The master of ceremonies, a former television talk show host wearing stylish spectacles, alternated between warming the crowd and issuing admonitions of
calm, his eye on state security forces already assembled outside. "Don't give anyone an excuse or an opportunity to accuse us of being against politics,"
in other words, of being against the Islamic system and revolution.
Exhortations to follow instructions from the stage fell on deaf ears as the crowd repeatedly and continuously broke out into song and chants. Too young to
have voted in the last elections, these kids were set on making the day their own.
On stage, young men and women dressed in the traditional garb of Iran's various ethnicities, Kurd, Baluch, Arab, and Turk, held the flag of the Islamic
Republic. A break in the cheering allowed for the singing of the national anthem and a sung prayer, a rozeh.
A funky beat got the crowd moving. Rouhani came onstage to Ay Iran, a pre-revolutionary song and anthem adored by Iranians everywhere.
At this point the crowd broke into what can only be described as controlled chaos. There was a permanent jostle, a compression of bodies pushing against
each other on the stage, bodies pressing together in the stands and on the crowded arena floor. The floor managers frantically tried to calm the crowd
down, gesturing, palms downward, sit down! sit down!, to no avail. Only Rouhani stood untouched, protected on the podium by
a barrier of campaign volunteers, their arms locked tightly together.
The MC tried again to restore calm: "We are about bringing order, nazm, the rule of law to Iran. Let's begin here, let's show everyone with our
example that we are ourselves capable of order, of discipline."
Someone presented Rouhani with an oversized golden key, his campaign's official symbol ("unlocking the economy, unlocking Iran's relationship with the
international community"). It was an awkward, even goofy bit of political theater, but the crowd loved it. A great cheer went up and the assembled mass
began chanting out a call for a coalition ahead of Friday's vote between the two reformists on the ballot, Mohammad Reza Aref and Rouhani:
"Aref eteram! Rouhani bad biad! Aref eteram! Rouhani bad biad!"
"Respect, Aref! Rouhani must be the one! Respect, Aref! Rouhani must come!"
Rouhani's campaign, working within official regime discourse, is proving to be one of the most subversive in recent memory. More important than picking
winners and losers, the central thesis of elections in Iran is that each vote is "a shot to the eye of the enemy," proof that the Islamic system, with the
support of the people, stands strong against the United States. Rouhani doesn't doesn't reject this narrative so much as turn it on its side: Iran must
stand firm against the U.S., but it must do so in a way that serves the interests of the nation. Rouhani's platform is one of avoiding war and sanctions,
not engaging in the politics of blind defiance and conflict: