This year’s birthday celebrations of the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great has created something of a backlash in Iran. On the day of his birthday, a large gathering of Iranians came out to the Tomb of Cyrus near the city of Shiraz.
The event, which was widely covered by Farsi-language media operating outside of Iran, quickly took on an anti-regime posture.
In celebrating the ancient King, the crowd shouted slogans that praised pre-Islamic Iranian history and culture. The slogans of the crowd were no doubt targeted at the present political situation in Iran and the uncompromising fusion of Islam with politics. However, the slogans were not directly aimed at the ruling personalities such as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Iranian authorities either largely ignored the gathering or opted to belittle it as an assembly of fools. But real frustration and even fear of the implications of such nationalist gatherings was also discernable in the media coverage from within inside of Iran.
In the most noticeable reaction, senior Ayatollah Noori Hamadani called the gathering and the phenomena of Iranian nationalism a “plot” by the “enemies” of the Islamic Republic and asked for vigilance to contain the spreading of such nationalist-led popular mobilizations in the country.
Interestingly, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – a man who experimented with Iranian nationalism as a political instrument during his struggle against Khamenei – was one of the few leading personalities in the regime that used the occasion to openly praise Cyrus the Great.