PART IV: Lie if you want to survive

Another revolution was happening simultaneously: the communications revolution. We had heard of something called the Internet but we had no idea what it was and what it could be used for. What was introduced in the pre-Internet stage was the BBS—Bulletin Board System. The idea was simple but effective. One server connected a huge number of users who logged into the system via their modems and then communicated with one another. For me it was like being in Wonderland. I’d seen this in science-fiction films but had never imagined it possible. I joined the Mavara BBS and soon made a hundred friends whom I had never seen but felt I’d known for ages. We formed several forums and I was chosen to manage the Book Forum. We had online seminars and conferences, file-sharing libraries, political discussions, poetry nights, all of them surprisingly popular. In only a few months, tens of thousands of the inhabitants of Tehran were connected through the BBS. They also played a crucial role in unifying support for Khatami among the educated class of Tehran. In just a few months, Khatami had become incredibly popular. People who wanted to show that they were educationally a cut above would do so by making clear their support for Khatami.

We in the Revolutionary Guard infantry were denied this pleasure. No one dared mention his name. Instead, we were ordered to support Nategh Nouri, Speaker of the Majlis, also running for President. In one of his morning speeches the commander of the corps said, ‘It is our duty to guard the Revolution, and the Revolution has never been so much under threat as it is now. You are soldiers of the Hidden Imam and you are supposed to follow Him. I am telling you that the Hidden Imam does not want this hypocrite Khatami to be elected as president.’ He didn’t say when and to whom the Hidden Imam had made his wishes clear, and whether he could still be considered ‘hidden’ if he was so openly supporting a specific candidate.

Despite the alleged disapproval of the Hidden Imam, the popularity of Khatami reached the farthest villages. He won the election in June 1997 with 70 per cent of the vote: 20,000,000 people had voted for him. The sun shone brighter, hope and happiness returned to the country. People laughed in the streets and congratulated one another. Even in the Revolutionary Guard more than 70 per cent had voted for Khatami, though of course they all told their commanders they had voted for Nategh Nouri.