Presidential candidate ... Hooshang Amirahmadi. Photo: Rutgers University
If all goes according to law, Iran will get a new president later this year – and he might be a Redditor.
Hooshang Amirahmadi, a candidate for president of Iran, held a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" on Thursday night in which he answered a variety of Redditors' questions.
Amirahmadi was born in Iran, but left for the US in 1975 amid political turmoil preceding the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He has degrees from the University of Dallas and Cornell University and now works at Rutgers University as a professor and director of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. He's returned to Iran numerous times and is a leading figure in American-Iranian relations.
In his Reddit AMA, Amirahmadi – who signed up for Reddit specifically for the occasion – argued that he was the candidate of peace and understanding while downplaying concerns his time spent in the US would make him effectively unelectable:
"The biggest problem for Iran is a lack of trust between the US Iran. I have lived 40 years in the US, I understand both cultures and languages. I can easily build trust between the two countries, particularly because I have never been part of the problem between the US and Iran. I have tried to be part of the solution for 25 years."
"I believe the majority of Iranians are smart enough and fair enough to not dismiss me without any proof. I have always maintained consistent principles, and those who know me, know that I fight for what I believe in; not for any intelligence agency!"
Amirahmadi also took potshots at his competition:
"I am a bridge builder, while my competitors are enemies of one another. None of them have experience in bridge building between factions. The factions in the country and the candidates are enemies and have no intention of closing gaps. Instead they are isolating each other."
Amirahmadi said his administration would push for free speech, "including social media". That's particularly significant considering Iran's tight grip on the media and social media's role in Iranian anti-government demonstrations in 2009. However, Amirahmadi's commitment to free speech should be weighed against the relative lack of authority held by Iranian presidents compared to that afforded to religious leaders, a situation Amirahmadi acknowledged in his AMA.
"Mullahs don't decide who nominates him/herself as a candidate. They cannot prohibit Iranians from registering people as candidates. However, the Guardian Council will vet candidates, which limits the pool to a few people. We will fight this."
Why would an Iranian presidential candidate do an interview on Reddit, a mostly Western website based in the US? International attention, he said.
"I don't think that talking to Redditors will hurt my chances in any way. It can only help by driving more global attention to my candidacy."
Overall, Redditors overwhelmingly responded positively to Amirahmadi, with several asking for his help.
"I'm a photographer from the UK, could I help out if I hypothetically came to Iran (which I'd love to do)? or do you need help within the UK," one Redditor asked, to which Amirahmadi responded with his email address.
"Will you be campaigning in Belgium? I live in Brussels and I work in the film industry working as a videographer and graphic designer. I would love to help out in any way I can, so let me know if you need me. Thank you, and good luck," wrote another.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's final term ends in August. Amirahmadi's candidacy, which has been gaining increased media attention outside Iran, is something of a long-shot, particularly given Iran's less than stellar record of electoral fairness.
Read Amirahmadi's full Reddit AMA here.
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