by HAMID FAROKHNIA in Tehran
23 Aug 2010 21:11
[ 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