Hope rises -- in Iran!

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What's this -- different news, hopeful news, real news out of Teheran? A candidate described as a "moderate" has won a bare majority of the millions of votes cast in that country's presidential election over a splintered coalition of the usual reactionaries, fanatics and nutcases.

Just as impressive, perhaps more so, is that Hasan Rowhani describes himself as a moderate, a "reformist" rather than a "principlist" to use the Iranian terms, and is willing to accept the moderate label, even take pride in it. His is a victory over not only his opponents but fear. He was not deterred by the odds or by the regime's bullyboys, and neither were Iran's multitudes.

All of which gives rise to the hope that those quote marks around "moderate" might one day be removed, and a genuine reformer take the presidential place of populist poseur Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has made Iran almost a synonym for repression at home and terrorism abroad.


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Just as impressive as the number of votes the new president-elect received, maybe more so, is that this time it seems they were counted. It was the hijacking of that country's last presidential election -- the suspect results were announced barely after the polls closed -- that led to the massive protests that came to be known as the Green Revolution. It was crushed mercilessly while Washington and the world stood back and muted their objections as protests were quashed and hopes for a new and freer Iran stifled.

This time the candidate of hope campaigned under a different-colored banner -- purple instead of green -- but his appeal was much the same. His was a victory not just for hope but for memory, the memory of those Iranians who were gagged, jailed and even shot down because they spoke out for freedom.

"It's the spring of freedom," shouted some of the young people who took to Teheran's streets to celebrate the election results, adding: "Too bad Neda isn't here." That would be Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman who was killed in June 2009 while watching a protest, and whose death agony on Facebook became the image of Ahmadinejad's police state for all the world to see -- again and again. Hers became the face and fate of freedom in that theocracy. Now it is called up again, this time in an hour of hope.

. . .

Let this be an hour of memory, too. For there was a time when there was a different Iran, a constitutional monarchy where the shah and the military were respected and trusted, not feared. That was decades ago, before Iran's last shah became a man without a country, a sick man driven from the throne and abandoned by Washington to roam the world in search of sanctuary. (Thank you, Jimmy Carter, for one more painful memory of your feckless maladministration.) Iran hasn't been the same since. At least not till now, anyway.

. . .

Who is this bearer of new hope, this Hasan Rowhani? He's a mullah too, but not a mad one. Call him a mullah who just might defend his people's rights against the other mullahs. Diplomat, scholar and linguist -- he's described as being fluent in English and Arabic as well as his native Farsi -- he's been a critic of his country's zealots, unafraid to press the case for change.

As he put it in an appeal to voters on the eve of this election: "If you want Iranian officials to stop presenting inaccurate economic data, if you want the rial to regain its value, if you want the Iranian passport to be respected again, come to the ballot boxes." And they did. And, mirabile dictu, wonderful to tell, even got their votes counted!

Let there be no misunderstanding. Iran's theocrat-in-chief, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, still has the last word and the first, too, when it comes to all matters political, religious and cultural in his country.

Nor is the new president-elect anything but a patriot. He, too, surely knows that having The Bomb is the ultimate guarantee of a country's independence and a regime's permanence. He, too, speaks of the destiny of Iran/Persia, and takes pride in its imperial history going back at least to Cyrus the Great.

But this new leader in Teheran also knows that a nuclear weapon has its uses -- for good or evil. Its existence can be noised about and used to threaten neighboring countries and the peace of the world (see North Korea) or become a quiet assurance of security, almost a state secret (see Israel). No one begrudges Iran nuclear power for peaceful purposes; it is Iran's using nuclear weapons for destructive and destabilizing purposes that the civilized world fears -- and has reason to.

Hasan Rowhani has a narrow path to navigate -- between prudence and recklessness -- and so do those nations concerned about developments in Iran. Happily, this latest development is to be welcomed, not dreaded.

. . .

But let's not confuse hope with illusion. Far from opposing the forces of oppression and persecution in his country, Hasan Rowhani has been one of the chief oppressors and persecutors. Here's hoping he's changed since he unleashed the Revolutionary Guards, the SS of the Ayatollah's regime, against student protesters a decade ago. But, please, let's not get all giddy as the New York Times about the rosy-hued Bright New Day now sure to dawn in Iran. That's naivete writ large and circulated wide. During his victorious presidential campaign, Iran's new leader adopted as his slogan Prudence and Hope. Let us hope he delivers both. That would be remarkable progress enough just now.

Once upon a time (2008), there was a popular candidate for president in this country who also campaigned as the candidate of Hope and Change, and his presidency has been demonstration enough that slogans don't necessarily translate into reality. But that's no reason to abandon hope or forsake prudence. The world waits and watches to see how this new presidency in Iran turns out, and well the world should, for the world's fate may depend on it.

More than a green revolution or a purple revolution, Iran needs a classic bourgeois revolution -- one that would allow women like Neda Agha Soltan to participate fully in the country's governance, growth and development. A revolution that would free its urban middle class, its merchants, investors and entrepreneurs, from the dead hand of government intrusion and corruption. Which wouldn't hurt in this country, either.

(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

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