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Ramadan Blues

by HAMID FAROKHNIA in Tehran

23 Aug 2010 21:116 Comments
24_8905271352_L600.jpgHeavy-handed enforcement of fast reflects conflict within regime.

[ dispatch ] On the streets of Iran's major cities, this year's Ramadan is unlike any in memory. While fewer people are actually fasting, repressive enforcement of the religious code has reached levels not seen since before the Khatami years. From the start of Ramadan, August 12, hundreds of thousands of people have been stopped, searched, and questioned. Many have received court summons or wound up in detention. The offenses cited have been eating, drinking, listening to music deemed too loud, or "lewd behavior." The definition of the latter is intentionally broad enough to enable militiamen and police officers to exercise their personal discretion, or whims, in stopping people.

Even the normal religious exemptions have been suspended this year. In a tersely worded statement issued on August 11, NAJA (the national police force) warned that illness and travel are no longer regarded as exceptional cases permitting daytime consumption of food and water. NAJA urged residents to inform the police of infractions by calling special hotlines.

These draconian measures have surprised and baffled city dwellers. In terms of the exercise of most personal freedoms, the past 12 months have proven to be the least oppressive since the first year of the Revolution. Hejab enforcement in Tehran, for instance, has been all but nonexistent. This easing of moral code enforcement has been regarded as an achievement of the democratic movement that bloomed in the aftermath of last year's controversial presidential election.

The reimposition of social strictures appears to be a byproduct of the internecine fighting that has recently plagued the country's power elite. Over the past few months, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sought to curry favor with middle-class voters by disassociating himself from some of the more regressive aspects of the Islamic Republic, repeatedly disparaging the efforts of the morality police and promoting nationalistic sentiments while deemphasizing religious concerns. Hardline clerics such as Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and their allies have been pushing back.

Last month, Mehdi Mohammadi, political editor of Kayhan, the hardline mouthpiece, denounced "a new movement that wants to say that it's more revolutionary than the Supreme Leader," clearly insinuating that he had the president in mind. Two public incidents in the recent past have underscored the extent of this conflict. Participants at a gathering of veterans of the 1979 Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War shouted down Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has been charged by hardliners with suggesting that the nation's "Iranian identity" takes precedence over its "Islamic identity."

The other major incident relates directly to Ramadan: Ali Karimi, one of Iran's most celebrated soccer players, was fired by his club, Tehran-based Steel Azin, for allegedly breaking the fast. Within a day, 10,000 Iranians joined a Facebook page created in his support. No doubt, those ordinary citizens understand all too well how he must feel. The tough new Ramadan regulations to which they have been subjected are nominally authorized by the Ministry of Interior. They appear, however, to be the work of those within the ruling class who find themselves increasingly at odds with the president and his administration -- a power struggle for which the average Iranian, as usual, pays the price.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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6 Comments

Mr. FAROKHNIA,

Thank you. I am glad you live in Tehran and unlike the rest of us petty ‘diasporites’ you know what you are talking about.

"While fewer people are actually fasting,...." Let’s hold it right there.

Is this a sign of a nation deeply entrenched in religion as our Islamist friends would like the world to believe?

But the problem is elsewhere. As long as the Iranian people remain submissive and refrain from making a collective stance to defend and safeguard their personal rights, the same old same old will continue for years to come.

Cry not Iran, look into the mirror and at the root cause.

Niloofar / August 23, 2010 11:09 PM

I can totally agree with it! Ramadan in Summer is nothing less than a Kahrizak experience,alittle too much of exaggeration:)

And I do not think these draconian measures are some infighting of Principalists and Gang of Ahmadinejad, it is Ahmadinejad's wish to impose these things but he wants to save face and mislead people. Do u remember that when AN was the mayor of Tehran, he once suggested burying 72 Iran-Iraq martyrs at 72 different location in Tehran ? AN is as traditionalist as Mesbah Yazdi but a little bit smarter I would say. AN fools everyone, he is a confident liar.

Amin / August 24, 2010 2:12 AM

@Niloofar -
"Is this a sign of a nation..." - The actual number of people who fast is not known. If there is a decrease, it may be due to a form of political resistance by ordinary people to government edicts.

"As long as Iranian people are submissive..." - Let's hold it right there, as you’d say. Have been in a coma in the last few years, or on a different planet? Have you not heard of waves of protest, deaths, executions, imprisonments, exiles that the "submissive" Iranian people have endured?

But why would you make such a silly comment? I have no idea! Perhaps you ought to take your own excellent advice and "look into the mirror and the root cause".

Mehrdad / August 25, 2010 5:09 AM

Mehrdad,

Thank you for your advice.

"If there is a decrease, it may be due to a form of political resistance by ordinary people to government edicts."

That is your interpretation of it and you are entitled to it. I stick to my own interpretation based on other additional factors out of Iran. One admitted by the clergy that the mosque attendance is so low it is causing them deep concern as reported by Iran's Mehr news.

"As long as Iranian people are submissive..."
Iran is bigger than Tehran and the Iranian people in other parts of the country have not stepped up to the plate at the rate expected. Why?

Even in Tehran of 12-16 million people depending on who you listen to, coordination between different groups is a rarity. Why?

3 million people came out in Tehran? What happened to the other 9-13 million?

Thank you for your time.

Niloofar / August 27, 2010 1:33 AM

suggesting that bullying and insane behaviour can be overcome without some sort of physical control has never worked for anyone. Cancer is removed from the body or else it will kill the body. This regime is a cancer. How will it be removed?

Martie / August 27, 2010 2:03 AM

Islam is the ultimate cancer that must be removed from Iran. The right-wing Islamic governments use it to their own repressive aims. Get rid of the Koran, and the problem is solved. Do it now before the west completely destroys Iran.

Daishin / August 30, 2010 9:37 AM