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Essay: The flight from Tehran

A GlobalPost correspondent reflects on why Iran will never be the same.

Journalists found themselves in a special state of limbo. When I discovered that the accreditation for foreign journalists had been rescinded, no one made himself available to me to explain what, precisely, that meant. I was left to sort out my concerns on my own. Could I report from my room based on what other people told me? What if I had filed something before the accreditation was revoked but it was to be published after? Could I join the rallies strictly as a participant, rather than as a journalist? Were my phone calls and email correspondence being monitored?

Paranoia set in. I began having trouble distinguishing real risks from irrational fears. I noticed an intelligence agent taking my photo on the street and I stayed up one night thinking about where that photo might end up. I arranged to leave the country as soon as I could and kept my fingers crossed.

I didn’t experience any problems at the airport. But, sitting in the plane, I couldn’t help but feel anxious for the fate of the brave people whom I had witnessed defending their rights and dignity. I don’t think the movement they joined stands much of a chance of swaying the regime to reconsider the election, something the Supreme Leader has made clear he does not want to do. The protesters’ efforts are too disjointed and the imbalance of power too overwhelmingly in favor of the government.

But, while the protests suffered from a lack of organization, the very spontaneity of the movement may eventually prove to be its saving grace. Everyone involved in the protests found their way onto the streets day after day out of a personal decision of conscience. The commitment they have forged to the prospect of change is deep and unlikely to break anytime soon. The combination of condescension and disdain with which their government has treated them is likely to only strengthen their resolve.

And so this season’s fear will harden into next season’s indignation. By the time I left the country, the nightly, excited cries of Allahu Akbar — God is great — were already taking a harder, coarser edge. No one will be surprised the next time there is violence on Iran’s streets, and it is easy to imagine the masses will have benefited from this year’s hard-won experience. Ultimately, people will look back at this moment in Iran’s history and see that it was the government that showed more fear than the people.

(GlobalPost contributor Cameron Abadi covered the Iranian elections and the protests that  came in the aftermath of  its contested results. Despite a crackdown on the media and the threat of arrest, Abadi stayed in Tehran until yesterday, quietly and carefully documenting what he saw unfolding there. This dispatch was based on those observations from Tehran and was published from Berlin, where he is based.)

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