By Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post Foreign Service
A supporter of Iran’s presidential election candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, with her hair braided with green ribbons, attends a campaign rally in Tehran June 9, 2009. Green is the campaign colour of Mousavi.
TEHRAN, June 8 — Supporters of both leading candidates in this weekâ€™s Iranian presidential election flocked to mass rallies here Monday, and the gatherings underscored the differences between the tactics of the two camps.
More than 100,000 backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gathered in traditional fashion at a central mosque, arriving in buses organized by members of the baseej, Iranâ€™s voluntary paramilitary force. The crowds were so dense that Ahmadinejadâ€™s vehicle was unable to reach the stage.
Wearing a headband in the colors of the Iranian flag, the symbol of Ahmadinejadâ€™s campaign, Leili Aghahi, 17, waved at the president. Ahmadinejad stood for a while on the roof of his sport-utility vehicle, immobilized by the adoring crowd, then left without giving a speech.
â€œOur supporters like to be close to the president,â€ said Javad Shamaqdari, a presidential adviser on the arts who is also the director of Ahmadinejadâ€™s campaign movies. â€œThe Grand Mosque is a good, central meeting place for us,â€ he added.
Supporters of Ahmadinejadâ€™s main challenger, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, had to be more inventive to find a place for their rally. Over the weekend, a government organization refused permission for his campaign to use Tehranâ€™s 120,000-seat Azadi Stadium for a rally originally planned for Sunday. But in less than 24 hours, using text messages and Facebook postings, thousands of Mousavi backers gathered along Vali-e Asr Avenue, Tehranâ€™s 12-mile-long arterial road.
Many brought green ropes or strings, which they tied together to form a giant chain in Mousaviâ€™s signature color. Groups wearing green head scarves or green T-shirts arrived from schools and universities. â€œThis way, down here,â€ student organizer Mohsen Ghadiri, 19, called to about 40 students from the prestigious Elm-o-Sanat University, as they looked for empty spaces in the long line of people.
â€œThanks to Internet and text messages, we can rally big crowds in a very short time,â€ noted Ghadiri, who wore a green shirt emblazoned with Mousaviâ€™s portrait. Shamaqdari, Ahmadinejadâ€™s adviser, called Mousaviâ€™s campaign tactics a form of â€œpsychological warfareâ€ copied from the â€œcolor revolutionsâ€ that swept away governments in Georgia and Ukraine.
â€œThey place groups of 100 people wearing colors at several locations in Tehran. This disrupts traffic, making people think that something big is happening,â€ he said. â€œThese are all the methods of a velvet revolution, but this one is only meant to get them votes.â€
Reza Badamchi, manager of a pro-Mousavi Web site, disagreed. â€œIf there are any similarities between our campaign and a velvet revolution, this is purely accidental. We donâ€™t want a revolution. We want Mousavi to win,â€ he said.
Badamchiâ€™s site, called Sepidedam.com, broadcasts speeches by Mousavi, who has repeatedly complained that state television favors Ahmadinejad. â€œSo we still get our message out through the Web. And the best part is, itâ€™s for free,â€ Badamchi said, adding that â€œthese are the most digital and virtual elections everâ€ in Iran.
Shamaqdari portrayed Mousaviâ€™s supporters as geeks who spend too much time at their computers.
â€œEven though it is bad for their mental health, Mousaviâ€™s supporters spend hours on the Internet,â€ he said. â€œOur youths are more social. They like to hang out at baseej centers, on the streets or play sports. They like to meet in groups. Mousaviâ€™s supporters are more solitary.â€