Suit and tie sways voters in new Iran

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The Independent Online
SADEGH SAMII, a clean-shaven aristocrat never without his tie, is the poster child for President Mohammed Khatami's new Iran.

Among 300,000 candidates vying for seats in Iran's new city, town and village councils, his smiling face and dyed black hair stood out in newspaper advertisements and campaign posters.

But when voters go to the polls today, Samii, a businessman and publisher, will arouse electoral passion.

His tie, virtually banned since the Islamic revolution of 1979 as a symbol of the hated West, is now something of a vote-getter among disaffected Tehranis. This small item of clothing alone is evidence that in today's Islamic Republic, politically correct symbolism is a thing of the past.

The range of candidates in the poll, the country's first attempt at grassroots democracy, has taken Iranians by surprise. Samii's tie is pictured on street corners beside bearded revolutionaries, turbanned mullahs, a yuppie in designer eyeglasses and pubescent girls in black shrouds.

"Why shouldn't I wear a tie?" Samii asks, shuffling papers while trying to answer his mobile telephone.

"Not a day has passed in 20 years when I didn't wear a tie. My tie is a symbol of education, of technology, of modernity. As a member of the aristocracy, I think the time is right for someone like me to participate in politics."

The fact that iconoclasts such as Samii and his yuppie rival are allowed to run at all speaks volumes about the changes in Iran. But the outcome of the poll will test the depth of this new tolerance. If Samii captures only the votes of the secular elite living in Tehran's northern suburbs, his tie will have proved to be little more than a fashion accessory.

If he attracts supporters across the vast class divide from south to north Tehran, then it will be clear that voters accepted the advice President Khatami gave earlier this week.

Promoting a desired atmosphere of "Islamic love", as one mullah put it, Mr Khatami declared that even those who reject the regime, the president, and the supreme clerical leader, should enjoy their liberty provided they do not take up arms or engage in other efforts to topple the state.

Samii is reluctant to discuss such philosophical issues. It is probably a wise move. When asked if the principles of the Islamic Revolution were still intact, he said: "A majority of the population now are teenagers, and they can't possibly remember the revolution.

"It was like any other revolution, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution. It was simply an historical event."