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A correspondent's first-hand view of Iran's ongoing turmoil.
TEHRAN — I left Iran in 2007, after three years covering the Middle East's most fascinating and nuanced society.
Last week, walking out of the Iranian Consulate in London with a journalist's visa stamped into my passport, I was already concocting mental pitches for stories I would work on when I arrived back there to cover the election.
On the pavement outside, I asked a young Iranian man for a light. He was an Iranian diplomat who stepped out of the consulate for a cigarette.
Choosing my words carefully, I asked him whether he would be voting in the elections.
“Of course,” he said conspiratorially, flashing me a brilliant smile. “I’ll vote green!”
Rather than flagposting himself as a radical Islamist by telling me he’d be choosing the color of Islam over any of the candidates, the young consular official was telling me that he would be voting against the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Green was appropriated by the reformist campaign of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a two-time former prime minister and the intellectual successor to Mohammad Khatami. His loss in last Friday's poll sparked enormous street demonstrations that have been painted black and green: black in mourning for election fraud and the students and protesters shot dead by paramilitary militias on the streets of Tehran, and green — the color of Islam — and of a reformed Islamic Republic.
After a week of tension and riots, I am one of the last foreign journalists to leave Tehran. Already since Monday, reporting on the story from outside the country has changed, as it has dropped in the news agendas of most newspapers and broadcasts. Facebook, Twitter and mobile phone cameras may deliver fever-fast information and images, but they are no substitute for actually being there.
Killing a protest movement is not about just arresting its leaders, it's about cutting off the oxygen of its publicity, so it came as no surprise that the Revolutionary Guard's first pronouncement on the crisis came Tuesday: Persian-language websites publishing "incitement" would be dealt with fiercely.
After three years of living in Iran and learning Persian, this was a tough story for me to cover. Not only because of the difficulties thrown in the path of all foreign journalists by the circumstances, but also for the sadness with which I watched a country I have deep affection for disintegrate and turn to strife.
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