JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
And we go next to a place we rarely hear from firsthand – Iran. Since last September, the country has been rocked by anti-government protests. The economy has tanked, with prices doubling or even tripling. Well, our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly, and her team have just landed for a week of reporting. It is the first time since 2021 that NPR has been granted a visa to visit. Hey, Mary Louise.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.
SUMMERS: So you’ve been out and about in Tehran today. How freely were you and the team able to move around there?
KELLY: Pretty freely, actually – the paralyzing traffic in this city notwithstanding. We are working with an interpreter who was assigned to us by the government contractor who helps us with visas, but we’ve been able to decide where we want to go, who we want to talk to, what we want to ask. So we started just trying to get a cross-section of people. We went to the Grand Bazaar…
KELLY: …Which is this just huge – I think you can actually hear a little bit of the hubbub of it behind me now – this huge bazaar. And people are in there on a weekday – it is packed – nearly knocking you over. And they’re in there haggling over everything from socks to shower faucets to carpets – you name it.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).
KELLY: So we talked to people there for a while. Then we made our way down to Manouchehri Street – this is this iconic street in south Tehran – trying to talk to, you know, different people going about different business. There were vendors with their wares spread out across the sidewalk. And we just stopped and asked everyone who would talk to us – you know, how is life here? How’s the economy? What is on your mind?
SUMMERS: And what did those people that you’ve been talking to tell you?
KELLY: Well, you know, the central question I’m asking all through this trip is going to be, what is the state of dissent here? The anti-government protests have largely been crushed. Tehran feels calm today as you drive around. But have the grievances that fueled those protests been crushed? And we talked to a lot of people today who told us no. We spoke with one very young man, 18 years old. I’m not going to use his name. Almost everyone we talked to today we spoke to on condition that they not be named. People are really nervous, Juana, about talking to an American journalist. But let me let you listen to him. He is super angry about inflation, and he is specifically angry at the regime.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It’s so hard to live in Iran – really. Believe me, it’s so hard.
KELLY: Do you feel like you have a future?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No. I hope I will die – it’s so bizarre – from living in here. You can’t do anything.
KELLY: I hope I will die. That’s what he’s saying there. You can hear the emotion.
I will say we spoke to other people here who, at least in conversation with me, seemed to buy the government line, which is that the U.S. is to blame for a lot of people’s problems here.
SUMMERS: So Mary Louise, I know that you were most recently in the country about three years ago, right before the start of the pandemic. So I’m hoping you can just compare your experiences for us. Did things feel differently today?
KELLY: Ah, I mean, I suppose the most striking thing is just the pure visual of women walking down the street in Tehran with their hair uncovered. I mean, the majority of people we saw out and about today were still wearing hijab. It remains the official dress code here. But we saw young women, old women walking around. I looked – glanced over at the cafe at lunch, and the woman at the table beside us was sitting there with her hair not covered. I did not see that three years ago. So it appears that they are not enforcing the hijab rule now. Whether that will remain the case going forward, who is to say? But it’s fascinating because, of course, these recent protests that have roiled the country for the last five months or so were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after allegedly violating the conservative dress code. So that’s one of many things that we are asking people about. We’re here all week trying to talk to both officials and regular people, and we’re going to share more of what we know in the coming days.
SUMMERS: Mary Louise, we’re looking forward to hearing more of your reporting. Thank you.
KELLY: Thank you, Juana.
SUMMERS: That’s our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly, who, along with her team, is on the ground for us in Tehran.