Tehran, Iran – For the first time in decades, the large square around Tehran’s iconic Azadi (Freedom) Tower was filled with cars and motorcycles, and not densely packed marchers, during a celebration of the 1979 revolution that birthed the Islamic Republic.
Thousands of state-organised and private vehicles descended on pre-determined routes in the capital and across Iran on Wednesday during the 42nd annual celebration, which this year was compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To observe health protocols in a country that has suffered more than 58,000 deaths and is wary of a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the run-up to year-end holidays in late March, people were ordered not to go out for celebrations on foot.
Instead, revellers were instructed to decorate their cars so they would look good in aerial shots, and express their excitement by flashing their lights and turning on their windshield wipers.
Tehran’s Azadi Tower, the main destination of all marches in the capital during revolution celebrations, was slated to see aerial military manoeuvres and parachuters descending. Revolutionary poems were read out over speakers.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) displayed three types of locally made ballistic missiles in the path of marchers in Tehran. An Indigenous aerial defence system that in June 2019 shot down an American drone was also displayed.
Common anti-US and Israel messaging was visible this year as well in slogans and banners.
Naval vessels conducted a symbolic procession in Iran’s southern waters.
US-backed shah toppled
A week before the revolution anniversary, people were encouraged to register on a designated website and choose posters, texts and songs to share on social media.
All state television channels are airing revolution-related material, including live reports, interviews and documentaries accompanied by revolutionary and patriotic music.
A major theme of programming on state television is about how Iran’s revolution – that toppled the US-backed shah – has survived despite efforts and rhetoric by powers in the west and the east.
Iran is still under a harsh “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions that were initially imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 after he unilaterally abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
President Joe Biden has said he wishes to take a path of diplomacy to restore the landmark agreement, but a disagreement over who should come back to full compliance with the deal first has led to a standstill.
Iran, which in 2019 started gradually scaling back its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions, has said it will not back down from its stance that the US must first lift sanctions since it first violated the deal.
‘Resist until final victory’
In a televised speech, President Hassan Rouhani hailed the fact that Iran did not bow to the pressure of US sanctions, which Iran has repeatedly referred to as an instance of “economic and medical terrorism”.
While commemorating the hundreds of thousands who died during an eight-year war that started in 1980 when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, the president said the new US sanctions were an “imposed economic war”.
From expanding Iranian infrastructures to boosting non-oil exports and fighting corruption, Rouhani dedicated the majority of his hour-long speech to talk about the achievements of his outgoing administration before and after the sanctions.
He said: “All the world’s people owe a debt to the Iranian people” because if they had not stood up to US sanctions and if Iran had also left the nuclear deal, the US and Israel would have easily achieved their goals that would undermine global security.
He also referred to repeated US shortcomings in reinstating multilateral sanctions on Iran in the United Nations Security Council as an “unprecedented event in the history of the US and the world”.
“Everyone knows that the economic war has been defeated, but we must still resist until final victory,” Rouhani said, calling on Iranians to have a “maximum participation” in upcoming June presidential elections.
Path of peace
The president also said he is “proud” of his history of negotiating with world powers, saying even the Prophet Muhammad negotiated and made pacts with his enemies to benefit his people.
He repeated Iran’s stance that it is ready to come back into full compliance with nuclear deal commitments as soon as other signatories do the same.
“There is no other way for the world and the region. The path is surely political, the path is surely the path of the world coming to an agreement with Iran, and god willing we will succeed in it,” Rouhani said.
As per a law passed by Parliament in December after Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated, Rouhani’s administration will have to limit access granted to inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency by February 21 if sanctions are not lifted.