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Iranians in a frenzy following drawn-out US presidential vote

Ali Khamenei with the Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij - Mashhad. (Khamenei.ir/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iranians have been watching the U.S. presidential race carefully due to the possible impact the results could have on their lives, particularly the economy being crushed by U.S. sanctions.

“We’re all becoming experts of America’s electoral system and Michigan and Wisconsin,” a Tehran-based journalist told RFE/RL to highlight the great interest in the U.S. vote in the Islamic republic, where many have been anxiously watching the vote-counting process.

The public interest and the extensive media coverage, with all major dailies carrying stories about the vote on their front pages and providing live updates on social media, is in contrast with the official policy declaring that it doesn’t matter to Iran who wins the presidential vote — the result of which is still unknown days after the November 3 election.

U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally exited the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and resulted in the freefall of the national currency. That has caused prices to soar for most things, including food staples.

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In recent months, tensions have heightened between the two countries, which came close to a military confrontation following the January killing by a U.S. drone of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is active in the region in promoting Tehran’s interests.

Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord if Tehran returns to full compliance with it.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani have recently insisted it doesn’t matter if Trump or Biden wins, with Khamenei’s office even publishing a poster to reiterate the point by merging the photos of Trump and Biden into one to suggest that they’re one and the same as far as policy toward Iran goes.

But to the public, observers, and others, the two politicians could to some extent set a different course on Iran.

A potential Trump reelection is seen as a continuation of his “maximum pressure” campaign, which some believe is aimed at an economic collapse that would seemingly force Tehran to change its foreign policy and make concessions regarding its nuclear program.

Those who want to see an end to the Islamic republic, inside and outside the country, have been supportive of the policy due to the troubles it has caused for the clerical establishment. Some Iranian hard-liners are among those supporting Trump, hoping that his reelection would strengthen their anti-American positions further among those who are angered by U.S. attempts to cause problems for the regime.

Yet, many, even those who don’t support the Iranian establishment, are rooting for Biden, hoping that his presidency would result in less tension between Tehran and Washington and a possible easing of some of the economic sanctions that have made their lives increasingly difficult in recent years.

“Why have our people become sensitive to the election in America? What clearer reason than Trump’s withdrawal from the [nuclear deal] and the imposition of maximum oppressive sanctions to bring the Iranian people to their knees (during the coronavirus crisis)?” tweeted political activist Azar Mansoori.

Others highlighted how the twist and turns of the U.S. vote have impacted the dollar exchange rate, which is always watched as an indicator of the state of Iran’s economy.

“[When] Trump’s votes went up, the [value] of the [U.S.] dollar increased to [30,000] tomans. [When] Biden’s votes increased, the dollar was [traded] at [26,000] tomans,” university professor Mohsen Haj Mohammadi said, adding that “in terms of impact by the U.S. vote, [Iran] is like the 51st U.S. state.”

The Iranian Student Polling Agency (ISPA) said in early October that 55 percent of Iranians believed the outcome of the election will affect their country “a lot.” ISPA said it surveyed some 1,618 people by telephone in September.

A satirical music video by Iranian band Dasandaz issued a few days before the U.S. election told Americans that their votes will directly affect Iranians. “Our hands are lifted in prayer, what’s gonna happen in America?” the band members sing in the video, which went viral on social media.

“Hey, Joseph, Thomas, Laura! We don’t know why, but your vote affects us more than you,” the band sings to American voters.

Washington broke off diplomatic ties with Tehran following the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and capture of U.S. diplomats who were held hostage for 444 days by a group of hard-line students.

Some said that even with a Biden presidency, relations between Tehran and Washington are likely to remain tense due to the hostility toward the United States by those in power in Iran.

“People are so excited about a Biden win as if tomorrow the [U.S.] embassy will [reopen]. Be realistic, this land is full of Masumeh Ebtekars,” Mohammad Sefati said on Twitter.

Ebtekar, one of Iran’s vice presidents, was the spokeswoman of the 1979 hostage-takers. The anniversary of the event was marked this week without the usual state-organized rallies due to the raging coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Iran hardest in the region.