Sunday, March 20, 2005

New year party gets political on streets of Tehran The Guardian: Iranian New Year party gets political

A Daily Briefing on Iran from Guardian article: Iranians celebrate ancient holiday hated by Mullah hardliners.:

'This is a way for people to use their national traditions to show their opposition to the regime,' said a man called Reza, before hurrying away, saying that the security forces were lurking nearby.

Stretching back 2,500 years, the significance of Chahar Shanbeh Souri for Iranians is comparable to Christmas in the west. But its pre-Islamic roots have rendered it an object of hostility to the country's hardline clerical establishment. After the 1979 revolution, the authorities tried to ban the celebration, deeming it an affront to Islamic mores.

But with many Iranians chafing against the regime's austere brand of Shia Islam, the festival has increasingly been used to express displeasure with the government.

In previous years, pro-regime vigilantes have been deployed to break up such gatherings by force. This time, however, the regime has tacitly permitted the festivals.

But tolerance has its limits. As people gathered, squads of baton-wielding police officers sealed off the nearby Mohseni Square, lest it become a magnet for unmanageably large crowds. Several times they attacked, using their batons and firing teargas canisters.

Muhammad Ghodzi, 28, a student, bristled with anger as he criticised the regime. 'We hate their brand of Islam because it spills blood,' he said. 'This is a sort of Islam that keeps people backward. But young people nowadays think.'

Asked what kind of political system he wanted, he replied: 'Democratic, with a separation between religion and politics ... We will sacrifice our lives for democracy and freedom.'"

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