World

For Iran, a grand occasion to bash America

Two boys hold up posters of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, and late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini,left, during a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured out onto the streets of Tehran and other cities and towns across the country, marking the date 40 years ago that is considered victory day in the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press
Two boys held up posters of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) and late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini during a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran Monday.

TEHRAN — Braving a drenching rain, Iranians came out in droves Monday to march up Revolution Street to the capital’s Freedom Monument, including families pushing strollers decorated with balloons in the red, white, and green of the country’s flag, clerics, teenagers, and others, for a huge state-backed rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

While such rallies are organized every year on Feb. 11, this year’s seemed larger, despite the uninviting weather. And like some evil doppelgänger, the United States was omnipresent, despite having broken all ties with Iran in 1981.

“Thank god the revolution is 40 years old,” someone shouted through loudspeakers mounted on lampposts along the route. “Where are the Americans to witness this divine rally?”

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President Hassan Rouhani, speaking to the sprawling crowd at the Freedom Monument, said the country was in the middle of “a psychological and economical war, waged by cruel enemies.” That was a clear reference to the United States and the sanctions the Trump administration reimposed after it unilaterally withdrew from a global deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

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“We will stand against these sanctions together and gain victory over America,” Rouhani said, emphasizing that such resistance does not come without costs. “People will face problems — they already have some problems, but we will pass them.”

Three men, a father and his two sons, paraded a foam effigy of a smiling President Trump with a bloated head.

“Two years ago we made Obama, but this Trump is our best creation to date,” said one of the sons, Mohammad Zaerin, 27.

There was no way they would burn it during the rally, he added.

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“We will donate this effigy to the elementary school in our neighborhood,” Zaerin said, “so the children can learn from it.”

In numerous interviews, the rally participants seemed well-informed about the issues facing the country, which are numerous. Economic specialists are predicting an inflation rate of as much as 50 percent in the coming year, starting from March 21 in Iran. The government is grappling with a large loss in oil income, attributed to Washington’s pressure on buyers combined with low oil prices.

The rial, Iran’s currency, has lost nearly 70 percent of its value in the past 12 months, making imports prohibitively expensive. Unemployment is high, and industrial production is down. There have been sporadic labor protests, dozens of dissidents have been arrested, and security forces are on high alert for possible terror attacks. Mismanagement and corruption, reported on extensively by foreign-based Persian-language satellite channels, have strongly undermined faith in Iran’s leaders.

“Every country has issues,” said Mina Heydari, 45. “We do, too.”

The mother of two had come out to commemorate not only the revolution but also her brother Mohsen, who had died in the trenches during the bloody eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

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“We mustn’t forget the sacrifices many have made,” she said.

Heydari and others present at the rally pointed to progress made since the revolution, including the participation of women in universities, achievements in nanotechnology, and scientific papers.

The anniversary of the revolution has over the years morphed into an ideological carnival, with the national mobile phone operator this year handing out placards saying, “40 years, the revolution has become mature.”

Along the route there is entertainment, provided by state organizations. Because the entertainment needs to be Islamic, there were male clowns praising the Iranian flag (“the most beautiful flag in the world”), silver-painted men posing as living statutes and several male choirs, all dressed in gray suits and singing high-pitched a cappella songs in praise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution.

In front of a booth run by the tax ministry, not the most beloved institute in the Islamic republic, a lone Shiite cleric, Hojatolislam Ghassem Mohsen Shahroudi, had set up shop under an umbrella to answer questions from passers-by.

Mohsen Shahroudi, a midlevel cleric, said the revolution had brought Iran freedom and evolution. But he acknowledged that there were Iranians who do not like clerics.

“Sometimes the taxis just drive past me,” he said, refusing to pick him up. A degree of discontent is “natural,” he offered. “Look at the inequality in America, look at the Yellow Vests in France; across the world everybody is unhappy. Iran is no different.”

Another cleric, Taghi Mollah Ahmad, passed by and chimed in.

“Of course, some people are displeased, but they are unhappy with the government, not with the state and the Islamic republic,” he said. “If they were really upset they would come and make large demonstrations, but I’m not seeing that.”

Rouhani praised the crowd’s size as a victory for the system he represents, even though many in this city of 12 million stayed home, many out of sheer apathy.

“The presence of people today on the streets all over Islamic Iran,” he said, “means the enemy will never reach its evil objectives.”