Iranians Poised for Change

I went off in search of Ahmadinejad voters today in Tehran. They are not
easy to find.

It's perfect election weather in Iran, relatively cool today with a nice
breeze and clear skies, and at polling station after station, the
turnout was huge. I began my day at the 7th Tir Technical School in
central Tehran. It is a relatively prosperous, middle-class area, and
scores of people were on line this morning, ID cards in hand, waiting
patiently to vote. A dozen election officials were milling around, and
when they noticed that I was a reporter, out of nowhere appeared a tray
with tea. An official checks my press credentials and says, "Welcome."

The people in line were solemn, men and women, some with kids. I do a
straw poll, quietly asking voters who they plan to cast their ballots
for, and why, and it's clear that at this station at least, it's Mir
Hossein Mousavi country. Tarandeh, 38, a teacher with an M.A. in
English, says, "I'm someone who has never ever voted before in the
Islamic Republic, not once. I was the first on line today, at 8 am. And
the gentleman looked at my voting book and asked me, 'Where are your
other votes?' I told him, today is my first." Tarandeh's father was an
admiral in the Iranian Navy, and he knows Mousavi from his days as prime
minister in the 1980s. "I am sure he will not insult and disrespect the
beliefs of others around the world, for instance, by talking about the
Holocaust." She notes than Iran has a Jewish minority.

Further north, in the Fereshteh neighborhood of north Tehran, the
turnout for Mousavi is overwhelming. Hundreds of people are waiting on
line to vote at a mosque and cultural center, men to the left and women
to the right. As I walk down the aisle between them, a young woman
notices that I am an American reporter. "Vote for Mousavi!" she says. I
tell her that I can't vote, but that I voted for Obama. A crowd is
gathering. "Obama!" Three or four people applaud. Several of them say,
"We like Mousavi!" Few speak English, but they are translating for each
other. I say, "Perhaps Mousavi and Obama will meet soon." By now there
are thirty or forty people listening to the conversation. All of them break
out into cheers and applause. It's a startling, and stunning moment.

Outside, voters are eager to talk. Hessam Omidi, 24, is a student who's
only voted once before. "I am here for the future of my country," he
says. "We have been isolated in the world, lost our connection with the
rest of the world." Nasser Hakimi, 70, a doctor, says, "I am here for
Mousavi, because I don't like Ahmadinejad. Actually I don't care about
Mousavi, I just was Ahmadinejad out." He says virtually everyone in the
neighborhood is for Mousavi, except for a handful who won't vote at all.
"Mousavi can talk to Obama, and he can negotiate a compromise on Iran's
nuclear program." His wife, Elly, a yoga instructor, nods her head. "We
are not cattle or cows or sheep to follow orders. We live in an ancient
country with a proud history." She says that nearly all women in Iran
are sick of the current situation, and lowering her voice, she adds, "If
Ahmadinejad wins, I predict there will be another revolution."

Last night, worried about exactly that prospect, the commander of Iran's
Revolutionary Guards issued a stern warning that the security forces
will not tolerate a "Green Revolution" if Mousavi loses and his
supporters refuse to accept the results.

Finding few, if any supporters of the president, I head west to the
Narmak area of Tehran, well known as Ahmadinejad's neighborhood, because
he lived there for years. Unlike the previous places I visited, this is
a run-down working class area. But it's still hard to find a supporter
of Ahmadinejad, surprisingly. "Ahmadinejad did not fulfill his
promises," says Milad Saki, 22, a student with spiky hair. Faraz
Khaveri, 25, who works in a publishing house nearby, says, "This is the
neighborhood of Ahmadinejad, but there is massive support for Mousavi
here." Mohammad Reza, 22, a student at Sadr University in Tehran, says,
"The situation in Iran is critical. And all Ahmadinejad talks about is

On the sidewalk outside, I approach a group of conservatively dressed
women in black chadors, expecting that perhaps -- unlike the women in
colorful scarves -- they might be backers of the president. "Mousavi or
Ahmadinejad?" I ask, to the group of six or eight women. I am stunned,
again. "Mousavi! Mousavi!" they all say, laughing and smiling. One pulls
our a hidden green armband. Again, a crowd is gathering around me, and
soon two dozen people have assembled. "We are waiting for someone to
revive and rebuild this country!" says someone. "We want freedom!" says
another. "Freedom of speech." A woman looks at me. "And stop the hijab
police!" referring to the notorious dress-code cops who prowl Tehran.
Suddenly they are all talking at once. "Ahmadinejad is a liar!"

Still looking for Ahmadinejad backers, I head to south Tehran, the
president's reputed stronghold. The first polling place I visit, at the
Sangy Mosque, under twin towering minarets tiled in blue, white, and
gold, is decidely Ahmadinejad territory. The officials are grim and
unfriendly. Guards armed with machine guns stand outside, though no such
guards appeared at the other polling places I've visited. They scowl at
my credentials, and tell me I can't interview voters. But in fact there
are few voters to be found. Compared to the other places, where hundreds
of people waited in long lines, here there are no more than half a dozen

A few blocks away, at another mosque, still deep in poverty-stricken
south Tehran, the officials are more welcoming. About three dozen people
are waiting in line. I approach Reza Zarei, 37, a taxi driver, who
introduces me to his entire family: wife, brother-in-law, father-in-law,
various cousins. I've approached him because he has the appearance of an
Ahmadinejad guy, with a beard, conservative clothing, and a wife in full
black chador. But no. "We are all Mousavi!" he says, and his relatives
nod and smile in agreement. "Just like the Amercans voted for Obama, we
are going for Mousavi," he says.

Nearby, a young man tells me, "You are not going to find anyone for
Ahmadinejad here." His friend, Hamid Ghadyani, agrees. "In this area
it's maybe 50-50," he says, then corrects himself. "Well, most are for
Mousavi, and the rest are for Karroubi." Mehdi Karroubi is the other
reformist candidate, who has pledged to support Mousavi if he wins. "We
are not going to vote for Ahmadinejad. The way he deals with other
countries is not what we expect in a president. He is too aggressive.
The policy of Islam is peace."

I tried.

© 2023 The Nation