Voices from the Arab press: New faces and new fears in Tehran

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

IRANIAN STUDENTS crowd the US Embassy in Tehran, November 4, 1979. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
IRANIAN STUDENTS crowd the US Embassy in Tehran, November 4, 1979.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 3

What do you do when you feel an urge to do something but, at the same time, you’re embarrassed about doing it? This is the exact question that Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei faced this week, as he contemplated how to deal with one of his annual rituals celebrating the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and the taking of US diplomats hostage on November 4, 1979.

During the eight-year tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, the celebration of this occasion mellowed and turned into a small, symbolic gathering at the site of the old embassy, consisting of a few camera shots taken for State TV.

In the past two years, in particular, many of the prominent elements that have always been associated with such a celebration have disappeared.

For example, the annual “A World Without America” symposium, which for decades has been attended by anti-American professionals from all over the world (including from the United States itself), was completely removed from the program. The likes of Louis Farrakhan, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn and other self-hating Americans weren’t invited to make their annual pilgrimage to Tehran.

Similarly, Iranian readers were spared another translation of Noam Chomsky’s latest hate speech against the United States.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran March 11, 2021. (credit: OFFICIAL KHAMENEI WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran March 11, 2021. (credit: OFFICIAL KHAMENEI WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Among the other missing events was “The End of Israel” symposium that brought together Holocaust deniers from all over the world, and the accompanying international antisemitic cartoon exhibition.

However, with the rise to power of President Ebrahim Raisi, there was widespread expectation that some of these vitriolic rituals would be revived.

Surprisingly, however, this did not happen. Even stranger, it seems as if the new Iranian leadership chose to reduce the annual celebration even more.

Officials tried to do this in several ways. Among them was an attempt to attach other slogans to the “November 4 events” that were supposed to celebrate “the humiliation of the American Great Satan.” Among the new names given to the events were: “the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Exile” in 1964 (even though this happened on the fifth of November, not the fourth). Another title was the “day of the massacre perpetrated by the shah against primary and secondary school students and children” in 1976, although nothing like that happened at all.

It is clear that Raisi is almost as determined as his predecessor to tone down his government’s anti-American rhetoric.

The question is why? After all, a large part of the current regime’s discourse revolves around the claim that the previous government abandoned its jihad against the “Great Satan” in exchange for empty promises from former president Barack Obama.

One explanation is that the new regime believes that the “Great Satan” has already been significantly weakened, as was clearly evident in its recent evacuation from Afghanistan. According to Ayatollah Tayeb, the political-religious commissar of the Revolutionary Guards, the United States today is like “the carcass of a dead donkey that doesn’t even need to be skinned.”

However, such arrogant and ostentatious remarks often compensate for real fear.

In this context, the first fear is that the Biden administration may not be keen to repeal the policy of “maximum pressure” pursued by former president Donald Trump, which pushed the Islamic Republic to the brink of bankruptcy.

Another fear is that Biden, even if he wanted to, might not be able to lift enough sanctions on Iran, especially since lifting most sanctions requires the approval of the US Congress, which Biden cannot take for granted.

Another concern is that Biden may have given Israel the green light to carry out “limited, but decisive action” against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such a move would force the regime to cross the redline it has adhered to for four decades by providing a real response to military action against it.

Accordingly, Biden’s next step will be decisive. If the president gives in too easily, he may breathe new life into the demons of “old Tehran.” If he chooses to blow out empty statements, he may miss an opportunity to lend a helping hand to those seeking real regime change in Tehran. – Amir Taheri 


Al-Qabas, Kuwait, November 4

There is a huge gap between the Jews and their enemies or, more precisely, between Jews and the Arab world. This gap is not only represented by Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, but also in its more progressive culture and conscience.

On the map, Israel looks as if it could easily be swallowed by its neighbors in a matter of seconds. However, it’s clear that it isn’t going anywhere. Although Arabs have lived in this region for thousands of years, what separated them has always been greater than what united them. In contrast, in Israel – where the overwhelming majority of the population immigrated from countless ethnic and cultural backgrounds – a unifying culture has been formed. Israelis were able, with limited resources and under the harshest conditions, to build up a national identity that is nothing short of a miracle.

So, what is Israel’s secret?

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by many to be the only ideological and political organization capable of uniting people across the Middle East under one joint identity, similar to what the Zionist movement sought to do in the first Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897. In only half a century, the Zionist movement succeeded in realizing its dream and established a modern state capable of imposing itself on the whole world. As for the Brotherhood, it has been trying for more than 90 years to do the same, but has failed time and again.

The success of the Zionist movement and the failure of the Brotherhood movement are due to several factors.

First, the Zionists succeeded in recruiting the best scientific and political minds to serve and lead their cause, regardless of these individuals’ adherence to traditional Jewish thought. This is what the Brotherhood failed in, as its choices were miserable from the get-go. The very nature of the Brotherhood precludes anyone who doesn’t adhere to the group’s view of Islam to actively take part in its activity.

Second, whereas the Zionist movement was open about its goals, the Brotherhood always suffered from a lack of transparency about its ideology. No one truly knows the group’s plan for governance or its ultimate plans. We saw this clearly during its rule in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan.

Third, and most important, the historical interest of the Jews in science and their known passion for reading and academic inquiry allowed them to establish a state with strong educational and cultural institutions from day one. As for the Brotherhood, it has proven its inability and failure scientifically, politically and culturally for nearly a century.

Finally, allow me to end with the following parting thought: A study conducted by the well-known American Pew Research Center in 2016 showed that the average Jew has 13.4 years of education, followed by Christians, with 9.3 years. I’ll spare you the embarrassment of knowing what the same rate stands at in our countries. – Ahmad Al-Sarraf


Al-Ittihad, UAE, November 4 

You’ll never be able to convince conspiracy theorists of real-world facts, even if you show them written proof that they’re wrong. The problem with conspiracy theorists is not only the conspiracies they believe, but also their perception of the world and how it works.

Unfortunately, the Arab world has its fair share of conspiracy theorists. And, according to many of them, the entire Western world is out to get Muslims. The idea of “Muslims” becomes in their imagination a monolith: a single group persecuted by an external enemy. Unsurprisingly, according to these theorists, there is an ongoing conspiracy taking place against Islam and Muslims in an effort to bring them down.

Recently, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theorists throughout the world enjoyed significant tailwinds and a growing popularity. They began spreading rumors about the vaccines, Big Pharma and government surveillance.

And, as expected, the local Islamist “branch” of these theorists adapted the narrative to suggest that Muslims are the ultimate victims of the COVID vaccinations. According to them, the vaccine – the culmination of tremendous scientific research led by scientists, academics and clinicians across the world – is nothing more than a secret weapon meant to poison innocent Muslims.

The only way to combat this ignorance is by promoting a culture of scientific inquiry and rational thinking. Fighting conspiracy theorists and their lies in adulthood is almost a lost cause. The battle must begin at an earlier stage, with how we educate our children and teach them to consume knowledge critically. That is what we must do. – Malik Al-Uthamina 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.