Talking to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—and the opposition—about Iran today.
by Jon Lee Anderson 
One of the men disagreed with her. “This revolution came in by violence, and the only way it is going to go is through violence,” he said. “Change will only come when you take it, and make it happen.” The woman said, sadly, “But I must live with some hope. Can’t I?”
Along the path back to the city, there were stone walls and boulders on which protesters had spray-painted slogans; since the summer, the government had painted them over. The only one left untouched was a stone the size of a goose egg on which someone had scrawled in green crayon, “Death to the dictator.”
This was a very different Tehran from the one I had last visited in December, 2008, six months before the contested elections. Most of the politicians, journalists, and academics I saw then were no longer free to talk. Among them were the well-known reformists Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former Vice-President under President Khatami and an influential blogger, and Mohammad Atrianfar, a publisher and adviser to ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The two of them—both robust, outspoken men who had been frankly critical of the faults in Iran’s political system—had been arrested in the post-election crackdown. When they reappeared, weeks later, in the show trials, they were broken figures who humiliated themselves by confessing to a series of outlandish crimes, naming friends and colleagues as their co-conspirators. Abtahi said that he had been guilty of “provoking people, causing tension, and creating media chaos.” Atrianfar praised his “polite interrogators,” said he was proud of his own “defeat,” and spoke of the paramount importance of “preserving the system” in Iran.
In private, supporters of the movement spend a lot of time thinking over the events of last year. They are often dispirited, even rueful. “People miscalculated,” one of my Iranian friends said. “They thought everyone in the country was like themselves, and that the rest of the country was like Tehran.” The demonstrations, in his view, had as much to do with social class as they did with politics. Mousavi’s and Karroubi’s voters in the Green Movement were largely middle or upper class. The soldiers and the Basij who attacked them were for the most part Ahmadinejad voters, drawn, like the President himself, from the less privileged majority of the city’s population, based predominately in the south of the city. The Green Movement’s ability to put significant numbers of protesters—estimates range from hundreds of thousands to three million—onto Tehran’s streets sometimes created the impression that they represented a majority in the country. “They were wrong,” my friend said. “And their leaders misunderestimated—to paraphrase your former President Bush—just how savage the regime could be.” Adopting a mocking tone of voice, he added, “ ‘What, you thought that with your vote you’d get change? That you actually had a choice?’ ” A friend of his had been detained and released after agreeing to sign a statement of repentance. “His interrogator told him, ‘This time you have no choice. You either submit or I’ll ram this stick up your ass. That’s your choice.’ ”