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Rattling the Cage

31 May 2009 18:59No Comments
dsc_0062-edit1.jpg"If he doesn't get in he'll speak from behind the gates."

I tried to imagine presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi addressing a rally of reformist students from behind the green painted steel of the Polytechnic University gate.

The dozens of assembled cameras on the other side of the barrier would have seen the so-called "Sheikh of Reform" speaking from behind bars. In the end it transpired that the "true reformists," as they called themselves, pulled the barrier down to make way for the man who is carrying their hopes for change in this election.

Our very first inquiries about the day's program were brushed aside by the guards, already armed with the response we later read on the university-headed paper.

One wonders with what satisfaction the university's decision makers came to the realization that they could both allow the rally to go ahead while at the same time avoiding it altogether. The photocopied sheet with its official seals -- beginning as ever, "in the name of God" -- informed the crowd that the speech had been rescheduled for a day on which it was known that Karroubi would be out of the city and unable to attend.

Whatever they had been thinking, they had vastly underestimated the will of a growing crowd and its confidence in the knowledge that their *leader* was prepared to defy the university's decree. An impudent flick of a cigarette lighter reduced the printed sheet to ash.

There is something of the firebrand cleric in Mehdi Karroubi. He's a sort of cross between Moqtada al-Sadr and Santa Claus. Today his loyal band of elves took their master's presence as implicit permission to wreak havoc. One might joke that the gate -- being Iranian-made -- could put up little resistance to the coordinated violence of around a dozen student campaign group members.

The gate was breached, Karroubi was in and he held his own in the heart of the throng impressively for a 71-year-old man. The students whisked him to a safe room in a faculty building, while a window suffered the same fate as the front gate on the way. Karroubi and his team probably spent the next two minutes just catching their breath and the subsequent three deciding how to avoid the possibility that the students break something else.

Circumstances transpired that Karroubi was bustled to the mosque where, shoes removed, they were welcomed into home away from home. Where no mere worldly election would give anyone the right to trample dusty Converse All Stars on sacred ground.

Karroubi let the kids play yesterday. Either that, or his young charges are pulling his sleigh.

Photo: Student supporters of Mehdi Karroubi outside the Tehran Polytechnic University Mosque. The slogan reads "Change for Iran."

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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