Media Watch | Conservative Bloggers in Iran: Beheshti and Citing Ahmadinejad
by SMALL MEDIA
08 Dec 2012 00:23
Despite the impression often given by the Western media, conservative opinion in Iran is far from monolithic. There is, in fact, an immense diversity of opinion among pro-government Iranians. This is the latest in a series of reports that analyze the disparity between conservative opinion blogs in the Islamic Republic of Iran.[ media watch ] There was a wave of reactions to the death in prison of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger critical of the Iranian government, from across the political spectrum; actors from both the Iranian establishment and the international community have called for an investigation into the causes of Beheshti's death. Less well documented, however, was the reaction of conservative bloggers to this incident. Along with critics of the Iranian government, conservative bloggers objected to what they called its "silence" about the death of Sattar Beheshti and have also called for an investigation.
For example, in a post entitled "Someone Please Speak!" Omid Hosseini wrote,
It is apparent that Sattar Beheshti died either by natural causes or accidentally during the arrest. These are the only two possibilities. If he passed away due to natural causes, prove it; if torture is the reason for his death, take responsibility! Why the silence? This silence will result in the police and related authorities palming off responsibility to the regime.
Meysam Ramezanali also criticized the authorities' silence on the death of Beheshti in a post entitled "Does ignoring and not reacting [to Beheshti's death] benefit the Islamic Republic?" Ramezanali posits here that the authorities' silence will "destroy the public's trust in the national media" and "diminish trust in the regime."
However, it would be incorrect to conclude that this criticism arises out of a concern for freedom of speech and human rights; rather, it comes more out of a desire to protect the image of the Islamic Republic. For example, Seyyed Ali Pour Tabatabi expressed concern about Iran's image after such a death: "Instead of the individual who has committed this crime, the whole country is being held responsible.... Iran's image should not be ruined by the actions of one criminal."
Ali Hassanzadeh was also concerned about Iran's image internationally in light of the news about Behesti's death. He asked,
With such mistakes (assuming this news is true), will other countries imitate Iran?! To what extent was [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's speech at the United Nations accepted by others?! Once the Supreme Leader gives his speech, will it have an impact on the people?! Who will benefit from the destruction of the image of the only Shia country in the world?!
Some bloggers even considered Beheshti's death to be a conspiracy against the Islamic Republic. Abuzar Montazer Ghaem, for example, compared the blogger's death to the civil war in Syria and ongoing troubles in Lebanon: "These kinds of actions remind me of Syria: constant killing in order to create a bad image of the Syrian state. In Lebanon, in order to destroy the image of the frontline resistance group (Hezbollah of Lebanon), [the enemies] bomb and terrorize repeatedly [and blame Hezbollah]."
Certainly, not all conservative bloggers have as radical a view as Montazer Ghaem. Omid Hosseini, for instance, believes that writing a blog against the government does not pose a threat to the Iranian authorities. It is also interesting to note that the conservative bloggers halted their discussion on Beheshti after Iranian officials "explained" that the police had violated Beheshti's file and he had been detained illegally.
The second term of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency has been a costly and troubled period for the Islamic Republic, from the protests after the election in 2009 to the contentious disagreements over the economy between the Majles and Ahmadinejad's administration. The conflict between the legislative and executive branches reached a new peak last month, when some members of the Iranian parliament sought to question the president in front of the Majles for what would have been the second time this year. However, this summons was cancelled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
During the height of the recent controversy over Ahmadinejad's potential questioning, many conservative bloggers, as well as those from across the political spectrum, reacted to the plan. Meysam Ramezanali, author of the Habil blog, considered Ahmadinejad's possible questioning to be nothing but a political game in which people are jostling for position in the presidential election that will be held next June: "Questioning the president is similar to the game of 'taking part in a fight in order to be recognized.'"
Contrary to the views expressed on the Habil blog, Seyyed Hesam al din Zandavi stated his belief that questioning the president is a standard affair. What he focused on, by contrast, is how unpredictable the president is when giving speeches: "He has such a particular and unpredictable behavior, and his ability to conjure up unconventional answers is such that everyone will be anxious that the results [of his questioning] will have social implications."
The majority of conservative bloggers appeared to welcome the idea of questioning Ahmadinejad. However, as Hesam al din Zandavi suggests, in reality most would perhaps prefer for it not to happen.
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