Tehran’s Fear of the Holidays
Published in “Die Zeit”, September 9, 2009
By Martin Gehlen
For the first time in 20 years, the Qadr Nights, a festival of religious speeches, will be cancelled in Iran. Out of fear of the opposition the regime no longer likes to celebrate.
The entire Muslim world is celebrating Ramadan – only the Islamic Republic of Iran is cancelling their Islamic holidays. Although the regime has defeated any rebellion in the streets since the unrests started. But religious celebrations can easily turn into a new showdown with the people – and there is no lack of occasions, such as the three Qadr Nights at the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which begin on Wednesday evening and will be broadcast live normally in the Iranian state television.
The Qadr Nights are a time for spiritual talk, and the former president Mohammed Khatami was supposed to give a speech. Oppositional websites expected about four million visitors to participate in this event, and the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had announced their presence as well. Now the regime has pulled the emergency brake and demanded that Ayatollah Khomeinis grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who as the prinicpal of the mausoleum is in charge with organizing the event, disinvite Mr Khatami.
However, he refused to do so, instead cancelling the entire celebration “due to problems to which the mausoleum is exposed.” Since Khomeini’s death 20 years ago this is unprecedented. The 37-year-old cleric is considered to be a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi. He and the entire Khomeini family did ostentatiously not attend the official appointment and inauguration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Moreover, also the non-oppositional Iranian elite is anything but homogeneous: the President now had to face criticisms of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for the first time. The latter warned him of overestimating his powers and criticized the fact that Ahmadinejad had appointed friends instead of professionals to his new ministerial team.
But Khamenei, who is to hold the Friday prayers in Tehran this week for the second time since June 12, now also prefers to refrain from taking risks on occasions of public events. His traditional speech at the end of the fasting month, traditionally delivered to a large audience, has been transferred to a smaller location, reports Etemad, a newspaper associated with the opposition.
And no sooner was this organized, the next problem was approaching: “Jerusalem day”, launched in 1979 by the founder of the state, Khomeini and normally used as a government-organized rally against Israel.
Mehdi Karroubi called on the supporters of the “green movement” for a massive turnout in the streets on 18 September. “Then we again will experience the power of the people,” he said. “And we’ll see which side is supported by the people.” The alerted regime responded by having raided and sealed Karroubi’s personal office, and arresting his close associate, the former mayor of Tehran Morteza Alviri. This was while Iran’s police chief issued a dubious and sharp: “Jerusalem Day is meant to support the oppressed Palestinian people and to condemn the occupying forces. It should not be misused for political purposes,” he stated.