unlike past commemorations, this one focused just as much on the future -- and the potential for another showdown with
the United States during Bush's second term.
By Robin Wright
TEHRAN, Iran - George Bush may have triumphed at home, but he was burned in effigy again and again in Iran Wednesday.
Officially, the angry street demonstration marked the 25th anniversary of the student takeover of the old U.S. Embassy, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. But unlike past commemorations, this one focused just as much on the future -- and the potential for another showdown with the United States during Bush's second term.
Bush -- not Jimmy Carter, who was president during the 1979-81 hostage drama -- was the centerpiece of the protest. Three massive photographs of the president were part of the backdrop for a series of speakers who blasted current U.S. policies. The subtext throughout the noisy morning protest, held in front of the sprawling former American compound that is now a Revolutionary Guards training center, was the escalating dispute between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear energy program.
"Nuclear technology is our right and we are not going to surrender our rights to the United States or Europe," vowed one of several such banners waved by teen-age schoolgirls packed into the crowd of thousands. The two-hour rally ended with a statement, read to roaring chants of "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") that Iran would never give up its right to nuclear technology.
Bush's invasions to topple governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, which both share long strategic borders with Iran, have led many Iranians to suspect that the president is eying some form of confrontation with them.
"If America is going to attack us, it's important to protect ourselves," said Shiva Mosapour, a 16-year-old high school student holding an enveloping black chador tight under her chin.
Mosapour's assumption about Bush's intentions during his second term echoed many in a new young generation that doesn't remember the monarchy -- or the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in retaliation for the Carter administration decision to take in the dying shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi after his ouster. For her, the demonstration was more appropriate because it fell on the U.S. election day 25 years later.
A 15-year-old high school sophomore with curly dark hair named Mohammed -- told by a demonstration organizer not to share his last name -- played George Bush for the day. Costumed in a giant Styrofoam head of Bush, with ping pong balls for eyes, Mohammed said he wanted the role to caricature the president.
"What Bush says is nonsense about the reasons for attacks on other countries -- that he does it all in the name of democracy," he said. "Look how many people his decisions have killed in Iraq."
Older Iranians at the demonstration -- organized this year by hard-line factions like the Islamic Coalition Party and the Revolutionary Guards that are increasingly powerful now that conservatives dominate Iranian politics -- were equally critical. "Bush will bring America bad luck," said Fatima Hoshmahd, a 70-year-old housewife who lost a son during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. "Why did people vote for Bush when he brought such bloodshed to this region?"