Rallying behind their man
04 Jun 2009 15:15
By AFSHIN SALIMPOUR in Tehran | 4 June 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] "Can we come in to see him speak?," I asked innocently.
"Journalists? You have to arrange with Mr. Jamshidi first."
"Ok, can we see Mr. Jamshidi please?"
"No, you can't."
It was clear that this latest Ahmadinejad event in the center of Tehran was no public party. We had already attracted the attention of a number of supporters who had formed a circle around us. There was a palpable blend of curiosity and suspicion among them. It was as if they were waiting for a cue before they showed us open hostility. A boy of around 14, overweight and large for his age, skipped around the group goading us with what little English he could muster.
"Made in America?," came the boy's voice as he danced around us at a short distance, "Made in Los Angeles?"
He then substituted "Robat-Karim," the south Tehran suburb from where it transpired many of the audience had been bused in that day, for "Los Angeles." Empowered by his president, the boy expressed a disconcerting blend of childish impudence and overweening national pride.
Inside the auditorium more than half of the president's speech was aimed at hailing his own achievements in foreign policy. He was once again rehashing his now well-practiced blend of centrifuges and satellites -- mollifying the national insecurity that Iran's current lot in the international arena is less than it could and should be; activating the latent belief of all Iranians that their culture somehow gave birth to world civilization.
Speaking to the supporters outside, I began to see for myself how Ahmadinejad's visits to foreign states and his fiery rhetoric directed against Iran's "enemies," could give so many Iranians a sense of national superiority, the sense that drove one elderly woman with whom I spoke into a kind of ecstasy.
"He slapped the enemies in the mouth!," she said through her bared teeth as she clenched and unclenched her fists. "Brave! He's brave, that's what you want in a president!"
She ended her tirade by raising her hands and gazing to the heavens, thanking god for delivering such a fearless head of state.
"Don't vote for any of those other trashy candidates, only Ahmadinejad!," she cried.
"Sometimes the economy is the main issue but sometimes other things are more important," said Mr. Khani. He was a slender bespectacled man of around forty whom some members of the crowd had proudly introduced to me as a school principal and a man of learning. He spoke with the composure of a man accustomed to being agreed with.
"We are prepared to endure more economic hardships as long as we can keep our national dignity," he said as his disciples nodded sullenly.
One middle-aged woman delivered such a lengthy monologue on the woes of surviving on a teacher's salary that I thought she would conclude with a stinging indictment of the last four years; but instead, she directed her wrath against opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. She claimed Mousavi had brought a campaign bus to her hometown filled with girls whose make-up and hejab were "something completely out of the ordinary."
"In Shahr-e Rey we are religious people; they didn't fit in with us at all."
On the opposite side of the spectrum, another woman went so far as to contradict official central bank figures, saying that she had not noticed prices rising significantly and that she had more disposable income now than she did four years ago.
A journalist -- an Ahmadinejad supporter -- assured me in an interview that economic issues would not swing votes and that the real battle would be over tradition, religion and social values. This, while supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi have been keen to promote awareness of the often wide gulf between official economic statistics and Ahmadinejad's insistence in his speeches that the Iranian economy is "flourishing." This may be an important tactic in activating the participation of Iran's "silent voters" in the coming election but interviewing members of Ahmadinejad's base constituency that day, it was clear to me that they were listening to a very different tune.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau