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Brave Iranians ruin hate-U.S. fest

Brave Iranians ruin hate-U.S. fest

Author: Amir Taheri
Publication: The New York Times
Date: November 5, 2009
URL: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/brave_iranians_ruin_hate_fest_hJaFi2sXsbnfre6mOKeN2J#ixzz0VysDOnL2

A'jad foes push hostage-anniversary rallies aside

Yesterday marked the 30th anniver sary of the capture by Khomeinist "stu dents" of the US Embassy in Tehran, triggering the 444-day hostage crisis.

The Iranian public seized the chance to reject the regime -- even as the surviving hostage-takers have largely come to regret their actions.

For months, Iran's state-controlled media had tried to build up the day as a "turning point" for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's troubled second term.

The occasion was supposed to highlight Ahmadinejad's "victory over the American Great Satan" and Washington's implicit acceptance of Iran's nuclear project in recent talks in Geneva and Vienna.

In a message on the eve of the anniversary, "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei called on "true Muslims" to show "unquenchable anger against the Great Satan." The newspaper Kayhan promised "the largest crowds in Iran's history."

But events defied the official script.

Weeks of "mass mobilization" failed to produce "the largest crowds in history."

The official news agency, IRNA, which habitually reports "the marches of the millions," had to lower its rhetoric to "tens of thousands." More, its reports indicated that, in most cases, the authorities had to press-gang schoolchildren into marching.

The largest rally, in front of the former US Embassy, attracted no more than 5,000 professional militants, eyewitnesses said.

And the opposition seized the chance to show its strength once again. The official media reported that "the enemies of the revolution" held rallies in more than 100 cites. In cities such as Ahvaz and Yazd, opposition marches pushed official processions to the sidelines.

That anti-Americanism is no longer in vogue (if it ever was) was further underlined by the fact that regime grandees stayed away from the anti-US marches.

In some cases, senior officials were advised not to appear -- for fear of facing hostile crowds. For the first time in 30 years, no major regime figure was there to address the rallies.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad stayed in their bunkers -- dispatching Ghulam Haddad-Adel, a former speaker of Iran's ersatz parliament, to deliver the main address in front of the former embassy. Even then, he had to make a quick getaway when advised that an opposition crowd was approaching.

In some cases, the opposition's chants of "Death to the dictator!" and "Death to Russia!" were louder than the slogan "Death to America!" chanted by official demonstrators, often with little enthusiasm.

In some gatherings, non-Iranian militants, including members of the Lebanese Hezbollah and students from Africa and elsewhere in Asia, provided the core of the crowds.

State-owned TV showed a group of Spanish converts to Shiism whose leader, a certain Jaafar Gonzales, claimed he'd come to Iran to underline "my people's deep hatred of America."

None of the 400 or so "students" who raided the embassy was present to mark yesterday's anniversary.

During the last 30 years, more than half the "students" have died -- many killed in the eight-year war with Iraq -- or gone into exile.

Of the 20-strong "student" leadership in 1979, nine are now in prison for opposing Ahmadinejad -- among them the two architects of the embassy raid, Mohsen Aminzadeh and Mohsen Mirdamadi.

Also in jail is Behzad Nabavi, the militant who eventually negotiated the hostages' release. Muhammad Mussavi-Khoiniha, the mullah who led the "students" during the crisis, has also joined the opposition.

Habiballah Peyman, the "ideological mentor" of the 1979 hostage-holders, was beaten and severely injured by the police yesterday as he led an opposition march. Javad Sheikh al-Islam, the "student" who supervised the torture of the hostages, was dismissed as deputy foreign minister on Monday, ostensibly because of his opposition sympathies.

A number of former hostage-takers -- including Abbas Abdi and Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, who were in charge of interrogating the American captives -- have issued statements expressing "deep regret" for the event and hopes of "forgiveness" from their victims.

A broader statement, demanding "forgiveness from the American people" was delivered yesterday to the US Embassy in London by leading filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a former Khomeinist militant who has joined to the opposition.

Yesterday's events proved that anti-Americanism has no popular base in Iran. The slogan "Death to America," shouted by rent-a-mob professionals, sounded more hollow than ever.

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