The least that could be said, in the sunny morn after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s emphatic reelection as president of Iran, was that festivities of the kind associated with a victory by two thirds of the vote were on hold, discarded in favor of a putsch-like lockdown. Baton-wielding riot police in thigh-length black leg guards swarmed from the shuttered Interior Ministry in the early hours of June 13. They went to work beating people. Voting had closed the previous night in Iran’s tenth presidential election of the revolutionary era. Within hours, the national news agency, IRNA, had announced a landslide first-round victory for Ahmadinejad. Tehran was changed, changed utterly, and there was no beauty to the terror born.
A festive city awash in revelers and agog at the apparent vibrancy of democratic debate in the thirty-year-old Islamic Republic had morphed overnight into a place of smoldering eyes, insidious fear, and rampaging state-licensed thugs. People looked dazed, as anyone would, so thrust into desolation from delight. All the preelectoral freedom and debates suddenly looked like cruel theater controlled by a perverse puppeteer. “It’s a coup, a coup d’état,” people whispered.
Outside the already upended campaign headquarters of Mir Hussein Moussavi—the opposition candidate whose campaign had blossomed late in great thickets of green banners and bandannas—whining phalanxes of police, two to a motorbike, swept up and down. To loiter was to be targeted. “Throw away your pen and notebook and come to our aid,” a sobbing woman shouted at me, before vanishing into the eddying crowd.
I was still using a notebook then. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had not yet pronounced foreign correspondents “evil” agents, thus granting heavenly sanction to their manhandling, expulsion, or arrest, which duly followed. Like everyone that morning I was perplexed. The Iranian government proceeds with cautious calculation. The revolution’s survival has not been based on caprice. Had this government really invited hundreds of journalists to a freedom fest only to change its mind? I lingered when I could, ran when I had to, bumping into another railing young woman in tears. As we stood talking, a middle-aged man approached. “Don’t cry, be brave and be ready,” he told her.
I will call him Mohsen. He showed me his ID card from the Interior Ministry, where he said he’d worked for thirty years. He’d been locked out, he said, as had other employees, many of whom had been fired in recent weeks. We ducked into a café, where patriotic songs droned from a TV over images of soldiers and devout women in black chadors—had we just witnessed an election or the imposition of martial law?—and Mohsen talked about his brother, a martyr of the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq war, and how he himself had not fought in that war, nor endured a sibling’s loss, to see “this injustice against the Revolution, conscience, and…
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