As Iranians vote in parliamentary polls Friday, March 14, DW's chief correspondent and Mideast expert Peter Philipp, currently in Tehran, writes about his impressions on Europe and Germany's waning clout in the country.
Iranian voters can choose from two conservative factions and one reformist group
Hours before Iran votes in its eighth parliamentary elections, Gholam-Ali Addad-Adel said the elections have nothing to do with the United States. Washington is attempting to divide the people and to make the parliament independent, the president of the Iranian parliament said, adding that the US would not succeed.
Other conservative politicians have launched a campaign against reform-minded parliamentarian Noureddine Pir Mouazaem because he gave the Voice of America an interview regarding the elections. But it's not just the supposed attempts of the "Great Satan" to make contact with liberal forces in Iran that are under fire -- even Germany has received a tongue-lashing.
Herbert Honsowitz, the German ambassador in Tehran was massively attacked in the media and in public statements because he met with the head of the reform movement, Mohamed-Reza Khatami and allegedly listened to his complaints about the poor foreign policy "performance."
Honsowitz, an old hand at Iranian and Middle East issues, didn't make a fuss about the criticism because he pointed out that he had also spoken with conservative politicians. That was enough for a renewed salvo from the conservatives. Honsowitz, it was said, also met with former President Khatami on the eve of the last round of UN sanctions passed against Iran. That was accepted as proof that Germany, which is almost considered part of the enemy camp, and the reformers were working together on crafting an anti-Iran policy.
DW's Peter Philipp said Europe has to brace for bad times with Iran
Of course, these events took place in the run-up to the elections, and the criticism was probably partly campaigning rhetoric. But it still can't just be pushed aside and ignored because it touches a sore point among Iranians: if there's one thing that Iranians of every color react sensitively to it's foreign interference in their affairs or even a suspicion of such intervention.
It's a feeling that stems from the country's history as Iran repeatedly was the playing field where foreign powers wielded their influence. Even 29 years after the "Islamic Revolution" -- which made the country independent from such things -- the ghost of foreign influence still haunts Iranians. That goes so far as to not tolerate foreign criticism about flaws in the country with the reminder, "This or that may not be good, but we've done it ourselves."
You don't need long to find proof of such behavior. Washington's call for regime change in Tehran, is an example. The US approach in the nuclear row is another. In the latter, disappointment and, to a certain extent, anger about the behavior of Europeans -- and particularly that of Germany -- play a role.
Many Iranians feel a traditional kinship with Germany. For many of them, Germany has been a role model in many aspects. In recent times, such respect is increasingly mixed with surprise, bafflement and also anger about Berlin's stance in the nuclear dispute and on sanctions against Iran.
It's the kind of position the Iranians are used to from the United States, but surely not Germany? A businessman, just back from a visit to Germany, said bitterly that the Germans should not be surprised that Iran may one day repair its ties to the US but would not forget the "betrayal" of the Germans so easily. Disappointment in friendship hurts more than "straightforward and open enmity."
It's not just the Germans but the Europeans in general who need to prepare for bad times with Iran. Politically, they've let down Iran and they will be punished for it with contempt. Today, the Russian ambassador is the most important foreign diplomat in Teheran.
And if politics doesn't work, business is bound to suffer as well. China, Japan and South Korea together -- and not the EU -- already make up Iran's most important trading partner.