Iran Elections Leave Little Hope for Exiles and Those Who’ve Stayed Behind, Says Iranian-Israeli Artist

Previous election campaign stirred optimism among Iranian people; this time around, no one seems to care.

Elham Rokni
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Elham Rokni

I remember the previous election campaign in Iran in 2009 well. For the first time since I left Iran in 1989, I followed the goings on there with tension and interest. I was staying in Chicago at the time and saw Iranian exiles who still had Iranian passports go to the consulate to vote.

Most of them supported the Green Party, headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi. It seemed that Mousavi, with his moderate positions, would bring a change. Nobody thought it would be a radical political transformation, but the Iranian people, as well as we migrants and refugees, found some hope in him. Hope that the economic situation in Iran would improve a little, hope the regime would be less violent to its opponents.

I thought it was possible that Mousavi, as he claimed, would alleviate some of the censorship on the media, cinema and art and enable more freedom of speech.

When Mousavi was not elected, masses thronged to the streets and demonstrated, claiming the election results had been defrauded.

Regardless of whether this accusation was true or not, the protest reflected the fierce desire and great hopes the Iranians had pinned on the Green Party. The streets were painted in green those days, until the regime put Mousavi under house arrest and slaughtered his associates and demonstrators.

In contrast to the previous round, in the current election nobody seems to care anymore. The Iranians have lost their confidence in the government and there’s no candidate who offers an alternative that could be good for the people, who are getting poorer every day.

The reasons are numerous. First there’s the government’s faulty economic policy, accompanied by its belligerent utterances and thuggish behavior regarding the nuclear issue. This evokes harsh economic sanctions that affect the population directly. It is clear today that a large part of those who voted for Mousavi in 2009, believing he would generate a change, won’t even bother to go to the polls this time.

In Iran, like in Israel, the cost of living is rising sharply, unlike the average income. The bread price has tripled in the last two years, the gasoline price has multiplied by seven, while the Iranian currency plunged in October to an absurd level compared to the dollar.

In those days, when the rial dropped, I thought it was unthinkable that because of the government’s obtuse behavior, Iranians wouldn’t be able to pay for basic products.

A friend of mine, who visited her upper-middle-class parents in Tehran in the autumn of 2012, told me “the price of tomatoes is five times higher than in the United States and buying meat is out of the question.” Of course, the average income in Iran is far lower than in the United States.

Growing repression

What I find more difficult than the deteriorating economic situation is the increased censorship and the open, aggressive penal steps taken against intellectuals, artists and journalists who speak out against the administration or the spirit of Islam.

Immediately after the 2009 election, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested for planning to make a film in support of Mousavi’s Green Party and centering on the post-election demonstrations. He was put under prolonged house arrest, put on trial and forbidden to leave Iran, make films for 20 years or give interviews to the media, in Iran or anywhere else. He was penalized for planning, not even for doing.

Singer Mohsen Namjoo was sentenced to five years in prison for inappropriate use of Koran texts in his songs. He immigrated to the United States. The actor Golshifteh Farahani, daughter of a family including a director and actors, was forbidden to return to Iran after being photographed nude for the French magazine “Madame Figaro.” She has been living in France and the United States since then.

There are many more like them, artists and intellectuals who have been banished from Iran or fled from it to continue their work. Others continue their work in Iran despite the harsh restrictions and constant fear. Their resistance to the regime is not necessarily reflected in their work, but in their very insistence on living and creating in Iran.

Elham Rokni is an artist who was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel with her family in 1989. She lives and works in Tel Aviv.

A supporter of Iranian presidential candidate Saeed Jalili holds his picture after a rally in Tehran June 12, 2013.Credit: Reuters
Iranian man reads one of electoral leaflets covering the street after Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran. Credit: AP

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