For journalist, author, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof, one of the biggest mysteries about Iran was how the regime not only stayed in power, but remained relatively popular among the Iranian people during the Arab Spring. To find out, he took a road trip across Iran looking for an answer to that question. He also brought along his two children.
Kristof found that a lot had changed since he last visited in 2004, when the Iranian people were open about their discontent with the government. Because of the violence in 2009, those with dissenting opinions were far less likely to speak out.
He also found that the Iranian people had a far greater diversity of opinion than their government’s rhetoric suggests. "The people of Iran like American people, but they don't like the policy of the government," one interviewee said.
After securing permission from the government, Kristof set off with his two children to canvass the broad spectrum of Iranian public opinion. "We did a 1700-mile road trip," Kristof said. "We just stopped periodically and started some conversations, and I would try to veer them into politics." The reporter found a wide variety of opinions, but what he did not find was universal support for the Iranian government. Kristof found that one of the most indicative signs of allegiance to the regime was the type of news consumption.
"In general, people in rural areas who only had access to state media tended to be pretty supportive of the regime," Kristof says. "People who had access to satellite TV, which basically meant that they had illegally purchased a little satellite dish, tended to think that the state media was much more propaganda-based, and [were] much more doubtful about everything the regime was doing."
Along the way, Kristof also identified a significant difference of opinion in terms of age. "The discontent among young people is enormous, and I think it's compounded because those young people tend to be much better educated than their parents," the reporter says. Increased access to the internet, cell phones, and other manifestations of globalization have caused many young Iranians to become more critical of the regime than their elders, and more admiring of the United States and American culture than is often assumed.
The Iranian regime weathered the Arab Spring quite successfully, despite the discontent and the Green Movement of 2009 and 2010. "I think that we mistakenly think that uprisings are based on how discontent people are," Kristof says. "That's one factor, but just as important is the willingness of the government to shoot people, and in Iran the government is willing to shoot people."
One of the driving forces behind the Green Movement was Iranian women. During an interview, a policeman began to chastise a woman for having her sleeves rolled up to her elbows. Before she complied, Kristof recalls, the woman shouted back and worth with the officer. "[Women here] are not particularly intimidated," Kristof says. "Boy, they give the policemen an earful."
The rising discontent amongst the young population, including and perhaps especially women, gives Kristof cause to believe that the current status quo of the country is not as secure as it would appear. "You just really get a sense that these young people are so fed up with the government that they're gaining ground, they're the force that represents the future," Kristof says. "I think, one way or another, Iran down the road is going to be very different than the way it is right now."