Maziar Bahari was in Tehran to cover the 2009 Iranian elections for Newsweek Magazine until the Revolutionary Guard came knocking at his door one day.
Maziar Bahari spent the next 118 days in prison in Evin Prison, much of it in solitary confinement.
Maziar joined me to talk about Iran two years later.
Fareed Zakaria: We've all been watching this Arab Spring. It's not happening in Iran. Is that because the regime is different or they are just able to completely brutally repress it?
Maziar Bahari: I think there are two main differences between the situation in Iran and the rest of the Middle East. One is that Iranians experience the sudden change of revolution 32 years ago.
So they approach any sudden change with caution. They do not want another revolution.
And what happened in 2009 after the election was not a revolution either. It was a movement for change - for reform. The other difference between Iran and Arab countries is that Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian's Supreme Leader - the Iranian dictator - has been grooming his image as a clean leader in a sea of corruption.
He's very different from Mubarak and Ben Ali, for example. He has forbidden his sons to get involved in financial activities. His followers think that this leader is almost a saint. I mean, if he were a Catholic, I think they would have beatified him by now.
So Khamenei has a cult around him who are willing to die for him and they are willing to kill for him.
In other countries, I don't think that was so.
a fascinating power struggle taking place in Iran where Ahmadinejad seems to be sensing that this kind of overly Islamic republic or ideology isn't working, so he's been distancing himself from the theocrats. We tend to think Ahmadinejad is the bad guy.
So let me ask this very simply. Who is the good guy of this fight, the Mullahs or Ahmadinejad?
Well, the simple answer is that none of them are the good guys. And according to people who believe Khamenei, they think that he as the Supreme Leader is the supreme jurisprudence. He is the person who can interpret the teachings of the Koran and run the country at the same time.
But what the Ahmadinejad people are saying right now is that we do not need that clerical establishment. We can interpret the teachings of the Koran ourselves. So we can be in touch with the 12th Imam - the Shia Messiah ourselves.
So without attacking Khamenei directly, he is undermining the whole system of belief that puts Khamenei in power.
Is Ahmadinejad popular? Because he as mayor of Tehran popular. He was popular for parts of his presidency as this simple, clean guy who was not corrupt as far as people knew. That's why he dresses in this very simple way. Does that image still hold?
No. I don't think so. Ahmadinejad had a lot of support because Khamenei supported him. But now that Khamenei explicitly is not supporting him anymore, Ahmadinejad has lost his base. That's why he's trying to steer people's nationalist sentiments. That's why he's trying to have a new support base for himself.
Ahmadinejad has certain people around him who are likely a cult and they have cult-ish beliefs. But at the same time, in their way that they're organized and in the way that they thuggishly behave, they remind one of Cosa Nostra.
In this bewildering situation, one of the things you've often said on our show is, you used to say, you know, don't forget this regime has some support. Whether they are poor people, rural people, some people who are very religiously minded. Do you feel like it's losing support? Is there any indication of that?
I think the regime is losing support every day. Last year, it had more support than now. Because the situation has become really untenable, all the ingredients that led to the demise of Mubarak and Ben Ali in Egypt and Tunisia, they exist in Iran. Higher unemployment rates, inflation, uneducated population who feel they are disenfranchised and their votes don't count.
People used to say that when the monster goes out, the angel arrives, meaning if the Shah goes out, Khamenei arrives. And then, they saw that kind of a monster went out but something even worse replaced him. And now they're not saying that anymore.
In this mix, what should the administration do? What should the United States do? Because the Obama administration began its term trying to see if there was some way to establish a dialogue with Iran. And part of what happened was the regime is not really that interested in having a dialogue because they need the anti- Americanism.
And then, of course, the green revolution happened. And I think right now there is no coherent policy toward Iran. Should there be one? How should they handle it?
If, as you say, the situation is really complicated. I think that they should think have – they should think more about the sanctions. They should lift the bad sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians. They should allow more Iranians travel. I think there was a good development that they're giving visas to students, that the students can have multiple entry visas.
I think what the United States should do is to provide means to communicate for Iranians. The Iranian people know what to do. Iranian people know show to determine their own destinies. But what they need is to – how to communicate with each other. And that means having better communication infrastructure, for example, satellite Internet that cannot be censored. They need more filter-busters. Companies like Google, Yahoo! YouTube should be able to deal with the Iranian people freely without worrying about being reprimanded by the U.S. administration. They have to try to help Iranian people in general as much as possible.
In your book you talked about your mother who is how old?
Eighty-four years old.
Where is she now?
She's in Tehran.
The one part about this new life is you can't – you can't visit her.
I can't visit her. She comes to London every now and then. But it's very sad.
So they let her out?
They let her out, yes. And –
And your father was jailed by the Shah's regime.
My father was jailed by the Shah's regime. My sister was jailed by Khamenei's regime. So – and, again, we – our stories are not unique. We are one of millions of Iranian families, thousands of families who have been jailed by both regimes.
And my mother is a proud Iranian. She said that I was born in this country. I want to live in this country and I want to die in this country. And many people in Iran, they say that.
And that's why I'm very hopeful about the future of Iran, because even though the government is trying to brutalize people, people are not losing hope. People are still fighting for a better future. This fight is with a bit of trepidation, but it is still a fight that will have very good results.