Iranian media shows hostility to UK in wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death
For many reasons, it is natural to see significant attention paid to the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at both the official and popular levels, not only in the UK but globally. Most world leaders — even including Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has been waging a large-scale war against the UK-backed Ukraine in recent months — offered their condolences on the queen’s death. However, Iran, as usual, flouted diplomatic protocols and norms.
Tehran’s official leadership preferred to remain silent on the event, declining to issue any statement, message of condolence or comment. At the semi-official level, however, pro-regime media outlets expressed delight, took pleasure in the queen’s demise and drew bizarre comparisons.
A brief review of the headlines and language of pro-regime media outlets provides a sense of the overall narrative employed by Iran’s leadership. The headlines included: “The bloody legacy of Britain’s inhumane queen” (Fars News Agency), “The queen of coups dies,” “A scorpion in hellfire… the queen dies,” “Britain in the abyss: Seven decades of power and scandals” (Jam-e Jam newspaper), “The malign queen dies, the last symbol of aging colonialism” (Vatan-e Emrooz newspaper), “The queen of fire passes away” (Farheekhtegan newspaper), and “A century of evil comes to an end” (Javan newspaper).
The Iranian media seized the opportunity of the British queen’s death with enthusiasm, using it to delve deep into the past and discuss the UK’s colonial history and the role the country played in Iran. According to official news agency IRNA, Iran’s negative perception of the UK stems from painful historical events. It shed light on some of these events, using the adage that “behind every disaster, there is an English perpetrator.”
These historical crimes included annexing Iran and causing famine, inciting foreign governments against Iran, seizing control of Iranian oil, staging a coup against former Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh, placing obstacles in the way of the revolution, putting pressure on Iran after the revolution’s victory, siding with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War, and cooperating with the US in imposing sanctions against Iran. Many of these accusations are consistent with conspiracy theories and Iran blaming others for its government’s own failures and inefficiencies. According to the Fars News Agency, Britain and the queen herself are to blame for a large portion of the problems that Iranians are currently facing.
In modern-day British society, the monarch’s position is largely honorary, with political powers being symbolic. The royal family’s role has been limited in the past century, with the only real political power in the country resting with the elected parliament and government. According to Kayhan newspaper, however, Elizabeth played a pivotal role in shaping domestic and foreign policy and pulling the strings in the UK.
Kayhan went further, claiming that in reality it is the position of the prime minister that is honorary, with the latter simply enforcing royal decrees. Jam-e Jam newspaper discussed at length how the royal family supposedly interferes in British politics, claiming that the queen had always perceived Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour Party, as a danger to the royals. Therefore, it claimed, she secretly backed the process of removing him as Labour leader.
The Iranian media’s criticism of the British royal system and hereditary rule appears hypocritical.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime continues to squander massive amounts of resources overseas on destructive and absurd ideological projects. The most recent of these was seen in recent weeks, with the regime flexing its muscles and displaying its power in the Arbaeen marches commemorating Imam Hossein’s martyrdom in Iraq. These events were marred by disorganization and mismanagement.
In Iran itself, the head of the parliament’s budget and planning committee revealed that at least 40 million Iranians needed immediate assistance last year.
Despite this, the Iranian media has been relentlessly critical of the hefty costs borne by British taxpayers for the ceremonies held to bid farewell to the queen. The cost, according to Kayhan, is £6 billion ($6.8 billion), with the paper noting that they are taking place despite the economic crisis and high energy bills currently being seen in the UK. Javan newspaper, meanwhile, reported that 20 percent of British families are impoverished.
While Iranian media outlets criticize Britain’s hereditary monarchy, Iran has recently witnessed moves that appear to be part of the process of grooming Mojtaba Khamenei, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s second-eldest son, to succeed his father as supreme leader in a state that calls itself a republic. These moves include the Qom Hawza website already elevating Mojtaba to the rank of ayatollah and the Friday prayer leader in the Baharestan region of Esfahan province defending his succession. Given the foregoing, the Iranian media’s criticism of the British royal system and hereditary rule appears hypocritical.
Kayhan newspaper did chastise those who remain silent on the UK's hereditary monarchy, while expressing concern about the possibility of the supreme leader’s position being inherited. This comparison is completely incorrect. Furthermore, Resalat newspaper mocked the UK leadership system, praising the democracy supposedly established in Iran, as opposed to the “repressive” UK. Vatan-e Emrooz, meanwhile, suggested that only 63 percent of the British population now supports the monarchy, which indicates that the royal family’s popularity is eroding.
Jam-e Jam also wrote about a “crackdown” supposedly unleashed by the British government against supporters of a republican system of government, who have been calling for a referendum to be held on the future of the monarchy. Ironically, this comes at a time when the Iranian regime is vehemently refusing to hold any referendum on its own future, since it is fully aware that it is no longer accepted by the majority of the Iranian people. This is supported by opinion polls with a high degree of credibility. According to a GAMAAN foundation survey, at best only 25 percent of Iranians want to keep the current clerical system of government.
In the context of justifying Iran’s official silence on the event, Armanmeli newspaper viewed the leadership’s decision to refrain from commenting on the event as an “appropriate and mutual act.” In an odd comparison, it wondered if the British government had sent a cable of condolence following the death of the mass killer and criminal Qassem Soleimani.
While some senior Iranian officials harbor a bitter hostility toward Britain, we did not see any senior officials express their congratulations following the queen’s death — a behavior we strongly condemn. However, we saw Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the Guardian Council and Friday prayer leader in Tehran, do so. He also could not stop himself from celebrating the death of King Abdullah in 2015. He officially and publicly congratulated Muslims and believers on the death of the late king from the Friday pulpit.
Senior Iranian officials also did not distribute sweets in front of the British Embassy in Tehran after the death of the queen, but we saw them do so when the late Saudi Crown Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz died in 2012. If this is proof of anything, it is that the Iranian regime’s hostility to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is far greater than its hostility to Britain.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami