The Supreme Leader claimed the headlines on Friday with his Nowruz speech on economy and culture in Mashhad, warning the Rouhani Government about any initiatives for “openness”.
President Rouhani has faced increasing pressure from hardliners over his promises to open up political and cultural space, including the freeing of political prisoners and the lifting of restrictions on media. Only two weeks ago, Rouhani issued a spirited call for press freedom, despite the closure of reformist publications.
However, on Friday, the Supreme Leader put up a barrier to those thoughts, “Absolute #freedom doesn’t exist anywhere in the world.Even countries that claim to have freedom, set red lines on which they are utterly strict….How can they (Iran’s critics) expect us to neglect our red lines?”
To make his point, Ayatollah Khamenei issued an effective denial of the Holocaust, “Does anyone talk about Holocaust in Europe? Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.
The Supreme Leader also restated his call for a “Resistance Economy” to overcome difficulties and Western sanctions, but in a sign of the seriousness of his “concern over culture issues” and the Government’s position — indicated in a speech to the Assembly of Experts last week — he emphasized:
My dear ones, culture is even more important than economy.
Rouhani’s diplomatic reply? “We must all hold hands so we can take the country’s economy and culture to an ever more blossoming sublimation.”
Supreme Leader’s Representative: “Revolutionary Guards Are Role Models for Culture”
The Supreme Leader’s representative to the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Abdolnabi Sedaghat, also intervened in the cultural debate on Friday:
One of the heaviest and most sensitive responsibilities of the IRGC is in the arena of belief, culture and spirituality….Our Guards are role models for their society and all sectors of the society have special expectations from the livelihood of the Guards.
Tehran Friday Prayer Criticizes Government Over Newspapers
The Supreme Leader’s address was not the only challenge to President Rouhani on Friday.
The Tehran Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Kazem Seddiqi, said, “those who want to crush national culture,” are “ignorant” or “foreign mercenaries”.
Seddighi then went after Rouhani’s officials:
Why is the shutting down of newspapers that insult and the Qur’an met with protest, but when newspapers that criticize the administration are closed, nothing is said? It is necessary for the administration and critics to show more tolerance.
Earlier this week, the Press Supervisory Board suspended the hardline publication 9 Dey, owned by MP Hamid Rasaei — a leading critic of Rouhani — after the newspaper denounced the interim nuclear deal and called the President a “liar”.
9 Dey is linked to the Endurance Front of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, which has led the hardline challenge to Rouhani.