If a picture says a thousand words, this recently released picture of Mirhossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard with their shockingly and hardly recognizable aged features pretty much sums up what a disastrous decade it has been for Iran and Iranians outside the immediate circle of the people in charge of that country.
Three or four days before the famous Iranian elections of 2009, I was boarding a noisy and aged Caspian Airlines Tupolov t-154 plane from Abadan back to Tehran. Six years before that, an idealist and naïve young man that I was, having been encouraged by the somewhat relaxed and hopeful atmosphere that Khatami’s presidency brought about, I decided to move back to Iran and try my luck. It was a good time. Middle class was thriving again, and the economy was somewhat stable. Iran’s standing with the world was at its best point post revolution. I started working on water projects mostly in the south.
Then came the Ahmadi Nejad presidency and while during his first term Iran was still eating off the fat from the combined Rafsanjani and Khatami years, it became all too evident to most urban and educated middle class population that the populist Ahmadi Nejad admisitration, with the backing of the conservative elements of the regime, is taking the country back to the early post-revolution years. Nobody wanted that. That was the main reason people mobilized so overwhelmingly in campaigns (later known as Green Movement) leading to the fatefull 2009 election. It was initially ironic that the man who was heir-presumptive to that movement was the war-time prime minister and one of the icons of the post-revolution years. But the young revolutionary man with the unkept bushy pitch-black beard worn to intimidate, has been away from the innuendos and affairs of the Islamic Republic for almost than 2 decades, painting and reading poetry at home and thus have aged gracefully into a monk like character. I got a first-hand experience of his calm aura on that Tupolov plane. I sat down on one of the front aisle seats reading my newspaper which incidentally had a front-page picture of Mousavi, when a large young man sitting next to me asked if he can borrow parts of my paper that I wasn’t reading for his travel companion sitting on the window seat. I said of course and then a soft-spoken graceful elder man leaned over and thanked me. It took me a second, but I realized he was Mousavi returning back to Tehran from a Khuzestan-wide election tour and the young man was his bodyguard.
Mousavi explained his coming out of recluse to run for office as a sense of duty towards the country, and people connected with that. Everyone knew that Ahmadi Nejad and his band of rhetoric minded corrupt idiots are destroying all the momentum that was created over the past couple decades after the war. Everyone felt responsible to act. Mousavi’s reputation for the technocratic style of governance during the war, was only icing on the cake.
During my lifetime, I have only seen Tehran this jubilant and hopeful couple of times; the week leading to Khatami’s election in 1997 and Iran’s soccer World Cup qualifier win against Australia later that year. The atmosphere was that of street parties every night. People were kind to each other. And the regime, desperate to show case that atmosphere to buy legitimacy, was all more accommodating and took his rabid dogs off the streets.
Then came the election morning. Nation woke up to an unbelievable news. An anticlimax for the ages. A hangover to end all hangovers. Ahmadi Nejad somehow won in a near landslide. Everyone knew that was a lie. Everyone knew that he and his regime cheated. Mousavi called for a nationwide protest and the nation took to the streets. What happened over the next few weeks and the brutality that the regime showed in quashing the unrest is much reported on. What ensued was a great depression that continues today. Many, including myself (again), migrated and the country went into a downward spiral that saw its currency reduced into trash, its international relation back to pariah status, and its angry society on the brink of collapse.
Mousavi was forced into a house arrest and even the short-lived and hyped up Rouhani-Zarif double act could not do much for a regime that lost its way on that fatefull post-election morning of June 13th, 2009. Why did they act that way? I don’t know, but from history, I have learned that the doomed regimes are the ones that when presented with a golden opportunity, choose the path with the worst and most disastrously possible outcome.