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Ready... set... go nowhere
Presidential candidates line-up for a race nobody cares about


May 23, 2005

TEHRAN -- “Nokareh Mellat-e Iran” (Servant of the Iranian people) stares back at me with that big, bulky frame and insane looking slogan around his neck. Insane or not, his face is everywhere: from a huge cut out in this morning’s Shargh newspaper, to CNN, the BBC, and Reuters. What other publicity stunt could get his face across every part of the globe like this? Just one more person in the lunatic line up of president wannabes.

There is an eerie quiet and frustration while people wait to see what may be lurking ahead. There are mixed feelings towards Khatami. Most utter his name with bitterness. “Oon ham keh hey qol daad o hich kaari nakard” (This guy just made promises he never kept). Nevertheless, we all know that we won't get the chance to criticize the next guy as much.

When the Guardian Council declared the names of the six notorious candidates, the silence was deafening. Even the taxi drivers were too bitter to mention it. Students just walked around shaking their heads. The news was not shocking -- we all knew it was coming. We even knew of the letter that would follow asking the Guardian Council to reconsider their vote. But none of that really matters now.

Eight years ago a small minority both inside and outside the country ripped out their throats trying to criticize this same selection process. But when Khatami was making election speeches, all that mattered was that finally there was somebody who seemed to be running against the unpopular status quo. Now experience should tell us that one man cannot change anything. With so many centers of power and invisible hands at work, what can one person accomplish?

Besides, Khatami is one of Them. He stood silent and watched the Zahra Kazemis and Dariush Foroohars wither away into a blur of nothingness.

As a 20-year born after a chaotic revolution, and raised during a bloody war, I am just weary of more bloodshed. Democracy will not knock on our door tomorrow. Nor next year. My classmates can't even handle exchanging opposing points of view and are they are incapable of cooperating as a group. Fathers and sons are unable to listen to each other. Our neighborhood grocer sleeps until late afternoon because he knows there isn't another store for miles and we are desperate for supplies.

Khatami rose at a time people were going through a cultural shift. I witnessed newspapers flourish and then wither away. I was there to watch Bahram Beyzai’s “Arash” and Davood Mirbagheri’s “Dandoon Tala”. Never before had Tehran theaters staged art of such caliber. If anything, Khatami gave us hope. And disappointed us greatly later.

I watched Culture Minister Mohajerni entangled in a Monica Lewinsky-like scandal with his sigheh. He did much to compensate, but a good name only stays around once. Of course, there is a long list of people who hide much darker scandals without having even done a single useful deed. Everybody knows they will not be made to answer any time soon.

Before me I have the names and faces of the six people I will see a lot of in the next few weeks. The presidential race has started. But it doesn’t feel like much of a race at all.

For letters section
To Najmeh Fakhraie

Najmeh Fakhraie


Book of the day

Stories From Iran
A Chicago Anthology 1921-1991
edited by Heshmat Moayyad

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