There’s electricity in the air in Tehran. Beneath the snow-capped peaksthat tower over the city, crowds gather every night to argue in the streets. Campaign posters touting candidates in the June 12 vote cover the city. A year ago, when I visited Tehran in advance of the parliamentary elections, there was apathy. Voters then were convinced that their votes didn’t matter, and that not voting was the best way to protest the current state of affairs. No longer. There’s a wave building, and all signs point to a resounding victory for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform candidate who is challenging President Ahmadinejad.
That wave is green. All over the capital, there are green signs and banners supporting Mousavi. Cars flying green flags speed through the city, honking horns for Mousavi. For years, the hardline clergy and their allies, including Ahmadinejad, have feared nothing more than an Iranian-style “color-revolution.” Now, Mousavi–with solid establishment credentials, an Islamic revolutionary pedigree second to none, and an outspoken pro-reform message–finds himself at the head of a green parade.
Of course, the hardliners and Ahmadinejad have a lot of aces up their sleeve, including the security services, the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guard, and the interior ministry, which counts the votes.
On Saturday, my first day in Tehran, I traveled some 25 miles outside the capital to Karaj, a city of three million people, for a rally for Mousavi at a huge soccer stadium. The scene was frenzied with excitement. At least 20,000 people waving green flags and dressed in green scarves packed the place. They did the wave. The cheers were deafening, and Mousavi hadn’t even arrived yet. In the VIP section, I ran into an Iranian Olympic wrestling champion, Ebrahim Javadi, who’d come to show his support. “I am sure Mr. Mousavi can help us survive this crisis,” he said. And better relations with the United States? “One hundred percent!” he said. Nearby, a middle-aged mullah, dressed in brown robes and white turban, said he’d watched President Obama’s speech. Akbar Hamidi, 48, is a specialist in Persian literature. “Please take our message of peace to America,” he told me. “I hope we elect Mousavi so he can start negotiations with the United States.”
When Mousavi entered, the frenzy hit new highs. A roar went up. People chanted: “If there is no election cheating, you are Number One!” and “Ahmadinejad, shame on you! Let’s get rid of you!”