Monday, April 2, 2007

Radical Fundamentalists and New Hostage Crisis

Iranian news agencies reported today that because of changes in Britain’s behavior in the past 48 hours, no more TV footage of British hostages and their alleged confessions will be aired by Iranian TV. The apparent softening of the Iranian position came after a day of violent demonstrations outside the British embassy. The protestors threw rocks and set off firecrackers and clashed with the police in front of the embassy yesterday.

It appears that the radical elements within the country are trying to use the detention of the British sailors and marines into a 2007 version of the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In the original 1979 version, the radical “anti-imperialist” factions within the clerical establishment and the country’s Islamist movement turned the detention of US Embassy personnel into a political campaign to oust the moderate government of Mehdi Bazargan and to purge all moderate and pro-democracy elements within the Islamic Republic. In today’s Iran, the reformist parties and moderate politicians are the target of the radical fundamentalist groups.

The violent and radical anti-British demonstrations in Tehran showed that the hardliners are indeed intent to take the upper hand in the country. During the municipal elections of 15 December, the radical fundamentalists lost miserably. Pro-Ahmadinejad candidates received less than 5% of the popular vote. Creating a new hostage crisis can give the hardliners an opening, albeit outside ballot boxes, to consolidate its power in the Islamic Republic.

The realities of country’s current situation where no factions can dominate the power structure might not allow the hardliners to exploit the situation as in 1979 and eliminate moderate and reformist opposition. However, the radical outbursts of the past few days are reminders of the radical fundamentalists’ desire to turn the present situation into a new hostage crisis.

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