In Dubai, Blowback in Iran’s Backyard

By Sadie Bass

Jun 23, 2009 9:22am

ABC's Lara Setrakian reports from Dubai: After four days of expat protests at the Iranian consulate, Dubai authorities banned the demonstrations. I was frankly surprised they had gone on so long – this is a city without laws of public assembly, where protests of any kind are discouraged and political protests unheard of. But then tonight, at a nearby beach, a large cluster of Iranian expats and supporters held a candlelight vigil. Local security stood by, with no apparent complaint.  Dubai is in Iran’s backyard and has long been its economic lifeline. It’s a relatively safe place for their money, and a place to get things to and from the rest of the world. The local community is huge – once figured at 10% of the population, it’s now harder to pin down since the tightening of visa rules led to an exodus of resident Iranians. Walking through the local haunts – the Iranian Hospital, the Iranian Club, Pars Restaurant – is like a trip to Iran in miniature (at the first two I wear a hejab and ropoush).   “Dubai is a bittersweet place for Iranians,” said journalist and Iran expert Jason Rezaian, fresh off a plan from Tehran. “It’s a playground for them, but it’s also a reminder of what their country never became – what they wanted it to become, but never became.” Iranians in Dubai, perhaps willing the Islamic Republic toward a more open and outward-oriented future, were as a majority in favor of Mir-Hossein Mousavi (70%, one community leader estimated in our conversation). Though the same leader doesn’t expect the election or its tumultuous postscript to affect business between Iran and Dubai, the community’s disappointment, and later outrage, has been palpable. Dubai’s Iranians seem to be stuck in the middle. They are of Iran, often in Iran, but living outside the bubble. In current conditions, the bubble is more opaque as information is limited coming in or out. “I could only see what was happening in front of me,” said Rezaian, of what it was like in Iran over the weekend. He had a hard time finding news about protests in Tehran or outside the capital. Foreign news sources were limited and Iranian state TV played little of the events. The vigils in Dubai are less than three hours flight from Tehran, but they’re outside the bubble, and out of reach. “You’re always isolated over in Iran – it operates on its own,” he said. That isolation is deeper now given Iran’s media blackout. Text messaging is down, internet is slowed, and foreign news outlets are hard to get without a satellite, technically illegal but widely owned. That’s left Iran’s election protesters with little news of the outside world, and all the attention it’s given their movement, said Rezaian. "They feel like they're in this alone."

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