fb-pixel Skip to main content

Dissidents in Iran keeping low profile ahead of elections

TEHRAN — As Iran prepares to elect a new president next month, the antiestablishment energy that drove violent protests four years ago has disappeared, quashed by the heavy-handed crackdown in 2009 that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection.

The unlikely leaders of that opposition movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have been under house arrest since 2011. Most of the student leaders and activists who helped organize the rallies are either in prison or living abroad, removed from the daily realities of a country whose focus on an economic crisis bears little resemblance to the struggles of four years ago.


While activists abroad persist in their calls for change within Iran, there are no visible signs inside the country of those who led the protests. There are also doubts about whether reformers in the mold of former president Mohammad Khatami might reemerge to take part in the election.

‘‘Iranians are the type of people that need leadership, and right now those opposed to the current government have no one to look to for guidance,’’ said a 26-year-old linguist who was a graduate student in 2009 and took part in the protests.

Like others interviewed for this article, the linguist spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing government reprisal for talking with a US newspaper about a sensitive subject.

The elections are June 14, but there are few indications of the excitement and anticipation for change that animated the prior contest and fueled the months of protests that followed as hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets to challenge what they said was Ahmadinejad’s rigged victory.

In some ways, it is Ahmadinejad who is now fighting the clerical establishment, but the election battle is shaping up along a fairly narrow spectrum, with little indication thus far of candidates who might rattle conservative leaders.


Iran’s campaigns are compact and have a history of becoming volatile in their final weeks, with candidates joining the fray late and making trips around the country in a period that lasts just over a month.

A week before the 2009 vote, a series of televised debates — in which candidates accused one another of fraud and financial corruption — opened the floodgates for Iranians to discuss long-taboo issues. That paved the way for the protest movement, but it was mostly spontaneous and never truly coalesced around a set of ideals, some participants say.