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Iranians rejoice over Obama win

by CORRESPONDENT in Tehran

09 Nov 2008 03:091 Comment
REUTCHIC.jpgNews of Barack Hussein Obama's victory was met with elation here. Among the youth, I would say the reaction was as strong as it was on 9/11, when thousands of Iranians poured into Mohseni Square to express their sympathy with the American people. This was the second such reaction, on this grand a scale, to something that had happened in the United States.

No one took to the streets. But emotions seemed to run just as high. Many Iranians -- not just government officials -- followed the campaign religiously. Some here mistakenly believe Obama gets to run the show, unchecked. They think he will be able to call the shots on each of the major issues facing the United States. They think everyone will follow in one voice, perhaps deviating only on a tactic here and there.

Still, Obama is seen in a class by himself.

Faraidoun runs a grocery store in east Tehran and knows just about everyone in the neighborhood. He spends a lot of time chatting and discussing issues with customers, from the astronomical rise in food prices to politics. He has his opinions.

Before the U.S. election, he said Obama will never become president. "They won't let him," he said. "Power is in the hands of whites and Jews in the United States and they won't let a black man in the White House."

Today he says Nov. 4, 2008, was like 2 Khordad 1376 in Iran (May 23, 1997, when Mohammad Khatami was elected president). "It's not what they wanted," he says, "but it happened."

Persian-language media and international websites had a larger audience in Iran in the months leading to the election. Among them, Hamid Reza, who is a member of the Islamic Republic's armed forces. He's quite pleased with the outcome. He and his colleagues followed the election on an English-language website at work. "We kept score minute by minute, state by state," he says. "When Obama hit the 270 mark my colleagues and I screamed with joy."

Why such enthusiasm?

"I think he'll bring about many changes," says Hamid Reza. "But to tell you the truth, my colleagues' support for Obama has a strong emotional component. It's because he's black. Perhaps much of this unprecedented support in Iran for Obama has its roots in race. We are influenced by traditional and religious teachings in our culture. Because of that we feel a deep kinship with 'the innocent.' We deem Obama as an innocent. Most Iranians tend to rally around the oppressed and disadvantaged. Obama has had many disadvantages to overcome."

Nahid is a retired mathematics teacher. To her, Obama's skin color signifies something else. "The fact that a black person couldn't vote in that country just a few decades ago speaks volumes of the American people and is an indication of just how much they've advanced as a nation in that time. Racism is on the wane, democracy is on the rise."

"This was a testament to the American people," she continued. "Yes, he is black. His name and family relations have some connection to Islam. And they voted for him anyway!"

Obama's victory has an economical dimension as well. Its reverberations could be felt in the Great Bazaar of Tabriz (in northwest Iran). Mohammad Ali is a successful merchant trading in silk rugs. He too is excited by Obama's win. "I hope it stimulates the global market," he said. "In the past few weeks, our exports have declined even more than usual."

Though it appears many Iranians were rooting for Obama, John McCain wasn't without his supporters here. Baran is an activist who has been following the campaign closely for the past two years. "If I were American, I too would have voted for Obama," she says. "But I'm Iranian and Obama's foreign policy is most important to me. Obama favors negotiations. But to negotiate on a very high level you have to be well versed in international relations. And that's just the kind of experience he lacks."

She continued: "Senator McCain had the necessary foreign policy experience, but Americans chose someone who could improve their tarnished image in the world."

An Iranian reporter said she believed the conservatives in Iran would have preferred a McCain victory to maintain the status quo, "to keep the two sides at odds with each other, and to use this tension for domestic gain."

But alas, it's Obama who has reached the White House. Even as certain groups were marking the 29th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran with celebrations, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sending a letter of congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama.

An Iranian president congratulating an American President? Perhaps change is really under way.

Copyright © 2008 Tehran Bureau

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1 Comment

I am from Italy but i like Iranian culture and people.I hope that iranian leadership will be enough smart to give Obama a chance to cool down the tensions between US and Iran and restart negotiations from new base

Gianni Mello / November 9, 2008 8:14 AM