Celebrating Iranians looking over their shoulders to a different future

SHIRAZ, Iran — When we finally arrived home on election night, our feet were sore and mildly blistered. Some hours before, the official news sources of the Islamic Republic of Iran announced Hassan Rouhani as the president-elect.

What had started as an "engineered election" with six of the eight candidates being fundamentalists turned, suddenly, explosively, into a much-sought victory for the people.

We witnessed an unexpected outbreak of support for Rouhani and of a determination to vote despite our feelings of betrayal haunting us from 88. This number, this date, has become a proper name unto itself, denoting a whole spectrum of events, hope and trauma. By 88 we mean 1388 of the Persian calendar, which would coincide, in the election period, with the Gregorian calendar year 2009.

On this night, we headed out at 8, before the official news was out, but with enough votes having been counted that we were very confident in the future presidency of Rouhani.

We set out towards Chamran Boulevard, Shiraz. Our memories from the happier days of pre-88 elections led us there; a street that once served for the public jubilations we held.

We were drawn towards that place, which had become so discharged from our memories of it during the last four years, a place that had even changed its face with two new bridges and overpasses.

We were drawn there toward a re-enactment of a dream of what we thought we would do when Mir-Hossein Mousavi would be elected president in 2009. But other things beside Chamran Boulevard had changed.

If 88 was an upheaval and a dissent following the disputed victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and in support of opposition candidate Mousavi, then what we took part in on election day can well be described as a civil endeavor, a political practice of rights that suddenly seemed available to us for the first time in years.

We were in a taxicab when friends called us and gave us the news of the official announcement. We congratulated our fellow passengers and the driver and got off about a kilometer away from Chamran Boulevard due to heavy traffic congestion.

Everything seemed normal, too normal, as if nobody cared much one way or another; this mood reflected earlier lessons of living our political lives much more beneath the surface than ever. As we walked, a few cars began honking their horns in celebration, some girls cheered from far off. Once we got to Chamran, things were different.

The police were there, of course, but not in the numbers that we had come to expect in such situations that could easily become volatile; the police seemed to be completely passive.

In an expression of celebratory boldness, hundreds, both men and women, had poured onto the boulevard, wearing purple, throwing flowers at cars, which they let pass only one at a time, chanting slogans: "Hi to Rouhani. Hail to Khatami,” referring to Sayed Mohammad Khatami, Iran's first reformist president, 1997 to 2005, and "Ahmadi, Bye Bye,” a call directed to the current president of Iran.

All this took place a mere hundred meters from the special police riot units; the crowd appeared to be inspired and yet frightened. What if they came at us on motorcycles with those batons? Memories of pain contrasted with the reality of these crowds jeering at a passing police cruiser without any sign of fear.

You must have lived in the 1980s, or have experienced 88 to realize how much it means to stand next to a riot police unit and jeer and shout. We were swept up in their courage and went out onto the street and joined hands with them and sung, and still we felt a little scared, looking over our shoulders for signs of incoming hostility.

Maybe we have become irrevocably paranoid. We kept looking at the situation, as if we knew that sooner or later we would be rounded up and put in prison again, or beaten, or worse.

We theorized that individuals in the swelling crowd could move faster than police squads in their big cars that were unable to move an inch in the gridlocked traffic jam. Still, we evaluated possible escape routes and escape routines. We were missing the point: this was a celebration. Had we become too accustomed to being underground activists that we no longer recognized in this moment the one we had dreamt of in 88?

So we waited for what we thought of as inevitable, for the riot police to strike, to end this moment of hope as it did in 88. We waited but the blow never came.

Looking back now to the June 14 election, it seemed that this was how we came to rid ourselves of at least a part of the trauma that we suffered four years ago by finally realizing that this is it, this is the moment we have been waiting for through these years: at least this evening we have won.

Mohammad-Ali Rahebi is a post-graduate student of English Literature in Shiraz, Iran who is conducting independent research in political philosophy.