Iran's guardians invoke siege mentality as pressures mount

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 29, 2012 11:19 AM
Iran's guardians invoke siege mentality as pressures mount

By Marcus George

DUBAI (Reuters) - As international pressure mounts on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, the leadership is seeking to bolster support with rousing revolutionary rhetoric.

State-run newspapers, websites and television channels talk incessantly of plots by Iran's "foreign enemies" to bring the Islamic Republic crashing to its knees.

Official media is doing its best to get people behind Friday's parliamentary election -- a ballot from which most pro-Western reformist parties have been banned.

Much scorn is poured on the United States, an enemy of Iranian revolutionaries since a 1953 coup ushered in the U.S-backed Shah's rule, which ended in 1979.

"U.S. dreads turnout in the elections," said a headline on Press TV, an English-language state television channel and website.

State broadcaster IRIB has shown old footage of young conscripts fighting in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The pictures were followed by an interview with a patriotic Iranian urging people to vote.

"Any vote cast at the ballot boxes is a punch in the eye of the enemy," he says.

The enemy in general is a mixed bag of the United States, Israel, European powers, and Gulf-led Arab states opposed to Tehran.

The main dispute at present is over Iran's nuclear program and whether its purpose is to develop a source of energy, as Tehran says, or an atomic bomb, as its foes believe.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Iran to force it to abandon its nuclear activities. The United States and Israel have also hinted they may be prepared to take military action.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on the nation to defuse "enemies" plots by voting on Friday.

"The Iranian nation will slap the arrogant powers in the face harder than ever by their high turnout," Khamenei told a gathering on Wednesday.

"We should resist and make the enemies more envious of our will and to let them understand that they cannot confront us."

The television schedule has made way for more serious programming, said an Iranian blogger in Tehran who asked not to be named.

"News channels and news agencies are pretending they are fair but they skew the news. These days, the falsification of books, news and thoughts have all been extended," he said.

A U.S. CONSPIRACY?

The message from the authorities is clear - Iran is once again under siege. Even open-minded Iranians are suspicious about a U.S. conspiracy to attack the country.

They fear a reprise of Iraq, where the perceived threat of weapons of mass destruction was used as the justification for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

"The authorities are right about calling on people to stay united," said businessman Abbas Moradmand. "We have to heed their calls for values and unity."

The strategy may be unsophisticated but seems to be working.

"What this does is galvanise and encourage their core constituency, still a sizeable minority," says Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at St Andrews University.

The bold words and rallying cries are a response to the harsh criticism from overseas, he said.

"The rhetoric is really a reflection of the continuing economic and political crisis they are facing and the realization that they face an election in which most people are disinterested," Ansari said.

Iranians say the clock has been turned back.

Until the disputed elections in 2009, Iran was moving away from the refrain of Islamic values and developed into a society that celebrated its national achievements and heritage.

The presidential campaigns of 2009 were some of most colorful in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The bright banners and face-painting, coupled with thought-provoking messages that promised a more positive future brought Iranians out in their masses.

It was a far cry from the defensive battle slogans trotted out immediately after the Islamic Revolution.

Within days anger, fear and tragedy took root. Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets and were met by a ruthless government response.

AUSTERE CAMPAIGN

Nearly three years on and Iranians return to the polls in a very different environment. There is little excitement and a lack of diverse media coverage.

Across Tehran, campaign posters invoke the words and images of Iran's Supreme Leaders -- both past and present.

With the majority of reformists refusing to participate, the choice is between hardline supporters of the president and hardliners loyal to the Supreme Leader.

Both groups have established coalitions to contest who can better protect the legacy of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic. Their candidate lists are supported by revolutionary guards, clerics and former officials.

"The leaders need to use this language," said an Iranian blogger who recently returned to Iran.

He told how the Iranian press covered the Academy Award won by the Iranian film, "A Separation" this week.

"They changed the translation of the director's speech by adding a few nonsense sentences about supporting Iran's nuclear program. In my opinion, the leaders truly feel the danger of upcoming war."

The authorities have reinforced the message by cracking down on bloggers and activists before the vote as multiple calls are disseminated for Iranians to unite at the ballot box.

Yet some Tehran residents believe that psyching up the people is now irrelevant.

"I am tired of revolutionary values and being told to be vigilant," said Shirin Sajjadi, a forty-five year old school teacher. "With this tension put into our heads by the authorities, I can say life is no better than hell here."

(Reporting By Marcus George; Editing by Angus MacSwan)