And the two men who became the unlikely faces of the post-election opposition were Mousavi, former prime minister of eight years, and Karroubi, a cleric in his 70s who served two terms as speaker of Iran’s parliament. The two echoed the sentiments of many Iranians who believed Ahmadinejad’s first term had tarnished the country’s international image and isolated the country diplomatically and economically.
Although both were considered reformists, neither questioned the legitimacy of the Islamic republic — including after they said the election was stolen from them — making them unlikely to usher in real change, even according to many who joined the protest movement.
The summer of discontent that followed that announcement of Ahmadinejad’s victory was filled with protests that began as silent and nonviolent marches, which were violently suppressed by plainclothes security officers and militia groups loyal to the state that were known as Basij.
The chaos left dozens of Iranians dead and thousands more injured and in prison.
By the end of the summer of 2009, countless Iranians involved in the protests seized any opportunity they could to leave the country. Few of them have returned, with some continuing to pursue their broad demands for change.
Iranians who remained in the country after the election say that those 2009 protests, known as Iran’s Green Movement, included two very divergent strains — those who believed that the election was tainted and those who sought the end of the Islamic republic.
“We can’t really say it was a movement, because we all wanted something different,” said Abbas, a classically trained poet who is now one of several hundred traders in Tehran’s unofficial currency bazaar. “When I hear people opposed to the Islamic republic on satellite television still talking about the Green Movement, I realize how removed they are from the situation here.”
Abbas said he has one brother who is in prison for his leftist political tendencies and another who is an officer in the Revolutionary Guard. Like several others interviewed for this article, Abbas said he took part in the 2009 protests because he regarded it as a historic moment.
“It’s been four years, and I’m still asking myself whether it was all worth it or not,” Abbas said.
Others say they are eager for a reason to get involved again.
“I’m waiting to see if Khatami becomes a candidate,” said Massoud, an electrical engineer who supported reformers in past elections and voted for Mousavi in 2009.