Iranian expats in L.A. skeptical about Iran presidential election
For decades, Iranian expatriates in Los Angeles have complained that their government back home is too conservative, too restrictive of its people and too combative with the rest of the world.
Now, a centrist promising more freedoms at home and more dialogue with the West has been elected president.
Some Iranians in Tehran are dancing in the streets. But here in Los Angeles, home to the largest community of Persians outside Iran, the reaction has been muted.
Most of the thousands of Iranians here fled after a revolution that ushered in a rigid Islamic theocracy. In the years since, they’ve been disappointed time and again by the regime back home, so the skepticism about the latest election results is not such a surprise.
Siamak Kalhor, a popular host on the local Iranian-language radio station, KIRN-AM (670), voted absentee for Hassan Rowhani. Kalhor initially called his candidate’s victory a “good thing.” But his suspicions quickly emerged.
“It’s really sad that we’re hoping a Shia cleric is going to lead us out of the religious system,” he said. “We’re hoping a mullah is going to save us out of the mullahs’ hands.... It just shows, in hell there are certain dragons that are so scary that you find shelter among lions.”
Kalhor still has relatives in Iran and visits regularly. He said that even modest improvements — to the flailing economy and the nation’s international stature — would be better than nothing.
Homa Sarshar, an Iranian activist and media personality who moved to Los Angeles three decades ago, took a more hard-line approach. She has not voted in a single Iranian election since coming to the United States.
“He is more liberal, quote unquote, than the others, but he’s not a reformist,” she said of Rowhani. “For me, they’re all the same.”
Rowhani’s reputation as a centrist, the fact that he was not favored by Iran’s supreme leader, the strong voter turnout — all these things, she said, simply go to legitimizing the regime.
“He is going to prolong the life of the Islamic Republic,” she said.
That concern has fueled speculation among some expats in L.A. that Rowhani’s victory was predetermined, the grand plan of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“One of the theories now going on in the Iranian mind is that this was planned,” said Bijan Khalili, owner of the Ketab Persian Bookstore in Westwood.
The hard-line clerics, the theory goes, allowed a more moderate candidate to win so Iranians would feel as though their voices had been heard.
Asked why so many Iranians here are skeptical — even after what appears to be a modest victory — Khalili explained that many times before, the community has gotten its hopes up, only to be disappointed.
“In the last 34 years, they didn’t see anything being better,” he said.
During the last Iranian election season, in 2009, expats here were much more vocal, organizing regular protests and sporting green to show support for the reformist movement back home. But at that time, protesters in Iran had been filling the streets, and there was hope for something much larger: regime change.
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