Her name was Democracy

"The Thousand and One Nights" adapted for our times


Her name was Democracy
by Ari Siletz

In the light of recent events, Iranian storytellers are tempted to change some aspects of this classic Western fairy tale. Since there are several variations of the story in The Thousand and One Nights, no traditions are broken in adapting the theme for the times.

A hundred noblemen and their ladies froze in admiration when she entered the ballroom. The orchestra stopped playing; a violin bow clattered to the floor. Prince Iran let go his waltz partner in the middle of a twirl, causing a screaming heap of satin, hairdo, and shiny baubles to spiral undignified into the crowd. What dazzling beauty stood at the door? Prince Iran bowed, inviting her to dance. The couple was the talk of the party until midnight--even more so at exactly midnight. But in the end he didn’t marry her, as is the custom with princes and Cinderellas. You see, her name wasn’t Cinderella. Her name was Democracy.

Years after that royal ball, the young man became king of the domain. Having married one of the ugly sisters, divorcing her, and now unhappily married to the second ugly sister.

One day, the king was sitting on the palace balcony with his son, the new prince. The young man had just heard about the woman who walked into the palace one night years ago, almost becoming queen of the land.

“Father,” said the prince-- who by the way did not take after his mother and was therefore quite handsome. “What went wrong between you and Democracy? Everyone was sure she had you at “Hello Sire.”

“Well Son,” said the king. “Our dance didn’t go as well as legend says. As I held her hands I realized they weren’t as soft a they looked.”

“So she had rough hands,” said the prince. “Her stepmother made her scrub floors. As a princess her hands would have been as soft as flower petals.”

“That’s what we thought at first. But we did a background check and found out Democracy actually volunteered to do all that work. Went around complaining, ‘This floor is too dirty,’ ‘That kitchen pot isn’t shiny enough.’ Drove her stepsisters crazy. A few weeks in a palace this size and everyone would be up to their ears in floor-scrubbing unions and coal-bin committees. We could never get her and the servants rested and cleaned up in time for state functions.”

“But wouldn’t the state function even better with all that hard work. Not to question your policies, of course.”

“Son,” said the king eyeing the youth skeptically. “It’s time I gave you a lesson in ruling our country. People don’t expect good government from us; all they really want is to feel proud and righteous. Palaces, war victories, mosques with golden domes, laws that come from God. Glory is what they’re after, not hard labor. Democracy was oh so beautiful, but she would never be welcomed as queen. She just doesn’t have that certain majesty. You can take the girl out of the basement, but you can’t take the basement out of the girl.”

“Wise Father,” the young prince replied, not as discouraged as the king had hoped. “Haven’t you always said there’s majesty in virtue?”

The king chuckled and patted his son on the shoulder. “Better not to ask about Democracy and virtue. She owed everybody favors at the market place, robbing Peter to pay Paul; promising God knows what to each. We couldn’t let the whole kingdom look like a brothel and a casino for the likes of bricklayers and stable boys. Gambling and whoring is the responsibility of the state. It’s the only way the people themselves can stay clean. Believe me, it’s what they want. Did you know one of Democracy’s friends was a…”

“A what?”

“Maybe you’re still too young to hear this.”

“Dad, drop the other shoe. One of her friends was actually a what?”

“A man who wouldn’t sleep with women,” he whispered.

“She hung out with gays? Cool!”

“Shhh, Idiot, you want to get us deposed. There’s no such thing as gays in this kingdom.”

Seeing that his son felt chastised the king softened. “Despite all that,” he said, “There’s a longing in me for Democracy. I like the sound of her name on my lips.” He paused the moment with a finger, walked over to the jeweled box resting on a vanity and opened it in front of his son.

There it was, sparkling inside its velvet cradle.

“Her magic glass slipper,” the king sighed. “I’ve kept it after all these years. Nothing on Earth or in Heaven is as delicate and graceful, as a woman who can dance in glass slippers.”

The prince picked up the slipper, holding it up to the light. Then he raised it over his head and threw it forcefully against the marble floor.

“Have you gone mad!?” the king’s screamed. But he was even more shocked when he saw what happened next:

Shards of floor marble lay scattered around a perfectly unbroken slipper.”

Besmellah,” cried the king, trying to dispel the jinn.

“It’s technology, Dad,” the prince said, amused. “Ever heard of polymers? This acrylic could take an axe blow. She played you like a fool.”

The king turned livid. “What has the kingdom come to?” he shouted. “Sons telling their own fathers there’s no Fairy Godmother!”

“Unforgivable!” said the prince picking up the slipper, and shaking his head admiringly. “Father, I must find this Democracy myself, and punish her, again and again.”

But the king quickly grabbed the slipper from him and locked it back in the box. “I’m not as much of a fool as you think, young man. And you’ll never find her without this slipper.”

“Actually, I was just going to look her up on the Internet; she’s probably on Facebook,” said the prince, turning to go.

The king scoffed patronizingly at the eager youth, “Aren’t you forgetting something? This was a long time ago, in case you have any vulgar ideas. Democracy is an old woman by now.”

The prince smiled to himself and thought, “In that case, I hope she likes younger men.”


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more from Ari Siletz

symbolic but with a humorous

by lost_poem030 on

symbolic but with a humorous twist. good writing :] 

Anahid Hojjati

Dear Ari, what a wonderful piece

by Anahid Hojjati on

Dear Ari, when you read this story in the benefit reading of Association of Iranian-American writers on July 26th, I really liked it.  You are a very creative writer. As a new member of this association, I hope to learn from you and all other wonderful writers in this group including Anita Amir Rezvani, Nazy kaviani, and Persis Karim.   


Illustrating the wisdom that comes from fresh perspectives

by Princess on

What the old king doesn't know is that Democracy doesn't grow old unless she gets married. She is as fresh a Princess today as she has ever been.

Thank you, Ari, for such beautiful adaptation.

Ari Siletz

Thanks Nazy

by Ari Siletz on

It was so moving hearing you read your Sohrab Piece at the event.  Everyone cried.       For the reader: Nazy and I and many other members of the Association Of Iranian-American Writers participated in a benefit reading on July 26th at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco.  We raised $775 for Amnesty International's Human Rights campaign in Iran, listened to the absolutely transcendent musical group Aleph Null, then all went out to share meals at a nearby restaurant. Jaatoon khaalee bood. Here's some photos of the action.

Nazy Kaviani


by Nazy Kaviani on

This is a really wonderful fairy tale! What a fool the King had been to let go of the best thing that could have ever happened to him and to his nation, a strong woman!

It's so true, democracy, for which everyone longs and everyone fights, is a really hard thing to keep and to cherish! Even staying semi-faithful to it could be a challenging and fleeting thing--look at nations which have had it longer than others--even they are prone to momentarily losing it and slipping into a state of ugly-step-sisterhood, where elections are rigged, votes bought, and rights infringed upon and limited. Democracy makes you work and sweat and ache, it makes you bite your lips with impatience, and it could bore you out of your head while you wait for it to call on every neighbor and relative and tribe member to come see about that dirty floor! Much like a strong woman, some might say it's more trouble than it's worth. Then again, some say it's worth their blood and soul. I pity a man who lets go of a strong woman, for he deserves to endure life with all the ugly stepsisters, and all the crazy cousins, too, if he hasn't learned his lesson yet!

Ari, it was just as delightful reading this as it was hearing you read it yourself with such unexpected and delightful drama! I love it!