "We need to get rid of Ahmadinejad. He gives the international community a wrong impression of Iranians," a university student who backs Mousavi insisted in a recent conversation. "The workers and even religious conservatives are more concerned with how they are going to put bread and butter on the table. Since Ahmadinejad became president, he has spent more money purchasing weapons from North Korea than on feeding the people. But that will change when Mousavi is elected." Many young Iranian observers share this sense that former prime minister Mousavi can steer Iran away from Ahmadinejad's suffocating domestic and irrational foreign policies. But behind Mousavi's reformist façade, older Iranians recall, he does not exactly fit the mold of an ideal "progressive" leader and has a lot more in common with his conservative counterparts than his energized young supporters may want to admit. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's support was central to Mousavi's rise to power in the early 1980s. As prime minister from 1981-89, Mousavi was given the authority to direct a Soviet-style economy while at the same time encouraging acts of martyrdom during the Iraq-Iran war. As a veteran member of Khomeini's entourage and a revolutionary visionary, his close association with Khomeini protected him from efforts by then president Ali Khamenei to remove him from office. After Khomeini's death, though, Khamenei gained the upper hand and became the supreme spiritual leader; Mousavi went back to his fields: art and architecture. While older Iranians remember him as a close Khomeini ally, today Mousavi is successfully wooing young voters with his reformist jargon. But his past performance, observers say, suggests that in many areas he would run the country much like his rivals and predecessors. "He use to work in the political prisons and execute the prisoners," alleged a conservative young man at a recent pro-Ahmadinejad rally. "He is an honest man and a good Muslim, but not a puppet who will bend over backwards for the US. "Look, the US media demonizes Ahmadinejad and idealizes Mousavi. But this is incorrect. I don't mind Mousavi, but we need Ahmadinejad more than ever," the man said. In a recent speech at Allameh Tabataii University, the hard-line rival presidential contender Mohsen Rezaei claimed that Mousavi owed his post as prime minister to him. "At that time, I asked the Imam [Khomeini] to make Mir Hossein Mousavi prime minister. And if it were not for my request, he would not have become the prime minister," said Rezaei. Such ties to Rezaei might offer an insight into Mousavi's possible future policies toward Israel should he be elected on June 12. Rezaei, who was commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards for 16 years, and is wanted by Interpol for his involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center offices in Buenos Aires, has pledged to destroy Israeli military capabilities with one strike if elected. Rezaei has reassured his supporters that he "understands missiles and tanks as well as foreign policy" and knows "exactly where Israel's sensitive spots are." "My government can stop them forever with one strike," Rezaei added, in an apparent reference to Israel's Dimona nuclear complex. Although Mousavi's platform largely remains an open question, his record and associations offer little concrete evidence to support a radical reformist shift, observers note, even within the limited scope of the president's responsibilities. While many young Iranians have bought into the talk of reform, many observers here suggest that these voters' support for Mousavi might best be seen as support for what they believe to be the lesser evil.