Friday, September 09, 2011
Satire 'attack' in Iran
The magazine 'Shahrvand-e- Emrooz' was shut down on Monday 5th September amid growing concerns that the Iranian authorities are stepping up their crackdown on freedom of expression. Over a month ago now, the digitally- doctored image of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared on the front cover of the Iranian magazine, depicting the President in a 16th century style Persian setting, surrounded by political figures; one of whom being Ahmadinejad's confidant Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. It has been deemed particularly offensive to the Iranian President, who is portrayed as subservient; surrendering his executive status to Mashaei who is making a speech. The picture implies weakness from Ahmadinejad who is illustrated as being nothing more than a modern figurehead to an anachronistic, and out of touch regime.
Whilst the magazine has been shut down in previous years, especially in light of its influence on the 2009 election protests in Iran, it does seem logical to presume some sort of connection between last month's satire and the closure of the publication on Monday. The Iranian goverment do seem to have adopted a more relaxed approach to opposition newspapers and magazines in recent weeks, in anticipation of the build up to the Parliamentary elections in March 2012. Indeed, last week, Iran pardoned one hundred political prisoners in an attempt to 'ease' political tensions in the capital.
On the other hand however, it must also be taken into account that Ahmadinejad has been keeping two opposition leaders under house arrest since mid- February; they have therefore effectively been prevented from exercising any sort of political influence whilst demonstrations have been gripping the rest of the Arab world. The satire published by the magazine Shahrvand-e- Emrooz represents a snipe at the President’s widely criticised relationship with the father of his son- in- law, Mashaei, whom many believe he would like to see become the next President. However, Ahmadinejad’s close ties with Mashaei have also been interpreted as a move to extend his own political influence; being seen to be affiliated with Mashaei’s more liberal views could potentially broaden his support base, and increase his popularity in preparation for the 2012 elections.
The magazine’s satire therefore represents a particular freedom of speech that Ahmadinejad is not yet willing to sacrifice. Similarly, the publication ‘Roozegar’ was also closed on Monday, most probably for its mention of the 2009 protests in a recent interview with the political analyst Morad Saghafi. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s perceived efforts to further Iranian ‘cultural openness’ recently have been described as nothing more than ‘conciliatory gestures’ by Reporters Without Borders, and it is still commonly recognised that journalists remain prime targets in Iran.