Obama and Ahmadinejad in Political Dance

Barack Obama's election victory has won over many hearts and minds in Iran, softening some views of America and revising the tone of voices emerging from the Islamic Republic.

One such voice belongs to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who sent an unprecedented public letter of congratulations to Obama last week -- the first ever from a leader of the Islamic Republic to an American president-elect.

Obama said he would consider the letter carefully, avoiding any "knee-jerk response."

If change has been Obama's call, the letter was Iran's agreeable response.

"May God Almighty ... bless the leaders of societies with the courage to learn from the mistakes of predecessors," Ahmedinejad wrote, according to a translation obtained by ABC News.

"I hope that you will be able to take fullest advantage of the opportunity to serve and leave behind a positive legacy."

Ahmedinajad's own legacy is under review as he approaches the end of his first term and the start of Iran's presidential election season, one in which clear competitors have begun to emerge.

Mehdi Karrubi, a reformist cleric who finished third in the 2005 presidential race, has announced he's running.

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran's popular mayor, is widely expected to run. A conservative and harsh critic of Ahmedinejad, Qalibaf is considered a more Western-friendly alternative within the conservative camp.

As Obama's presidential bid overlaps with Ahmedinejad's, it is having a powerful impact on Iran's electorate.

"News of Barack Hussein Obama's victory was met with elation here in Tehran. ... Many Iranians -- not just government officials -- followed the campaign religiously," Iranian journalist Fariba Pajooh wrote in the Tehran Bureau blog.

Nader Talebzadeh, a filmmaker who's airing a series about U.S.-Iran relations on Iranian national television, said, "There's new hope, fresh air. I think this election in the United States indicates that an era has ended and a new era has begun."

Obama's platform on Iran, which called for "tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions," resonated with Iran's leadership and its urban, educated elite, most of whom favor dialogue and normalization with America. But his coming presidency also speaks to the rural, religious voter -- a group seen as the mainstay of Ahmedinejad's power base.

"When you write out 'Obama' in Persian it comes out meaning 'he is with us,'" said Bill Beeman, author of "The Great Satan vs. The Mad Mullahs," a book on how Americans and Iranians see each other. "It's a slogan, and it was very powerful in Iran. It was immediately noticed.

"For the less sophisticated, his name alone holds a great promise," Beeman told ABC News.

What's in a Middle Name?

"To have an American president with the [middle] name Hussein, for the Iranian population it means a huge amount. Hussein is the central religious figure in the twelver Shiite Islam. ... It is completely pervasive in Iranian life. And 'Barack' means God's grace or blessing [in Persian]. More sophisticated, urbanized people might dismiss this. But for the vast majority of Iranian people ... it can't help but resonate."

While Obama's popularity is at a peak within the Iranian electorate, analysts see approval of Ahmedinejad in decline.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...