Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Non-Resident Voting in the Iranian Election

This Friday, June 14, 2013, millions will head to the polls to vote for the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. While the vast majority of votes will naturally come from voters inside Iran itself, many will also come from outside its borders as any documented Iranian citizen worldwide is eligible to cast a ballot in the race.

Last week, Hassan Qashqavi, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular, Parliamentary and Expatriates' Affairs and who also heads the Supervisory Body Overseeing Iran's Presidential Election Abroad, said, "The Iranian presidential election abroad will be held at 280 ballot stations in 120 countries on five continents concurrent with Iran."

According to official results, in the last presidential election in 2009, 234,812 votes were cast in countries outside Iran. In New York City, nearly 17,000 votes were cast, while in London, the number topped 10,000.

But just because Iranian citizens who don't live in Iran can legally vote, does that mean they should choose to exercise that right?

This question, along with some others, was posed to a number of writers, commentators, academics and friends of Iranian heritage.

Here are some of the questions, or variations thereof, that I posed:
Do you think that, beyond having the legal right, Iranians and Iranian citizens living outside Iran have the moral right to vote in Friday's presidential election despite not living in Iran?
If it is the obligation of Iranians living in Iran, and them alone, to chose the government under which they will live, whether they seek to challenge and change the system or to reinforce it, what role do Iranians abroad - some of whom have vastly different political and religious beliefs than Iranians in Iran - have in the vote?
Can "ex-patriot" voting be seen as a kind of foreign intervention for regime change (or reform), albeit a peaceful kind, or - conversely - could the act of voting itself be seen as legitimating a political system one may disagree with?
Are the circumstances different for Iranian citizens who have never visited Iran, never lived in Iran or who, perhaps, don't ever plan on going/returning?
Iranians are not monolithic. Like any large community of human beings the world over, Iranians and Iranian citizens, living in Iran or abroad, have diverse opinions on religion to politics to family and everything in between. Just like here in the United States, or any other country for that matter, there are those who support the government, and those who oppose it; those who think voting is important, those who consider it merely symbolic, and others who find it pointless, or worse.

Needless to say, the question of non-resident voting in general is certainly not unique to Iran; any national group with a diaspora could grapple with it.

The questions presented above are purposely broad, and not meant to be pointed or leading. They are supposed to be open-ended and thought-provoking, not presumptuous or limiting. They are not my own conclusions nor do they reflect my personal opinions. They are questions, only that, and if they read poorly or are misleading, the responsibility for their clunkiness is mine and mine alone.

Below are the generous responses I received from those I contacted. They are uniform only in their thoughtfulness, insight, and candidness. They reflect a diversity of opinion and consideration. Some are direct and concise, others extensive and multifaceted.

The contributors, so far, are:

Muhammad Sahimiprofessor, USC; editor of IMENews.com
Jasmin Ramsey, journalist and editor, LobeLog
Hooman Majd, journalist and author
Farideh Farhi, scholar and affiliate graduate faculty, University of Hawaii
Holly DagresMiddle East analyst and commentator; researcher at The Cairo Review
Reza Marashi, Research Director, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Farrah Joon, blogger, Sex and Fessenjoon
Arash Karami, Iran Pulse, Al Monitor
Saaghi Joon, blogger, Sex and Fessenjoon
Daniel Tavana, Research Associate, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Roshanak Taghavi, international journalist
Shirin Sadeghi, international journalist
Alex Shams, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Ajam Media Collective
Eskandar Sadeghi-BoroujerdiPhD student, Queen's College, University of Oxford
Mehrnaz Shahabi, anti-war activist and independent researcher

All opinions expressed below are solely those of the authors themselves and in no way represent the organizations or affiliations identified.

I will update the post if and when I receive more.

For readers wishing to voice their own opinions on this matter, feel free to do so in the comments. But please, keep it civil.

Muhammad Sahimi
Professor, University of Southern California; editor of Iran News and Middle East Reports

I do not believe that there is any problem with expatriates voting in a national election in Iran. That would just indicate that they care about what happens in their homeland. I do not believe that their voting violates the principle, which I believe in, that it is Iranians living in Iran who must decide what to do with the government, because, after all, the expatriates would be voting for someone who lives and works in Iran, and has risen in politics, to the extent that he/she wants to run for high office.

Jasmin Ramsey
Journalist and editor, LobeLog

The Iranian government also grants the children of Iranian-born parents Iranian passports upon request and requires military service from males upon entering Iran even if they're only visiting for a short period of time and have never been to Iran before (though this can be avoided in most cases through bribery). I'm not sure how this can be construed as "foreign intervention for regime change" as suggested in the question if the mechanisms for this kind of voting have been put in place by the Iranian government itself, which considers itself a republic.

Voting implies you care about what happens inside your country enough to do something about it (even if you're not there), though deciding not to vote can also be a political action, no matter how ineffective and/or counterproductive that could be. If the Iranian government allows Iranian citizens who don't live in Iran to vote then I commend that action as much as I would any step taken by them that brings their elections closer to becoming free and fair.

Hooman Majd
Journalist and author

You know, that’s a very good question, one that I ponder all the time. I've always maintained that someone like myself - who has made the choice to be American and live in America - doesn't have the right to tell Iranians how they should live, or what kind of government they should have. We in the States get offended - even the most progressive among us - when, say, the French tell us what an ass our president is, or how bad our democracy is, or how imperialist we are. That’s a little different, I grant you, because someone like me holds dual citizenship.

I really think what would be entirely moral and fair would be for the Iranian government to allow any Iranian living anywhere to vote, as long as he or she paid taxes in Iran. Paying taxes is one reason I think it’s fair for expat Americans to have voice (beyond the fact that unlike Iranian expats, most Americans do intend to return home at some point, and don’t usually take the citizenship of the country they live in). At any rate, since we Iranians don’t like taxes, not even inside Iran, that would probably mean a zero participation rate in the elections outside Iran. So you see, I struggle with the question myself. But I will endeavor to vote this time, too.

I would add that those Iranians who are for wholesale regime change don’t really vote, so it probably means that those who do abroad reflect that strata of society in Iran that is likely to vote for a reformist, or pragmatist. So be it.

Farideh Farhi
Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty, University of Hawaii - Manoa

I personally cannot and do not choose to look at the question of voting in moralistic terms. The bottom line is that Iranian laws allow anyone who has an Iranian birth certificate and passport to vote - or not vote - anywhere in the world and they can if they have access to a voting center (I for instance do not in Hawaii). This is a reflection of Iran's acceptance or comfort with the idea of dual nationality. And I accept that comfort both as a privilege and obligation. The only thing I object to is that Iran's acceptance of nationality - both in pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary times - is patrilineal and only extends to children of an Iranian mother if the father is also Iranian. Last year, a law was passed to change this but not in categorical way (only on a case by case basis).

As to the nature of expat voting, I cannot speak on the basis of data but my personal observations suggest that those who hope for regime change generally see voting as a legitimation mechanism and hence approach any kind of voting in the Islamic republic with disdain. Those who consider voting, on the other hand, are very much influenced by trends inside the country. So there was much interest in voting in in 2009 outside of Iran and today there is much debate about whether to vote or not and which candidate to vote for in the same way there is a debate inside Iran.

On the last question, I cannot speak to circumstances that impact voting or non-voting behavior. I can, however, hypothesize that those who have never visited Islamic Iran or as you say are delinked from the country for whatever reason are less likely to be engaged with Iranian politics at the micro level.

Holly Dagres
Middle East analyst and commentator; researcher at The Cairo Review

I think the beauty of the electoral process is that a person is free to vote if he or she chooses, there is no morality involved only a sense of it being a "right". Having that been said, Iranians who live abroad are a grand variety that not only consist of the Diaspora, but also Iranians who have vast ties to Iran and continue to live between two countries, if not more. Therefore, just because they are an expat of sorts does not take away their right to vote, it just adds a special touch -- most often by voting for a reformist candidate -- someone who share ideas most in common with Western views they are acquainted with. Nevertheless, Iranians abroad do not have that much of an impact on voting and it would be rather naive to view it as foreign intervention or even regime change because at the end of the day, these people are voting for the very candidates accepted by the Velayat-e Faqih. When it comes to the Diaspora, I would assume they do not have any ties with Iran and therefore probably no interest whatsoever in the voting process or the Islamic regime for that matter.

Reza Marashi
Research Director, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

It's a double-edged sword. If you would've asked me this question in 2009 or prior, I would've said that Iranian Americans should consider voting, because it was tantamount to taking advantage of one of the most obvious tools they have at our disposal to help hold the Iranian government accountable and move the country in an overall better direction. It's never a moral responsibility to vote, but I would've argued that voting was an important step toward Iranian Americans being recognized as a substantial constituency, increasing their political clout in Tehran, and refuting the philosophy that a government's power does not come from the people. Some Iranian Americans still feel this way. Others do not. I don't fault either point of view.

Of course, the flip side to this -- perhaps even more poignant after the events of 2009 -- is that boycotting an election is a very powerful message that citizens and a diaspora can send. However, it's only after Iranian Americans start voting that they can engage in symbolic boycotts of elections in protest. Because Iranian Americans have never had a truly large voting presence in Iranian elections, a boycott on their part would be mostly symbolic. And perhaps most importantly, for the time being at least, the Iranian government views Iranian Americans less as citizens with voting power equal to Iranians inside Iran, and more as a dependable source of money and education that can occasionally be utilized inside Iran.

Blogger, Sex and Fessenjoon

I think that policies put forth by the Iranian regime affect all Iranian citizens - regardless of their physical location. All Iranian citizens have the moral right to vote - just as US citizens have the right to vote even if they live in a different country. Because no matter what their location is, they still feel the burden of the country's laws especially if they have family, money, property, etc. in Iran.

I don't believe that expats or non-residents with different religious/political preference should have their vote taken away because their voice still resonates among Iranians within Iran - whether they are Muslim or not, Jewish or not, reformist or not. I think that it's very bold to assume that my political beliefs aren't supported anywhere within Iran... and vice versa. And if that's a reason for people to not vote - then why do we allow political parties in other countries? I believe it is absolutely crucial for every voice to be represented in a vote.

If you're asking whether I think it's WORTH voting in the Iranian election, well that's a different story...

Arash Karami
Writer on Iranian affairs; currently with Iran Pulse, Al-Monitor

These are difficult questions; there are some issues here that the Iranian ex-patriot community has been dealing with for three decades. One thing that is unanimous is that most Iranians outside the country care deeply both for Iran and Iranians (there are plenty of surveys to prove this). Some people don't believe in voting in Iranian elections because of what happened in 2009 or their general opposition to the government. Others think that there are some candidates that are better than others and can improve the lives of people living inside Iran, particularly on the economic front where most of the president's powers reside.

And part of it is self-interest too. For the expat community, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric was generally considered embarrassing and shameful. Between the seven candidates, there is a difference on certain specific issues and I don't begrudge anyone that wants to vote; it's their right and if they can help play an instrumental role in improving the lives of Iranians domestically, then one could argue that logically they should, even if they don't plan on ever going back. (My guess is that if Iran ever opens up, most expats will visit often, but most will never go back. Iran, especially Tehran and other major cities, have changed so much, most don't even know what it is they would be going back to.)

On the question of regime change as far as voting is concerned, the act of voting will not change the regime, which is precisely why some expats will never vote.

Blogger, Sex and Fessenjoon

Do I believe Iranians abroad have a legal right to vote? Absolutely.

A moral one? Not at all.

Unless an Iranian living abroad has spent a significant time in Iran, there is not much value in their perspective. Many of us born and raised abroad have grown familiar with our heritage and culture by making frequent visits to our motherland. This, by no means, translates into understanding the vast impact government policies and sanctions have on day-to-day life. If a vote is a tally-mark for change, how can I know what change is the right one? I would not vote in France's election, despite having traveled their many times-- and I don't believe I'm entitled to voting in Iran's election, despite my emotional or familial ties.

At the end of the day, an 'educated vote' is rare -- and I can read news articles all day, but my vote would be based on my biased firsthand experience of living in America, and rendezvousing Tehran during the Summer. I believe in aiding the Iranian people and my family in Iran in helping bring about the change they want by standing in solidarity with them, and that is silent, unconditional solidarity.

Daniel Tavana
Research Associate, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)

This might be a boring response, but I have two different answers. First, there is an important difference between Iranians and Iranian citizens. The latter have a constitutionally protected right to vote, whereas the former do not (unless they are eligible for Iranian citizenship and the state views them as citizens in accordance with the law). There are a number of Iranians living abroad who are citizens, and these people should be able to vote if they so chose, even if they live abroad. Many of them are students, family members, tourists, etc. who are Iranian citizens but cannot vote in-country. Diaspora Iranians, "ex-patriot" as you describe, do not have the right to vote in accordance with the constitution. Diaspora Iranians (non-citizens) can participate however they so choose: encouraging citizens to vote a certain way is not, in my opinion, a form of intervention or regime change. I don't think governments should ever systematically do that, for obvious reasons, but I do not see the harm in private citizens, be they of Iranian descent or not, express an opinion about a country they care about. The fact that these individuals might "have vastly different political and religious beliefs" (an assertion I don't even think can be empirically proven), is inconsequential. It is ultimately for the Iranian people, Iranian citizens, to decide what they want.

As for your question on morality, I'm not sure what you mean the "moral right to vote." I think the right to vote is a constitutionally protected one reserved for citizens of the state, who may choose to vote or not vote as they see fit. I, myself, am not an advocate of boycotts -- I think they consistently fail to accomplish the goals of those who advocate in their favor. But I think that's an entirely separate question.

Roshanak Taghavi
International journalist

Fundamentally, I don't see it as a question of morality. Citizens have a basic, legal right to vote—even those who have neither visited Iran nor lived there, or don’t plan to return. [Just as I— as a US citizen—had the right to cast an absentee ballot from Iran (where I was working as a reporter) during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Even if I’d stayed overseas, I would still have had the right to vote as an absentee in the 2012 U.S. election, just like tons of other expats]. "Ex-patriot" voting is not “foreign intervention,” because those voting are citizens of Iran and may still consider it their country, no matter where they live.

For many of those in the diaspora, the ‘Iran’ of today may no longer be the ‘Iran’ they left (the country has changed so much both culturally and politically throughout the last thirty-plus years, and is still constantly changing) – but who they are today has, to some degree, been shaped by their Iranian heritage. If someone holds Iranian citizenship, and cares enough to keep it, he or she has the right to vote.

Yes, the act of voting itself may indeed be viewed as legitimizing a political system one may disagree with. But those same voters who might not necessarily like that political system could also view voting as a tool to instigate organic reform, however slow it might turn out to be.

Shirin Sadeghi
International journalist

The role Iranians abroad have in the election is that they have the right to vote: Overseas Iranians can vote from abroad if they have an Iranian birth certificate and passport. While the current citizenship requirements unfortunately exclude some Iranians (for example those whose mother is Iranian are usually excluded because they don't meet the patrilineal requirements), it does add to the numbers of voters (which is a good thing in any country), particularly because of the large numbers of Iranians in the diaspora at the moment.

There are many nations that envy this Iranian allowance -- Pakistan, for instance, only recently passed a law allowing overseas Pakistanis to vote and that won't even take effect until the next election.

As for a moral obligation, this doesn't really seem like a question of morality. For any system of government there are those who accept the system and are willing to work within it, those who do not accept it and refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy by participating in elections, and yet others who don't see their vote as bringing any kind of meaningful change. The fact is, some of the most passionate and well informed people refuse to vote in many countries around the world -- that's how they choose to exercise that right. Think of it this way: In the US, people have the right to bear arms, but not everyone does -- those who don't aren't lacking in morality.

Alex Shams
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Ajam Media Collective

As Iranians abroad, our status is defined by displacement from our homeland. Some imagine themselves in exile, unable to return. Others imagine themselves as a diaspora, able to return but unwilling due to opportunities abroad unavailable back home. But either way, we are all Iranian; the Iranian political process shapes both our lives as well as those of our friends and family in Iran.

Additionally, the Iranian political process has a tremendous affect on our status and our lives as Iranians abroad. As the US, the EU, and other international actors attempt to isolate Iran, our lives as Iranians who live transnationally become increasingly difficult. I think it is necessary for us to make our voices heard and to oppose the strangling of our homeland. In the same way that I think voting in the US elections for the candidate who promises to prevent a war on Iran and to ease sanctions is important (in the last elections, the Green Party), I feel there is a moral imperative for Iranians abroad to participate in the Iranian elections and vote. A slight improvement is better than none.

I believe that whenever any individual has the right to vote, it is imperative for her or him to exercise that right. We can only lay a claim on the political system if we take part in it. We can only demand to know, “Where is my vote?” if we actually cast our votes and participate in the political process. Otherwise I think we are being disingenuous. The act of voting itself lays a demand upon the political system to function, and if and when it does not function and our votes are not respected, it follows that we have the right to demand our votes be respected. If you don’t vote, it is harder to legitimize the demand that your voice be heard.

Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi
Final year PhD student focusing on modern intellectual and political Iranian history, Queen's College, University of Oxford
Do you think that, beyond having the legal right, Iranians and Iranian citizens living outside Iran have the moral right to vote in Friday's presidential election despite not living in Iran?
First, I'd like to stress that I am writing in a strictly personal capacity and I am not speaking as an 'analyst' or 'expert'. I am writing as a dual-citizen, who has the right to vote, if he so chooses.

I don't feel I can determine anyone's moral rights or obligations as far as voting is concerned. Ex-pat Iranian citizens have a legal right to vote; they can choose to exercise it or not. I won't be voting, since I personally have no respect for or trust in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)'s electoral system or the regime in any way, shape or form.

Furthermore, I don't see any guarantee my vote will even be counted, or that fraud will not take place. The selection of candidates is vetted by the unelected and unaccountable Guardian Council, half of which is comprised of retrograde clerics, is truly abysmal. I also cannot envisage my vote doing anything to improve the lot of Iran's many political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

From another angle, I see no point in voting for a pseudo-'Reformist' candidate, since anyone who might legitimately be called a 'Reformist', has been effectively marginalised, including the ex-president, Mohammad Khatami (and I should add that I seriously disagree with the latter's politics and his conception of what 'reform' entails). Hasan Rowhani is the same man who denounced protesters of Iran's last election as "seditionists" and whose cries for justice he described as "pre-planned to be abused by the enemy". Now to play up to people in the crowds he has changed his tune. Election season in Iran, much like elsewhere, causes politicians to make promises they don't plan to keep, and in any case the Iranian president's executive authority is seriously stunted, as Mahmud Ahmadinejad, much to his chagrin realised in the course of his own presidency. The theocratic elements of the Iranian constitution and Supreme Leader Khamenei's control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), military, judiciary, Guardian Council, Intelligence Ministry etc, have little stomach for views which happen to contradict their own, as Ayatollah Khomeini's one-time darlings, the left or Reformists, have now experienced first hand.

I must admit that I see little point in merely perpetuating the exchange of power between the hands of the IRI elite; former PMs, presidents, Majles speakers, IRGC members and alumni; what are called inside Iran, "insider" forces. Propping up their internal rivalries and egotistical jockeying has no appeal for me. Furthermore, I don't see it abetting democratisation in the longer term and I don't see the IRI as "reformable" in its current state.

I can understand why many middle class Iranians and those occupying the poorer strata of Iranian society and deeply affected by the state of the economy might feel compelled to vote and choose between bad, worse and downright awful. I understand why many have to think in relative terms and are desperate to survive and eke out their daily existence. I can see why millions might continue to hope that if they elect one candidate, instead of another, he (I say he, because in line with the Guardian Council's interpretation of the Constitution a woman cannot be president) will help put bread on the table and alleviate their economic hardship. The same goes for students who are desperate for the dollar to drop against the rial, because their standard of living abroad has plummeted. Or the many people who are desperate for sanctions to be lifted because they might not be able to obtain the requisite medicine for a family member etc... I deeply empathise from outside and a position of relative comfort with these people's dilemmas.

Only thing I would say is that it is also important to consider the larger context and strategic outlook of the Supreme Leader, his ruling cabal and the Revolutionary Guards, and how they have affected the country detrimentally. In this respect, I can't see much hope for significant changes in the aftermath of the election given the track record of the candidates. I'd also recommend that if there are any expectations, it is best that they are very tempered and limited, to avoid severe disappointment later down the line. Whether the candidates will be able to deliver much, even in such relative terms is another question that I won't get into. Just one point. I think the candidates differences of approach to the nuclear issue are essentially differences of style, not substance, and that ultimately the nuclear file, will not be in their hands. They will be able to make some impact, the question, however, is how much. There may well be something to the argument that Jalili is a 'dangerous dogmatist' and it is important to ensure he is not elected at any cost.
If it is the obligation of Iranians living in Iran, and them alone, to chose the government under which they will live, whether they seek to challenge and change the system or to reinforce it, what role do Iranians abroad - some of whom have vastly different political and religious beliefs than Iranians in Iran - have in the vote?
Iranians within Iran just like anywhere else adhere to very different belief systems, possess various attachment and allegiances, and have very diverse hopes, aspirations and desires. I don't think there is a simple opposition or dichotomy drawn between domestic and diaspora beliefs, lifestyles, and aspirations. There is a lot of traffic and exchange between the two. Moreover, I strongly believe that minority beliefs and persuasions have a right to be protected by law as long as they do not harm others, irrespective of whether they reflect the majority's view or not. They too have a right to representation and for their voices to be heard.

Within Iran there are also many significant cultural and linguistic differences, and others on the periphery who don't particularly concern themselves with what goes on in Tehran. Iran has communists, secularists, liberals, royalists, atheists, ultra-nationalists, pan-Iranists, Azeri nationalists, Kurdish nationalists etc. and has had them for a very long time. In fact the communist Tudeh Party in the 1950s could bring out tens of thousands of people, indeed even more, at the drop of a hat (unprecedented in the region at the time), until they were razed to the ground by the Shah's regime following the August 1953 coup. Also, between 50,000 to 100,000 women marched in the streets of Tehran despite rain and snow in March 1979 to protest Khomeini's statement which sought to impose the hejab on female state employees. What I want to say is that despite systematic repression and disenfranchisement, just as in the past, Iran remains a very diverse place and Iranians are diverse individuals with their own individual preferences, tastes and attitudes.

Obviously many people inside Iran are religious, but religiosity is also variegated. Many are religious while being offended by the regime and what they see as its instrumentalisation of Islam etc... Moreover, just as Iranians within Iran are diverse, so is the diaspora, where again, some are religious and hold views closer to those of the IRI establishment, while others detest everything this regime stands for. In short, both inside and outside the country there are a plethora of views and much ideological polarisation. We also have to remember that many Iranians have been driven out of their country due to religious or political persecution. Just look at the egregious treatment of Baha'is in Iran. Many were also recent exiles who fled in 2009 because if they hadn't they might have been tortured or given heavy prison sentences. I unequivocally believe such people have a right to express their views regarding their country's political destiny and it is no less their country because they happen to have been driven out of it by the authoritarian state currently in power.

I think the issue you're really getting at is that those within Iran and in the diaspora are living under distinct socio-political and economic conditions and how these immediately affect their lives, their livelihood. I have stated above why I empathise with their plight. They are indeed in a very unenviable position and I cannot and would not ever take it upon myself to tell them how they ought or ought not to act.
Can "ex-patriot" voting almost be seen as a kind of foreign intervention for regime change (or reform), albeit a peaceful kind, or is the act of voting itself an act of legitimating a political system one may disagree with? Are the circumstances different for Iranian citizens who have never visited Iran, never lived in Iran or who, perhaps, don't ever plan on going/returning?
No, I disagree with such a characterisation. Many Iranians as I said were driven out of Iran against their will and if they hadn't left they would have been tortured, imprisoned and killed. This was especially the case in the 1980s, during which as I'm sure you know tens of thousands of Iran political prisoners were executed; in one case 4,000-5,000 in the single summer of 1988. There was also an eight year war with Ba'thist ruled Iraq and many families decided they did not want to raise their children in a war torn country. One cannot begrudge such people for a second and contend they don't have a right to express an opinion vis-a-vis the future of their homeland.

If there are individuals in the disapora who grew up and were born in Iran and have many of their most formative and cherished memories in Iran, I don't think there can be any doubt that they have a right to express their opinion, engage in civic activism and even undertake peaceful forms of protest and civil disobedience outside of the parameters of the electoral system to advocate for change at both home and abroad. The problem is that the ruling establishment doesn't currently afford such people the opportunity to express their views freely or act in accordance with their conscience inside the country. They too are left with tough choices.

Finally, it's important to acknowledge that many Iranians in the diaspora, especially amongst those who were most affected by the events of 2009, advocate voting and participation in this year's elections, even while they still might fear returning to Iran. This is the case, while many inside Iran advocate a boycott. We find all sorts, both inside and outside the country, which I hope I have appropriately conveyed.

It goes without saying that those who approve of the IRI and its policies also have a right to express their views, but they should be apprised of the fact that the current regime systematically excludes and disenfranchises a significant swathe of its own citizenry and is a far cry from anything like a free or democratic one.

Mehrnaz Shahabi
Anti-war activist and independent researcher

The questions you have poised are very complex, both in their universal context and in the specific contexts of the Iranian elections, on the one hand, and the Iranian diaspora, on the other. Neither is it possible to simply differentiate between a legal right of citizenship, in this case, the right to vote, and the moral right to vote.

Whilst it might be the case that many amongst the Iranian diaspora have interests and beliefs which might be different, even at odds, to those of the majority of the Iranian population, this disparity, even polarity, also exists in Iran, as it does in any other society. Just as Iranian society itself is not a unitary body, neither is the diaspora.

It is not possible to assume the views and beliefs of the majority in Iran. Iran is a very complex society which has undergone massive demographic changes, and it is reasonable to say that the large size of the diaspora contains aspects of this diversity and complexity. Had the size of the Iranian diaspora not been significant (one million in the US and several million worldwide) the issue of their right to vote would not have arisen. Several million is a very sizeable minority (itself disparate) of the population that may not be morally excluded, whether or not one might disagree with their perceived 'majority' view.

This same argument may be used to exclude Iranians with dual citizenship from the decision making processes of their host countries or to question the morality of their right to vote, assuming and arguing that they have interests, alliances and sentiments elsewhere, possibly at variance with the views and interests of the majority in their host countries.

Significantly, perceived interests and views of the Iranian diaspora, whatever they may be, are not static, they interact with and are influenced by other factors, including the dynamics of political life in Iran. By the same token, it is not possible to know with certainty who would not return to Iran, including those of Iranian parentage who may not have been to Iran at all. The right of Iranians to vote in the Iranian elections, whether or not it is used, is a link for continued engagement with Iran, which if severed the grapes will wither on the vine, and lead to further alienation.


I want to thank each and every respondent who took the time to contribute to this article, as well as to those who generously shared their personal views privately.



Arya, Queens NY said...

This is an important question for Iranians (or people of iranian descent living in other countries), one that I have pondered personally over the last three election cycles. I appreciate having the opportunity to hear the thoughts of other potential international voters on this subject. However, I'm a bit puzzled by the comments from Reza Marashi. Does he make the distinction of pre-2009 election sentiments because he feels that the current presidential field is more ideologically limited than that in 2009? Or is he merely dusting off the tired "stolen 2009 election" narrative that has been debunked so many times over the past 4 years that to bring it up at this point is simply embarrassing. Otherwise, very timely article, Nima.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the election. I vote in all elections here in the U.S., and do the same for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Setting aside your questions, Nima, simply consider that a greater percentage of Iranians inside Iran take the time to vote in their elections than do here in the U.S. So why are we asking these questions, anyway?


Unknown said...

While it's great that overseas Iranians can vote, their choices are ridiculously limited. When you start with 680 candidates and get cut down to a mere six, that doesn't leave a lot of choices.

While Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has hand-picked his guys and is engineering a record voter turnout, helped along by the cheerful menace of the Revolutionary Guard to the polls, this election leaves little doubt as to what the outcome will be since whoever wins will be effectively managed by Khamenei as fully as a puppet master. Consequently, while we in the West might be buoyed by a so-called reform candidate, the bitter truth is that this election will lead to no reforms. Along with this pre-determined outcome will be the constant struggles we will have with Iran's continued support of state sponsored terrorism, naked efforts to build nuclear weapons and a policy of using economic sanctions as an excuse to punish and oppress the Iranian people.

At the end of the day, we can only hope that the Iranian people will boycott these elections and deny Khamenei the sense of legitimacy he craves and continue international diplomatic pressure in conjunction with support for dissident groups such as the NCRI and PMOI who are really doing the heavy lifting of fighting for regime change.

Anonymous said...

Instead of asking this stupid question, why not pose the better question:

What's the point of voting in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

What's the point of voting in a dictatorship? That's oxymoron in it in itself.

Nima Shirazi said...

And so it begins...

My tolerance for disgusting MEK boosters, monarchists, lying propagandists, regime change enthusiasts and hysterical blowhards is extremely low. Any more comments like the ones from "Change Iran" and "Anonymous" above, which have absolutely nothing to do with the questions posed by the post itself, will be removed.

You guys have plenty of places on this vast internet to post your silly nonsense, so please go do it somewhere else.

Better yet, don't do it anywhere. It's embarrassing.

Iranophile said...

Is it okay for a non-Iranian who is tremendously fond of Iranian culture to express an opinion?

1. I'm an American child of Italian immigrants. I don't FEEL American, but my patrimony is not sufficient to allow me to become an Italian citizen. Having seen how closely Iranians in Iran identify with their native land, I feel lost.

2. That gives me a sense that some ex-pat Iranians might also feel lost, displaced. Italians have been immigrants for many generations. To the best of my knowledge, adult Iranians in the US are the first generation to have massively migrated from Iran. They are breaking new ground, really and metaphorically. The patterns they establish are important.

3. Machiavelli ( a paisano) said of exiles (can also apply to ex-pats, esp. by force??) --

"From Discourses, Book 2, Chapter 31:
“It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country. For, as to their faith, it has to be borne in mind that anytime they can return to their country by other means than yours, they will leave you and look to the other, notwithstanding whatever promises they had made you. As to their vain hopes and promises, such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself….. A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury.”

4. In general, from an American point of view (and, again, someone who very much admires what Iran was/is at its core/can be), I don't think it's fair for ex-pats to vote and have a voice in deciding how other people, not themselves, must live.

Husband the energy you ex-pats put into following Iran's elections and use it to influence US policy toward your native country. imo, that would do more to bring about change in BOTH of your lands.


Anonymous said...

Wait so I'm automatically MEK-lover because I stand for regime change?

If you're asking if I want a "change" in regime in Iran, then hell yes I do.

Why don't you pack your bags and fly your skinny ass over to Tehran and live in your paradise?

Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini said...

nima I would rather be a MEK supporter, monarchist, or regime change enthusiast any day of the week than someone who votes under the system of rule of jurisprudence by cleric. you sir, along with anyone that gives legitimacy to this regime, the mullah Mafioso establishment and their sham elections are a disgrace to the entire Iranian nation.

IBN MUJLAM said...

and nima just by threatening to remove posts of people you disagree with (MKO/monarchist/regime change) you have shown your true "bache akhoond" basiji colors!

so much for a progressive intellectual voice on Iranian issues...hooman majd you have a new competitor for most treasonous...LOL

Anonymous said...

What's the point of voting in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

What's the point of voting in a dictatorship? That's oxymoron in it in itself.


Iranophile said...

""crazy neo con" instead of "pro-democracy"."

= = =
If by pro-democracy you mean that mahvelous system in place in USofA, have you looked around recently?

You really think Iran has a problem bcz its presidential candidates are vetted by an ayatollah, but think USA is hunky dorey where the unregistered agent of a foreign government must be paid homage to in order to run for pres/senate/congress/state gov/DoD, etc.

At least Khameini is an Iranian who has Iran's interests at heart, not those of a foreign entity.

By "pro-democracy" you mean an economy system based on conspicuous consumption?

A central bank run by plutocrats who use the head of the Treasury Dept. to destabilize another sovereign nation (Iran) while his own is falling apart? You think Iran's system needs to raised to THAT level of corruption?

You think "pro-democracy" USA family life is superior to Iran's? USA could use a bit of hijabism to reestablish some self-respect among young girls.


“If by pro-democracy you mean that mahvelous system in place in USofA, have you looked around recently?”

Yes the system in the United States, while albeit has its own flaws and issues, is on a completely different level in terms of the freedom and participation of its citizenry in its politics.

“You really think Iran has a problem bcz its presidential candidates are vetted by an ayatollah, but think USA is hunky dorey where the unregistered agent of a foreign government must be paid homage to in order to run for pres/senate/congress/state gov/DoD, etc.”

Lol if you are honestly comparing america’s election and vetting process where even the American Communist party puts forth candidates to run for elections to Iran’s velayate- faqih/marjeye taqlid pulling names out of a hat that dress like them, think like them, walk like them, die for Imam like them…you must be either extremely retarded and uninformed or brainwashed by your nazi hezbollahi life influences like Nima Shirazi.

“At least Khameini is an Iranian who has Iran's interests at heart, not those of a foreign entity.”

Hahahahahahhahahahaha. This is by far the funniest thing you have ever wrote. Even Khamenei speaks out against Irani-gari and calls himself Vali-Amr Al Muselemeen which means he is the leader of the Islamic ummah and the Shiite nation before he even considers himself an Iranian. Every single thing the Islamic Republic has done since it came into power has served the interests of the Shiites of South Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine and anyone other than Iranians or Iranian people. Seyyed Ali thinks first and foremost of his own power and what the Russians and British allow him to do at the end of the day. If Khamenei cared so much about Iranians why is he pursuing an agenda that puts the Iranian people in the lowest possible economic, social, political, status they have ever seen.

“By "pro-democracy" you mean an economy system based on conspicuous consumption?”
Another joke. You are a really good comedian I admit. Have you ever been to Tehran to see what kind of cars these people drive? Do u think Khamenei is so pious he sleeps on the floor like Gandhi?

“A central bank run by plutocrats who use the head of the Treasury Dept. to destabilize another sovereign nation (Iran) while his own is falling apart? You think Iran's system needs to raised to THAT level of corruption?”

LOL you are right there is less corruption in Iran than in the United States. Iran is a meritocracy where people are appointed to positions through their merits as opposed to gaav-bandi/religious/family connections. LOL

“You think "pro-democracy" USA family life is superior to Iran's? USA could use a bit of hijabism to reestablish some self-respect among young girls.”

LOL hijabism as in Iran? You mean akhoonds reading sighe for young girls ? you mean chadoris by day and prostitutes by night? Boro khejalat bekesh martike. just because you view your mother and sister as mere objects which serve as a cause of shame for you, doesnt mean the rest of us look at our women that way. so please wrap your own mother and sister in a hijab, beat your chest for imam zeynolabedin, sacrifice yourself like a good Shiite muslim for velayate faqih, and leave the rest of us the hell alone.

Iranophile said...

Sure do wish I could read Farsi to understand 1/3 of what you wrote ....

- - -
A frequenter commenter on a blog where I participate has said more than a few times that the only way to get zionism out of its deep entrenchment in US politics is if Israel/US wage war on Iran. Then, the American backlash against Israel would be so severe that zionists would leave/be driven out.

That's an ugly scenario, and cowardly, too.

But if you're so fond of all that zionism has bestowed on USA -- central banking that manipulates US currency, exacerbates divide between rich and poor, gains power thru wealth (from the top down) not people (bottom up), then per favor, do this: When Iran becomes "pro-democracy," promise to take zionists along in the bargain?

In the USA, we are learning that they have not been all that good for us.

So when Iran goes all-out "pro-democracy," and overturns the turbans to replace them with predatory capitalists, folks who think assassination is a good thing, people who "sold and sold and sold weapons to Iran so that Iraqis and Iranians would kill each other, and Israel would reap massive profits (see Ronen Bergman, "The Thirty Years War,"), well, go for it.

There was a talk in NYC a few weeks ago where one of the speakers, a former NATO ambassador, said, "If I/P is resolved, Tehran will forge closer relations with Tel Aviv than with Washington." I think that's a loss for Washington, and based on Bergman's book, not such a good deal for Tehran, either.

imo, US and Iran have a great deal in common, and we'd both be better off as respectful friends than as ignorant and mutually destructive antagonists.

I admire Iran precisely because it is NOT like the USA. I don't think USA has a lock on the ultimate answers to man's eternal questions, or systems. If Iran DID become too much like USA, a valuable asset & model that world needs could be lost. It would be like having all eggplant and no pomegranate in the fesenjoon -- tasteless.

Babak said...

Why is that whenever you criticize Iran's government, the pro-regime crowd comes to defend it by mentioning USA's flaws?

Hey buddy guess what? I am sure you live in the West so please pack your bags and move back to your mullah paradise.

That line about Khamenei having the interests of Iran at heart made me spit out my orange juice.

You're a shitty analyst and political junkie, but you're a fantastic comedian.

Iranophile said...

you win, babak.

you've convinced this westerner of the error of his ways.

I'll commit my energies to correcting my own country's flaws.

Iran shd be bombed into submission.

enjoy your life.

Anonymous said...

Who needs elections when you have a Supreme Leader-for-Life who has the final say and effective veto power on all key matters and is beyond criticism?

Iran-thru-Open-Eyes said...

"Why is that whenever you criticize Iran's government, the pro-regime crowd comes to defend it by mentioning USA's flaws?"

= = =

The greenest thing about Iran's Green Movement is grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-ism.

Do you think Obama has freedom of movement? Every US pres since Woodrow Wilson has been co-opted by the same foreign entity, and with full support of sheeple motivated from the steeple.

Iranians have three major advantages:
1. Iranians KNOW they are under siege, Americans do not;
2. A national epic that unifies all Iranians; -- USA has NO foundational mythos.
3. Americans have lived their entire lives believing the lies about the wars that propelled USA to economic & military dominance. Iran was not a party to those wars tho Iran suffered from them, but Iran OBSERVED those wars, watched the history as it was playing out; KNOWS where the skeletons, and the truth, lies buried.

Anonymous said...

I daresay that residents of the Islamic Republic have more than three major advantages over Americans:

1. Their leaders can only be Shia male clerics who rule until they die

2. Their leaders, presidents, and judges can only be Shia males

3. They cannot openly choose what they wear, drink, listen to, read, sing about, watch, whom they hold hands with, etc

4. They don't have freedom of speech, press, assembly or freedom from or of religion

5. They can enjoy the fruits of living under a regime which has executed tens of thousands of their fellow Iranian men and women

6. They can enjoy the benefits of living under the world's leading per capita executioner

7. If they are Bahais, they cannot attend college or practice their religion, and they can feel secure in the knowledge that hundreds of their coreligionists have been executed for their religion