Highlights in the Iranian Press (March 2-7)

Highlights in the Iranian Press (March 2-7)
The most talked-about issue regarding the election agenda in the past weeks was participation.
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Last week in the Islamic Republic of Iran, both the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Assembly of Experts elections took place simultaneously. Leading up to the election date throughout the entire year, debates over participation, particularly the vetoes against reformists and discussions on election engineering, significantly marked these elections. The extension of polling hours; whether prominent figures like Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hassan Rouhani would vote or not; and discussions overshadowed by anti-participation propaganda, culminated in a participation rate announced at 41% by the end of the election day. Despite being the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, this 41% participation rate was received with satisfaction by the establishment and the Iranian press.

Iranian Press after the Election

The most talked-about issue regarding the election agenda in the past weeks was participation. The press instrumentalized every opportunity and topic to increase election participation. From the terrorist attack in Kerman to the celebrations of the 45th anniversary of the Revolution, all societal issues were somehow linked to the election and participation by the Iranian press. The topic of participation was grounded on an enemy narrative, emphasizing the importance of participation, alleging psychological warfare by "the enemy" on this matter, arguing that lack of participation would only benefit the "enemy," and stressing that the people's participation was essential for a strong Iran. Hundreds of news articles and content were produced by the press reflecting these views.

Following the election, headlines maintained this tone. The day after the election, the Hamshahri newspaper published a headline stating, "The Boycott Project Failed. A Slap from 25 Million," and immediately below it was stated, "The people's participation of more than 41% foiled the plans of the enemies." The visual of the news featured a hand slapping Joe Biden's mouth with a ballot paper. Sub-headlines of the news actually reflected the establishment's concerns about the election. The introduction stated, "The biggest election boycott campaign of the last 45 years has failed. The ‘unprecedented’ election boycott project, designed last year by foreign enemies and their domestic followers, failed with the participation of approximately 25 million people. Counter-revolutionary media worked hard to keep participation below 20%. During this process, they tried to attract a wide range of foreign governments and terrorist groups to their side but failed to achieve lower participation than in previous periods." The sub-headline about reformists emphasized that space was given to all sides, while the sub-headline about first-time voters highlighted the "remarkable" participation of the youth, stressing their commitment to the system and the principles of the Revolution. The news was serviced with various sub-headlines, including election security, the participation rate shown in flood-affected Sistan and Baluchestan, and the words of the Revolution Leader.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who called for participation throughout the election process and stated that going to the polls was necessary "for Iran," made a similar statement after the voting process. Continuing the enemy narrative, Khamenei said, "Know that today, the eyes of many people around the world and political figures are turned towards Iran. Therefore, make your friends happy and disappoint your enemies."

The columns written throughout the week also approached the topic with a similar attitude and style. Seyed Kamal Sajjadi’s column titled "Participation that Defeated the Enemy" in Jam-e Jam is an example. Sajjadi wrote, "The epic participation of the people in the elections took place in a process where the foreign media, representing the dominant powers, and the enemies and opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran had been preparing intensively for months in advance, attempting to affect the entire population's perception through various seditions, provocations, and psychological warfare. These efforts aimed to deter society from participating in the elections and influencing their political fate. However, this attempt failed. Because the Iranian people, by demonstrating a conscious stance on the political stage and recognizing their enemies well, rushed to the polling stations with the commencement of voting, ignoring all the propaganda efforts conducted inside and outside Iran, and a high participation was observed in the polling stations despite the extended voting hours." The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) was shown as the major actor in this success.

Sajjadi's article essentially parallels other columns on the topic. Similarly, a column titled "The Power of the Republic in Iran," signed by Fadi Esmail Boudieh, General Editor of Al-Meraya Magazine published in Beirut, and published in Jam-e Jam, also focused on the enemy narrative. The article briefly touched upon various issues from the Mahsa Amini case to the Gazze conflict, ultimately built on the narrative that "Iran and its people have thwarted all the enemy's games." On the other hand, the article also emphasized that the elections were a message to the outside world. Boudieh stated, "Observations by journalists from different countries of the world, including Lebanese journalists in Iran, demonstrated the enthusiastic and widespread participation of the people of this rich and cultured country in the elections." Indeed, numerous news articles were made throughout the week in the Iranian press about how the foreign press viewed the elections.

Analysis on the Normalization Process Between Yerevan and Ankara

While the effects and heat of the election continued, the Shargh newspaper analyzed the possible scenarios that the normalization efforts between Turkey-Armenia representatives, who met at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, could create, under the headline "The Tehran and Caucasus Equation." The analysis, based on expert opinions, summarized how the normalization process developed and the events that took place during this process. The analysis, which included opposing views, stated that according to Senior Expert Jalal Naseri, the reopening of embassies between the two countries would significantly reduce tensions in the South Caucasus. Then, efforts to cut off the land connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Armenia with the "imaginary" construction of the Zangezur Corridor would be removed from the agenda, thereby restoring stability to the region.

As a contrasting opinion, the analysis included views of Eurasian Expert Said Safari, who believed that a potential rapprochement would tie Iran's hands. Safari, while welcoming the reduction of tensions and establishment of friendly relations among Iran's neighbors, believed that the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey would bind Iran in the South Caucasus and Nagorno-Karabakh equations. He criticized the policies pursued during both Hassan Rouhani and Ibrahim Raisi's administrations. Contrary to Naseri, Safari stated that Iran was the only actor among the 3+3 members that had direct good relations, suggesting that this could be an advantage for Iran to direct developments and equations in the Caucasus and Nagorno-Karabakh in line with the country's interests. However, Safari also noted that decisions regarding this region are currently being made by other countries, especially Turkey and Russia.