Four years ago and eight months before the 2016 presidential election, I wrote “Trump, the American Ahmadinejad?,” as a warning that not only was Donald Trump likely to win the GOP primary, but that the US was on the verge of producing its own version of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency, a homegrown, made-in-the-USA calamity whose corruption and incompetence would, unlike the Iranian version, have meaningful consequences for the entire world. This is the third, and I hope, last entry in the series.

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It has become impossible to watch events unfolding in the final days of the US presidential campaign without thinking about another presidential race, the failed 2009 elections in Iran and the summer protests that became the Green Movement. The similarities, though imperfect, begin to add up: An unpopular president in an election year, a rude populist who lies about obvious truths leading what began as a movement of national renewal but that now more closely resembles a cult. The performative use of religion and masculinity by the leader to hold his dwindling constituencies together, the beguiled remnants of a losing coalition in its final days. …


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Mir Hossein Mousavi

Long before the outbursts of Donald Trump on the debate stage in Ohio Tuesday night, the televised faceoff between Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former prime minister, Mir Hossein Mousavi on June 3, 2009, captured the fascination and horror of an entire country.

Staged on the twentieth anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death and just days before the election, the only direct encounter between Ahmadinejad and his main rival was a showcase of un-presidential behavior, the source of a million chants and jeers. The sitting president wasted no time in engaging in crass commentary and relentless lies, at one point bizarrely attacking the academic credentials of Mousavi’s wife. …


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Protesters carrying away a comrade shot during protests in Shiraz, Iran. November 17, 2019

The last time around, when it once again seemed like the Islamic Republic of Iran was tumbling down and the usual suspects were telling us it was the end of the regime, was in 2017. Anti-government demonstrations had broken out without warning in Mashad during the early days of winter and quickly grew to include dozens of communities throughout Iran, sending forth countless headlines and dispatches filled with speculation about the imminent demise of the IRI.

At the height of what was then the worst political violence in Iran since the calamitous 2009 presidential elections, the journalist Ali Reza Eshraghi offered a second opinion on the crisis, diagnosing the widespread and fast-moving protests gripping the country as the expression of hope, not abandonment, uncertain remedy for a body politic plagued by corruption and the pathology of arbitrary rule. “For a country that behaves in ways that defy prediction,” wrote Eshraghi,a veteran of the student movement of the 1990s, “mass protest is like a medical treatment that is both poison and cure. It could expand the scope of participatory politicking or shrink it into more exclusionary and authoritarian forms of government.” …


We would do better if we measured the president’s racism by his policies and behavior, not by his heart and intent

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Carolytn Kaster / AP

Mario Díaz-Balart spoke with the certainty of the easily converted. The duly elected representative of Florida’s 25th congressional district demurred…that an American president had led his supporters in call and response demanding that four of his House colleagues, citizens and women of color, to “go back to where they came from.” Asked by reporters to respond to the president’s July 18 rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Díaz-Balart, a son of Cuban immigrants, replied, “I’ve had a gazillion things happen to me. I’ve had a gazillion things said to me. …


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Ji Sub Jeong/HuffPost Photo: Getty Images

The violence began in earnest two days after The New York Times published my op-ed. It was June 2009 and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had taken to the streets to protest a fraudulent national election. Under the uncommon byline of “Shane M.,” I had condemned the re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as bogus, as well as the U.S. media for its apparent determination to dismiss the ensuing protests as an isolated event, the two parts of my identity brought in for reproach in equal measure.

Two mornings later, and one week after the voting had ended, the authorities began to follow through on threats to put a stop to the demonstrations. We watched it live and at home, Iranian television doing little to conceal the violence happening in the streets and alleyways around the country. …


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Photo: Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Ebrahim Raisi

Win or lose, it has become obvious that the fortunes of Hassan Rouhani and his administration remain bound to the memory of 2009 and the Green Movement. Calls for the release of the movement’s imprisoned leaders by the cheering crowds were a constant reminder on the campaign trail that the indignity of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection continues to be a source of grievance for millions of Iranians, a legacy to be redeemed at the ballot box. …


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An Iranian woman shows her inked finger after casting her ballot at a polling station in Tehran on February 26, 2016. Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty

“However much you remove yourself from politics, you’re still inside this system” read the meme imploring me to vote during my last visit to Tehran in 2016. It was one of the many dozens of Facebook, Telegram, and text messages delivered by grassroots activists anxious to secure a friendly parliament for Iran’s incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani. Their shoestring get-out-the-vote campaign — loosely advanced on social media and amplified by a sprawling network of classmates, teachers, and second cousins — ran alongside an official state apparatus determined to signal its legitimacy to the world by producing a healthy turnout on election day. All told, more than 61 percent of Iran’s eligible voters showed up to vote in an off-year legislative election, nearly double the 36 percent participation rate in the 2014 U.S. …


In his final years, Hashemi Rafsanjani served as a vessel for the public’s will, and as a catalyst for its transformation in Iran

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Photograph by Thomas Koehler

Iranians will go to the polls this Friday, May 19, to vote in their country’s 12th presidential election, their first without Ali Akbar Bahramani. Better known as Hashemi Rafsanjani, there is a sense inside of Iran he was the one who held it all together, the pivot of the Islamic Republic’s odd universe, its indispensable man.

Rafsanjani, who died suddenly earlier this year at the age of eighty-two, was no less indispensable to his enemies, who saw him as the incarnation of all the flaws and failings of the revolution, its corruption and criminality. That at the end of his life it was difficult to tell who was friend or foe — many had been both, sometimes at once — spoke to Rafsanjani’s singular and outsized presence in the firmament of Iranian politics, a man whose greatest legacy may have been to play accidental midwife to Iran’s nascent civil society. …


Everything I Needed to Know About Islamic Democracy I Learned by the Third Grade

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Third Grade Lesson, “Class Representative”

Nearly 40 million Iranians will vote for president on May 19, their participation understood by many outside observers to be a mobilization of bad faith, an “as if” politics in which the authorities pretend to provide competitive elections and the public votes as if there were a meaningful choice between candidates. At best, citizens will cast their ballots in abeyance, a stop gap to keep the truly awful out of office in anticipation of the day that the system itself comes to an end.

Such skepticism has not prevented Iran’s version of democracy from producing its fair share of surprises, including a come from behind victory by Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 presidential election. No less surprising was the subsequent resurgence of the Iranian reform movement culminating in major gains in last year’s legislative elections, only a handful of years after the violent suppression of the Green Movement. Despite the best efforts of the Guardian Council to tilt the political playing field in favor of the president’s hardline opposition, Iran’s conservatives remain divided and appear to be headed for another hapless showing at the polls. …


This past week was painful for many of us. My latest piece for Muftah and the Huffington Post is titled “How Trump Made Iran Great Again” but it’s really a love letter to all of the *non*-Iranians and *non*-Muslims who rushed to the defense of grandmothers and 5-year-olds, held under lock and key at our nation’s airports.

“When Iran sends its people, it sends its best. The New York Times reports that colleges and universities in the U.S. hosted about 17,000 students from the seven banned countries last year. Of those who came here last year, more than 12,000 were Iranian nationals. Many of these same Iranians featured prominently in the coverage this past week, their stories a roll call of accomplishment. …

About

Shervin Malekzadeh

Visiting Assistant Professor, Colgate University

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