Iran: two worlds meet, over tea

Wed Feb 29, 2012 1:26am EST
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By Parisa Hafezi and Zahra Hosseinian

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Mina and Mohammad stood on opposite sides of the political barricades when protests against Iran's rulers erupted into mass street violence; she, a student demanding democratic reform, he a member of the hard-line Basij militia that helped crush the greatest challenge ever to the Islamic Republic.

Now the two, both 27, are brought together for the first time in a small sitting room in central Tehran. Two years have passed. Iran faces painful trade sanctions over its nuclear program, prices soar, the opposition is silenced and parliamentary polls loom for Mina as an empty promise of democracy.

They greet each other warily, these representatives of two estranged sides of Iran, the victor, perhaps, and the vanquished. Both smile courteously, refusing offers of tea to ease the awkwardness.

Mina, an English tutor with a sociology degree, recalls the days in 2009 when thousands rallied to accuse President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of falsifying votes to secure re-election. Mohammad, a university graduate, newly married, invites her to talk first.

"I wish it hadn't happened," she says, leaning back on a black sofa, wearing high heels, a black manteau and tightly fastened black headscarf. "I suffered depression for months and had nightmares."

Mohammad looks down at the marble-tiled floor, perhaps uneasy, perhaps simply following the Islamic custom not to look an unknown woman in the eyes.

"Violence breeds violence and hostility," Mina continues. "I'm so disappointed at the establishment for using violence against its own people."

Mohammad, sporting a thin beard, his hair cut short, agrees the vote and protests divided the nation, but sees the opposition as the guilty party, an instigator.   Continued...