An anti-US billboard in Tehran. Photo: Olaf Koens.

On the day that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, our Observer Olaf Koens happened to be in Tehran. He tells us how the Iranian capital reacted to the news.

"The new administration will realise that the problems in both Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be solved without Iran"

Olaf Koens is one of our Dutch Observers who is travelling in Iran.

As the polls opened in America, night was falling over Tehran. Seeing as the results would only be known in the early morning of November 5, most Iranians didn't stay awake to watch the story unfold. Despite the news that the Iranian interior minister, Ali Kordan, was sacked, the presidential elections dominated all conversation, from newspapers to people on the streets.

The spiritual leader of the country, Ali Khamenei, last week told a group of students that the hatred against the United States ran deep. "We have problems over more then just a couple of political issues," he said. Analysts interpret his message as a sign that Iran isn't looking for closer ties with the [country known as] "Great Satan", and that politicians shouldn't expect too much of Obama.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, already congratulated Barack Obama on winning the election. "I hope you will prefer real public interests and justice and seize the opportunity to serve people so that you will be remembered with high esteem," he said. He added that "the great nation of Iran welcomes basic and fair changes in US policies and conduct, especially in the region [of the Middle East]." Ahmadinejad hopes that America's "war-oriented politics" will be replaced by the ones advocating justice, human rights, friendship and non-interference in other countries' internal affairs.

With a historic victory for Barack Obama, there is a slight chance that there will be direct talks between Iran and the United States. Since the revolution in 1979 and the siege of the American embassy that followed, there have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently suggested strengthening ties.

European diplomats in Tehran are slightly optimistic. The new administration will realise that the problems in both Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be solved without Iran. Barack Hussein Obama in any case impresses the Middle East with his name. Not only is Hussein an important figure in the Islamic religion, his surname translates both in Farsi and Arabic as "he that is with us".

Iran became an important topic in the presidential race. John McCain has repeatedly hammered Obama for being willing to speak to president Ahmadinejad of Iran. Obama said in debates that he believed in a foreign policy in which the United States negotiates with its "enemies".

In the meantime, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in quite a lot of turmoil itself. With the price of crude oil declining rapidly, it has trouble putting its budget together. Inflation is high in the country. The national bank recently assessed it at a staggering 29 percent."

 

The front page of an Iranian newspaper on Tuesday.

The two presidential candidates caricatured.

"If Iran produces nuclear missiles, America will start a war anyhow"

Mohammed is a pipeline engineering student and Obama fan from Tehran.

I absolutely favour Obama. I think he is a calm and friendly man. It is an absolute historic moment. I didn't expect him to win. Sometimes I am afraid that only a small group of people rule the world, and I didn't think they would let Obama win the election.

I have a lot of family around the world, from Germany to Canada to the United States. My uncle teaches at Stanford University. Still, I wouldn't want to go and live there. I don't want to leave my family and girlfriend alone here in Tehran. Maybe only to go study for a while.

Life in Tehran is very expensive. If you want to support a family, rent an apartment and drive a car, you may need to have around €1000 a month. Even the best engineers make only €400 a month. Now the government has promised that there will be free water, and free gas. Still I am paying a lot of money for it. Corruption is a big problem. When you drive your car in the wrong lane, which is quite normal here, you'll have to pay a lot of money. When I'm going out with my girlfriend it is quite possible that police stop you and ask you why you are not married. In order to avoid problems, you should pay.

I believe that Iran has the absolute right for nuclear power. But I am afraid of war. It doesn't really matter who is the president in the White House. I'm afraid that if Iran produces nuclear missiles, America will start a war anyhow."

Official billboards painted around the former American Embassy in Tehran

"We will give in against the dictatorship of no government, even the United States".

These murals are painted in the area around Taleqani Avenue, where the US Embassy was situated before the 1979 revolution, during which 52 American diplomats were taken hostage by revolutionaries for 444 days. Photos by Olaf Koens.