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Iran: Few words for China but plenty for Germany

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Iran: Few words for China but plenty for Germany

CAIRO – Iran has reacted with outrage over the stabbing death of an Egyptian woman in a German courthouse, calling it a sign of racism against Muslims, yet has said little about China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims — a silence some leading Iranian clerics have criticized.

The differing reaction from a country that portrays itself as a defender of Islam worldwide is a sign of how highly Iran values its political and economic ties with China and how Tehran is trying to deflect attention following its own crackdown on protesters after the country’s disputed presidential election.

Iran has been one of the most vocal countries criticizing Germany in the wake of Marwa al-Sherbini’s death. The pregnant 31-year-old Egyptian was stabbed 18 times in a Dresden court July 1 by a man she was scheduled to testify against for allegedly calling her a “terrorist.” When he tried to protect her, her husband was stabbed by the attacker and shot by court security.

Some 1,500 Iranian women gathered in front of the German Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday chanting “Death to the enemy of hijab” — a reference to the hijab, or Islamic headscarf that al-Sherbini wore, Iran’s state news agency reported.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi called for German court officials who were present when al-Sherbini was killed to face trial, state-run Press TV reported. Iran’s ambassador to UNESCO complained to the organization’s director over what he called the desecration of Islamic values in European countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday called al-Sherbini’s death “absolute proof of the brutality of the German government.”

Iran is one of the few Muslim countries to speak out on the China crackdown on Uighurs in the country’s western Xinjiang region. More than 180 people have died in violence that began there July 5. The Uighurs complain about government restrictions on their religion and accuse it of trying to erase their language and culture.

But Iran’s official criticism of China has been mild, limited to a phone call Sunday by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to his Chinese counterpart to discuss the clashes and raise Islamic countries’ “concern.” Mottaki also denounced “foreign meddling” aimed at “undermining China’s stability,” implicitly blaming the West for the Xinjiang unrest.

Some Iranian clerics have called for Iran to take a stronger stance, in comments that often seem to also be criticizing Iran’s own conduct at the same time. Following June 12 elections, Iran suppressed widespread protests claiming fraud in Ahmadinejad’s victory. Police and baton-wielding Basij militiamen assaulted demonstrators, arresting hundreds in a crackdown that left at least 20 protesters dead.

In a statement carried on his Web site Sunday, Ayatollah Yusef Saanei denounced the Chinese government‘s “aggressive and inhuman stance.” But his comments appeared intentionally phrased to point at Iran’s crackdown as well.

“Is this how they claim to be willing to join the international community, by putting down the protests of their citizens and answering their cries for justice with electric batons … bringing out the militia and silencing any protests,” said Saanei, who has criticized the Iranian government directly in other statements.

Another senior cleric, Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani said the situation in China was an even greater crime than what had happened in Germany and said Iran should not remain silent, Press TV reported Monday.

“That’s pretty much pointing a finger at their own regime,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Iran analyst at the New York-based Century Foundation.

In denouncing Germany so vocally, analysts say Iran seeks to divert domestic and international attention following the election. Many Western countries, including Germany, criticized Iran for its suppression of protesters.

Attacking Germany is a way to portray the Western world as “anti-Islamic” and drum up sympathy within Iran, said Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist with the Washington-based RAND Corp. think tank, although he questioned whether the tactic would work with an already disillusioned Iranian public.

But Iran “can’t really afford to antagonize China at this point because China is one of the few world powers who really has cordial relations with Iran,” said Nader.

China has used its clout on the U.N. Security Council in part to prevent harsh sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, and China’s status as Iran’s single largest trading partner make needling China a much riskier affair. When protests were heating up in Tehran over the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad’s win, Chinese President Hu Jintao congratulated him on his victory.

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