Ahmadinejad's Unwelcome Christmas Address on British TV
By giving Ahmadinejad such a high-profile platform, the people of Iran could be forgiven for thinking that Great Britain supports their president. What Channel 4 perhaps did not realize is that Iran's history is full of unwelcome British intervention in Iranian politics, and Iranian people are very sensitive to anything seen as British meddling in their affairs. The 1953 joint MI6 and CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected Mossadegh government is one of them.
Prior to that, in 1941, the British government, alongside the Soviet Union, took part in another regime change operation in Iran. This time, it was to overthrow Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. There are also numerous lessons in Iranian school books about how British companies abused their power in Iran by doing shady deals with corrupt officials from the Qajar dynasty which ruled Iran from 1794 to 1925. There is so much suspicion against Britain, particularly England -- they distinguish between Welsh, Scots, and the English -- that Iranians use the expression "it is the work of the English" every time they suspect a conspiracy. This coin phrase was invented by a popular Iranian TV character called Dai Jan Napoleon (Uncle Napoleon), who starred in his own TV show in the 1970s.
Many Iranian people believe that a powerful Iran would be against British interests in the Persian Gulf, especially London's close relationship with Saudi Arabia. While Ahmadinejad points the finger of blame to Israel, many Iranians believe that Saudi Arabia is a much bigger danger to their country. It was Riyadh that financed Saddam's invasion of Iran in 1980. Therefore it serves Saudi interests that Ahmadinejad is in power, because otherwise Iran may be welcomed back to the international community, thus reducing Riyadh's influence in Western capitals. People in Iran also believe that a provocative Iranian president is good for UK arms sales to such countries.
Iran's relationship with London has always been charged. As well as facts, there are and always will be suspicion felt towards England by the people of Iran. However, London can do much to repair this relationship by helping the people of Iran move forward. One way would be to help the people of Iran break out of isolation by giving a stronger voice to moderate Iranians. Channel 4 would have done a much better job if it had studied the charged relationship between the two countries before embarking on the controversial decision of allowing Ahmadinejad to speak on the most important day of the year on the British calendar. We can only hope that the channel's owners have learned from their mistakes and that next year they will allow a more uniting figure to address their country.