Iranian elections: voting from afar

June 12, 2009

Leili Sreberny-MohammadiLeili Sreberny-Mohammadi is a British-Iranian based in London, and sometimes Tehran. The opinions expressed are her own. –

The images of a human chain along the 12 kilometres of Tehran’s main artery, Vali-Asr, has given me a gut-wrenching urge to book a flight to Tehran, to take part in what seems to be a historical moment, or what is at least being constructed as such.

Instead I have been busy scouring articles in English-language media describing the public mobilisation for the two leading candidates, Mir Hossein Moussavi and the incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the largest political mobilisation of the public since the revolution in 1979. I wasn’t there then. The electric energy coursing through the city has also been likened to the atmosphere during the world cup in 1998. Nope, wasn’t there then either.

This is the predicament of Diaspora; caring about a place that you might rarely be in, wanting to understand events that you are miles apart from. But in 2009, it is easy to keep up with far away events by the magical means of the internet.

My constant online status has meant that Facebook, YouTube and Skype have been key ways in which I have kept in touch with what has been happening. Facebook provides a dominant source of photos, videos and links, plus nightly Skype chats with friends and family has helped me to understand what the opinions and atmosphere on the street is really like. Not able to watch the first ever televised debates between candidates live, YouTube has been the next best thing.

While the use of cyber-space has been key for campaigning, primarily for Ahamdinejad’s main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a means by which we can stay engaged in this presidential race, it has also been used to directly motivate Iranians outside of Iran to vote. An inspiring video filmed across major world cities featuring Iranians holding up signs in Farsi and English with the slogan “we vote” has been doing the rounds.

My inbox has also been inundated with emails from numerous individuals inside Iran with details of where to vote in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. We are being asked to not sit idle simply watching the events unfold in recent weeks, but to demonstrate that we care about Iran’s future and participate. I, for one, will do just that and suggest that us in Diaspora should dust of our Iranian passports, and on June 12, finally put them to good use.

While we might not be able to march down Vali-Asr, we can certainly march to the embassy and cast our vote.


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