Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Sunday, 28 June 2009 10:17 UK

Calm on street belies Iran's turmoil

Although Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be heading for a second term after the disputed election and street protests have diminished, this may not yet be the end of a crisis that has exposed splits in the leadership, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Tehran writes.

Iranian families enjoy their weekend as they picnic at a park in Tehran on June 26, 2009
Havens of peace can be found in the city's parks

One Friday in the 1990s I went to the weekly prayer session in Tehran. The bearded man in the pulpit made a fierce speech.

Men were punching the air and chanting God is great. Afterwards battalions of women covered by chadors, surged down the road in a black, death to America cloud.

If you wanted to find an Iranian stereotype it was a good place to be.

This Friday in Tehran I went for a walk in the park, partly because of the new rules here restricting the movements of reporters.

And with the British reinstalled in their old position as Iran's official number one enemy, the BBC has been accused of being the centre of psychological warfare, orchestrating the street protests.

One newspaper has accused me, I would say incorrectly, of being ever present at illegal demonstrations and broadcasting inciting commentaries about the events on the streets.

So, perhaps spinelessly, I thought a low profile might be a good idea, especially since it would be almost impossible to get on the news the morning after Michael Jackson's death.

Pockets of peace

I didn't see any chanting, fist-pumpers in the park. I didn't expect to. Instead there were families picnicking on blankets under the shade of the trees, and girls with loose headscarves playing badminton.

Admittedly the park was in well-off north Tehran. Plenty of the people here are rich. The building I'm in now, and the narrow street it stands on, could be in Zurich.

Some of the elegant ladies round here spend a lot of time finding a trendy, even a sexy way of almost breaking the rules on what to wear.

In the park there were even a few sweethearts sitting on benches, looking to my western eyes rather innocent.

It is not surprising by the way to find pockets of peace and quiet in a city that is going through a lot of trouble.

Dramatic, violent moments tend to happen in short bursts in a limited area, and Tehran is vast.

'Waging war on God'

I've been doing quite a bit of walking this week.

Supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi taunt members of the pro-government Basij militia, seen in background
Basijis (seen in the background) have sent a sharp message to protesters

Until they were pulled back from most of the squares and the street corners in the city centre a couple of days ago, there were long lines of riot police, revolutionary guards and 'basijis' - militia men mainly armed with thick wooden clubs.

They were there to send a very sharp message from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

He has ruled that the election was fair, that the result will stand, and that anyone who is unhappy enough with it to try to demonstrate will learn a very sharp lesson at the hands of his men.

One hardline cleric has called for people who take their protests to the streets to be charged with waging war on God, an offence that in Iran carries the death penalty.

A diplomat said to me this week that it looks as if the regime has won this round. It is hard to disagree. Just over a week ago tens of thousands of people were marching through Tehran against an election they believed was fraudulent.

Now President Ahmedinejad seems to be heading for a second term. In the last few days there have only been a few small demonstrations, so small the protesters were outnumbered by the security forces, who dispersed them with decisive and brutal energy.

At least that is what we think, based on reports from witnesses and hurriedly-filmed mobile phone video posted on websites. Because of the rules restricting reporting, I couldn't go into the city centre to check out what was happening as I would normally do.

Public argument

Ayatollah Khamenei
Iran's supreme leader has ruled out a re-run of the poll

A round may have been won. But even if the opposition can't get the election overturned, this does not look like the end of the fight.

The crisis has split the top leadership of Iran in a way that has never happened before in the 30 years of the Islamic republic.

They've disagreed among themselves many times, but now they are arguing in public. Ayatollah Khamenei no longer presents himself as the nation's arbiter, above politics.

Instead he has plunged in to support President Ahmedinejad's re-election. And Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man who thinks he is the rightful president, has crossed the reddest of Iranian red lines.

He has defied the authority of the supreme leader and criticised him, very severely, from his website.

A swathe of Iran's people want change, more freedom and more chances, even within the Islamic system.

They are influenced and affected by what's happening in the rest of the world. A country can't be cut off any more, once it has modern ways to communicate.

This week, as the power of the state has pressed down on the opposition, I've heard the same phrase about the future from a number of Iranians.

It may look quieter now, they say, but under the ashes there is a fire.

How to listen to: From our own Correspondent

Radio 4: Saturdays, 1130. Second weekly edition on Thursdays, 1100 (some weeks only)

World Service: See programme schedules

Download the podcast

Listen on iPlayer

Story by story at the programme website



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific