An election rally, Iran style


McClatchy Foreign Staff

An Iranian election rally for a popular candidate is not for the faint-of-heart, or those in a hurry.

For anyone used to over-organized events in the U.S., or Europe, here’s what not to expect: credentials, security checks, a press entrance, reserved seats or filing facilities. The name of the game is shove-your-way-in, or fuggetaboutit.

Unlike four years ago, the authorities this year allowed reporters to travel out-of-town, provided one obtains a letter in advance introducing oneself to the local police. That in hand, you’re on your own.

The big rallies this election cycle have been held indoors, in big sports halls that can hold thousands, and the two I attended were packed to the gunwales with young people. Hasan Rowhani, the choice of reformists in what is now a six-man race, held his final rally Wednesday night in Mashad, Iran’s second biggest city, and according to his people, he drew 10,000 in a gym meant to hold at most 5,000 spectators, with another 50,000 on the street outside listening to loudspeakers.

How do you get in the door with that crowd? Ehsan Keivani, my Iranian fixer/translator and I, aided by a local supporter of Rowhani, tried the police gate first, but ran into a familiar problem in Iran: competing power centers.

The Rowhani people – who were astonished to have an American reporter along to watch -- wanted to let us in. The plainclothes police didn’t have a big objection. But the uniformed police who man the gate and apparently report to the intelligence did, so that even when the doorman (after about 20 minutes) found the key to the padlock on the first gate -- the Rowhani people had positioned me so that I would be the first person shoved in -- it was a half-solution. Ehsan was left outside and I was soon stranded inside a holding area separated from the hall by another padlocked gate. The police spotted that, and soon I was out on the street and back to square one.

It was time for something completely different. We pushed through the crowd to the other end of the building and went to the second gate, flashed our police letters and election credentials, and the poor bloke trying to man the gate paused for a minute. That’s all it took. Ehsan shoved me in the gate, our local friend shoved in Ehsan, and then entered himself. That was step one. Next was getting into the hall itself; tthe police letters, which no one monitoring the entrances had time to read, were like a magic charm.

The hall was like a sauna; the air conditioning either wasn’t on or couldn’t cope. We had to get to the front of the hall to have any breathing space, and that was another 20 minutes of forcing our way through the crowd. The Rowhani security monitors took one look at the letters and welcomed us to their holding pen – the only international presence there. The three of us looked at each other, gave each other thumb’s up, and couldn’t believe it was that easy.

We were all drenched in sweat. So was the crowd, who were doing nonstop chants and cheers. After about an hour, Rowhani, a cleric in turban, age 64, nearly three times the age of many of those attending, made his entrance and proved a powerful speaker.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Under cover police officers detain a man who is flashing a "V" sign, after riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons to restrain a group of youths who hurled rocks and vandalized store fronts at a rally to celebrate Argentina’s gutsy performance in a 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup finals, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The chaotic situation marred what was an otherwise spontaneous gathering of support for Argentina’s national team after its best World Cup run in 24 years.

    Argentine World Cup celebration marred by violence

    Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of rock-throwing vandals who disturbed a rally by Argentines celebrating their team's gutsy performance in a 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup finals.

  • Seoul: N. Korea fires artillery shells into ocean

    North Korea on Monday fired artillery shells into waters near its sea border with South Korea, Seoul's military said, a day after the country test-launched two ballistic missiles in the latest of a series of weapon tests.

German soccer fans react after the deciding goal  for Germany in the final of  the Brazil World Cup 2014 between Germany and Argentina played  in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at a public viewing  area  called 'Fan Mile' in Berlin, Sunday, July 13, 2014.  Germany won by 1-0.

    Germany's World Cup party gets underway at home

    A quarter of a million German football fans reacted with unbridled joy, mixed with shock, on Sunday when Mario Goetze struck late in extra-time for Germany to win the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Argentina.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category