The Mayor and The Writer

Iran’s President-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who’s been the subject of vociferous though unproven accusations that he took part in the U.S. embassy hostage taking, is again in the cross-hairs of the US. Now the hardliner is being accused of having been part of a group of assassins who were plotting to kill Salman Rushdie. If that doesn’t work, something else will stick.

On a related note, Reza Aslan, author of the excellent No god but God, contributes an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times about Ahmadinejad’s recent win: For Iranians, It Was The Economy, Stupid.

Despite the shrill rhetoric coming from Washington, where officials are now wasting their time trying to determine whether the incoming Iranian president was or was not a radical student hostage taker 26 years ago, Ahmadinejad did not win because of widespread fraud or because reform-minded voters boycotted the elections (though both played small roles). He won because most Iranians, especially younger voters like Karim who are the natural constituency of the reform movement, saw him as the only candidate willing to talk about what nearly everyone in Iran –regardless of class, degree of piety or political affiliation — is most concerned about: massive inflation, high unemployment and soaring housing prices.

While Rafsanjani and the other half-dozen or so presidential candidates stumbled over each other with promises of social reform and rapprochement with the West, Ahmadinejad promised to stop corruption in the government, distribute aid to the outlying provinces, promote healthcare, raise the minimum wage and help the young with home and business loans. Amid all the talk of head scarves and pop music from the front-runners, Ahmadinejad’s message had enormous appeal not just for Iran’s poor, but also for the country’s youth, many of whom were attracted to Rafsanjani’s promises of reform but who ultimately voted with their pocketbooks for Ahmadinejad.

In fact, the crumbling economy — perhaps even more than the mass arrests and political repression — is to blame for Iranian’s widespread disenchantment with the reform movement. After all, when nearly a third of the population is unemployed and about 40% live below the poverty line, it is nearly impossible to focus on social reform.

On a related note, Reza Aslan, author of the excellent No god but God, contributes an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times about Ahmadinejad’s recent win: For Iranians, It Was The Economy, Stupid.

Despite the shrill rhetoric coming from Washington, where officials are now wasting their time trying to determine whether the incoming Iranian president was or was not a radical student hostage taker 26 years ago, Ahmadinejad did not win because of widespread fraud or because reform-minded voters boycotted the elections (though both played small roles). He won because most Iranians, especially younger voters like Karim who are the natural constituency of the reform movement, saw him as the only candidate willing to talk about what nearly everyone in Iran

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