Alex Massie

Bait & Switch in Persia

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Iranian riot policemen stand guard outside the British embassy in Tehran on June 15, 2009 during a protest by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against European interference in the Islamic Republic's latest election results. EU foreign ministers expressed 'serious concern' at Tehran's crackdown on opposition protesters and called for a probe into the conduct of the June 12 presidential election. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images.

This is, I think, a telling protest. While the opposition is rallying in central Tehran, the regime retreats to the time-honoured tradition of rallying the masses against perfidious foreign interference. In that sense, the twin protests illuminate the contrasts between those looking to Iran's future and those rooted in the comfortable, if inadequate, certainties of the past.

Nevertheless, this also highlights the difficulties confronting foreign governments when it comes to responding to this weekend's tumult: stay silent and you risk legitimising the fraudulent election; speak up and you risk fostering the impression that the opposition are stooges of western "imperialism". It seems likely that the regime would like nothing better than to tap into nationalist sentiment to shore up its position and, in some senses, its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people. Only Ahmadinejad can protect Iran from foreign interference. That this is a false choice is not the point; the perception that it might be real seems more important. The very last thing foreign governments should do is say anything that permits the regime to characterise the unrest as Iran contra mundi...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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