It is with deep sadness and dismay that I have been relentlessly following the events transpiring in Iran these past few days. As an 18-year-old of Iranian heritage, I have a strong interest in the "old country." Although I wasn’t born there, I can’t help but feel respect for my compatriots-in-heritage for the hardships they are enduring.
No one would have thought that the elections that took place on June 12 would shake the foundations of the Iranian government so strongly. Polls indicated a close election, but when the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the victor by a landslide, the people sensed something wasn’t right. President Ahmadinejad won by an unforeseen margin, getting two votes for every one of Mr. Mousavi’s. It didn’t take long for Mousavi’s supporters to show what they thought.
The Iranian presidential election system is not fair and it is certainly not democratic. People must “apply” for candidacy, and several of them are handpicked by the Supreme Leader-appointed Guardian Council. The Supreme Leader, Iran’s highest political and religious authority must approve of the elected president, making it a theocratic and totalitarian regime. During the Guardian Council’s candidate selection period, they make sure that nobody actually able to bring progressive change is in the running. Out of more than 450 applicants this year, a mere four were selected and eligible to run. By then, the “election” is already a façade and is between candidates who all passed the litmus test used on them by the controlling regime.
Supporters know that Mr. Mousavi will not be very different from what they’ve had the past four years, but he has given them an excuse to rise and shout. He has been the catalyst for something much larger, and one can only hope that he realizes the millions of people on the streets are not for him. They are for a new Iran.
A young country
I had the chance to participate in my first election as an American citizen in 2008, and the feeling that came with it can only give me a small dose of the fever that has been spreading through the youth of Iran these past few days. Especially with a regime that limits freedom so much, it is difficult to fathom how much a simple vote matters. Without freedom of speech or freedom of press, a ballot is their only form of expression.
With 60 percent of the population under the age of 28, Iran is a remarkably young country. At least three out of every five people have lived their entire lives under this corrupt regime and they are showing their discontent. They are pouring into the streets in the largest numbers since the Islamic Revolution itself 30 years ago, and for the first time in a while, hope is starting to flicker. People are showing their unity to each other over their fear of the consequences.
Living in the U.S., it can be difficult for us to imagine a place where one cannot protest in the streets or say what they think. Every single person who protests in the streets in Iran is risking imprisonment and even death. Their sheer willingness to act in spite of the dangers is proof that these people are ready for a democracy. They are more willing to fight for the rights they don’t have than we are for the rights we do.
When I see these young people fighting for their rights, it is inspirational to me, as someone who has grown up in the free United States. They want their democracy, carrying signs like “This is not Election, this is Selection” and “Where’s my Vote?”
Hope for the future
Looking at out all the faces, all clumping into one mass of protest, I cannot help but feel the tragedy that has been the Islamic Republic. They are a people ready for democratization, ready for modernization - a generation growing up with Facebook and Twitter, yet forced to live under an oppressive regime.
Tolerance and unity are brimming in the so-called Islamic Republic, and the protests and riots that are occurring are much larger than an accusation of a falsified election. This goes back a long way, back to the very roots of the ancient Persian civilization, where Cyrus the Great founded the first charter for human rights. It is clear that the future of Iran is with its youth and the fervor and intensity with which they believe. There will be a day soon when the true Iran will shine through the layers that have been suffocating it.