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How did Geneva play out in Tehran?

22 Apr 2009 16:18No Comments

Iranian reaction to Ahmadineja'd speech at the UN conference on anti-racism.

Dispatch from Tehran

"Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech in Geneva is a source of pride for us. I proudly declare my willingness to serve as a sweeper [servant] to this president."

This quote, from Mahdi Kouchakzadeh, a member of Majlis representing Tehran, is an example of what those close to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were saying in support of the president's speech this week in Geneva.

Newspapers close to the Ahmadinejad administration pulled all the stops, devoting their front pages to his April 20 speech at the UN convention on anti-racism.

"Ahmadinejad bombarded Israel with his words," declared the banner headline in Kayhan yesterday, Iran's hard-line official daily. The day before, Iran, a government newspaper, also went to Ahmadinejad's defense with this headline: "A Cry for justice in the heart of Europe."

At 11 p.m, the night of Ahmadinejad's speech, the ultraconservative Fars News Agency announced (or rather predicted), "esteghbal-e khod-joosh-e mardomy" -- "the people's simultaneous and impulsive embrace" -- of Ahmadinejad at Mehrabad airport at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

Some newspapers critical of the government kept Ahmadinejad off the front page. Etemadeh Melli carried a short blurb on page 2, with the headline: "Ahmadinejad's noisy appearance in Switzerland." It carried a picture, but opted out of reporting details of the event.

Iran newspaper's lead columnist, who has become a virtual mouthpiece of the president, wrote, "These are the achievements of our executive branch: resistance to tyranny and the eradication of all remnants of injustice in the diplomatic sphere. These fundamentals, on which our foreign policy is based, are victories that are the results of our President's continuous efforts. It started with his first trip to New York. And his speech [on April 20] was another such honor and victory."

The speech by the Iranian president, who described Israel as "totally racist," prompted a walkout by delegates from at least 30 countries. In an interview, Mohsen Ejei, Iran's intelligence minister, called it "a reprehensible move." "It was a show of their racism, intolerance, guilt," he said. It demonstrated that they are "against freedom and freedom of speech."

There were Iranians here and abroad who liked what they heard from the president.

"I support Ahmadinejad's bold stance against the egregious human rights violations of Palestinians," said Roya Motevasel, who lives in Germany. "It gives me a feeling of satisfaction, even if this support is expressed in words only. His presence [there] is a thorn in their side and that's not in itself without effect."

Maghdaad Gorgani, 35, said he adamantly supports Ahmadinejad's actions. "In my opinion, after his powerful Geneva speech, there are going to be more people who want to see him eliminated! Ahmadinejad has become a symbol and a legend to me. His talk in Geneva only confirmed that."

But many were unhappy with his performance. Some saw the president's speech as a negative mark against Iran on an intentional level.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a political scientist at Tehran University, disagreed with many supporters of Ahmadinejad who thought his performance was a victory. He thought the commotion caused by his speech was tantamount to an insult to the Iranian people.

"This was not a successful move to have European diplomats leaving and a few Arab envoys clapping along with the president's entourage," said Zibakalam. "The important thing is to decide whether we want Iran's foreign policy to be ideological or to serve the national interest. It appears that the Ahmadinejad administration wants our foreign policy to be of an ideological persuasion, even sometimes at the price of our national interest. It doesn't appear to bother them that our people and our diplomatic corps pay the price."

Furthermore, Zibakalam said he was afraid Ahmadinejad's speech may have had the opposite effect, rallying support in favor of Israel. "When Mr. Ahmadinejad goes on the attack," he explained, "it may make the Zionists look like the victims. This clouds the real issues, which is Israeli crimes against Palestinians in Gaza."

Alireza, a 32-year-old architect from Tehran University, said: "Even before reflecting on Geneva, I keep thinking back to the last presidential election. I think Ahmadinejad lacked the necessary skills to be president. What happened in Geneva, was shameful for me. I doubt anyone can make up any time soon the many mistakes made by his administration over the past four years."

Saraj al Din Mirdamadi, a journalist based in Paris, said that he believed the current administration had long lost hope of winning over a European or an international audience. "Perhaps the speech was intended for internal consumption," he said. "It was meant to boost his chances in the upcoming presidential election. The president's speech took place at a time when public perception in the west, rightly or not, is that Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech was at odds with the very goal of this conference."

Regardless of what some thought of the president's speech, said Ayedin, 30, throwing objects was offensive. "Objection should be expressed in a civilized manner," he said. "If a number of representatives left in protest of Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech, that is understandable. But throwing tomatoes or anything else at a person who is the official representative of a country is not civilized. It makes you think there was something else behind it."

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