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At Tehran's grand bazaar, a season of discontent

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It was once the spiritual core of Iran's Islamic revolution, where popular anger and financial support welled for the movement that swept away the Shah in 1979 and propelled the mullahs to power.

But today, Tehran's grand bazaar - a sprawling indoor retail mall selling everything from Persian rugs to women's bikinis - is host to very different sentiments.

Instead of loyally supporting the Islamic regime, this bastion of political and religious conservatism is reflecting the seething resentments and discontents now finding expression across Iranian society.

The sum manifestation of the bazaar's dissatisfaction is a widespread intent not to vote in next month's presidential election, in which eight candidates - of 1,014 initially registered - have been cleared to run by the watchdog Guardian Council.

"We won't vote for any of them - they are robbers," said Hasan, a textile wholesaler.

Hasan's threat, echoed by fellow traders, presents a grim prospect for leaders who hope for a high turnout to establish their democratic legitimacy.

Hasan should be one of the regime's most fervent champions. Fidgeting with prayer beads, he removes from his wallet two photos of turbaned clerics whom he says are close relatives. "I am from a clerical family," he explains. "I campaigned in 1979 for the forces of [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini to get rid of the Shah. But this religion has got us tied by our hands and feet."

Voicing the heretical opinion that the system of velayet-e faqih (infallible rule by a supreme religious jurisprudent) is inappropriate for Iran, he goes on: "The first characteristic of a marja-e taqlid (a senior cleric with a following) should be courage. None of them have that. In the past, if somebody insulted clerics, you would argue with them. But why should we do that now? Why shouldn't we criticize them if they have been lying?"

Hasan's accusations range from the general to the specific. He says authorities lied about Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photographer who died of injuries sustained in custody after she was arrested for taking photos of a demonstration two years ago.

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