Snapshots from Tehran's Revolution Square

TEHRAN — It was the largest non-regime organized demonstration in the 30-year history of Iran's Islamic Republic. And for once, the ruling order had not a jot of influence in organizing it.

All day Sunday, throughout Tehran's urban sprawl, jamblocked traffic and busy markets, young men and women darted in amongst the people to spread the news: Monday, 4 p.m. at Enghelab (Revolution Square).

I was talking to students outside a university dormitory ringed by riot police in a western neighborhood called Amirabad as darkness fell when I felt a light pinch on my waist.

"4 p.m. tomorrow at Enghelab," I heard before seeing. Turning round in surprise, the smiling man looking backwards was already several yards away from me heading up the street past the massed ranks of Bassiji paramilitaries and riot police.

A few hours later in the residential neighbourhood of Jolfa, locals were standing on street corners shouting slogans over the din of dozens of cars honking rhythmically.

"FARDA SAAT CHAHAR TUYE MEIDUNE ENGHELAB!" (Tomorrow at 4 p.m. on Revolution Square) went one rhythmic chant.

Just like that, an announcement became a slogan.

And they were all there Monday.

First peeking out shyly, descending from footbridges crossing over the busy Islamic Republic Avenue, moving in pairs and threes across the streets where Bassiji paramilitaries stood guard, they moved towards the square.

Everyone eyed each other suspiciously, seeking to divine clues about the ideological direction of their fellow travellers on the sooty sidewalks. But aside from the squat fat men with the five-day stubble or the obvious beards, it would have been impossible to divine the diversity of the enormous mass of humanity that descended Monday upon the Islamic Republic's most symbolic avenue.

There were young, cute girls sporting Green Revolution chic headscarfs and bandanas alongside chador-clad matrons swathed in all-encompassing chadors out of which just a single unpowdered nose peeked.

The young men with the gelled-back hair, knockoff sunglasses and complicated cellphones walked alongside the 70-year-old retirees with cloth trousers and baggy shirts. There were civil servants and unemployed, businessmen freshly flown in from Dubai or Paris or former journalists.

All here were disgusted at the repression that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, still the head of this nation of 70 million, launched against Iranian society since he came to power.

Thousands and thousands of people marched, often in absolute silence to demonstrate their alienation from their government, at other times shouting "We are Mousavi's Green Army."


Organizers with green bandannas over their heads drowned out anti-Ahmadinejad slogans with loud cries of "Allahu Akbar," a common slogan that demonstrates unity rather than the bitter divisions that have plagued the country domestically in the past few days. They also passed around slips of paper announcing a three-day general strike and urging demonstrators to a series of demonstrations over the next few days.

"Don't shout political slogans," shouted the youths at protesters who were chanting "Liar, liar, where is the 63 percent they talk about?" in reference to the overwhelming two-thirds vote attributed to Ahmadinejad.

The organisers went to extraordinary lengths to avoid confrontation with security forces. The riot squads had been quietly ordered to return to their bases once the police saw the enormous mass of humanity streaming in.

Around a Bassiji base abutting one of Sharif University's faculties, pro-Mousavi campaigners linked hands to create a protective circle around a gate protecting hundreds of Bassijis in paramilitary uniforms from enraged protesters outside.

"They're Arab lovers," one student said of the crowd of shifty-looking ideological militiamen crowded inside and looking distinctly uncomfortable as they stood next to the parked vehicles with which they hunt protesters at night. Now the tables were turned and the Bassiji were the hunted rather than hunters.

"Give me my vote back Mr Bassij," shouted another man. A third man struggled against the railings, shouting at the feared law enforcers inside that he wanted to get back at them for the beating he had received the previous night. He was led away by a man who tried to calm him down. "They hit me too, it's OK, it's OK," he said.

The reversal in social roles was unique. A few steps away, a young girl wearing the kind of colored scarf that might have earned her a warning and harrassment on the street by the morality brigade, approached a policeman and, her voice dripping sarcasm, asked: "Sir, can I borrow your gun for tonight? Even your baton is enough. Oooooh, look how long and hard it is ... You won't even give me that? Then how about just your peaked cap?"

And with that she walked back into the crowd, smiling.

See here for an overview of GlobalPost dispatches from Iran

 (Iason Athanasiadis is reporting from Iran on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.)