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Iran's hardline revolution lives on among Raisi supporters

© AFP / by Eric Randolph and Ali Noorani | Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi greets his supporters during a campaign rally at Imam Khomeini Mosque in the capital Tehran on May 16, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) - 

As the Tuesday evening crowd pours into the Tehran prayer hall to see hardline presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raisi, a large video screen over the entrance shows women in black robes firing rocket-propelled grenades.

The military manoeuvres and explosions continue overhead while the excited crowd chants: "By the end of the week, Rouhani will be gone!"

They are hoping this Friday's election will put an end to the government of President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate whose four years in power have, in their view, been nothing but a festival of corruption, unemployment and the intrusion of Western values.

Their man, Raisi, is a 56-year-old cleric with a black turban signifying his direct line of descent from the Prophet Mohammed, and his audience is overwhelmingly from poorer, conservative areas still fervently attached to the values of the 1979 revolution.

"Raisi is close to our goals and values and he obeys the supreme leader," says Ahmad Shahidi, a 48-year-old veteran of the Iran-Iraq war.

When asked what those values are, he says: "My biggest hope and wish is to kill 40 Zionists or kill Salman Rushdie," referring to the decades-old fatwa against the British author accused of insulting Islam.

In stark contrast to the mixed and youthful rallies packing out stadiums for Rouhani, here the sexes are strictly segregated and almost every woman is wearing the tight headscarf and flowing black robes of the traditional chador.

But with the economy in a morale-sapping slump, many see Rouhani's efforts to improve civil liberties as beside the point.

"If my headscarf can go a little further back on my head but my husband is unemployed, what's the point?" said Samira Samadi, a 37-year-old housewife.

- 'A liar' -

"Raisi is honest, he cares about the poor. Rouhani is a liar who has not delivered on any of his promises," says her husband, Bahman Azami, who works in a goldsmith shop and says everyone he knows is struggling economically.

Raisi has stayed away from the hardline Islamic rhetoric that could alienate less conservative and religious Iranians.

When he finally takes the stage, he emphasises the need to help the poor and denies he is trying to return Iran to isolation.

"One million jobs need to be created each year. If a small percentage of the cash floating around this country was spent on unemployment and production, the situation would not be like it is now," he says to roars from the crowd.

"They say we won't interact with the world. That's a big lie. We believe in interaction with all countries, but an interaction with dignity."

He is joined on stage by Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, another hardline candidate who dramatically dropped out on Monday and endorsed Raisi.

Ghalibaf plays up his theme that Rouhani's government has only served the elite "four-percenters? of society.

"My demand is that we try everything to bring the other 96 percent to the ballot boxes," he cries.

Whether the team of Raisi and Ghalibaf can convince voters outside their very conservative base remains to be seen.

One group of well-dressed teenagers outside the prayer hall suggests a different demographic might be interested, but it's a false alarm.

"Oh, we're just here for fun," one laughs.

"We're all voting for Rouhani."

by Eric Randolph and Ali Noorani

© 2017 AFP