I went off in search of Ahmadinejad voters today in Tehran. They are noteasy to find.
It’s perfect election weather in Iran, relatively cool today with a nicebreeze and clear skies, and at polling station after station, theturnout was huge. I began my day at the 7th Tir Technical School incentral Tehran. It is a relatively prosperous, middle class area, andscores of people were on line this morning, ID cards in hand, waitingpatiently to vote. A dozen election officials were milling around, andwhen they noticed that I was a reporter, out of nowhere appeared a traywith tea. An official checks my press credentials and says, “Welcome.”
The people in line were solemn, men and women, some with kids. I do astraw poll, quietly asking voters who they plan to cast their ballotsfor, and why, and it’s clear that at this station at least, it’s MirHossein Mousavi country. Tarandeh, 38, a teacher with an M.A. inEnglish, says, “I’m someone who has never ever voted before in theIslamic Republic, not once. I was the first on line today, at 8 am. Andthe gentleman looked at my voting book and asked me, ‘Where are yourother votes?’ I told him, today is my first.” Tarandeh’s father was anadmiral in the Iranian Navy, and he knows Mousavi from his days as primeminister in the 1980s. “I am sure he will not insult and disrespect thebeliefs of others around the world, for instance, by talking about theHolocaust.” She notes than Iran has a Jewish minority.
Further north, in the Fereshteh neighborhood of north Tehran, theturnout for Mousavi is overwhelming. Hundreds of people are waiting online to vote at a mosque and cultural center, men to the left and womento the right. As I walk down the aisle between them, a young womannotices that I am an American reporter. “Vote for Mousavi!” she says. Itell her that I can’t vote, but that I voted for Obama. A crowd isgathering. “Obama!” Three or four people applaud. Several of them say,”We like Mousavi!” Few speak English, but they are translating for eachother. I say, “Perhaps Mousavi and Obama will meet soon.” By now thereare 30 or 40 people listening to the conversation. All of them breakout into cheers and applause. It’s a startling, and stunning moment.Outside, voters are eager to talk. Hessam Omidi, 24, is a student who’sonly voted once before. “I am here for the future of my country,” hesays. “We have been isolated in the world, lost our connection with therest of the world.” Nasser Hakimi, 70, a doctor, says, “I am here forMousavi, because I don’t like Ahmadinejad. Actually I don’t care aboutMousavi, I just want Ahmadinejad out.” He says virtually everyone in theneighborhood 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’snuclear program.” His wife, Elly, a yoga instructor, nods her head. “Weare not cattle or cows or sheep to follow orders. We live in an ancientcountry with a proud history.” She says that nearly all women in Iranare sick of the current situation, and lowering her voice, she adds, “IfAhmadinejad wins, I predict there will be another revolution.”
Last night, worried about exactly that prospect, the commander of Iran’sRevolutionary Guards issued a stern warning that the security forceswill not tolerate a “Green Revolution” if Mousavi loses and hissupporters refuse to accept the results.
Finding few, if any supporters of the president, I head west to theNarmak area of Tehran, well known as Ahmadinejad’s neighborhood, becausehe lived there for years. Unlike the previous places I visited, this isa run-down working class area. But it’s still hard to find a supporterof Ahmadinejad, surprisignly. “Ahmadinejad did not fulfill hispromises,” says Milad Saki, 22, a student with spiky hair. FarazKhaveri, 25, who works in a publishing house nearby, says, “This is theneighborhood of Ahmadinejad, but there is massive support for Mousavihere.” Mohammad Reza, 22, a student at Sadr University in Tehran, says,”The situation in Iran is critical. And all Ahmadinejad talks about isIsrael!”
On the sidewalk outside, I approach a group of conservatively dressedwomen in black chadors, expecting that perhaps — unlike the women incolorful scarves — they might be backers of the president. “Mousavi orAhmadinejad?” I ask, to the group of six or eight women. I am stunned,again. “Mousavi! Mousavi!” they all say, laughing and smiling. One pullsour a hidden green armband. Again, a crowd is gathering around me, andsoon two dozen people have assembled. “We are waiting for someone torevive and rebuild this country!” says someone. “We want freedom!” saysanother. “Freedom of speech.” A woman looks at me. “And stop the hijabpolice!” referring to the notorious dress-code cops who prowl Tehran.Sudden;y they are all talking at once. “Ahmadinejad is a liar!”
Still looking for Ahmadinejad backers, I head to south Tehran, thepresident’s reputed stronghold. The first polling place I visit, at theSangy Mosque, under twin towering minarets tiled in blue, white, andgold, is decidely Ahmadinejad territory. The officials are grim andunfriendly. Guards armed with machine guns stand outside, though no suchguards appeared at the other polling places I’ve visited. They scowl atmy credentials, and tell me I can’t interview voters. But in fact thereare few voters to be found. Compared to the other places, where hundredsof people waited in long lines, here there are no more than half a dozenpeople.
A few blocks away, at another mosque, still deep in poverty-strickensouth Tehran, the officials are more welcoming. About three dozen peopleare waiting in line. I approach Reza Zarei, 37, a taxi driver, whointroduces me to his entire family: wife, brother in law, father in law,various cousins. I’ve approached him because he has the appearance of anAhmadinejad guy, with a beard, conservative clothing, and a wife in fullblack chador. But no. “We are all Mousavi!” he says, and his relativesnod and smile in agreement. “Just like the Amercans voted for Obama, weare going for Mousavi,” he says.
Nearby, a young man tells me, “You are not going to find anyone forAhmadinejad here.” His friend, Hamid Ghadyani, agrees. “In this areait’s maybe 50/50,” he says, then corrects himself. “Well, most are forMousavi, and the rest are for Karroubi.” Mehdi Karroubi is the otherreformist candidate, who’s pledged to support Mousavi if he wins. “Weare not going to vote for Ahmadinejad. The way he deals with othercountries is not what we expect in a president. He is too aggressive.The policy of Islam is peace.”