Middle East


Iranians are preparing for next week's national holiday marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution 35 years ago. NPR's Peter Kenyon is among the relatively few foreign journalists in Tehran for the event, and he's braving one of the coldest Iranian winters in recent memory to listen to what people there have to say about their lives. He tells us the optimism that greeted President Hasan Rouhani's election last year has moderated but not vanished.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The saying, people tend to find what they're looking for, can certainly be applied to a Westerner visiting Iran. It's not hard to find evidence of Iran's much-analyzed devotion to martyrdom, especially around this national holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking foreign language)

KENYON: It's also not hard to find chants of death to America. Just drop by the massive Mosalla Imam Khomeini mosque for Friday prayers. The imam spoke of ancient beliefs and up-to-the-minute politics, condemning recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry and nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman. The crowd of working class conservatives and military hardliners responded with full-throated wishes for America's demise.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking foreign language)

KENYON: But as this same crowd streamed out of the mosque a short while later, they turned back into individual Iranians, some of whom revealed much more nuanced opinions and a surprising willingness to give their pragmatic president more time to conduct his diplomatic outreach. 60-year-old Amir Sazagar, a self-described inventor, says Iranians in many ideological camps are pleased by the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. And there's a lingering feeling of optimism.

AMIR SAZAGAR: (Through translator) People are hopeful about the future, both for the economy and the foreign diplomacy. We're connecting more these days with other countries and that makes us feel better.

KENYON: Another worshipper, Adiya Mouradiya, makes it clear that he preferred the last president, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He says nothing's really changed with the economy so far, and this sub-zero winter is especially hard. But even so, he takes a surprisingly pragmatic view of Rouhani's outreach, even with regard to the ritually hated America.

ADIYA MOURADIYA: (Through translator) Look, America is a superpower. So if we fix the relationship with America, things should get better.

KENYON: Across town, the Romance Cafe caters to a very different clientele, a mostly young crowd plugged into various devices and chatting earnestly over espressos and herbal teas. 40-year-old Nasser, a part-owner of the cafe, says it's true that conservatives are giving Rouhani time to sink or swim, especially since he still has the backing of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nasser says it's equally important that the pro-reform protesters known as the Green Movement, who flooded the streets of Tehran in 2009, are also showing patience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, yeah. People decide to give him time, especially the Green Movement, you know? The Green Movement is not dead, not dead. People, they are happy with the negotiations, you know.

KENYON: Critics of Rouhani's nuclear diplomacy are, of course, waiting in the wings. But for now, he seems to have succeeded in raising hopes for a better future across the political spectrum. With extremely difficult talks on a comprehensive nuclear accord about to begin, the question here is, can he deliver in the face of opposition at home, in the region and in Washington? Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Tehran.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from