Before Iran Elected Rouhani, TIME Journeyed Inside the Islamic Republic

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Newsha Tavakolian / Polaris for TIME

Supporters of President-elect Hassan Rouhani gather in Tehran to celebrate early results that made his election seem inevitable

Leaning against the wall in the sitting room from which Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini used to rule Iran is a portrait of a young boy. A portrait of the Prophet Muhammad as a young boy, to be exact. How is it that this fire-tongued figure of radical Shiism, this thrower of fatwas, the face of political Islam, would permit something as sacrilegious as a portrait of the Prophet in his presence, when we all know that depicting the founder of Islam is a sin? The guard at the gate of Khomeini’s house and museum in Tehran just shrugged. “I don’t know. He just liked it.”

For one week, TIME was granted rare access to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a country as surprising as it is inaccessible to most foreign journalists. In the week leading up to the historic presidential election that ushered in what is likely to be Iran’s best chance at normalizing relations with the rest of the world, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, we spoke with ordinary Iranians for a perspective on how they see the world. From a poet who chafes at censorship – “I am not allowed to write about my beloved,” he says—to a cleric who mans an advice hotline from the former home of Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini, we were in turns delighted, perplexed and ever hungry for more. From this week’s magazine story:

We were accompanied everywhere by a Foreign Ministry–appointed translator, whose discomfort with political talk was balanced by his tolerance for two curious American journalists. Wherever we spoke to people out on the street, interviewing them about the election and sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program, Iranians gathered round to politely listen in, sometimes interjecting their own views, until there was a crowd 10 people deep. They were eager to venture their opinions and to hear ours. Internet restrictions and censored news have cut them off from the outside world and made them more curious to hear what outsiders have to say.

Click here to find out what Iranians told TIME’s Managing Editor Rick Stengel and Middle East Bureau Chief Aryn Baker in the full magazine story.


Agree with patriotamerican's comment below. re: Ms. Baker's sentence: "Internet restrictions and censored news have cut them off from the outside world" -- 

Iran is sanctioned and the regime there has cracked down on net use through filtering, but a *basic* review of media reports (just check the wires) shows that Iranians definitely manage to get on the net through proxies! They are being increasingly isolated economically, but are definitely not "cut off." 

I hope this was just a bad mistake on Ms. Baker's part, and that she does not genuinely believe this - But too bad; this article could have been good. It was very bland, Orientalist and factually inaccurate, as the sentence demonstrates above. Bloomberg, FT and the NYTimes had much better, way more accurate, reporting on this election.  


hi aryn!unfortunately i can not access the article!im  one of the people u interviewed!how can i read the whole article?

patriotamerican5 2 Like

This article is ridiculously uninformed, low quality reporting and a pathetic attempt at making the place sound like some exotic netherworld. THIS is all your MidEast bureau chief could come up with?!  She writes:  "...a country as surprising as it is inaccessible to most foreign journalists." 

For the record: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, Bloomberg and others have bureaus or correspondents and photographers INSIDE Tehran. It is really not that big a deal to report there. 

And then she writes: "Internet restrictions and censored news have cut them off from the outside world and made them more curious to hear what outsiders have to say." -- ARE YOU JOKING?! "Cut them off from the outside world?" This is not North Korea.  They have PROXY SERVERS over there. Rouhani himself and Khamenei were ON TWITTER and FACEBOOK. Did you do any RESEARCH at all before you wrote?  Iranians travel, and they have satellite dishes - they may want to know what you had to say, but they are NOT cut off or disconnected from the. outside world.  This is pathetic reporting. Disgusting, even. Get someone who has at least a superficial understanding of Iran to report on the country. Maybe Jay Newton Small, at least? But this is horrendous. How sad that TIME has stooped as low as this. How far you have fallen. Fire more people and hire some new ones. 

KasraBakhtiarian 1 Like

I agree with some parts of your comment!i live in iran and we iranian people use facebook and twitter.we use satelite dishes and we are aware of every event in the world!but the facebook and twitter and some other sites in iran are we have to use proxy servers.come on we are human.we use whatever the other people use in all around the world.


Seriously? This is a story? It's like the old Soviet minders to ensure foreign journalists only wrote glowingly about the old Soviet Union. While Iran’s new president celebrates his election with a nice, showy press conference saying all the right things, the truth of the turmoil in Iran is slowly leaking out as social media users are finally getting some clips and postings out about protests in Iran over this really silly election. Why do I think it’s a sham election? Let’s count the ways: You whack 680 candidates off the ballot. You carefully trim the field to five nut jobs and one less nutty guy. You restrict access to social media and the internet. You arrest every high profile dissident. You then send out 40,000 Revolutionary Guard members to go door-to-door to round up voters and send them to the polls and if anyone doesn’t have that little ink-stained finger you were in big trouble with state police. I tell you, these guys could give Tammany Hall or a Chicago ward boss a serious run for the money. Khamenei has managed become a modern-day Boss Tweed. And the Iranian should be grateful for the election of Rouhani? I think not. To see real efforts at changing the regime, check out for the largest meeting of Iranians outside of Iran.

CrowdsGather 1 Like

This report is a joke! Here is all you need to know to tell : 'We were accompanied everywhere by a Foreign Ministry–appointed translator, ...'  So, everyone they talked to knew that the government spy was listening to and reporting everything they said in a country where dissidents and their families are tortured and killed.I'm sure the truth and a true picture really came out for them.