30 Years After Stormed Embassy, Turmoil in Tehran

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In Tehran, the anniversary of the 1979 U.S. embassy takeover and hostage crisis is usually celebrated as a holiday marking Iran's rebuke of the West. Today's 30th anniversary is different. Anti-regime protesters still upset over President Ahmadinejad's election are attempting to disrupt the day's anti-American demonstrations. Government officials warned protesters, some garbed in the green of opposition, that police would crack down with overwhelming force. Early reports indicate police and protesters have clashed violently.

In Washington, President Obama marked the anniversary of the hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, by calling on the Iranian regime to "open the door" to friendly U.S.-Iran relations. Supreme Leader Khameini rebuffed Obama's gesture. With Tehran embroiled in anti-American demonstrations and violence between police and protesters, is there hope for improved American relations with Iran?

  • Iran's 30-Year-Old Split  The Guardian's "This episode, even in those early days of the revolution, caused serious tension between those who viewed the revolution as a path to democratisation and those who were interested only in turning Iran into a militant Islamic state. Today that division has become more complex. Many former militant students have moved further right while others have formed Islamic reformist opposition groups. They should not be confused with several layers of the more modern anti-government demonstrators whose demand continues to be for freedom, equality and justice."
  • Realigning Anti-U.S. Anger  Juan Cole thinks the protesters are using history to shift Iranian resentments. "The protesters are being very clever, in tying their rallies to the anti-US hostage-taking of 1980-81. That break with the international world system, led by the US, is the foundation of the Khomeinist republic, which rejects American hegemony. The dissidents are rallying in honor of the same moment, but are resisting neo-authoritarianism, implicitly likening the government of Khamenei to that of the shah. While Khamenei may have bragging rights on his anti-imperial record, his regime is not less internally repressive than that of the shah. The dissidents are cleverly refocusing the debate on the domestic sphere rather than the international, where the regime has more popularity."
  • Iranian Call for Detente  Moderate Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri issued a press release calling for reconciliation between Iran and America. "It has become clear that this was not the right thing to do," the release says of the embassy storming. "If national interests require that relations with the United States be [re-]established, one must not create tension and distrust with meaningless slogans to aggravate [the situation]. It is clear that the Israel Lobby in the U.S. is strongly opposed to Iran-U.S. relations and their interests are served by the continuation of the crisis between Iran and the U.S., but unfortunately the leaders of the country do not realize this."
  • Islamist Regime Cannot Endure  Iran politics blogger Masoud insists the arc of history bends with the protesters. "The regime is preparing for confrontation, perhaps because it has no choice -- no choice but to retreat and wither. And as Islamic legitimacy in the Islamic Republic withers regardless, so too does the romanticism weaved into the supposed triumphs of the revolution. The taking of the U.S. embassy, the seminal event which today's demonstrations are centered around, is now also losing its luster," Masoud writes. "More and more, a generation once removed -- the 70% that is Iran's heartbeat -- is struggling to find an answer, all while readying to take to the streets and challenge tyranny as their mothers and fathers did before them."
  • Don't Overestimate Protesters  The Atlantic's Graeme Wood reports from Tehran on September 19th's "Jerusalem Day" protests, where he finds slim anti-regime protests and strong police control. Then, as with today, green revolution protesters sought to interrupt and co-opt the holiday's pro-government demonstrations. "Soon after arriving as a tourist, I hit the streets of Tehran with the [anti-Ahmadinejad] protesters. Overall, I found them definitely bloodied, intermittently unbowed, and all too often insignificant," he writes. Wood adds:
    The glee of foreign observers over having seen Quds Day 'co-opted' must be unfamiliar consolation to those who saw the day themselves, and saw its government-sanctioned rally totally undisturbed by the efforts of the opposition. On this, the main drag of the Quds Day protest, counterprotesters were even scarcer than Palestinians. Part of the scarcity of counterprotesters is due to a competent and well-equipped riot force: at every entrance to Enqelab, police stood watch, and at each major intersection a crew of soldiers large enough to baton into submission even a large crowd manned trucks and motorcycles. If counterprotesters showed up they would almost certainly have got a club across the skull. For this observer, anyway, the Quds Day rally established exactly what the Islamic Republic wanted it to show, which is that despite the reports of unrest and discontent, there are still vast numbers of Iranians who love their government and hate Israel, and who are as sheltered from their anti-clerical countrymen as their government wants them to be.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.