Local News

Raleigh philanthropist optimistic about Iranian freedom

Posted June 23, 2009 4:59 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2009 4:00 p.m. EDT

— A renowned Raleigh psychiatrist and philanthropist from Iran said Tuesday that he hopes Iranians will break free from the bond of extreme Islamists.

"I am very optimistic that freedom and liberty will prevail," Dr. Assad Meymandi said. "That is the intrinsic nature of freedom."

Meymandi has called Raleigh home for more than 40 years. He was a major donor to Raleigh's $39 million Meymandi Concert Hall, the home of the North Carolina Symphony.

But he still has family members, including his older sister, in Iran.

"She is worried about a possible civil war," he said. "We all pray and hope that it won't happen, really."

At least 17 people have died in violent crackdowns to protests challenging the country's June 12 election that returned hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has proclaimed that he was the true winner.

"They are giving their blood, giving their lives," Meymandi said of the thousands of Mousavi's Iranian supporters who have protested for days to demand a new election.

Mousavi promised economic reform, freedom of expression and a campaign against economic corruption.

He also pledged to review laws that discriminate against women, remove the ban on privately owned television stations and curb the power of Iran's supreme leader by taking control of security forces.

Iran has 46.2 million eligible voters, one-third of them under 30. The final tally, The Associated Press reported, was 62.6 percent of the vote for Ahmadinejad and 33.75 percent for Mousavi, a landslide victory in a race that was perceived to be much closer.

The huge margin went against the expectation that the record 85 percent turnout would boost Mousavi.

Besides the concert hall, Meymandi has given more than $6 million to numerous recipients through the Meymandi Philanthropy Program, which he established in 1997.

Meymandi, who also tries to help the Iranian people, such as endowing faculty positions at the University of Tehran, pointed out that Americans have misconceptions about Iran, which he still likes to call Persia.

"Persians, basically, are not Arabs," he said. "They are Aryan, and they're pretty proud of their history, 8,000 years, 6,000 years of recorded history."

"Iranians are creative, intelligent, resourceful and devoted to the basic elements of democracy," he said.

"We revere our women, our human rights, equality, respect for gender," he added. "It'll be restored."