When I started visiting Iran, in 2004, Mehdi Karroubi was widely viewed as the most conservative figure among the reformists. He was a white-turbaned, populist clergyman from the agricultural province of Lorestan, and, though he was concerned about protecting Iranians’ political rights and freedoms, his voters also tended to be pious, traditional, and oppressed by Iran’s rising unemployment and inflation rates. When he ran for president in 2005—the year in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power—on the promise to distribute some fifty dollars a month to every Iranian family, some urban reformists called on him to withdraw in favor of a rival reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, a former minister of higher education who appealed to Iran’s burgeoning population of university students.
Karroubi did not withdraw. His allies argued—rightly, it turned out—that his appeal was actually much broader than Moin’s. In fact, his rallies looked somewhat like those of his conservative rivals: crowds of mixed ages, women fully enveloped in their garments, men in long sleeves and traditional haircuts. The reformist vote, predictably, split, and neither candidate made it to the second round, though Karroubi, much to the surprise of Moin’s supporters, came very close—Ahmadinejad just squeaked by him.
At the time, Karroubi issued a controversial open letter claiming that the election had been stolen from him. He resigned from all his political posts, including... >>>
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