Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hijacking an Anti-U.S. Day in Iran

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Scripps Howard News Service

A funny thing happened on the way to Iran’s annual celebration — this year was the 30th anniversary of its takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. As usual, a pro-government crowd trooped to the site of the old embassy and dutifully chanted “Death to America” and burned a few U.S. flags. But their numbers were dwarfed by thousands of unruly anti-government demonstrators marching through the streets of Iran’s major cities chanting “Death to the dictator” and trampling posters of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. On the University of Tehran campus, students tore down a large photo of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Press accounts say about 1,000 demonstrators, angry at Moscow’s support for the regime, gathered outside the Russian embassy and denounced it as “a den of spies,” an epithet previously reserved exclusively for the old U.S. embassy. In essence, Iran’s ritual Nov. 4 observance of anti-U.S. sentiment had been hijacked to protest the country’s corrupt clerical government. It was evidence that the harsh crackdowns and imprisonments have not dampened public anger following the rigged presidential election in June. And there also was evidence that this is by no means a fringe movement.

Government security forces tear gassed one opposition leader, former presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubil, and barricaded another former presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Instead of the usual invective against the American president, students chanted, “Obama, Obama, either you’re with them or with us.” Obama, careful not to do or say anything that might seem to support the Irnaian government’s charge that the U.S. is behind the opposition, issued a guarded statement praising the demonstrators for their “powerful calls for justice and courageous pursuit of human rights.” The spontaneous repurposing of a celebration to mark Iran’s departure from the civilized norms of diplomacy shows the depth of dissatisfaction with the ruling regime. It’s possible that one day Nov. 4 will come to mean something quite different in Iranian history.