From Christian Science Monitor: Ethnic tensions could crack Iran's firm resolve against the world.
During the last week of May, thousands of Iranians demonstrated in the northwestern city of Tabriz, and the previous week there were protests at universities in five cities. The protests were triggered by the official government newspaper -- the Islamic Republic News Agency's Iran -- publishing a cartoon which depicts a boy repeating "cockroach" in Persian before a giant bug in front of him asks "What?" in Azeri.
Azeri-Iranians -- who make up approximately one-quarter of the country's population -- were particularly offended by the cartoon. These disturbances come at a bad time for the Iranian government, which is stressing national unity in the face of international concern over its nuclear program.
Ethnic Persians make up a little more than half the total population of 69 million, but there are sizable minorities -- in addition to the Azeris there are ethnic Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds, for example. Some of these groups, furthermore, practice Sunni Islam instead of the Shiite branch of Islam, the state religion. The Iranian Constitution guarantees the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, but in reality the central government emphasizes the Persian and Shiite nature of the state. ...
The central government typically reacts to ethnic unrest with a combination of repression and scapegoating. For example, two men were executed in early March for their roles in fatal October bombings in the southwest. They "confessed" on state television the night before their executions that Iranians in Canada and Britain instructed them to create insecurity.
The government commonly blames foreign agitators. ...
Official reactions to the unrest caused by the cartoon of an Azeri-speaking cockroach followed the familiar pattern. Although the cartoonist was arrested and the newspaper suspended, foreigners received the blame nevertheless. According to Reporters Without Borders, furthermore, two Azeri journalists were detained without charges.
As further example of how the regime blames "foreign agitators" for their own problems; from AP: Iran: U.S. Will Fail to Spark Unrest.
Iran's supreme leader said Sunday the United States would fail to provoke ethnic strife in the Islamic republic after several days of protests over a cartoon that insulted the country's largest minority.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said in a speech broadcast by state-run television that "trying to provoke ethnic and religious unrest is the last desperate shot by enemies."
Considering that it was a state-run newspaper that published the cockroach cartoon, I'd say the regime is doing a good job of provoking ethnic unrest all by itself.
In Arab News, Amir Taheri catalogues the challenges posed to Ahmadinejab by ethnic divisions: Iran: Restive Provinces
UPDATE I: The cartoonist for the Azeri cockrroach cartoon was apparently an Azeri himself. Power and Control has more on possible motives for the cartoon and the protests: Cartoons of Revolution?.
UPDATE II -- June 3: Gateway Pundit has the latest on more protests in Iran, including links to video: Despite Martial Law, 10,000 Protest in Tabriz, Iran.
Posted by Forkum at May 30, 2006 05:20 PM