Something Different
July 2009

by Roshan Norouzi

From the first days it was clear that this Iranian election would be different. Four years after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's success in the 2005 election, everyone knew the president would be the candidate to continue the custom of "eight-year government" in Iran.

© Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA Press
Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi attends in a campaign rally in Tehran, May 30, 2009. Moussavi said that there should be a stop to discrimination of women in Iran, who have limited rights on issues such as divorce, child custody and inheritance. Women activists such as Rahnavard, Moussavi's wife, have several times blamed this discrimination and called for more rights.
Mehdi Karroubi, who instituted the National Trust Party just a few days after losing the 2005 election, was going to be a candidate as was Mohsen Rezaie, who also ran in 2005 but withdrew two days before the election.

The unknown was Mir Hossein Mousavi. The former prime minister announced his intention to run after 20 years of political silence. I decided to focus primarily on his campaign because he was an unknown face to me and others too young to remember when he was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq War. It was clear that this would be a different election.

I met Mir Hossein for the first time during his first speech in 20 years in a mosque located in a poor district of Tehran. The majority of people who attended were more than 30 years old. Mousavi talked about poor people, economic problems and the censure of Ahmadinejad's government. That night, Seyyed Mohammad Khatamy announced he would withdraw to support Mir Hossein. "I or Mr. Mousavi, one of us will be a candidate," Khatamy had said before.

© Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA Press
In Tehran, Iran, a female supporter of election candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi shows Persian writing on her hands that reads: 'Women should have same rights as men.' Mousavi said that there should be an end to discrimination of women in Iran. Currently Iranian women have limited rights on issues such as divorce, child custody and inheritance. Women formed an important electorate for Mousavi in his campaign against incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. May 30, 2009.
After Khatamy withdrew, his youth support organization, named "Third Wave," held a reformist rally to show Khatamy's support for Mousavi. But, the rally was poorly planned. There was no thought given to media coverage and the large group of photographers was forced into a small space. Security viewed us as a problem to be dealt with forcefully. They hadn't realized that we were an important part of their meetings. We decided to leave the rally in protest and boycott coverage of the Third Wave. Our protest was effective and after two days they apologized to photojournalists and the campaign treated us with respect in the following rallies and meetings. It was clear that it would be a different election.

A few days later Mousavi's campaign chose green as its symbolic color: green being a religious color in Iran. Quickly the city was full of young supporters wearing green bands on their wrists. You could see green bands everywhere--in offices, universities, the bazaar, stadiums, on taxi antennae and even in our newspaper office. Women supporters wore green scarves; clergymen used green shawls and photographers fastened green bands to their camera straps. Shops sold out of green t-shirts, hats, coats: green clothing was everywhere. For the first time in an Iranian presidential election a candidate used color as the symbol of the campaign. It was a photographer's dream!

© Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA Press
In Tehran, Iran, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election, attend a campaign rally in Azadi Street, June 10, 2009. Green is the color of Mousavi's campaign.

Candidates' wives have always been in the background in Iran. Even Mr. Khatamy, an open-minded politician who defended women's rights and used new dialogue about democracy and social freedoms in Iran, never campaigned with his wife. But the 2009 election had a new and unexpected face: Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard. She had a big role in the campaign, appearing with him everywhere and this had a huge effect on women who were seeking their rights from the candidates' programs. Mousavi asking his wife to answer questions during a campaign rally – a first in an Iranian presidential election – showed that this was something completely different. We had a possible First Lady for the first time.

Political enthusiasm was high among young people and supporters of the four candidates were very active. Mousavi's supporters used green elements, Ahmadinejad's supporters carried the Iranian flag, Mohsen Rezai's supporters announced that they would use the color blue while Karroubi supporters, who were mostly students, used the word "Change," just like Barack Obama's campaign in the U.S. election.

© Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA Press
Tehran, Iran - The would-be Iranian president, Mir Hossein Mousavi Khameneh, 67, thanks his supporters from his heart during a meeting with artists, June 18, 2009. Mir is an Iranian reformist politician, painter and architect who was the last prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1981-89. Mousavi is currently president of the Iranian Academy of Arts.

The streets of Tehran were full of supporters and rallies, especially at night. The election restored the political spirit of many people. Unlike previously, fewer people talked about boycotting the election. As I covered the last hours of campaigning in Tehran's streets, the mood was rapturous. Young and old, reformist and conservative, everyone was out in support of their candidate. A sense of freedom filled the capital and policemen were actually nice, full of respect for people in this last night of election campaigning. It was a different kind of night.

On election day, 
covering the candidates voting was very important for me. Rezaie and Karroubi would vote in the north of Tehran and Mousavi would cast his vote in the southern part of the city at almost the same time. Ahmadinejad's people chose to keep the time and place of his vote to themselves so I decided to cover the man who seemed most likely to win—Mousavi. He chose to vote at a mosque in a poor district, just like the location of his first speech. He came with his wife and let her vote first. After voting he gave a press conference. It was really crowded and there was no microphone. I couldn't hear anything but afterwards I found that he had protested his supervisors being removed from voting stations.

The SMS network [text messages] had no coverage and it was really strange. My mobile phone was almost dead because I had used it many times to get news from different cities. I went from place to place on election day photographing many people waiting in long lines. It was clear participation would be very high. I decided to find a non-crowded place to vote during my travels but by 9 p.m., 13 hours after the polls opened, I hadn't found any non-crowded place to vote! I went to the Interior Ministry to get news and finally I found a quiet polling station to cast my own vote. I learned later many people were not able to vote because lines were too long.

My mobile phone battery was dead and it was near midnight when I arrived home. I started calling my friends to get news and I found that Mir Hossein had held an anomalous press conference in 11 p.m. and had declared that he was the winner of the election and that any other result was not acceptable and meant cheating in the election. "What a different election," I thought.

© Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA Press
Tehran, Iran - Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, is seen during a campaign rally in a stadium. Women activists such as Rahnavard have called for more rights for Iranian women.

From the first minutes of June 13 different ideas were published about the election results. I was getting updates from friends in the Interior Ministry who were getting the latest news about results and at about 12:30 a.m. I shared a link with first results from ISNA agency on my Facebook page and continued updating as the totals changed. By 2:05 a.m. I published new results on my page that I got from news agencies: 15 million votes counted and Ahmadinejad got more than 10 million.

It looked like Ahmadinejad had won the election but protests began from the other candidates. "I don't accept these results," Karroubi said and Mir Hossein's supporters started protesting in the streets. The official Web site of Mir Hossein's campaign was blocked and despite anti-filter sharing, Facebook was filtered a few minutes later. We couldn't find any news from a trustworthy source. June 13 was a very different day.

I covered an Ahmadinejad re-election victory celebration. Happy men and women with Iranian flags, but there was a struggle between protestors and policemen. I tried to take photos of street protests but it was really hard. When I saw other photographers' photos from protests, I could do nothing but praise their courage. 
Reformist supporters started silent protest rallies. The government announced reporters were not allowed to cover non-official events. It was bad news for the Iranian media and especially me. I wasn't able to shoot any photos after the election. But, the government wasn't able to shut down citizen journalism. Before violence shut down the protests, protesters themselves published their own videos and photos taken with mobile phones and amateur equipment. Getting the news out to the world in this way, we saw a different way to make journalism in Iran.

© Roshan Norouzi

Born in Tabriz, Iran, in 1985, ZUMA Press contract photographer Roshan Norouzi currently shoots for the Khabar daily newspaper in Tehran. He has previously worked for Iranian news agencies and newspapers including Asr-e-Eghtesad daily, Asia daily, Shahr news agency, Ana news agency and Dourbin photo agency. He also has worked with the Center for Sustainable Development as photographer and art manager. His work from the Iranian elections has been published worldwide through ZUMA Wire.

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