Report from Tehran: a tale of two rallies.

Notes from different corners of the world.
June 14 2009 7:48 PM

A Tale of Two Rallies

In the space of 24 hours, Tehran's Valiasr Square sees baton-wielding cops and a presidential victory celebration.

Read more of Slate's coverage of Iran's June 12 election and its aftermath.

(Continued from Page 1)

Sunday presented an entirely different scene. Starting early in the day, riot police positioned themselves throughout the city. The morning hours were quiet ahead of an official press conference at which President Ahmadinejad would address the foreign press.

After a short prayer—an offering of praise to God, the revolution, and a wish for the speedy return of the hidden imam—Ahmadinejad scolded the foreign press, accusing us of meddling in Iranian politics and disseminating propaganda against him and his government. As I listened, I couldn't help but think how ungrateful he is—over the last four years, it's the Western media that have given him a voice, and he knows it. The press conference wasn't for the people of Iran; it was about giving the world the show it wanted.

In his opening remarks, Ahmadinejad proclaimed the election "the most glorious in recent history."

He went on for some time, claiming a series of achievements that anyone who has spent time in Iran would dismiss as nonsense. Among the most laughable: "Iran has provided an international model for managing a state." He went on to compare the current street violence to the aftermath of a soccer match and condescended to a domestic reporter, "Don't worry about it too much."

Halfway through the press conference, I joined some Iranian photographers who were heading out to Valiasr Square where Ahmadinejad was scheduled to deliver a speech to his adoring fans later in the afternoon.

As we approached the square by car, the crowd had grown so massive that we had to get out and walk the last half-mile. These people were very different from the folks who had gathered in the same spot 24 hours earlier. A mix of government workers, injured war veterans, schoolchildren, and the elderly filled the area, many of them bused in for the occasion from remote corners of the country. I saw some activity in the middle of the crowd and thought it was a fight, but it was just Basij handing out cookies and juice boxes.

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The location of Ahmadinejad's speech—the third-floor balcony of a rundown commercial building—was an odd choice. I joined the photographers on the ledge overlooking the throngs.

One of the people charged with stirring up the emotions of the crowd told them, "There are cameras from every major newspaper and TV station in the world. Let's show the world our love for Dr. Ahmadinejad!"

When the warm-up guy led the crowd in the singing of the national anthem, he stopped partway through and asked them to start again with "more feeling." The orchestrated nature of the event came as no surprise to this crowd, but I doubt that many of the non-Iranian journalists knew just how blatant the showmanship was.

I moved toward the back edge of the balcony, away from the stage and crowd, to give the photographers room to shoot. Behind me, in the alley below, I heard a few cars and saw a commotion as people rushed toward several Japanese SUVs. Then I saw blood. I thought a member of Ahmadinejad's entourage had been hit by a car. No. They had slaughtered a calf for the auspicious occasion.

As the photographers snapped pictures, I made my way toward the only door leading from the street to the balcony to get a closer look.

Ahmadinejad is as short as he looks. I was able to stand among his security people for quite a while. I guess I look like one of them. I can't go into detail about what he said, because, frankly, I was marveling at the manufactured spectacle of the whole thing and wondering what it must look like on television back in the United States.

Jason Rezaian is a freelance journalist based in Tehran.

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