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Tehran Quieter, But Tension Persists

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Tehran Quieter, But Tension Persists

Middle East

Tehran Quieter, But Tension Persists

Tehran Quieter, But Tension Persists

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105828986/105830397" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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After nearly two weeks of postelection unrest, the streets of Iran's capital, Tehran, have quieted down. Those voicing dissent Tuesday did so by honking car horns, turning on car lights or chanting from rooftops.

President Obama, at a White House news conference Tuesday, took a tougher tone on the Iranian government's response to the unrest, saying he was "appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonment" of those protesting the presidential election, in which the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was declared the winner. His main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has challenged the result.

'Smoldering Anger'

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who has been reporting from Tehran for the past two weeks, tells Melissa Block that the crowds may have ebbed, but the "smoldering anger" has not.

Cohen says the government's show of strength is among the most severe he has witnessed in his long journalistic career. He says plainclothes Basiji militia (Iran's volunteer paramilitary group), riot-squad police and Revolutionary Guards have been attacking anyone gathering. More than a dozen people have been killed.

"This definitely has had a dampening effect not on the anger, but on the presence in the streets," he says.

Symbol Of The Protest

Cohen says Iranian women have been at the forefront of the protests, exhibiting more bravery than the men. He says they can be heard chanting the loudest during protests, noting he has seen them screaming, advancing toward "the scary-looking" anti-riot police.

Neda Agha Soltan, 26, was one such woman. Her apparent shooting death was captured on video, uploaded to the Internet and viewed millions of times worldwide.

Cohen says she wasn't political, but was killed when she was leaving a demonstration.

"That image has clearly become an emblem around the world of what's going on here," Cohen says. "I think people in many, many different places have been profoundly moved by the courage of Iranian youth."

Lost Opportunity

Cohen says the election could have moved Iran's regime closer to society, but instead it has had the opposite effect.

"Perhaps in this election there was a possible bridge ... that would have certainly conserved the regime but in a form that allowed it to evolve," he says. "Rather than that, an extremist faction within the revolutionary establishment railroaded through. And instead of moving forward, I think, right now, the Islamic republic is moving backward."

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