"I'm going to vote for Mousavi on June 12," says Ali. If he were a student activist or a reformist politician, that wouldn't be a surprising declaration. But Ali is a 52-year-old member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and has been since the 1980s. In fact, he's not allowed to talk to the press, which is why he doesn't want his last name published. But he wants the world to know why he's voting for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate, and against incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "This is the worst government Iran has had since the beginning of the revolution," says Ali. "In the last four years, Ahmadinejad, single-handedly, has destroyed Iran's image around the world —and the economy, too.
According to confidential government-funded polls, Ali is among millions of Iranians who have decided over the last few weeks to cast their votes for Mousavi when they go to vote on June 12. And the surveys, shown to NEWSWEEK, suggest that among them are a high percentage of Revolutionary Guards and members of the vast intelligence apparatus. The older among them remember Mousavi's administration as prime minister during the savage war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988. And many of those same people are responsible for defending the country if war should come again.
Ali says he voted for Ahmadinejad in 2004 when the other main candidate was Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and perennial player in the upper reaches of the regime. "Rafsanjani represented the worst our government had to offer," Ali says. "The Rafsanjani family benefited so much from being in power for so long. And the worst thing was that they thought being in power is their natural right. They didn't think that they were in power to serve people." So like 16 million other Iranians, Ali voted for Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran, who called Rafsanjani and his cronies corrupt and promised to create a responsive, more down-to-earth government.
For the first three years of his presidency, Ahmadinejad did extremely well. Blessed with the oil bonanza and selling Iran's oil for up to $150 a barrel, he started traveling around the country, breaking bread with the poor and handing out cash like there was no tomorrow. He also whipped up public support by delivering nationalist speeches about Iran's natural right to have nuclear technology and chastising Western oppressors for trying to deny Iran of this God-given right. Ali says that he still supports Ahmadinejad's stance against Israel and the West in general. Ali also thought that Ahamdinejad's denial of the Jewish Holocaust was a bold move. Ali has no doubt that Iran has a right to nuclear technology, and he doesn't trust Western countries, especially the United States. "The Americans have been conspiring against our revolution since the beginning of our revolution [in 1979]," he says.
So why won't Ali vote for Ahmadinejad again? "The economy and the disgraceful way he's deceived the public," he says. Ahmadinejad's policy of running the country like a charity and handing out cash, as well as the international financial crisis, resulted in unprecedented inflation in Iran in the last year. The government's answer to increasing prices of goods and services has been raising the salary of government employees, giving unguaranteed loans and cash handouts to many of those who attend the president's rallies around the country. Ali admits that Revolutionary Guards have received some bonuses and aid that have helped him cope with the inflation so far. But that doesn't mean that either he or his friends will vote for Ahmadinejad. In fact, Ali says that the main problem with Ahmadinejad's economic policies is "Gedaa parvari," a Persian expression that means treating the public like homeless in a shelter and giving people cash and donations. "Most Revolutionary Guards live like other people in this country," says Ali. "We have the same salary, we pay the same amount for rice and cooking oil and we pay the same rent. So we suffer from the inflation as much as the rest of the country."
Yet Ali insists that his main motivation for voting out Ahmadinejad is not economic. "To tell you the truth, I changed my mind two weeks ago when Mr. Ahmadinejad compared Mr. Mousavi to those who fought against Imam Hussein." Imam Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad whose death along with 72 of his followers at the hands of the army of Khalif, Yazid, is an essential part of Shia lore. In his recent campaign speeches, Ahmadinejad has been trying to show himself as a victim of the former members of the establishment of the Islamic Republic, like Mousavi, of trying to get rid of him the same way Yazid killed Imam Hussein. "But they should know that they cannot destroy us as they martyred Imam Hussein," said Ahmadinejad in a religious gathering in Tehran two weeks ago.
"How dare he compare himself to Imam Hussein," Ali says. "And how dare he compare Mr. Mousavi, who was the prime minister during our eight-year war with Iraq and was a trusted ally of Imam Khomeini to Yazid. This is public deception." Ali says that he now questions Ahmadinejad's whole record in the past four years, even his Holocaust denial. "I noticed that Mr. [Ali] Larijani [the head of Iran's Parliament], who was a Revolutionary Guards commander himself, said that we shouldn't talk about the Holocaust in order to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the rest of the world," says Ali. "But Mr. Ahmadinejad again talked about it in Geneva." Last April in a United Nations-sponsored conference about racism, Ahmadinejad questioned the Holocaust. Many delegates from Western countries walked out. "What Mr. Ahmadinejad is doing is provoking people's sentiments against Iran for no reason at a time when our enemies are looking for an excuse to attack us," says Ali. "We need a president that can bring back logic and wisdom to our country. That is why I vote for Mousavi."