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 Israel!"
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 people.
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."
© 2009 The Nation