Tehran Diary 'We Drink to the Freedom that Will Come One Day'

It has been two years since the disputed presidential elections in Iran, which sparked street protests leading to dozens of deaths and countless arrests. The opposition is in disarray and the government seems stronger than ever. Four Tehran residents give a glimpse into life in the Islamic Republic in diary entries they wrote for SPIEGEL.

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In the summer of 2009, millions of Iranians held demonstrations calling for more democracy and freedom of expression. More than 70 people died in the uprising associated with the Green Movement headed by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi.

Two years later, the leadership seems strengthened, despite all the power struggles, while the opposition appears to have been shattered. Four Iranians recorded their concerns and hopes during the last week of June for SPIEGEL. Their words paint a picture of life in the Islamic Republic.


Friday, June 24, 2011

The European Union imposes travel bans on three commanders of Iran 's Revolutionary Guard suspected of helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to suppress the uprisings against his regime. The arrest of photojournalist Maryam Majd, who had intended to fly to Germany a week earlier to photograph the Women's Football World Cup, comes to light.

Massih Talebian, the engineer. On our holidays, I am usually responsible for the food. That's why we are barbecuing today. We are a large family, which means that it costs me almost 500,000 rial (€31 or $44), for lamb and chicken alone. During the meal, we mostly talk about all the things that have become more expensive.

The government has slashed subsidies, and now only the needy receive monthly cash payments. First my new natural gas bill was 10 times higher than before. But then the next one was twice as high as that one. Now I pay 1.5 million rial, or about €100, every month.

My son-in-law says that his father, who is a teacher, receives enough support to pay the higher bills. Besides, he says, his father thinks it's good that the prices force us to think about using energy more carefully. It's true that we Iranians are very wasteful.

Samaneh Ahmadian, the artist. It's very late by the time I wake up, already well after noon. How nice, I think, because I don't know what to do with myself on a day like today. I go out to order a stew at a restaurant, then I go to a café. I treat myself to a shared taxi.

My father can still support me with money. He gives me four million rial a month, or about €250. That's a lot of money, but it's still not enough, now that things have become so expensive here. He studied in the United States. I was born there and spent my first few years in Mississippi. My father worked there as an engineer. The US space agency, NASA, offered him a job, but he wanted to help develop his country instead. My parents returned in 1998, and I came to Tehran with them. My father was a university professor. Later on, he had his own company and was very successful. Now he is no longer doing well financially.

In the evening, I spend a lot of time surfing the Internet, looking at the websites of dance schools in New York. But I'm not happy with my classes here at all. Most of the professors have no clue, and yet they make it clear to us students that they consider us to be fools. The only professor I truly admire and respect is leaving the country.

Kouhyar Goudarzi, the activist. I feel very weak this morning. It's the second day of my hunger strike, which I'm doing out of solidarity with my friends in prison. All it takes to be put behind bars is to clearly voice one's criticism or attend protests. I've been out for the last seven months, but you always have one foot in prison if you campaign for human rights and are politically involved.

I have to go visit some friends. There isn't much going on in the streets. Most people don't look very happy. It's been very hot, and both women and men are wearing lighter clothing. The morality police are harassing them even more than usual.

We discuss the fate of our friend Hoda Saber, who died in prison. The official story is that he died of heart failure as a result of his hunger strike. I was in a cell with him. Hoda was a good person.

Ghazaleh Zarea, the social worker. It was a good idea to drive to my parents' house in Khorramabad in the western part of the country. The air is better here, and I feel freer. In Tehran, I'm afraid to walk in the streets without a chador. The morality police have become stricter. They've already spoken to me in the capital, because I wasn't wearing the dark robe and was supposedly dressed indecently.

Out here I can visit girlfriends and talk about the past. It's nice to talk about old times rather than the present, which is so painful. I was active for Mousavi before the presidential election, when I ran a campaign center. Now I'm not part of it anymore. What's going on in the heads of our politicians? Why is opposition leader Karroubi calling on people to revolt? Is he interested in the people or his own power? I hate violence anywhere in the world. Mahatma Gandhi is my role model. Former President Mohammad Khatami also impressed me with his levelheadedness.

I would like to publish my thoughts so I could see what others think about them. But we hardly have any publications anymore that print critical ideas.

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