The Middle East Channel

Notes from the underground

TEHRAN – Despite its arid climate, Iran’s capital city is green. It enjoys an abundance of spacious parks flowing with fountains and verdant landscaping lining its highways. Optimistic eyes could see Tehran as an enormous garden, but skeptics are likely to view it more as an overgrown prison yard. One can scarcely drive for 20 ...

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

TEHRAN – Despite its arid climate, Iran’s capital city is green. It enjoys an abundance of spacious parks flowing with fountains and verdant landscaping lining its highways. Optimistic eyes could see Tehran as an enormous garden, but skeptics are likely to view it more as an overgrown prison yard. One can scarcely drive for 20 minutes without seeing armed guards on the watchtowers of army bases and Revolutionary Guard centers, with their "No Photo" warnings in bilingual signage.

Men in olive, drab uniforms carry automatic weapons as they scan the ubiquitous picnickers at Park-e Mellat, a leisure complex near the foot of the Alborz Mountains. The state television broadcaster Seda va Sima, an ostensible source of public information, sits high on a rocky hill, behind a barbed wire fence. The walls of Evin prison — an active remnant of the shah’s regime — climb high into the mountains for all to see. Having returned to Iran for the first time since 2008, I am chilled by the heightened police-state atmosphere that now pervades. But aesthetically, Tehran is much the same as it was before 2009.

Read more.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola