Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iran Elections Underscore Rift Analysis

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iran Elections Underscore Rift Analysis

Article excerpt

TEHRAN, Iran -- More than two years after massive anti- government demonstrations over a disputed election exposed a rift between Iran's leaders and its urban middle class, their diverging worlds are again set to collide in an upcoming vote for a new parliament.

This time, disgruntled opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are unlikely to hold protests, political analysts said, but they may not vote either, denying Iranian leaders the large turnout they seek to legitimize their 33-year-old rule.

Since crushing the 2009 demonstrations, which erupted when Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed a landslide re-election victory, the government has disregarded demands for greater freedom and portrayed the grass- roots opposition as a small band of misguided troublemakers.

As a result, the parliamentary elections scheduled for Friday highlight a disconnect between the nation's leadership and the hard- working urbanites, who encompass bus drivers, university-educated nurses, business lawyers and others, and who make up the Islamic republic's increasingly self-aware and modern middle class.

As the government sees it, robust participation in the elections would deliver a "punch in the mouth" to Iran's foreign enemies, state media have reported.

But after years of frustration in their quest for more personal liberties, better relations with the West and adherence to the rule of law, many members of the ignored middle class are considered more likely to stay home.

For them, Facebook, satellite television and secret parties -- all illegal in Iran -- have combined with occasional overseas trips to create a separate reality, in which state ideology is ignored as much as possible and elections make no difference.

"In my world, the currency has lost its value, our oil is under sanctions, we are weak, and I feel humiliated," said Amir, 28, a watch seller who did not want to be further identified for fear of retribution. "But in their world, the country is strong, the economy is booming, and our future is glorious. We are on different planets." He added, "Voting will not change that, the past has proven."

In the leadership's parallel universe, six state television channels night after night repeat news of hope, achievements and future bliss. Viewers are told that Iran has the world's fastest rate of scientific growth, thanks to the "Islamic Iranian model of development."

Documentaries showing U.S. leaders shaking hands with Western- backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ousted by the 1979 revolution and died in exile in 1980, are aimed at educating the millions of young people born after his autocratic rule.

News programs interview ministers who reveal double-digit growth figures and report on infrastructural accomplishments. …

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