Something profound has changed. Iranians are losing their fear and mock the official line

An air of normality has returned to Iran but it is misleading, writes Dadbeh Gudarzi in Tehran
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The Independent Online

A journey from east to west Tehran in the morning rush-hour traps you in a long line of cars reduced to a tortuous crawl. Yesterday, a middle-aged beggar woman roamed the traffic trying in vain to sell dish-cloths. We moved for a few seconds but then ground to a halt again, just like Iran's political paralysis. The driver of our shared taxi, in between grumbling about the traffic, lit up a cigarette and turned on the CD player. The words of the song could hardly have been more appropriate: "Once again I feel crying tonight".

On the surface, things may look as if they are back to normal after the crushing of the biggest protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution. On the way to my office, I check out the headlines at a newspaper kiosk and yes, it's business as usual: "The West miscalculated with unrest in Iran."

Some of us still go up to our roofs and balconies at 10pm every night and for about 10 minutes shout: Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! ("God is great".) It was the gesture that helped topple the Shah in 1979.

But fewer people are doing it now. And the night-time theatre can make you laugh almost to death. First you hear a chorus echoing: Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! from one roof. Then comes a cry from another: "Death to the dictator." Then a different voice from another building in the distance shouts: "Death to those who defy the leadership." Then yet another voice, presumably not an Ahmadinejad supporter roars back: "Death to your father."

On 12 June, many Iranians voted for the first time because they believed there was a real chance to get rid of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man whose every utterance leaves them feeling humiliated. But a great many of the millions who came out on to the streets in the aftermath of the stolen election weren't just releasing their outrage at Ahmadinejad or his plain-clothes thugs. They were expressing a message far more dangerous to the mullahs: the Islamic Republic does not legitimately represent the Iranian Nation.

Thirty years ago, the revolution gave Iranians the opportunity they craved to cry out against years of repression. What we got instead was three decades of dictatorship by proponents of a radical Islamic ideology. Even the revolution's leaders had no clear vision of what the ruling class wanted to achieve with their theological socialism.

They knew what they didn't want, which was the West. Because its freedoms would inevitably unwrap the illogical foundations of their rule. And so the propaganda began. For nearly 30 years now, the state broadcaster IRIB, (or Seda va Sima as we call it) has shaped the way Iranians think, influencing their grasp of events and of reality.

From morning to night, we are told that while the Islamic Republic is well on its way to delivering divine virtues, the rest of the world is in a state of moral and economic collapse. Sooner or later, America and its allies will implode. The ceaseless repetition of this message has helped to prolong public tolerance of the sovereignty of the mullahs. It also means that for the 70 per cent of Iranians who have no access to foreign TV via satellite, the treachery of the super-powers is as active as it was during the Cold War when British intelligence really was busy orchestrating a coup against Iran's democratic government.

But even if they won't admit it, our rulers must be worried. They know that after last month's unrest and the violent suppression that followed, the nation is still in deep crisis. And they also know that something profound has changed. Because never at any time since the revolution has public criticism been as open and as bitter as now.

The state television channel as the mouthpiece of the regime is increasingly mocked for its lies. We watched in disbelief as it broadcast cookery shows during the upheaval. Now we view staged confessions by some of the countless individuals rounded up after the election.

A colleague quietly left a piece of paper on my desk tallying recent news items on IRIB. Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman shot dead during a street protest, was mentioned three times; Uighur Muslims in China eight times and the killing of an Egyptian-born Muslim woman by a racist in Germany 140 times.

Until recently, it was almost unheard of to utter criticism and the name of the Supreme Leader in the same breath. But now, even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not escape, and I don't mean just in conversations between trusted friends. My own father, seriously mistrustful of talking about anything meaningful on the telephone, has given up observing his own cautious rules after almost three decades.

The people who are now daring to speak out like my father are not all intellectuals from north Tehran. Nor are they organised resistance. They are fed up with their salaries being eaten by inflation, or that their university-educated children have no prospect of a job. And they seethe at the unimaginable gap between them and loyal members of the Revolutionary Guard who have recently enjoyed salary rises.

An unusually thick smog covered up the rarely blue sky of Tehran the other day, prompting a friend to remark: "God cursed this country."

The smog has lifted. But the lifeless body of Sohrab Arabi, a 19-year-old student activist, was finally buried by his heartbroken mother in Beheshte-Zahara cemetery this week. He disappeared on 15 June and was missing for weeks. Now he is interred in the graveyard where thousands with the same hope as him – democracy – were buried 30 years ago.

Those mourning Neda will commemorate her again on the 40th day since her death, unless that event too is crushed. If there is a good ending to this script, these deaths will have achieved something. If not, perhaps God really did curse Iran.

The author's name has been changed