UI student reflects on rough time spent in Iran

BY ALI ELMI | JULY 15, 2009 7:15 AM

I arrived in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, 30 kilometers (around 18 miles) south of the capital, early Friday morning. As I stepped off the plane, I immediately noticed the smell of the polluted air. I had my bags screened at customs and continued on without any issues.

The hour-long drive to my parents’ home felt long, but it was eye-opening. I sat up front, absorbing as much as I could from the surroundings: the architecture, the ubiquitous fliers and campaign material, and of course the bumper-car-style driving in Iran.

I spent the first two weeks sightseeing. One of the many popular places of Tehran was the beautiful trails of Darband and Darakeh in the Alborz mountain range. The trails are both very popular among the younger generation. The air is clean, and the trails are surrounded by first-class restaurants.

A first for Iran were the nationally televised debates between presidential candidates. Starting a week before the election, every night there were two candidates “battling it out.” There were some very heated moments, with the candidates mostly attacking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his current policies and Iran’s economic issues, most notably the rise in inflation.

The debates were to end on the Tuesday before the election. However, on Wednesday, there was an unexpected addition. Ahmadinejad appeared by himself and was given an extra 20 minutes to defend himself against accusations brought by the other candidates.

The few days before the election, people drove around in the cars in excitement, most which seemed to have been in support for Mousavi. Green ribbons, signs, and fliers were plastered throughout the city. For three continuous days, I could hear people honking their horns from 10:30 p.m. until 3 or 4 a.m. Women were out in the streets, some even taking off their headscarves in joy.

Election day arrived. I walked to the nearest mosque where voting was taking place. As I walked toward the mosque, I began to sweat. It was a hot day — around 90 degrees — and felt even hotter as I saw the line curve around the outside of the mosque.

Although I waited nearly two hours, the voting process was painless. I presented my birth certificate, obtained my form, and placed my fingerprint alongside my vote.

After I came home, we had heard from friends the SMS (text-messaging) system in Iran was down. I turned on the TV to see if there were any updates. I specifically remember the IRIB news channel interviewing and displaying 20 to 30 people all saying exactly the same thing … “The voting process was very smooth. The people came to vote and will fairly decide our next president.”

Late that night, Iranian news stations announced Ahmadinejad as the winner. I pulled out my laptop to read what was going on. I quickly turned to BBC’s website only to obtain an “access denied” page.

It was working just the day before.

The day after the election my family and I traveled to a couple smaller cities in Iran. One of them was a small town in central Iran and from what I understand has a population near 50,000.

It was there I noticed overwhelming support for Ahmadinejad. His fliers, posters, billboards were all over the city. Missing was Mousavi campaign material. I spoke with a few of the residents, all whom were for Ahmadinejad.

One woman I spoke with voted for Ahmadinejad because since he took office four years ago, she has received a raise and now has more money to feed her family. Saturday afternoon, the town had a big parade in celebration of Ahmadinejad’s victory. People were out in the streets with trays handing out pastries and food.

We drove back to Tehran the next day. It was Sunday, two days after the election. As we drove through the city, we pulled up to an intersection and traffic suddenly came to a standstill. We began to hear shouting.

Hundreds of people were cordoned off one side of the street. Riot police stood by in full gear, batons in hand. On the other corner of the street was a state-owned bank, its windows shattered, and a trash can on fire. We got out as fast as we could.

The next few days were long. We left the house only for food and necessities.

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