On election day, young people in Mashhad were already circulating text messages saying that if Rohani won, we should gather in one of the city’s main streets, Sajjad Street, to celebrate. The scene there on Saturday night was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People were dancing and singing, even old people. People were stopping cars and telling their occupants they had to come out and dance with them, before letting them go on their way. You could see that a lot of women didn’t dare dance too much, because they were afraid of being caught on video and getting in trouble later, but some got around this problem by dancing in the side streets.
Even more surprising, I saw several women take off their headscarves. In videos of celebrations in other cities, I didn’t see any women dare do that! I even saw one girl take off her manto [a type of long jacket worn by most Iranian women]; her male friends hoisted her up on their shoulders in celebration.
"The suffocating atmosphere in Mashhad made people here celebrate even harder than in other cities"
Obviously, people were surprised to see all this, but it wasn’t a complete shock either. Mashhad may have the appearance of a religious city, and people rarely dare stage protests here, but the people who live in Mashhad aren’t necessarily that conservative. A lot of people abide by religious codes because they fear the government – or their parents! But in fact I think it is the suffocating atmosphere in this city that made people here celebrate even harder than in other cities.
I think it is telling that the police did not break up the celebrations, and that the very religious people did not stage any sort of counter-protest. In fact, some looked on in amusement. For example, I saw women in chadors clapping along with young men dancing! Things here are changing, just like in the rest of Iran.