Amir Reza Khadem, an Olympic medalist in wrestling, is also a former parliamentarian and deputy minister. His recent public praise of President Ebrahim Raisi may be an indication of his ambitions to return to politics. Interviewed by Etemad daily, Khadem urged the regime to invite other “celebrities,” even regime critics and dissidents, into politics as a means of bridging the gap between state and society. In a political culture with no political parties, and manipulated elections that do not reflect the popular will, the use of celebrities may indeed provide a short-term remedy for the regime’s legitimacy crisis, and perhaps even, in the future, avert the risk of small incidents igniting countrywide popular protests. However, the regime may find celebrities, some of whom may be critical of the government, difficult to deal with: Why should such celebrities engage in politics and thereby legitimize the regime if they don’t get political influence? If they are promised influence, and ride into office with a huge popular mandate, is the regime capable of or willing to deliver the kind of reforms demanded by the celebrities and the Iranian population at large?
- February 5: Khadem, as quoted in Etemad daily, said: “A couple of weeks ago, I was at the airport. The flight was canceled due to inclement weather, which led to extreme tensions at the gate with the passengers protesting loudly. I took a photo, but airport security asked me to delete it … They knew me, and asked me very politely, so I deleted the photo. What I mean is that we have reached a point where any small incident sparks civic protests … Children growing up in this society will be extremely impacted by the environment. I have a five-and-half-year-old kid who hears about societal tensions in kindergarten … ! These things do not point to a stable future in society.” Turning to the problem of dialogue between state and society, Khadem continued: Regime “officials say ‘lets talk about it.’ But talk with whom? With which group, movement, or individual? On the one hand, the regime has excluded everyone, and on the other hand, we see the emergence of a new class of celebrities, who do not have executive or political experience, but they understand society much better than our friends, who are in executive positions. These celebrities are not in financial need, and they are also not engaging in politics for the sake of visibility. They even accept the risk of imprisonment … If I was in a position of responsibility, I would use the celebrities in the present circumstances. They are the voice of the people, and they are trusted by the public. They are also in Iran, which means they abide by certain rules … Just look at Ali Daei,” he noted, referring to the Iranian soccer star, “who would not have reached this level of success and wealth without intelligence.”