x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Required reading: Iranian election

The Iranian Presidential election is over. But where is the country heading now?

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Polling day in the Iranian Presidential election has come and gone, and the reformist candidate Hassan Rouhani has claimed victory.

The election brings with it one certainty: Iran's bombastic, controversial President of the last eight years, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is finally being ushered from the world stage. But the opacity of Iranian politics ensures that divining the future of this country of 70 million - little understood, but rarely outside the headlines - is never easy.

It's impossible to understand the forces at play in this election without understanding Iran's recent past; in particular, the 1979 popular revolution that overthrew the Shah and installed an Islamic Republic. There are many scholarly accounts, but none carry the immediacy of Marjane Satrapi's brilliant, heart-wrenching Persepolis (Vintage, Dh52), a graphic novel in which Satrapi recalls her childhood in Iran, and political cataclysm that changed everything. Along the way, you'll learn how the Iranian revolution was never simple: Satrapi's parents were radical Marxists who at first supported the revolution, and then watched in horror as power was seized by Islamic fundamentalists.

In 2009, millions poured on to the streets of Tehran in protest, claiming the Presidential election had been stolen from the reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The Gaze of the Gazelle (University of Chicago Press, Dh84) by Arash Hejazi is an arresting firsthand account of the 2009 protests, but also tells a broader story: Hejazi is typical of the millions of young, educated, metropolitan Iranians who made up the Green Movement in 2009, and still long for change. How long, one wonders, can they be ignored?

So what do the coming years hold? Iranian-American journalist Hooman Majd has developed a reputation as an astute, sympathetic and funny commentator on the countries politics, mores and potential futures. In The Ayatollah's Democracy (Penguin, Dh58) Majd muses on the meaning of the 2009 protests, and the future for Iran. The Green Movement, says Majd, was never the revolution some western commentators wanted it to be; instead, it is a civil rights movement that will push Iran towards its own brand of 'Islamic democracy'.

We'll soon know whether the events of 2013 accord with that prediction.

* David Mattin