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Book Review: Death To The Dictator! Witnessing Iran’s Election and the Crippling of the Islamic Republic

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2011 – 10:09

By Nora Langan

Afsaneh Moqadam
Death To The Dictator! Witnessing Iran’s Election and the Crippling of the Islamic Republic
London: The Bodley Head, 2010
134 pp. £10.99

The re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June of 2009 was decried by millions of Iranians as fraudulent. The world watched from afar while Iran erupted that summer as millions took to the streets for peaceful protest. The election protests were the greatest challenge the Iranian government had faced since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In response the government imposed a massive and brutal crackdown in attempts to end demonstrations. Although traditional journalist were denied access,  21st century technology streamed the events to the outside world and prevented the authorities from hiding the brutal events that were unfolding in the streets. “Death to the Dictator!” is a chilling insider account of the events that developed in Iran during the summer of 2009.

The main characters in the book and the author have all been given pseudonyms in order to protect them in such a tumultuous time. The reader watches Mohsen Abbaspour, the main character in the book, transform from a pessimistic young Iranian who believes “Iran cannot be reformed to an engaged citizen swept up in the potential for change, eager to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This transformation begins when Mir-Hossein Moussavi, a reformist and challenger to Ahmadinejad, gains surprising support during the 2009 election campaign. Mohsen believes Moussavi has gained enough widespread support to win the election, and with a high voter turnout the election results would have to be viewed as legitimate. However, only hours after the polls have been closed, the government announces a sweeping victory for Ahmadinejad, leaving many Iranians including Mohsen stunned and angry.

Although his father warns him to not get “too close to politics,” Mohsen disregards his father’s advice. In a defining moment, Mohsen finds himself choosing between accepting the fraudulent election or challenging the regime and therefore risking his life. In one incident Mohsen goes so far to demand a Basiji to produce a warrant during a raid on a Moussavi campaign office and then refuses to lower his head when the militia officer rebukes him. Their confrontation ends ominously when the Basiji points to Mohsen and says to the others in the room, “I’d bet that this young man won’t survive the summer.” During the protests, Mohsen finds himself hurling words and objects at the detested Basijis but several times fails to ensure that his mask stays on. This results in his arrest where he is repeatedly interrogated, tortured, and raped until he is released on August 19, 2009. What seems to trouble Mohsen the most after he is released is that he betrayed his companions during his torture, leaving him to feel that he is no longer a man.

Despite the language being somewhat stilted along with several structural problems, Death to the Dictator! is a valuable book to read. The book is a short read that offers an insightful eyewitness account of the 2009 election, the brutality of incarceration in Iran, and the crushing repressive tactics of the state.