Eurovision  - AP - 14.5.2011
Azerbaijan's Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov celebrating their Eurovision Song Contest win, May 14, 2011. Photo by AP
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The confident statements by Iranian spokesmen regarding their economy's ability to withstand the international sanctions can hardly hide the growing pressure and feeling of increasingly intensive siege closing in. One of the most interesting details in Laura Secor's fantastic piece of reporting on March's Iranian parliamentary elections in this week's New Yorker, was the lengths to which the authorities in Tehran seem to be going to hide the actual financial situation, including the massive hike in consumer prices over the last year. They even called her back just before boarding a plane, to confiscate the hotel bill.

The near-hysterical heights of repression have now manifested itself in the most limited ever range of parties and candidates allowed by the Guardians Council, which according Secor "was as though the contest between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were the whole of American politics." The regime is lashing out at any sign of dissent, at all levels. Take for example the cartoonist Mahmoud Shokrayeh who has been sentenced to 25 lashes for his cartoon lampooning a member of parliament. As political cartoons go, it was rather tame, Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani, one of a number of Iranian parliamentarian accused recently of interfering in the running of local football, is portrayed wearing a football uniform. That was enough though to get Shokrayeh hauled in front of a court and sentenced for disrespecting the parliament.

I think that the series of marches in some Iranian cities over recent days, against the Eurovision song contest taking place this month in Baku, capital of neighboring Azerbaijan, is also part of the siege mentality currently reigning in Tehran.

Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the Tabriz region said in a protest on Friday: "This dance party and the parade attract all sorts of anti-Islamic groups and perverts. While many countries do not allow perverts and homosexuals to hold a rally, the rulers of dominantly Shiite Azerbaijan have allowed for this unethical event to take place. I want to ask them 'what has happened to your Islamic honour and why have you turned into play toys in the hands of Zionists?'"

Not that anyone expected the ayatollahs to be great fans of trashy Europop, but they probably wouldn't be agitating about the lax morality of a secular neighboring country, if Azerbaijan hadn't just recently signed a 1.6 billion Dollar arms deal with Israel.

It is hard to divine from the clamp-down within and snarling outwards, especially towards the Sunni nations around the (Persian?) Gulf, whether Iran's representatives will be willing to make a deal on uranium enrichment in ten days at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad. They may have decided not to give up on their nuclear ambitions and the intensified repression could be a hunkering-down before mass protests over rising prices and shortages of basic products, as the sanctions begin to shut down vital parts of the Iranian economy. On the other hand, Khamenei and his circle may be prepared to compromise and scale back enrichment, but are afraid that their political rivals will interpret this as weakness, hence the advance crackdown.