- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Way back during Iran’s 2009 presidential election, Twitter was a tool wielded by the guerrilla protest movement. Supporters of the Green Movement used the micro-blogging site to overcome hostility from official media, organize protests against what they saw as a rigged vote, and rally international and domestic support for their cause.
But as Iranians go to the polls today, Twitter has gone mainstream. Accounts trumpet the views of even the most conservative presidential hopefuls — though it is not clear if they are run by campaign staffers or the candidates’ supporters. Whatever the case, it’s clear no part of the Iranian political spectrum denies the organizational power of social media.
@DrSaeedJalili touts the views of the Iranian nuclear negotiator who is believed to be one of the candidates closest to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But despite Jalili’s reputation as the establishment’s man, the account isn’t shy about picking fights with Iranian government institutions. "#Iran state TV is apparently taking political side while getting funds from public treasury," it tweeted yesterday.
The dark horse candidate in this election is Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who appears to have won the support of Green Movement activists. According to at least one poll conducted recently, he even enjoys a double-digit lead over the nearest contender. @HassanRouhani, meanwhile, has touted his surging popularity in recent days, trying to drum up support from voters who may otherwise stay home. The account has taken to pulling positive quotes about the candidate from international media, including this one from the Guardian: "Wherever Rouhani speaks there’s a frenzy."
But the most powerful Iranian tweep isn’t one of the candidates — it’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From @khamenei_ir, the supreme leader has listed the qualities that he’s looking for in Iran’s next president. Iran’s next president must be as concerned with remote villages as the capital, must "fight against corruption and poverty," and "shouldn’t be willing to acquire an international position [by] flattering the West."
Who knows what technology will work its way into Iran by the 2017 presidential campaign. We may even see activists spreading news using Google Glass — sanctions permitting, of course.