ABSTRACT: LETTER FROM TEHRAN about the recent Iranian election. On February 29th, two days before parliamentary elections in Iran, the writer joined a few dozen foreign correspondents—along with official handlers—in the parking lot of the Laleh, a formerly five-star Tehran hotel. They had come to Iran to cover the election, but they were told upon arrival that there would be a compulsory program. Its first order of business was a bus trip to the Alborz Space Center, where they would learn about Iran’s new remote-controlled satellite. The last time that most of the world peered inside Iran was in June, 2009, when, for two searing weeks, the Islamic Republic cracked open. In what came to be known as the Green Movement, a series of mass protests contested the official results of the Presidential election, which granted a second term to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has held the office since 2005. The Basij, a state-sponsored militia, crushed the demonstrators. By the time of the Arab Spring, in early 2011, Ahmadinejad’s election-year rivals, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, had been placed under house arrest, their mid-level operatives imprisoned, their movement dubbed fetneh—“the sedition.” Iran reopened its doors to the foreign press for the March 2nd election, but the moment was an especially sensitive one. International tensions over Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions were at a peak. The Green Movement had been forced underground, yet it remained a preoccupation. Iran was holding an election and seemed truly afraid that nobody would come. And so the government had organized a get-out-the-vote campaign that equated domestic submission with international defiance. Though Ahmadinejad owed his political life to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s favor, he had challenged Khamenei over control of the intelligence and foreign ministries. Many of Ahmadinejad’s allies had been disqualified from running for parliament. The President was a lame duck. But a few months before the start of the campaign season, the Supreme Leader attempted to undermine him further, floating a plan to eliminate the post of the Presidency and institute a more docile parliamentary system. Mentions Ali Akbar Javanfekr and Ali Motahari. The writer spoke with a Green Movement activist named Amir, whose reformist views have curdled into something close to nihilism. On Election Day, the writer and other foreign correspondents were bused to polling stations, including Hosseiniyeh Ershad—which was nearly empty—and a mosque in Narmak. The Iranian government was extremely sensitive about acknowledging the impact of foreign sanctions. In the twelve months preceding the writer’s visit, Iran’s currency had lost half its value. Mentions Moussa Ghaninejad and Mohamad Reza Najafi Manesh. On the day that the writer was supposed to leave Iran and fly to Dubai, she and her translator were approached and taken to an “intelligence office.” There she was repeatedly asked why she was inquiring about the Iranian economy. Finally she was allowed to leave, but the officials confiscated her receipts. The inflation, the devaluation of currency, the coming privation when banking and oil sanctions took full hold: this, and not even the election turnout, was what the Islamic Republic wished to hide from foreign eyes.
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