Iran elections(1): Crossing Red Lines

Photo by: Hapal
Photo by: Hapal

Color has never before played such an important part in an election campaign in Iran. As the country’s election developments are watched closely by the likes of Netanyahu, the Whitehouse, and other international powers with diplomatic stakes in the outcome, Iran’s bulging youth population have their own concerns in mind as they hit the streets in green. This is especially significant in a country where brightly colored clothing, especially when worn by women, is considered a breach of the Islamic dress code and frowned upon by the ruling mullahs.

Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, front-runner from the reformist camp, started the color trend that has taken Iran’s urban spaces by storm. Originally, Mousavi supporters displayed the bright green color to represent their candidate’s Sayyedi bloodline (as a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad). But since then, the seas of green that formed at rallies and demonstrations in Tehran in the past weeks clearly came to represent a more political message: opposition, reform, and above all, change.

The trend has also spread to higher levels, with some parliamentarians donning colored ribbons to show support for their respective candidates. Mousavi’s fellow reformist, Karrobi’s color claimed the color white, another color from the Iranian national flag. Once this caught on, it was clear the only color left between the two other candidates, Ahmadinejad and Rezai, was red. When asked what his color was, Ahmadinejad responded by denouncing the use of colors as political symbols, stating that he was represented only by the colors of peace and justice – but later he claimed all the colors of the flag, red, white, and green, were the colors of his campaign.

Conservative (or “principalist”) supporters warned of this use of color as a method for inciting revolution, similar to the ways velvet revolutions in the former soviet countries were led. Mousavi and his supporters denied any relation, stating that it was simply meant to get more people to “vote green.” Some criticized the use of the sacred Islamic color, green, in partisan politics. Others dismissed this color-trend in general as an excuse for young males and females to mix publically. But supporters challenged this, stating its significance was much more than that. It could help limit rigging, as the approximate numbers of green-wearers in the streets could be compared with the numbers of votes for Mousavi.

The use of color is indicative of the many red lines that have been crossed in the lead-up to this election. Another broken taboo has been the open talk and accusations of corruption and deceit between candidates. Yet another includes the unprecedented interest in the elections from the Iranian diaspora, who are usually more inclined to boycott the elections. Finally, the rise in the significance of facebook, blogs, and other online social networks and spaces that have helped inform and organize citizens.

For instance, Mousavi’s campaigners and supporters provide online information when they consider state television to be biased against them, or when their public events are impeded because the sitting government will not issue permits required or provide the electricity needed. Through facebook and mobile phone messaging they organize massive political gatherings on short notice. They put green photos on their profiles to show their political views, and they distribute the videos of the rallies they attend.

Regardless of the differences between those who feel threatened by the use of color in this campaign, and those who feel empowered by it, the shifts that this colorful statement points to are unique in the history of the Islamic Republic. This year’s participants have made it clear that they will make their voices count, and a high turnout has, in the past, meant a reformist victory. But even in the event that this green fever is severely limited to the capital, Tehran, and it fails to raise a reformist candidate to power, the winner will not be able to lead these hungry green masses in the same way they have been ruled until now.

By Donya Alinejad, PhD student at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology (VU University). Donya is currently staying in the United States where she is conducting fieldwork among Iranian migrants.

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