Rutgers prof aims to replace Ahmadinejad
Long-shot candidate seeks warming ties between Iran, West
A Rutgers University professor intends to run for president of Iran, on a reform platform that includes allaying tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States and Israel.
A citizen of both the United States and Iran, Hooshang Amirahmadi told JNS.org that as president of Iran he would work toward ending the animosity and mutual distrust between Iran and its current adversaries.
“This problem is not going to go away overnight; there are stages to this,” Amirahmadi said of Iran’s toxic relations with the U.S. and Israel. “Most important is communication; even countries at war communicate with each other. We need to bring together people on both sides — educators, experts, policy makers — to learn more about each other
Running on a reformist platform in a country with a reactionary government, Amirahmadi is using 21st-century tactics. On Feb. 6 he took to the popular social news website Reddit to participate in an “Ask Me Anything” session, where he described his effort as a “truly international campaign that is trying to bring in the global community behind a set of peaceful ideas and prescriptions for legal reform.”
Iranian elections are slated for this June, when a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be chosen. During Iran’s last election, in 2009, widespread protests and violence broke out after many accused the government of voter fraud following Ahmadinejad’s victory over reformist rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The protests became known as the “Green Revolution.”
Amirahmadi was born in Talesh, Iran, in 1947. He holds a PhD in international development from Cornell University and is currently a professor and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. He is also the founder and president of the American-Iranian Council, which aims to improve ties between the Iranian and U.S. governments.
He previously declared himself a candidate in the Iranian presidential election in June 2005, but, according to his biography at Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, “the conservative and religious Guardian Council disqualified him for his American citizenship and democratic platform.”
Amirahmadi’s chances seem little better this time around: The Guardian Council, a hardline group of Islamic jurists handpicked by Iran’s Supreme Leader to oversee interpretation of the Iranian Constitution, remains in charge of the selection of candidates for national elections.
“I would put his chances at getting through the Guardian Council, optimistically, at zero percent,” said Hooman Majd, Iranian-American author of The Ayatollah’s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Nevertheless, Amirahmadi will continue with his campaign efforts in hopes of creating real change in Iran.
‘Israel is real’
Besides improving ties with the U.S. and Israel, Amirahmadi, if elected, intends to fix Iran’s economy and end its nuclear program.
“First, U.S. and Iran relations… that conflict must be resolved for both nations. I want to pay a visit to the White House in the first 100 days in office and shake Obama’s hand,” Amirahmadi wrote on Reddit.
“Second… I want to create 6 million jobs during my first term in office.”
When asked by a Reddit user how he would accomplish this, he elaborated: “By resolving the Iran-U.S. conflict, it would open Iran up to foreign investment…especially from wealthy Iranian expatriates.”
Amirahmadi also made it clear to Reddit users that he would end Iran’s nuclear program.
“I do not think Iran needs to have a nuclear weapon,” he wrote. “However, under the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) Iran does have the right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
The candidate also made a point to differentiate himself from the current president.
“Ahmadinejad increased tension between the U.S. and Israel,” Amirahmadi wrote. “I will be the exact opposite. Ahmadinejad domestically has also been a dividing force; I will be a uniting force. He isolated the Iranian economy; I will integrate Iran’s economy.”
When asked if he fears for his safety, considering Iran’s history of imprisoning and torturing reformists, Amirahmadi wrote, “Not really…. I am running within the laws of the nation, I am a peaceful person…. Our movement is 100 percent nonviolence.”
Following his session on Reddit, Amirahmadi told JNS.org about his views on the rich history between the Jewish and Iranian people.
“The Jewish people have lived in Iran for over 3,000 years,” he said. “They have had positive relations for centuries. There is no historical animosity, no territorial dispute, no religious problem between Iran and Israel.”
Amirahmadi blamed the Islamic Revolution for destroying the thousands of years of cooperation between the two peoples.
“The Islamic Revolution messed up this relationship,” he said. “It was anti-American and as a result became anti-Israel. Over time this animosity has perpetuated. It is a very sad situation.”
Iran and Israel “need to stop threatening each other,” Amirahmadi said, calling Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and threats to wipe Israel off the map “very troubling,” but also criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu’s “threats of war,” referring to the Israeli prime minister’s “red lines” that would prompt Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear activity.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Amirahmadi told JNS.org, “The two-state solution is the only solution moving forward. While I understand there is anxiety in Israel, and the Jewish people have suffered greatly, they must come to this reality, [that] we need to find a framework to live in peace.”
To relieve Israel’s anxiety, Amirahmadi said, he would encourage groups like Hamas and Hizbullah to disarm and become political parties.
“These groups need to realize that Israel is real. They cannot wish them away,” he said.
At the same time, he would like to work within the framework of the Islamic Republic, rather than changing the regime wholesale.
“I want to be like Deng Xiaopeng in China. I want to maintain the system but change the policies,” Amirahmadi told JNS.org. “I am not a revolutionary. I am peacemaker, I am an economist, I know how economies work and develop, and I want to bring that to my people.”