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The sport of politics
We need to recognize that simply having a vote every four years in no way constitutes a democratic government; it is the electoral process before, and after the fact, that matters. In this respect, the people of Iran have moved way beyond their governing bodies


June 13, 2005

There are no mentions of debt, social security, affordable housing, or education reform, and although elections in Iran have become a moot point for many Iranians, they have sparked a new phenomenon that is quite noteworthy. Coinciding with Iran qualifying for the 2006 football World Cup in Germany, the majority of the candidates whether identified as reformist or conservative, have pledged to increase social freedoms in the country.

Hashemi Rafsanjani's campaign crew even staged an outdoor concert last week replete with pop music, and men and women dancing. Rafsanjani has also committed to lifting the ban on women participating in the spectatorship of male sporting events. Campaign workers for the staunch conservative candidate, and former head of the state run television and radio network, Ali Ardeshir Larijani, were seen passing out campaign posters, scarves, and flags, to dozens of women who were being refused entry into the stadium to watch the qualifying match against Bahrain.

In the face of the vast voter turn out of 1997 (70% of eligible voters participated), which saw the popular rise of Mohammad Khatami, Iranians have steadily become disillusioned with the non-agenda of the so-called reformist camp. In March of 2003, municipal elections in Iran drew less than twelve percent of eligible voters. In February 2004, parliamentary elections drew less than twenty-eight percent, and June 2005 is shaping up to be no different.

The biggest difference in this presidential election is that there is an active movement to boycott the elections. Student leaders, who were once instrumental in garnering support for Khatami, are now calling for a rejection of Iran's electoral process. Recently, Abdollah Momeni, secretary of Iran's largest student group, the Office to Consolidate Unity, stated: "Voting in this situation would be an approval of the current system ... and with the current international situation, the Islamic Republic more than ever needs people's votes to demonstrate its legitimacy. By boycotting the vote, we want to show that there is a legitimacy problem"

There is no doubt that for more than seventy percent of Iran's population, who happen to be under the age of thirty, the Islamic Republic is an illegitimate government. A government that they did not play a role in shaping or bringing to fruition.Although Iranian citizens, both inside and outside of the country, are calling for a national boycott, others are warning against it, and not surprisingly, those others happen to be the candidates. In fact, in what turned out to be quite an absurd statement, the "official" reformist candidate and former Minister of Higher Education, Mostafa Moin, warned voters earlier this week that a boycott of the elections "could lead to the creation of a totalitarian regime."

One wonders from Moin's warnings what country he has been living in for the past twenty-six years. A totalitarian state is a state or country completely controlled by a single power that exercises massive direct control over virtually all the activities of its citizens. It existed in Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Turkey, and numerous other places. In this respect, Iran is no different, except that for the past twenty-six years the Iranian government's brand of totalitarianism is a theocratic one. Newsflash Mr. Moin, Iran is already a totalitarian state!

When Iran's Guardian Council recently barred more than a thousand potential candidates from running in the presidential elections, we need to acknowledge that this is the most influential legislative and executive body in Iran. The Guardian Council has to approve all bills passed by parliament and make sure they conform to the constitution and Islamic law. In effect, the council also has the power to vet all candidates in elections to parliament and the presidency.

If we choose to acknowledge these facts, for the sake of one's own intellect, the Council of Guardians are acting well within their prescribed roles and are not compromising any aspects of the Iranian peoples constitutional rights. We need to recognize that simply having a vote every four years in no way constitutes a democratic government; it is the electoral process before, and after the fact, that matters. In this respect, the people of Iran have moved way beyond their governing bodies.

On June 8, 2005, the day of Iran's qualifying game with Bahrain, a group of no more than thirty women had gathered outside the gates of Tehran's main football stadium, ironically named Freedom (Azadi) Stadium, protesting against the ban on allowing women access to the stadium. Composed of mainly students and journalists, the women were under no illusions as far as the campaign pledges being made by the candidates. Twenty-three year old journalist, Ladan Karimi, told Reuters journalist Paul Hughes - "They are using us for the elections, but we hope to use the situation too."

If we chose to critically analyze what this ban on women spectators at sporting events is really about, it would not take much to realize that the Islamic Republic of Iran is obsessed with sexuality. The curbing and controlling of sexuality, the prescription and surveillance of gender roles and regulations is a top priority for this regime. Women are portrayed as being the holders of male sexuality, and as potential instruments of corruption.

The fact is that, some of those women campaigning outside the stadium this week did make it inside to watch their national team qualify for the World Cup, and the heavens did not part, the sky did not fall, and thousands were not arrested for fornicating in the stands. However, the fact that women should be standing outside the gates of Azadi Stadium in Tehran campaigning and pleading with guards in order to be let in, is not only alarming, but also disgraceful.

Samira Mohyeddin is an Iranian / Canadian and has a degree in Religion and Middle Eastern Studies from the Uni'ersity of Toronto, and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Women's Studies and Middle Eastern Studies there. See her weblog:

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