Friday, June 19, 2009

The dust revolution – how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's jibe backfired.

In the age of the soundbite, one gets the feeling that Ahmadinejad might wish that he had never said this:

"The nation's huge river would not leave any opportunity for the expression of dirt and dust," said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a rather elliptical reference to the surging protests on the streets of Tehran.

For good measure he followed up with some more earthy language comparing claims of massive election fraud in last week's poll to the passions of supporters of a beaten football team after a match.

He then went on to accuse his opponents of "officially recognising thieves, homosexuals and scumbags" in exchange for their votes.

Well, the "dirt and dust" have been protesting for several days now and they are not happy with how Ahmadinejad has portrayed them.

Ahmadinejad's contemptuous phrase "dirt and dust" has entered folklore and provided a focus for the rage of the protesters.

So far it has inspired pithy slogans, blog headlines, posters and a litany of insults throwing the president's words back in his face. "Dirt and dust is you, it is you who are the enemy of Iran," one chant goes. Another frequently-heard slogan has been: "We are not dirt and dust, we are Iran's nation."

The phrase (khas o khashak in Farsi) has become a badge of pride. Etemad-e Melli, a reformist newspaper, carried a huge picture on yesterday's front page showing marchers carrying a banner bearing the slogan, Epic of Dirt and Dust. The offending words were written in green, the colour adopted by Mousavi's campaign.

It has also prompted a high-profile protest from one of Iran's most famous singers, Mohammad Reza Shajarian, who asked the state broadcaster IRIB – controlled by Ahmadinejad supporters – to stop playing his songs because he believed the insulting reference included him.

"I emphatically ask IRIB not to broadcast my voice because this is the voice of dirt and dust and will always remain so," he told BBC Persian.

Even conservative supporters of Ahmadinejad appear insulted by his use of the phrase, "dirt and dust" when referring to people who did not vote for him.

Ahmad Tavakoli, the conservative director of the research centre of Iran's parliament, said it would be more appropriately applied to the plainclothes security forces who have brutally attacked protesting students at Tehran university and other institutions in recent days.

"We have to accept that 14 million have not voted for Mr Ahmadinejad and, rightly or wrongly, they now have a question and feel insulted," he told IRIB's Channel Five. "They are neither dirt and dust nor hooligans and thugs. Dirt and dust are those who attack university campuses and students and commit crimes there."

Today Iran's Supreme Leader is to address Iran for the first time since the election. His entire regime has been under attack since he announced the victory of Ahmadinejad. There has even been talk, unheard of as far as I am concerned, about removing him.

It will be very interesting to see how he chooses to play this. Will he be conciliatory? Will he announce a crackdown? Who knows. But, with protests from the opposition due to begin again tomorrow, the future of Iran still hangs in the balance.
"Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm." -- a demonstrator's Twitter message from Iran.
It'll be fascinating to see what happens after Ayatollah Khamenei speaks.

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