Death to the Dictator! A Young Man Casts a Vote in Iran's 2009 Election and Pays a Devastating Price

Afsaneh Moqadam

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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Longlisted for the Orwell Prize

In Tehran on June 12, 2009, Mohsen Abbaspour, an ordinary young man in his twenties—not particularly political, or ambitious, or worldly—casts the first vote of his life in Iran's tenth presidential election. Fed up with rising unemployment and inflation, he backs the reformist party and its candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Mohsen believes his vote will count.

It will not. Almost the instant the polls close, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will declare himself president by an overwhelming majority. As the Western world scrambles to make sense of the brazenly fraudulent election, Mohsen, along with his friends, family and neighbors, will experience a sense of desolation and anger. In a matter of weeks, millions of Iranians will flow into the streets, chanting in protest, "Death to the dictator!" and Mohsen Abbaspour will be swept up in an uncontrollable and devastating chain of events.


Praise for Death to the Dictator!

"The power and immediacy of Death to the Dictator!, the modern sequel to Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shah of Shahs, come from these crucial moments when Iranians decide whether to abandon hope or ultimately risk their lives. Moqadam pinpoints the instant when Mohsen shrugs off his apathy and challenges the regime . . . Moqadam writes with an authoritative, granular understanding of Iranian society, especially the sociology of its urban youth. The author distills important political context and frictions of class, faith and worldview into lean vignettes . . . [Moqadam] hears the Islamic Republic's death knell but cannot predict how long this 'last and perhaps dirtiest phase' will last. Has the state radicalized Iran's Mohsen Abbaspours? Or brutalized them into submission? Until the larger story has played out, individual narratives like these offer the only fragments by which we can begin to understand the revolt inside today's Iran."—Azadeh Moaveni, The New York Times Book Review

"An important book, Death to the Dictator! [is] written under the pseudonym of Afsaneh Moqadam . . . It recounts a fairly typical story: A young man named Mohsen Abbaspour (not his real name), who moves from apolitical apathy to action in the weeks before the vote, is outraged by the outcome and joins massive street protests, before being grabbed by goons and 'disappearing' into an unspeakable labyrinth of violence. The intensity of the account put me in mind of Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place. I know the author, who agreed that the true identity of Ms. Moqadam be revealed to me. The author is reliable, knowledgeable and assiduous. After speaking to the author, I have no doubt the events related in the book took place as described."—Roger Cohen, The New York Times

"This moving, brutal account of Iranian protests against the 2009 re-election of President Ahmadinejad centers on protestor Mohsen Abbaspour, a recent college graduate with largely literary interests who had not even bothered to vote in the previous election. This book describes how Mohsen evolved from little more than a sympathetic, fearful onlooker (days before the election, he and his mom attended a rally for candidate Mousavi) to a determined participant in the increasingly dangerous protests that followed the announcement of the election results on June 13 (Ahmedinejad reportedly won 62 percent). Mohsen would ultimately be arrested in an inauguration-day demonstration (August 5) and spend 24 days in jail; the first and final chapters are devoted to the horrifying treatment he endured while imprisoned, including torture and rape. [Death to the Dictator! is] a clear and important record of the human toll imposed by one dirty election and a close look at a national injustice that captivated the world."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

It's June 8, 2009, a few days before the election, and Mohsen Abbaspour is walking down the hill toward Vali-ye Asr Street. The oriental planes bowing over the street were planted by Reza, the last Shah's father. Reza was a doer. He...

Read the full excerpt


  • Afsaneh Moqadam

  • Afsaneh Moqadam is a pseudonym adopted to protect the identity of the author, who witnessed and participated in many of the events described in this book.