The world press on Iran

The only American battleships left in Iran are 1970s Chevrolet Impalas.

By Mark Follman - Compiled by Laura McClure

Published June 17, 2003 7:34PM (EDT)

Spain, Editorial in El País

The last few days of protests in Tehran against the Islamic regime by thousands of Iranian youths have been the largest and most potent in years. What's striking is that they're aimed equally at the country's ultraconservative supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the elected president and failed reformist, Mohammed Khatami...

The unrest comes right on the cusp of the anniversary of violent protests in July 1999. All signs suggest that the political stagnancy in Iran is incubating major upheaval in a country where 70 percent of the population is under age 30, and where there is practically no memory of the Khomeini revolution. The sentiment is not limited to the chaos in the streets; it's revealing that in municipal elections in February barely 12 percent of the population bothered to vote in the capital city.

Six years after the election of Khatami as head of state -- on the wings of his promises for greater justice and democratic freedoms -- hope has evaporated. The reformist parliament elected in 2000 has also proven a fiasco, and many Iranians have lost their faith in the prospect for modernization under a system whose essential workings remain firmly in the hands of the most backward-looking elements of the clergy. The ongoing protests reflect a disproportionately young society's frustration with a regime that is antiquated and has no answers for its people's needs.

In light of this simmering stew, Washington is not hiding its desire to see regime change in Iran. Some of the most bellicose elements of the U.S. Republican establishment further preach that such a change should be made by force. The protests in Tehran, whether or not encouraged by the U.S., fuel the potential for dangerous interference in Iran's internal affairs and support the explicit U.S. intention to prevent the Islamic regime from becoming a nuclear power.

Translated from the original Spanish by Mark Follman.

United Kingdom, Dan DeLuce in the Guardian

You can hear them coming from blocks away -- big, long steel boats rumbling down the road. Chevrolet Impalas, Lincoln Continentals, Mustangs and Camaros.

Rusted American battleships from the 1970s, these old cars still get up to an impressive speed on Tehran's congested streets, forcing smaller cars and motorbikes to make way.

My translator drives a black '72 Camaro with an emblem from the state of Arkansas bolted on to the rear. I often wonder about the history of his car, and all the others. Who was driving that Buick when it was brand new? Perhaps he was a U.S. military adviser, or an oil engineer or one of the Shah's family friends.

Apart from the dinosaurs with V-8 engines, America doesn't live here any more. Not since the Shah, with the best that air force dollars could buy, fled into exile in 1979. Shortly after he left, a group of students climbed over the wall of the U.S. embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days...

Iran is one of the few countries where there has been no official American presence for more than two decades. No diplomatic relations, no American aid, no U.S. investors, no missionaries from the Midwest. The state TV and radio refer to the U.S. as "the enemy".

Washington can no longer be blamed for everything that ails Iran. The focus has shifted to the troubled theocracy and the unelected Islamic clerics who run it...

The hardliners in Iran could revive the spectre of the "Great Satan" if neo-conservatives in Washington were clumsy enough to provide them with ammunition. A heavy-handed occupation next door in Iraq, military threats against Iran, or clumsy attempts to "promote democracy", could put back the cause of reform for many years...

The best strategy may be no strategy at all. Change will only come from within -- without a "Made in the USA" label. Perhaps when it does come, Iranians will have a chance to replace those aging American cars with some new models.

Hong Kong, Hooman Peimani in Asia Times

American allegations of Tehran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons program are nothing new -- in fact, they've been around since the early 1980s. Nor are the accusations of Tehran backing terrorists. What is new ... is Washington's trying so hard to create an unfounded sense of urgency to justify its regime change in Iran, just as it did in the months preceding its March attack on Iraq...

Washington's policy towards the new wave of student protests in Iran has been equally unrealistic.

There is not yet any strong evidence to suggest that this wave of protests -- which have run for six days -- could lead to a popular pro-democracy movement capable of replacing the existing theocracy with a democracy. In fact, the handling by the Iranian government of these demonstrations has suggested that the authorities are trying to contain them not through the use of force only, but also by eliminating factors, which could add fuel to fire...

The approach of the Bush administration towards these developments has raised questions about its objectives. Against a background of two years of anti-Iranian propaganda and a few months of talks of a regime change in Iran, Washington's clear expression of support for the Iranian students has only provided grounds for Tehran's suppression of their protests under the pretext of neutralizing an American plan to destabilize Iran...

Since last Tuesday when the student protests began ... the leading figures of Iran's "conservative" and "reformist" factions have condemned them as phase one of an American-orchestrated plan for a regime change. In such a situation, the persistence of Washington to level unfounded charges against Tehran, as it did prior to its war against Iraq, will provide a heaven-sent excuse for the Iranian ruling theocracy to suppress any pro-democracy activity. Despite what the American government claims, its policy towards Iran has not and will not likely help foster democracy in that country. However, as an external factor, it will certainly damage the Iranian people's bid for democracy and for a domestically-planned regime change.

Iran, Article in Iran Press Service

As the clerical authorities toned down their previous harsh rhetoric against demonstrators, the Democratic Front of Iran called on the people to continue the protest movement "until the regime falls".

"Not only will the protest movement not go away by oppression, imprisonment, torture and violence, but it will get stronger", the Front said, as more people took to the streets, repeating earlier chants and slogans against the regime's highest clerical authorities.

"Khameneh'i, the traitor, must be hanged." "Freedom of thinking is not possible with beard and turban," some demonstrators chanted, while others vowed to continue demonstrating until July 9, the fourth anniversary of the 1999 student revolt that was crushed on orders of Ayatollah Khameneh'i with the blessing of Mr. Khatami.

Analysts said though Mr. Khameneh'i tried to look not impressed by the protests, he was visibly shocked ... by both the violence of the slogans and the continuation of the demonstrations.

"He reminded me of the late Shah after he heard the first death to Shah chanted in the first anti-regime demonstration", a former Iranian official recalled after seeing Khameneh'i on the television...

"The [current] student protest movement, on the threshold of the fourth anniversary of the attack on the students at Tehran University, shows that the people's struggle has entered a new stage and the continuation of this struggle will defeat the regime," the Front statement said.

"The dictators should know that any violence against the people will cause more hatred against them and ... will have no result except to accelerate the process of the collapse of the regime."

Saudi Arabia, Amr Mohammed Al-Faisal in the Arab News

I recently spent a week in Iran on a trip to see the country and its people. As most people know, Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war on all levels -- political, financial and military -- to the tune of $30 billion.

So, it is not surprising that I felt some trepidation when I arrived in Iran. However, I did not encounter any of the expected hostility...

Iran is a country whose people have gone through 20 years of revolution and war. The war with Iraq left an estimated half a million dead, and double that number maimed and wounded.

On top of that, the U.S. has imposed a severe economic embargo and continues to do its best to destabilize the country and inflict misery upon its people (in the name of freedom, of course).

The Iranian people have faced these adversities with grace and resolve, which are obvious to any visitor.

Every part of Iran speaks of a long and rich history as a major part of world civilization.

They have been successful in preserving their cultural and historic landmarks as living functioning entities, not as dead museums. You move within their ancient bazaars and out into the modern city seamlessly.

Every city I visited, great or small, had at least one public library and museum. However, their shopping malls are insignificant compared to our magnificent ones.

This shows their sense of priority.

Iran, Satire by Siamack Baniameri in the Iranian

This young cousin of mine is a die-hard fan of Reza Pahlavi and Iranian satellite TV stations in Los Angeles. The boy was born and raised in the States and hardly speaks any Farsi, but he acts like he just got here last night from Shaabdolazim. He has never been to Iran, but he knows everything and anything about Iran and its politics.

He called me last night -- all excited -- and said, "Dude, the movement has started. We are free."

"What movement?"

"People are in the streets. It's over. Mullahs are history."

"You smoking crack?"

"Dude, I'm telling you. People are out there. I'm watching the Iranian satellite TV"...

"So, who is leading the 'movement', huh?"

"Iranian satellite TVs. Who else?"

"God help us all."

"Man, somebody's gotta do something, right? So the satellite TVs in LA have taken it upon themselves to lead the movement."

"Let me get this straight. These dudes are sitting in some building in Los Angeles and telling people in Iran to go out in the streets and fight the mullahs?"

"Yeah. Why not?"...

"Never mind. So, are we done?"

"No, dog. We are not done. We are just getting started. Participation, cooperation, involvement. That's what we gotta do."

"Okay, dog. Tell you what. You wanna participate?"...


"That's cool. I'll get us both one-way tickets from L.A. to Tehran. We'll go back home and participate. We'll get in the mix and help out with the movement."

My cousin paused for a few seconds and said, "Can't do. You see, I asked this chick out the other day and we are supposed to meet next week. And then I got my finals next Monday. Oh, the boys and me are going to Cancun in two weeks. The summer vacation and all."

"What the fuck happened to participation, cooperation, involvement?"

"Ah, I got somebody on the other line. I'll call you back. Later cuz."

Pakistan, Article in Dawn

Tehran's claim that the U.S.-based pro-monarchy satellite channels beaming into Iranian cities are inciting the people to take to the streets is not without basis. The transformation of student protests into a wider anti-regime movement is a matter of legitimate concern for the Iranian government ... Anti-clerical sentiment has never before been expressed this boldly, and seems to echo the messages being broadcast by the U.S.-based pro-monarchy channels beaming into Iran.

With the American forces deployed in Afghanistan in the east, Iraq in the west and the Gulf in the south, Tehran is virtually surrounded by a very hostile America in a belligerent mood. Washington's allegations that Iran supports terrorism, harbours Al Qaeda operatives and is developing nuclear weapons, have limited the conservatives' options in regard to controlling the on-going demonstrations. But this has not kept the conservative-backed armed vigilante groups, the revolutionary guards and the Hezbollahis, from unleashing heavy handed action against unarmed demonstrators...

The situation has sparked fears about Iran's internal stability. Any destabilization of the Islamic republic at this point, however, is likely to benefit the U.S. and Israel more than the Iranians themselves, or the region as a whole. It is therefore important that the EU and Russia play a more active role in restraining the Americans from overtly or covertly trying to bring the government in Tehran under pressure, either by inciting indigenous unrest or through outright invasion.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

Ultimately, Iran represents the next potential conflict zone. More so than in Iraq, the Germans, who have traditionally maintained close relations with the Persians, have solid political interests in Iran.

The German government also suspects Teheran of developing weapons of mass destruction and running an ambitious nuclear weapons program. However, Berlin is generally skeptical about Washington's increasingly vocal accusations that the mullah regime is in league with Al Qaida terrorists and harboring Bin Laden's associates.

The German government believes that those in Iran who sympathize with the terrorists and would offer them assistance tend to be isolated fanatics, and that this is certainly not an official policy.

After all, claim the Germans, Iran has deported suspected terrorists on several occasions in recent months.

At the G8 summit in Evian, however, the Americans signaled to the other countries that their rhetoric on Iran, at least so far, should be viewed primarily as an intimidating tactic.

In Berlin, there is skepticism as to whether this strategy of the Americans will succeed. "I do not believe that threats work with the Iranians," says an advisor to the Chancellor. Nonetheless, he is optimistic that the United States will shy away from a military strike against Teheran, partly because of the enormous costs this would involve. And a second propaganda bubble based on the Iraq model is unlikely to develop: "In the future, the world will look at such 'evidence' with a much more critical eye."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Compiled by Laura McClure

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