TEHRAN – As the sun began to set, the scene outside the polling station at the Husseiniya Ershad mosque in downtown Tehran was like a big social gathering.
A young bride and groom walked into the polling station to vote together on their big day. And a lot of the women voters in this particular neighborhood turned exercising their political rights into something of an outing.
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Some women wore full-length black chadors, the cloak traditionally worn by Iranian women in public. But the majority of the ones at this polling station have been sported brightly colored head scarfs, pulled back to the top of their foreheads or even the middle of their heads, with a lot of hair spray and even heavy make-up. Many have said "Hello" to each other and exchanged phone numbers.
The sense of the election as a social event extended to the opposite sex as well.
Male and female students in this country usually don't have much of an opportunity to meet and socialize. But at the street rallies during the last several nights in Tehran, many men and women were jumping up and down and cheering – together. That kind of interaction is very rare here because unmarried men and women are restricted from mingling with each other in this country.
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So for many of them, the election has been a celebration of what they hope will be newfound political rights, new social freedoms, and an opportunity to express themselves. It's been a rare chance to yell out in front of television cameras and at stadiums their dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The other day, for example, we were at a rally in a big soccer stadium. Theoretically, it was supposed to be divided between half men and half women – but it didn't happen. There were a lot of women on the men's side and vice versa. It was not quite as split as you would normally find in Iranian society.
Although the authorities have been exercising a great deal of restraint and tolerance – at least by Iranian standards – during the election season, not everything is allowed. If you walked down the street in a mini-skirt, you would be arrested, without a doubt, immediately.
I am not sure whether we'll see the restraint continue after the election. But during this period of political expression, the government has chosen to let the people have their say.