How much Change do Iranians Really Want?

Wash, rinse, repeat. If you’re a politician in Iran running for election or re-election, your best bet is to have the endorsement of Khatami. Mohammad Khatami, that is. In another era, Khatami was twice elected president, but today he is banned from leaving the country and his name and face are banned from the domestic media.

No matter, his hands suffice these days: Election posters for the Reform and moderate list of candidates running for parliament last week showed only them, recognizable from the ring on his finger. People knew what that meant. Simultaneously, a reminder that he was backing the candidates and a “bilakh” (the finger) by the Reformists to those who insist he is so dangerous that his very features must remain hidden from the public.

Iranians are good at giving the finger: They collectively raised it almost three years ago, too. The same Khatami, only days before the 2013 presidential election — enough time for a message to register, but not enough time for hard-liners to counter it — endorsed the lesser-known Hassan Rouhani and urged the electorate to make their voices heard.

They followed, if only to give the finger to those, inside and outside Iran, who claim Iranian elections don’t matter. This time, he endorsed a long list of candidates — whose names would have to be handwritten on ballots by voters — via video on the popular messaging app Telegram. To be safe, the video was also uploaded to YouTube, which is censored in Iran but available to those who want to access it via VPN. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There was always something unclean (haram) about certain members of parliament. Members who Iranians and outsiders alike call hard-liners, some who even threatened Rouhani’s Cabinet members — not with censure for making a nuclear deal with the West, but with death, buried in concrete, as one member of parliament, perhaps channeling Tony Soprano, suggested, and not in jest.

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