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Is 'Death To England' A New Signature Chant In Iran?

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

Speaking as diplomats were clearing out of Iran's London embassy, senior Iranian hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami has said the country's signature "Death to America" chant should be followed by "Death to England." Khatami told worshipers at Friday Prayers in Tehran that Britain deserves such scorn for its "treacherousness."

Cleric Ahmad Khatami speaking at the Friday Prayers in Tehran

The November 29 attack on the British Embassy in Tehran followed a weekend vote by the parliament to downgrade ties with Britain and marked a new low in ties between the two countries.

The incident, widely believed to have been organized with the approval of hard-line officials, has increased tensions with the West.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said one day after the embassy incident that it reflected the public opinion in Iran. "The move by a number of students is a symbol of the mood that is reigning in the public opinion in our country," Larijani said. "The people of Iran have been really offended by the behavior of Britain for several decades." Larijani added that if the British government had any doubt in that regard, Iran could arrange an opinion poll to show the views of the Iranian people about the political behavior of the British government in the past decades.

As we reported earlier this week, Iranians have been suspicious of Britain for several decades.

Does that mean that most Iranians would favor the storming and ransacking of the British Embassy?

No, according to Iranians inside and outside of the country who have contacted RFE/RL's Radio Farda to condemn the attack.

Other Iranians have turned to social media to express their disagreement with the embassy attack. At least three Facebook pages have been launched to condemn the move.

In a statement issued on Iranian websites, Iran's largest reformist student group, Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, condemned the raid. The group said the attackers were not true representatives of students and added that they were affiliated with the Iranian establishment.

There's also been condemnation among conservative politicians and websites who have said that the move was not in Iran's national interest.

Opinion appears divided within the Iranian establishment, hinting at a possible split and leading to speculation -- but no evidence -- that hard-line rivals of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad sanctioned the embassy attack. (Ahmadinejad is said to have been engaged in a bitter power struggle with hard-liners close to Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.)

Prominent Tehran-based university professor Alireza Alavitabar suggested to opposition Jaras television that the attack on the British Embassy was aimed at creating internal unity in the face of growing international pressure and returning some of the Iranian regime's lost legitimacy.

"It seems that there are several motives for the action," Alavitabar said. "One is to influence the domestic atmosphere and strengthen internal unity by escalating international tensions. Also, there have been some incidents recently that led to the delegitimization of the establishment" -- a presumed reference to the 2009 postelection crackdown -- "[and] this action could [reverse] it."

Alavitabar added: "I also think another motive was to face the government with a fait accompli that could have many consequences. The [1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy] led to the resignation of the government."

While some Ahmadinejad rivals -- including parliament speaker Larijani -- have spoken out in defense of the raid, the president himself has so far remained silent. Ahmadinejad, who has in the past been blamed for stoking tensions with the West, had reportedly opposed endangering ties with Britain. Iran's Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the attack shortly after it took place.

Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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