We tend to think of authoritarian regimes as monolithic, but they are often as riven with dissent as democracies. It is just that we do not know this because of course such authoritarian regimes do not have a free media.
“.. everyone was astonishingly friendly, more so that any other country that Roger & Vee had visited. We would greet passers-by with “Salam!” and they would unfailingly smile back. They would approach us constantly with combinations of the following phrases in broken English: “Hello. How are you? Where you from? How you like Iran?” They were so keen to meet us and talk with us and even to be photographed with us. They would explain that their Government told them that Westerns were enemies, but insisted that they were delighted that we were visiting Iran and always wished us a good trip.”
Today there is a report that a former general in Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guards has broken ranks and come out against the regime. In a letter to a leading opposition activist, he declares:
“I’m writing this letter to you to tell our people that there are still many generals and members of staff within the Revolutionary Guards who are opposed to these crimes and are waiting to join the people.”
In the observations section of my account of our trip to Iran, I wrote:
“A lot of what makes Iranian society what it is today is hidden to the visitor. You do not see the corruption which shapes so much of the bureaucracy of government and business at all levels in an economy where three-quarters of companies are state-controlled. You do not see the black market that exists for so many goods including alcohol and drugs. You do not see the inflation and the unemployment or the poverty of the rural areas and the affluence of the super rich. You do not see the lifestyle that people live privately in their homes where a much more liberal approach is often at work.
For Roger & Vee, there was a sense of being in a country seething with a desire for change – the sort of atmosphere we found in Czechoslovakia before the revolution of 1989 or in Cuba when we were there just after Fidel Castro stepped down in 2008. Change – whenever and however it comes – is likely to be driven by the young and by the women. Almost half of all Iranians are under the age of 30 due to the pro-child policies after the Islamic revolution, while over 60% of university students are now female.”