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In Iran, Entrepreneur Witnesses the Elections

June 18, 2009 By:
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Jerry Sorkin

Jerry Sorkin has never shied away from the hot spots of the world. Which is why it was not surprising to find the former local rug dealer in Iran this week, with a front-row seat for the Islamic nation's elections and its tumultuous aftermath.

For years, Sorkin sought his wares in the remotest corners of the world, traveling throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Several years ago, he closed down his Wayne-based Oriental-rug dealership to focus on his new passion -- promoting tourism to Muslim lands little traveled by Americans. He opened a travel company, focusing mainly on Tunisia and Turkey. Some of the trips he orga- nizes also included visiting Jewish sites of interest.

Now, he is seeking to help open Iran to American tourism. It won't be easy, he conceded, noting that he had difficulty attaining a visa for his exploratory trip.

But "when you get away from the rhetoric" emanating from Iran's political leaders, ordinary people are "very pro-American," Sorkin said in a phone interview Monday from his hotel room in Tehran.

Nor did he encounter any problems when his Jewishness came out, he said.

In the days leading up to the June 12 election, Sorkin said he was surprised to find such excitement among many Iranians.

"People were sensing a change, pushing the envelope," he said, noting that most people he spoke to had supported Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main candidate who had opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sorkin said he has found a consensus that "you can't put the genie back in the bottle."

After experiencing what he called an "amazingly open" election campaign, filled with rallies and debates, Sorkin detected what many analysts are predicting as well: The Iranian people "aren't going to be quiet after the tremendous sense of freedom they felt prior to the elections."

'The World Is Watching'

With unrest mounting over official claims of Ahmadinejad's re-election, some American Jewish organizational leaders are calling for more U.S. support for the protesters and more international action to stop the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, reported the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

As the first signs of a violent crackdown on street demonstrators came Monday -- at least seven people were killed -- JTA reported that some Jewish communal officials said that the United States should be doing more to show solidarity with the demonstrators.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that he understood why the United States "doesn't want to become a factor" in the process, but added, "When do the young people feel they've been abandoned" by the West?

Talking to reporters Monday, Obama said that "it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be," and the United States wants to avoid "being the issue inside of Iran."

Addressing "those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process," Obama added, "I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was."

On the ground in the country, Sorkin noted that Iranians in general are sensing a positive a change with the new American leader.

Whatever ultimately happens with the election, he predicted, "there will be a new openness to the West."

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