Tehran regime cracks down on artists amid US-Iran showdown

As the war’s drumbeats grow louder, Iranians sing and dance, which the regime can’t interpret in any other way than offering a bold public challenge to the government’s authority.
Sunday 26/05/2019
Members of an Iranian band play music on a sidewalk in Valiasr Street in northern Tehran, May 8. (AFP)
A sound of resistance. Members of an Iranian band play music on a sidewalk in Valiasr Street in northern Tehran, May 8. (AFP)

Iranians’ priorities are not always easily understandable. Just as Washington’s is warning of a devastating war against Iran, the regime in Tehran appears more occupied with summoning a female singer to court and using its full energy to fight against a pop song.

There may, however, be a rationale behind the regime’s attempt to divert public attention: an emboldened Iranian public, which takes greater chances in expressing political dissatisfaction with the state of affairs and a political elite who fear losing control.

The latest absurd chapter in Iran started with Iranian pop singer Sasan Heydari-Yafteh — also known as “Sasy Mankan” — who has become the face of Iran’s musical revolution.

Born in Ahvaz in 1988, the same year Iran’s 8-year war with Iraq ended, Sasy Mankan and the generation he represents are too young to remember the revolution of 1979 or, for that matter, the war, both of which constitute the heroic epos of the regime.

What that generation does remember is the divisive 2009 presidential election, in which the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term in office. Presidential contenders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi did not recognise the election and accused the regime of “stealing the people’s vote.”

Both prior to and after the election, Sasy Mankan supported Karroubi, which gave the elderly clerical candidate a youthful image and the pop singer the aura of a political opposition figure.

After a short period of calm following the house arrest of Karroubi and Mousavi and the regime’s forceful suppression of their “Green Movement,” Sasy Mankan, too, spent time in jail. He then moved to Malaysia in 2012 and later to the United States. From Los Angeles, he made it to the top of Iran’s pop music chart with his latest hit: “Gentleman.”

One looks in vain for political messages in the lyrics but by describing sexual attraction, desire and not the least because of its catchy melody, the song is spreading like wildfire at schools all over Iran.

Worse from the viewpoint of the regime, schoolchildren, even those in kindergartens, along with their teachers, appear in videos online singing and dancing to “Gentleman.”

The widespread phenomenon made Ali Mottahari, a conservative politician and deputy speaker of the parliament, call to arms. He summoned the minister of education to parliament and demanded the dismissal of headmasters at schools where the videos were made. The minister of education asked for the assistance of the police and the judiciary to deal in the state of emergency.

It is not known what measures the police have taken to suppress the dancing kindergarteners and schoolchildren but, whatever they may be, more videos appear online, which testify to the inefficacy of those measures.

As if the Sasy Mankan crisis was not enough for conservatives, Negar Moazzam, a female singer and dancer, made it to the top of the most seen online videos in Iran by dancing and singing in front of tourists visiting the village of Abyaneh near Kashan. Prior to the dancing performance, Moazzam’s Instagram account had 180,000 followers and after she uploaded the song and dance clip, the video went viral.

Ali Esfahani, chief prosecutor of Isfahan province, opened an investigation into reports of “a woman singing solo.” The Iranian criminal code has no specific law barring women from singing solo in public but authorities have frequently suppressed such performances to uphold the regime’s preferred morality.

The regime’s reaction to the song-and-dance videos online is not that odd. As the war’s drumbeats grow louder, Iranians sing and dance, which the regime can’t interpret in any other way than offering a bold public challenge to the government’s authority. In a way, the regime fears Sasy Mankan and Moazzam more than it fears the hawkish John Bolton, the US national security adviser.

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