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JewishJournal.com

February 11, 2013

Iranian presidential candidate campaigns with new-age tactics in old-school country

http://www.jewishjournal.com/world/article/iranian_presidential_candidate_campaigns_with_new_age_tactics_in_old_school

Iranians in Tehran protest the country's elections in June 2009, in which reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi was defeated. Four years later, the newest presidential candidate seeking reform in Iran is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Iranians in Tehran protest the country's elections in June 2009, in which reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi was defeated. Four years later, the newest presidential candidate seeking reform in Iran is Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As a presidential candidate in Iran, Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi believes the Islamic Republic should prioritize allaying its tension with Israel and the United States—not the kind of approach the world has been accustomed to seeing lately from a country whose leaders repeatedly vow to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American academic, told JNS.org that as president of Iran he would work towards ending this animosity and mutual distrust.

“This problem is not going to go away overnight, there are stages to this,” Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American academic, said of Iran’s relations with the U.S. and Israel in an interview with JNS.org. “Most important is communication, even countries at war communicate with each other. We need to bring together people on both sides, educators, experts, policy makers, to learn more about each other.”

Running on a reformist platform in a country with a reactionary government, Amirahmadi is using 21st-century tactics. On Feb. 6 he took to the popular social news website Reddit to participate in an AMA (Ask Me Anything), which allows users from around the world to pitch questions to the participant. Previous popular AMAs have included President Barack Obama, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Korean pop music sensation PSY, and former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather.

Iranian elections are slated for this June, when a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be chosen. In 2009, when Iran last held its election, widespread protests and violence broke out after many accused the government of voter fraud amid Ahmadinejad’s victory over reformist rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The protests became known as the “Green Revolution.”

Amirahmadi was born in Talesh, Iran in 1947. He holds a PhD from Cornell University in international development and is currently a professor at Rutgers University. He has spent many years in economic development, including experience working in impoverished rural areas in Iran. He is also the founder and president of the American-Iranian Council, a unique position that has allowed him to work closely with both prominent Western and Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Besides improving ties with the U.S. and Israel, Amirahmadi intends to fix Iran’s economy and ending its nuclear program if elected.

“First, U.S. and Iran relations… that conflict must be resolved for both nations. I want to pay a visit to the White House in the first 100 days in office, and shake Obama’s hand,” Amirahmadi wrote on Reddit.

“Second… I want to create 6 million jobs during my first term in office.”

When asked by a Reddit user how he would accomplish this, he elaborated by saying “by resolving the Iran-U.S. conflict, it would open Iran up to foreign investment… especially from wealthy Iranian expatriates.”

Amirahmadi also made it clear to Reddit users that he would end Iran’s nuclear program.

“I do not think Iran needs to have a nuclear weapon,” he wrote. “However, under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) Iran does have the right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

The candidate also made a point to differentiate himself from Ahmadinejad.

“Ahmadinejad increased tension between U.S. and Israel,” Amirahmadi wrote. “I will be the exact opposite. Ahmadinejad domestically has also been a dividing force; I will be a uniting force. He isolated the Iranian economy; I will integrate Iran's economy.”

When asked if he fears for his safety, considering Iran’s history of imprisoning and torturing reformists, Amirahmadi wrote “not really… I am running within the laws of the nation, I am a peaceful person… Our movement is 100 percent non-violence.”

Following his session on Reddit, Amirahmadi told JNS.org about his views on the rich history between the Jewish and Iranian people.

“The Jewish people have lived in Iran for over 3,000 years,” he said. “They have had positive relations for centuries. There is no historical animosity, no territorial dispute, no religious problem between Iran and Israel.”

Amirahmadi blamed the Islamic Revolution for destroying the thousands of years of cooperation between the two peoples.

“The Islamic Revolution messed up this relationship,” he said. “It was anti-American and as a result became anti-Israel. Over time this animosity has perpetuated. It is a very sad situation.”

Iran and Israel “need to stop threatening each other,” Amirahmadi said, calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and threats to wipe Israel off the map “very troubling,” but also criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “threats of war” (Netanyahu has emphasized the existential threat Iran’s nuclear program poses to Israel and has repeatedly spoken of “red lines” for that nuclear program which he believes should prompt military action against Iran if crossed).

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Amirahmadi told JNS.org, “The two state solution is the only solution moving forward. While I understand there is anxiety in Israel and the Jewish people have suffered greatly, they must come to this reality, we need to find a framework to live in peace.”

To relieve this anxiety for Israel, Amirahmadi said he would encourage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to disarm and become political parties.

“These groups need to realize that Israel is real. They cannot wish them away,” he said.

Amirahmadi said his usage of Reddit is part of a larger public relations blitz by his campaign to spread his reformist message to the younger generation and to promote change.

“I was amazed at their level of support for me and their positive attitude,” he said of Reddit users. “The questions and comments were highly intelligent. I was surprised at how knowledgeable they were about Iran.”

While an Amirahmadi presidency sounds more promising for the U.S. and Israel than the current Ahmadinejad regime, it is likely that Amirahmadi will be rejected as an official candidate by Iran’s Guardian Council—a hardline group of Islamic jurists who are handpicked by the Supreme Leader to oversee interpretation of the Iranian Constitution, including candidates for national elections.

“I would put his chances at getting through the Guardian Council, optimistically, at zero percent,” said Hooman Majd, Iranian-American author of The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Nevertheless, Amirahmadi will continue with his campaign efforts in hopes of creating real change in Iran. At the same time, he would like to work within the framework of the Islamic Republic, rather than changing the regime wholesale.

“I want to be like Deng Xiaopeng in China, I want to maintain the system but change the policies,” he told JNS.org. “I am not a revolutionary, I am peacemaker, I am an economist, I know how economies work and develop and I want to bring that to my people.”

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