At a Jan.4 demonstration against Saudi Arabia in Tehran
At a Jan.4 demonstration against Saudi Arabia in Tehran
Alidad Vassigh

The news continues to be troubling for Tehran: Several more Arab states have followed Saudi Arabia to cut or curb ties with Iran in the wake of a showdown over Riyadh's execution of a Shia leader.

And yet, Iran's reformist leaders and most of the country's media are remaining notably calm.

In the immediate aftermath of the execution of the Saudi opposition figure and Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Iran reacted with harsh words, and analysts continue to accuse the Saudis of cooking up this crisis to undermine Tehran's rapprochement with the international community.

But even as the execution appeared clearly designed to "provoke" Iranians — some of whom attacked Saudi diplomatic compounds— leaders in Tehran have flatly condemned the street violence.

Iran is playing the sensible card for now, and media gave top coverage to the current round of diplomatic visits to Tehran, including by the Danish foreign minister. One conservative daily Jomhuri-e Eslami, even accused violent Iranian hardliners of being "friends of al-Saud" for giving the Saudis an excuse to break with Iran.

The judiciary chief, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, considered a confidant of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also widely cited as condemning the "mistaken" violence outside the Saudi embassy. Police have made arrests, though nobody in Iran expects these radicals to serve any real time. Still, reports of their arrests convey the idea that the regime did not and does not condone such explosions of righteous ire. This stands in contrast not just with the popular uprising of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but also with the more recent presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when hardliners had a much freer hand.

While the moderately conservative daily E'temaad carried a headline on "madness" taking over the Arabian peninsula, its editor wrote Tuesday that Iranian diplomacy would remain "focused" to avoid fanning tensions. He also recalled that Ayatollah Khamenei had, at an unspecified time, stated he is "not in favor" of storming embassies, and that hardliners should remember that.

An editorial in the reformist Shargh reviewed the history of "complex" Iran-Saudi relations, noting this was the third time ties were severed. The conservative Jomhuri-e Eslami took a timely slap at the Saudis, writing that the regime clearly did not understand "how little weight" it carried now, as the West reconsiders its ties with post-revolutionary Iran. Its headline warned that the crisis will harm the economies of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Meanwhile, the more hardline Resalat wondered Tuesday whether the Saudis "had gone mad."

Several reformist dailies, including Aftab-e Yazd didn't let the potentially far-reaching diplomatic crisis interrupt the current vetting of aspiring candidates for coming elections to the Assembly of Experts, a key clerical body. The daily was concerned that the Guardian Council, the chief vetting body, was looking for excuses to disqualify, among others, one of the most prominent of reformist candidates: Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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