One of Iran's Most Notorious Propagandists Gets Media Savvy

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What do you know, the "Big Mouth Basiji" just gave his first media interview.

Basij banner.jpg
Members of Iran's Basij militia march during a parade to commemorate anniversary of Iran-Iraq war, in Tehran, in September of 2010. (Morteza Nikoubazi/Reuters)

He is widely known as "the Big Mouth Basiji." He's omnipresent at state-organized demonstrations, including Friday Prayers, where he is often seen shouting slogans with a raised fist and gaping mouth. Pictures of him published by state news agencies have been widely shared on the Internet (and here), bringing him fame. By his own account, he has never missed a pro-regime demonstration in the Iranian capital, where he lives. Sometimes he wears a military uniform, and other times he's in civilian clothing. But his keffyeh -- which he wears around his neck -- never leaves him. His zeal has turned him into a poster child for the Islamic Republic and one of the loyalists the regime uses at different events to claim popular support and legitimacy.  

The Democracy ReportOpposition activists have accused him of involvement in the brutal 2009 crackdown against the Green Movement, which took to the streets to protest the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. He has said that during the protests, he was beaten up by "those who were disrupting the order." He identifies himself as a student and a worker at Tehran's municipality. He has also said that he used to work at Tehran's notorious Evin prison, saying of his job: "I used to hand over and receive the accused." And despite his nickname, Hamid Reza Ahmad Abadi suggested in an interview with the online daily Rooz -- his first and only interview to date -- that he is not a member of the notorious government forces that routinely crackdown on pro-democracy activists:

Rooz: Have you been recruited by bodies such as the Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), or the Basij, or do you get paid by them?

Ahmad Abadi: Not at all. Don't ask these questions anymore.

Later in the interview, he again denies being a member of the IRGC. But when asked about his membership of the Basij militia:

Abadi: I can't say. Don't ask this from me.
Rooz: So if you're not a member of the Basij, why are you being called the 'Big Mouth Basiji'?
Abadi: ...'Big Mouth' means his mouth is always open. Our mouth is always open and we say we are enemies with our enemies, and friends with our friends.

The Internet and social media have played a big role in bringing attention to the "Big Mouth Basiji," who seems to enjoy his celebrity status. He's certainly not the first regime supporter to convey his views on social media. But he's easily the most unconventional.

Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former IRGC member and one of the founders of the hard-line Ansar-e Hezbollah, a shock pro-establishment group, says the "Big Mouth Basiji" and his eccentric personality are not unique among the people, including thugs, that the regime uses against dissidents and critics. "These are not the shadow soldiers, they are the real army of the establishment," Ebrahimi says. "Sixty to 70 percent of their army are these people. Some become more known, like the 'Big Mouth Basiji'; others don't -- they remain unknown. Nowadays most people don't join the Basij because of their beliefs, [but] because of the [benefits] they offer."

In recent weeks, Abadi has begun posting videos on YouTube of himself talking about his beliefs. He begins by greeting Iran's Supreme Leader Aaytollah Khamenei, whom he addresses as "Imam Khamenei." The result is sometimes a tragicomic presentation where he stumbles over his own words and text, often making grammatical mistakes, and uses a mix of verses from the Koran, hard-line rhetoric, and street language.

In this video (viewed more than 10,000 times) he calls on Iranian expats to return home and lead a "respectful and simple" life in Iran. "If you don't [express support for the U.S.], you wouldn't access housing and welfare, you'd be forced to clean the floors in hotels and restaurants and be jobless to earn a living," Abadi says. "America doesn't provide you with housing and food for free. You have to destroy your honor and self-respect and have fun for the time you are in this world. There are some of you who are ready to put their honor at the disposal of Americans."

In another video (viewed more than 75,000 times) he expresses support for gender segregation at schools and university because he says Iran is an Islamic Republic, and everything and everyone in the country has to be Islamic.

Many of the comments posted under the video are mocking.

Abadi appears unfazed. He's posted several YouTube videos in which he expresses his political views and offers guidance for expats toward what he believes is the right path.

He even told "Rooz" that if the establishment approved, he could stand as an election candidate in the 2013 presidential vote. But that, he admits, isn't likely to happen.



This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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