17 سپتامبر 2010
This cylinder defines what Iran was and what it will be
By: Alan Philps
There are few more important documents in the history of the ancient Near East than the Cyrus Cylinder, a proclamation inscribed in clay dating from King Cyrus’s conquest of Babylonia in 539BC. The document stresses the Persian king’s respect for the traditions of the Babylonian people and his determination to improve their lives, noting that he has freed captive peoples and allowed them home.
Among other things, the cylinder provides historical evidence of the
Biblical story of Cyrus ending the Babylonian exile of the Jews. With some
exaggeration, the cylinder has been called the world’s first human rights
The cylinder is now back in Iran, on loan from London for four months.
This has presented the Iranian clerical regime with a dilemma.
Celebrations of Iran’s pre-Islamic past have been out of fashion for 30
years as too reminiscent of the shah.
in a ceremony on Sunday to unveil the cylinder at the Iranian National Museum, Mr Ahmadinejad sought to link modern Iran with the old Persian empire. He decorated a man dressed as one of King Cyrus’s soldiers with a keffiyeh, which is part of the uniform of the pro-government militia, the Basij. Having described Cyrus as “King of the World”, he praised the cylinder as embodying respect for the basic rights of mankind, freedom of thought and choice, and the revolutionary ideal of fighting oppression. Folk dancers representing the various ethnic groups of Iran performed to the sound of traditional instruments.
Stepping up the rhetoric, the hard-line newspaper Keyhan said that the
cylinder “belonged to Iran” and suggested it should not be returned to the
“thieves” of the British Museum.
Academic disputes aside, what matters is the context in which Mr Ahmadinejad was speaking. It is not uncommon for a politician in a tight spot to wrap himself in the nation’s flag, and the Iranian president is certainly beset by problems. The latest round of sanctions imposed to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power are biting, forcing the government to consider scrapping petrol subsidies. The crushing of the opposition Green movement after last year’s rigged elections has dented the prestige of the leadership and split the clerical regime. Mr Ahmadinejad is accused by rivals of trying to grab too much power in his own hands, rather than being the servant of the clergy.
A focus for discontent is Mr Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who is something of a mentor for him. He is associated with a current entitled “Islam minus the clergy” – meaning that while Iran is a Muslim nation, the state should be guided by its national interests, not the ayatollahs. This is close to heresy in modern Iran. The leader of the 1979 revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared: “Islam minus the clergy equals medicine without physicians.”
Mr Ahmadinejad can never regain the trust of the Green movement supporters. But he is clearly trying to broaden his appeal to a non-political stratum which is fed up with the corruption and incompetence of the clerical regime and wants a more prosperous Iran, more open to the modern world. Since two-thirds of the population were born after the fall of the shah, the heroic role of the clergy in toppling the old regime cuts no ice with them. Talk of Cyrus the Great as king of the world might mean more.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has in the past rebuked Mr
Ahmadinejad for stepping out of line, and called on the factions to keep
their disputes private, with little success.
But it is clear that a phase of the Islamic regime has run its course, and something new has to be found to inspire loyalty now that rival factions in the elite are at each other’s throats. Mr Ahmadinejad, with his provocative pronouncements and failed populist economic policies, is clearly part of the problem rather than the solution. But it is hard to see where Iran can now go apart from towards a greater emphasis on nationalism.
Last Updated: September 16. 2010 6:39PM UAE / September 16. 2010 2:39PM GMT
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