"We can't be careful," he said when I urged him to stay indoors. "We can't lose this chance."
By Jonathan Spollen
Iran's electoral watchdog, the Guardian Council, said today that it was investigating 646 complaints of polling violations in the country's disputed presidential elections, and announced it will hold a meeting Saturday with the three defeated presidential contenders to hear their allegations of voting irregularities.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 opposition protesters filled the streets and squares of Tehran in the sixth straight day of mass rallies in Iran's capital, with many wearing black and holding candles to commemorate the deaths of at least eight demonstrators killed by Iranian security forces on Monday.
Reports of voting irregularities in last Friday's election range from shortages of ballots to voting centres being closed prematurely to reports of turnouts in at least 30 locations registering over 100 per cent.
But a trip to Iran last November is the strongest evidence I have come across so far to support the argument that this vote was rigged in the incumbent's favor. Out of scores of people from all walks of life that I spoke to over a period of three weeks, not one said they were satisfied with how Mr Ahmadinejad was running their country.
Bazaaris said he was bad for business, taxi drivers said their salaries were depreciating in value by the week, university graduates said there were no jobs, businesspeople said working in Iran was a constant struggle, religious minorities complained of persecution.
Everyone complained of the senseless restrictions on everyday life and the inability to make their discontent heard.
"It's impossible for someone like me to live here," an award-winning artist told me. He had recently returned from living aboard and was making plans to leave again.
But even members of the Baseej, the Islamic militia believed to strongly support Mr Ahmadinejad, expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Ahmadinejad, with some saying his foreign policies and rhetoric were overly hostile.
"He is making us look ignorant," one member of the student Baseej said over tea at their Tehran university office.
A female Baseeji and philosophy student told me how the younger conservatives were "outgrowing" the rigid ways of Mr Ahmadinejad and his revolution-era cohorts. She spoke of the regime like an elderly relative that had long since lost touch with the outside world and Iran's own younger generation - 70 percent of the country's population is younger than 30 - and needed to be guided, with loving care, to the political retirement home.
Some hardliners went as far as to wonder whether Mr Ahmadinejad wasn't secretly a puppet of western interests, used by the West to divert criticism from regional wars, perhaps, or to keep oil prices high.
But the criticism meted out by conservatives was positively polite compared to what the vast majority of people had to say about their president.
"He's a joke. He believes he's a messiah - he said there were halos around his head," said one reformist student who was at the time campaigning to get Mohammed Khatami to run for president. He was referring to Mr Ahmadinejad's claim that a light surrounded him as he addressed the UN General Assembly in 2005.
"Why won't he just go away?" said one despairing journalist, describing the futility of going through the available political channels to try and change the way things are in Iran.
And thus the events of the last few days: It's been impossible to give vent to real criticism in Iran - you risk jail or worse - and the result, after so many years, is the current chaos. This isn't merely the expression of anger over likely electoral fraud. It has been the frenzied meltdown of a people exasperated by 30 years of oppression and isolation.
It was the collective release of a young population who know they'll have to leave their country to get good jobs, who are sick of the restrictions on all aspects of their lives, from the clothes they wear to the music they listen to. They have had to watch in silence as their government, while claiming to resist "western greed and corruption", disappears one of the largest oil reserves in the world with seemingly no economic benefit.
The first thing one Mousavi-supporting girl at Monday's protest, speaking to the London Times, said: "We were singing, dancing in the streets, boys and girls together. We had never done this before. No one wanted to go home."
"It seems people were half-dead before and suddenly everyone felt alive."
It started off as a protest, but has become an important moment in the Islamic republic's short history. There has been a shift in consciousness, a realization that things could change - the same realization, perhaps, that gripped Mr Ahmadinejad and his friends 30 years ago when they took on the Shah and won.
But people in Iran know Mr Ahmadinejad did not win this time, and they have lost their fear of saying so.
When I was there in November, people were scared to speak just because my Dictaphone was switched on, even on non-political matters.
But on Monday - as news was coming in of pro-Mousavi supporters being beaten and killed by police and militias - when I urged an Iranian friend via Facebook chat to stay indoors, he said absolutely not.
"We can't be careful," he said. "We can't lose this chance."
Jonathan Spollen is Assistant Foreign Editor at The National in Abu Dhabi.
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