Michael Barone was one of the first to note the U.S. media’s lack of interest in recent unrest and demonstrations in Iran. While the MSM remains preoccupied with the nuclear issue and the antics of President Ahmadinejad (will he go to the World Cup?), there have been reports of violent clashes between police and demonstrators in several Iranian cities, including Tabriz.
From what I can gather, many of the confrontations occurred in northwest Iran (where Tabriz is the largest city), and home to a large number of ethnic Azeris. Many of Iran’s Azeri minority would like to be reunited with neighboring Azerbaijan, a prospect that Tehran has summarily rejected. According to Azeri TV in Baku, clashes with Iranian police have claimed the lives of at least five Azeris over the past week, and as many as 11,000 Azeris have been detained. Iranian authorities also temporarily suspended cell phone service in the region, in an effort to prevent unrest from spreading, and keep the story from getting out.
Admittedly, Baku TV isn’t the most accurate or reliable of sources, but at least they’re covering the story. Since Iran’s student movement fizzled in the late 1990s, the U.S. media has all-but-ignored discontent and unrest within Iran’s borders. Time magazine even postulated that student demonstrators had been co-opted by the regime, and were more interested in better paying jobs and creature comforts, than genuine political reform.
In reality, there been a persistent undercurrent of discontent in Iran for years. The student demonstrations of 1999 were followed by a regime crackdown. But there was a second, substantial wave of protests (and some violence) in 2003, followed by another government backlash. Now, public dissatisfaction (particularly among ethnic minorities) seems to be bubbling over again.
It is possible to make too much of this story. Opposition within Iran remains fragmented along ethnic and other demographic lines; at this point, it seems unlikely that opposition groups can coalesce around a central figure or leader and effectively challenge the regime.
But, on the other hand, Iran is hardly the fundamentalist monlith so often potrayed in the western press. There is something going on in Iran, but you wouldn’t know it from the U.S. media.