Tehran street politics: bring a helmet and pads

TEHRAN, IRAN – Running for president in Iran can be hard and stressful work, especially if your previous two terms were a lightning rod for Iran’s social and political divisions.

On Tuesday, I got a personal glimpse of what former president Mohamad Khatami faces.

During a rally for the 30th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, I started taking photos from the rocket in Tehran's main square. Then, I decided to go find where Mr. Khatami was going to join the march. He had announced his candidacy two days before, and this would be his maiden public voyage.

I had been in the same crowd last year during the anniversary events, so I had an idea of how difficult it might be. I tried to move along with the crowd toward Freedom Square, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke Tuesday. But there were tens of thousands of people packed into the square.

It wasn’t long before Khatami – and I, along with other photographers – were literally in a tight spot. The bodyguards could not hold back the force of numbers: Supporters were coming up and hugging their hero, kissing him on the cheek; opponents were shouting in his face.

The bodyguards were stressed – shouting, their faces creased with fear – and even a crack or two appeared in Khatami’s usually calm demeanor. In the melee, someone knocked Khatami’s glasses off, which fortunately hung from one ear.

At one point, I had to dig someone’s hand out of my back pocket. I kept my cameras held high to prevent them from being damaged and narrowly missed falling several times as the heaving crowd stepped on my feet.

When it was over, my interpreter and I were soaked with perspiration and had collected more than a few cuts and bruises.

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