IRAN: Obama election inspires even if played down
Mostafa Eqbali, a 54-year-old merchant in downtown Tehran, is exactly the kind of middle-class, middle-of-the-road Iranian whose loyalties and attitudes have generally determined his country’s direction.
The election early this morning of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency pierced through his preconceptions about the world.
“Let me tell you that now I believe in American democracy,” he said excitedly. “Honestly, I did not think that Obama would be president. I thought that the invisible hands of the big trusts and cartels would not allow a black man to be president of the United States.”
For ordinary Iranians used to a steady diet of negative news about the U.S., the news of Obama’s elevation to the presidency was a shocker.
State-controlled Iranian media did its best to downplay Obama’s election as a simple repudiation of President Bush’s foreign policy rather than, say, an affirmation of American diversity or democracy.
In fact, television stations and radios tried their best to highlight the nondemocratic features of America’s electoral college system.
Iranian TV channels showed no footage of street celebrations in Indonesia or Kenya. And an analyst on one channel described Obama’s slogan of “change” as a matter of tactical image promotion rather than a strategic shift.
Another analyst on state television called Obama window dressing.
"The ruling establishment has decided to mend its widow display, and that is why it was predictable that Obama would be president,” said the analyst.
But on the streets, more jubilant voices emerged. Goldsmith Ali Motaz said he went home Tuesday night at around 10 p.m. and asked his wife and children to forget about watching videos and sitcoms for one night.
''I said, 'Let’s tune in just to Voice of America,''' the U.S.-funded Persian language news and public affairs satellite channel.
He stayed up until half-past midnight before he went to bed. He woke up at 4 a.m., turning on the radio, but still no news.
A few hours later, he woke up again. “I turned the local radio and there he was,” he said, smiling. “The new black president of America.”
Hassan Mosavi, a 47-year-old barber, said he’s been closely following the campaign for days, mostly watching the Voice of America satellite channel. This morning, he awoke to see images of jubilation as Obama’s fans greeted him in Chicago.
“It is a true democracy,” said Mosavi, a former political prisoner. “A black man is victorious. It is important that a man with the middle name Hussein and with Islamic roots is in the White House. He addressed the needs of the poor and grass-roots. He is one of us.”
— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: A woman holds up the Iranian daily newspaper Rozan with a photo of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama. Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian / Associated Press
P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.