The 13th of Aban in Iran

Iranians participating in demonstrations commemorating the 1979 storming of the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, on November 4, 2013. (Asharq Al-Awsat) Iranians participating in demonstrations commemorating the 1979 storming of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran, on November 4, 2013. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Iranians participating in demonstrations commemorating the 1979 storming of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran, on November 4, 2013. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

November 4—the 13th day of the month of Aban in the Iranian calendar—marks the anniversary of the US embassy takeover in Tehran. Every year there is a large march commemorating the event, which goes down Talaghani Avenue in downtown Tehran and then moves into streets near the former American embassy complex. Outside the capital, the demonstrators usually march between the state university and the Islamic Azad University campuses in their city. This demonstration is organized and managed by a governmental institute. This year, they invited a former nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to deliver a speech in front of the building that used to be the US embassy—a building now controlled by the Revolutionary Guards.

In the days leading up to the 13th of Aban this year, the people of Tehran witnessed a new wave of propaganda about the United States. Billboards were posted, anonymously and overnight, across the capital. For example, one banner depicted direct negotiations between an American and an Iranian. The American negotiator was wearing military trousers not visible to the Iranian negotiator—he had a suit jacket on top—and he was holding a gun in his hand under the table. This made the Iranian negotiator, who bore a striking resemblance to Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, look rather silly. We soon found out that a company owned by the Revolutionary Guards was responsible for the billboards.

We would be wrong, however, to see only this side of the issue. In Iran, there are two very different attitudes to relations with America. True, one part of society is rather hostile, which can be witnessed in the demonstrations where people shout “Death to America!” There is another, entirely different, attitude that accepts America and whose proponents think the government should solve the problems between Iran and the United States and build a bridge between two countries and the two nations that have long misunderstood one another.

Ahmadinejad and his administration were representative of the first attitude. Ahmadinejad thought he was the leader of the world, and that presidents were asking him for advice on how to manage their countries. His replacement in the president's office, Hassan Rouhani, is the figurehead for the second attitude. He believes it is possible to solve the problems between the two countries, and consequently establish a mutually respectful relationship. His historic phone call with President Obama in September was the big first step to renewing relations between the two countries.

In the build-up to this year’s commemorative demonstrations, one attitude was clearly more prevalent than the other on the Iranian street. Those hostile to negotiations—and a possible rapprochement—with the US had their billboards, the ads they published in the mass media, and the anti-US sermons given by some Friday prayer imams. They named and shamed Iran’s nuclear negotiators as “compromisers” and “traitors.” On the other side was a silent majority of Iranians, who elected Rouhani as president in the hope he could come to some kind of agreement with the US.

So on November 4 this year, the main question being asked was about where the supreme leader stands on this issue. He meets with students and gives a talk about the Iran–US relationship every year on this day, and everyone was waiting for the supreme leader to deliver his usual speech. Fortunately, Khamenei supported the negotiation team. He called them “remarkable” and said they are “children of the revolution” and that they would do their best in this very difficult task. He added that nobody has the right to call them “compromisers.”

Since that speech, everyone has been talking about the negotiating team and praising them as “children of the revolution.” That is a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.

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