October 23rd, 2011
10:15 AM ET

Zakaria: Reflections on Iran

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Here is my snapshot from a brief visit to Iran. I thought it might add some color to the picture you have of Iran.

Tehran is a big, sprawling city of 8 million people, nestled in a semi-arid plain in the shadow of the Albroz mountains. The highest peaks of these mountains are always snowcapped, with a well-known ski resort. Yes, Iranians ski.

My first impression of Tehran was of cleanliness. It is a remarkably clean city for one in the developing world – certainly a far cry from the chaos of Cairo, for example. The streets are swept daily; garbage is picked up daily. Traffic in the city is terrible but that is largely a consequence of a growing middle class that buys more cars each year. The city has a large network of roads and highways and public buses and the underground metro - all of them effective and clean. The overall impression is of order. Iranians I spoke to said this was attributable to an Iranian fetish with cleanliness and order, though some did credit the city government. Remember the last Mayor of Tehran is currently the President of Iran and the current Mayor of Tehran is reported to be eyeing the presidency as well.

Watch: Zakaria's interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tehran also a bustling, cosmopolitan city. From the bazaar to shops of every kind that dot neighborhoods, you see Iranians doing business. Because of sanctions, you see very few Western brands. Every bank, store, and boutique has a local name with local products. There are some exceptions. Coca Cola is a here as it is everywhere.

One of the other effects of the sanctions has been that larger and larger parts of the economy are now controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guard - the elite corps of the armed forces. Iranians are a worldly people and don't like the sanctions and their isolation from the world. But they are also a nationalistic people and they seem to resent that they - ordinary people - pay the price for the actions of their government.

Read: Iran's unlikely bestseller.

Woman in Iran are covered from head to toe but somehow Iran's women have managed to take this restriction and turn it into a fashion statement, so you see highly tailored outfits, colorful headscarfs and peeking out from it all, beautifully made-up faces. Women in Iran are educated, articulate and well-integrated into society. When you watch them driving their cars to work, you are reminded that women in the Islamic Republic of Iran are considerably more liberated than women in Saudi Arabia.

Watch: Zakaria explains why Iran wins with U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The talk of the people I met with - the political charter - was of the rift between President Ahmadinjad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameni. Now what is hard for most westerners to understand is that in this debate, in Iran, Ahmadinejad is the moderate. He has been trying to clip the wings of the clergy; he has advocated loosening up some of the restrictions on women, allowing them to attend football games, for example; he speaks of Iran's pres-Islamic past with pride - something that is anathema to the clergy. And many here believe that he wants to be the Iranian president who normalizes relations with the United States. But with all that is going on now - between the Saudi plot and the nuclear deadlock - that appears a distant prospect.

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Topics: From Fareed • GPS Show • Iran

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soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. Karen

    Again,something seems to be really wrong with you guys,again just filming the worst parts of Tehran...i mean come on you show the bad subrubs go to Zaadferaniyeh and film there for a while...how do u like it if someone says they are showing Newyork and only shows Harlem?!

    October 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Reply
    • Roger

      I noticed the same thing. I viisted Tehran about 4 years ago with my wife and in the video , they only show not very nice parts of tehran, except for a few seconds where they show a few nice looking stores on vali asr street which the famous street in Tehran with 18 kilometers of tall trees on both sides of the street with water running from alborz mountains on both sides through the cannels under the trees. Iranians call that the 18 kilometer green tunnel, due to large trees on both sides and in the spring and summer the street is full of shade due to large trees on both sides.

      Northern terhan is full of trees and has very beautiful parks, not one, several awesome parke which we visited four years ago. I recommend for people who want to visit tehran like fareed zakaria did, to stay in one of vali asr street hotels in tehrna like we did. very beautiful.

      you are exactly right, it is like trying to make a video of Washington dc and only showing the bad parts of southeast washington or trying to show NY city to attract tourists and only showing harlem

      November 1, 2011 at 9:08 am | Reply
  2. Roger

    Here is a great video of Tehran. Not what Fareed and his producers showed in his video. They pretty much only showed the bad parts. this gives you an idea of the beauty of northern tehran and alborz mountains.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1RG_iam3bg

    November 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  3. Roger

    Here is a great video of Tehran. Not what Fareed and his producers showed in his video. They pretty much only showed the bad parts. this gives you an idea of the beauty of northern tehran and alborz mountains. put 3 Ws infront of the link and a period

    youtube.com/watch?v=-1RG_iam3bg

    November 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  4. Dr. Ali A. Parsa

    Dear Farid,
    With all your knowledge of world affairs I expect you to spell the name of Iran's supreme leader right. His name is Khameneh-E and not Khameni that sounds the same as Khomane.Please say it right next time. After all I expect you to stand out in comparison to John Mclaughlin who pronounces Mevedev as Medyedev and PBS's Margaret Warner who does the same. Please help to circulate global awareness. Thanks

    November 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
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