The Danes certainly seem to enjoy stirring things up. Last year it was the cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad. This year its an ad insulting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Except this time things are a little different. A Danish art group that specializes in poking fun at world leaders, managed to send in a Trojan horse -- and get their insult published in Tehran itself.
At first glance the advertisement placed in the Tehran newspaper on Wednesday seemed to be declaring support for the Iranian leader. Beneath an image of the hard-line president, there was a series of apparently sympathetic statements such as "Support his fight against Bush," or "Iran has the right to produce nuclear energy." However, on closer inspection things were not quite so benign: the first letters of each phrase when read from top to bottom spelt out the less than subtle insult "S-W-I-N-E."
The half-page advert, attributed to "Danes for World Peace," appeared in the English-language Tehran Times. The conservative daily had failed to detect the hidden message when it agreed to run the ad. It had taken at face value the Danes' claim to want to show their solidarity with Iran and to make amends for the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in a Danish newspaper last year. However, the impact of the advert is likely to be limited, as the Tehran Times has a tiny circulation of only a few thousand.
The art group Surrend that was behind the prank has a history of targeting authoritarian leaders, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Belarussian President Alexander Lukaschenko. They said they wanted to poke fun at Ahmadinejad "because we dont think he's very liberal or sensitive." Jan Egesborg, a member of the group who teaches at the Danish School of Fine Art, told Reuters, "We think he represents an extreme ideology." He added "We did it to cause a reaction. There is a young population there which wants more liberalization. Hopefully they will be inspired."
Of course Ahmadinejad has probably got more important things on his mind than the shenanigans of a few Scandinavian artists. He has just seen his hard-line allies resoundingly trounced at the ballot box by his opponents, both moderate conservatives and reformists. The final results for the local elections confirm his political set-back. In Tehran his supporters only won three out of 15 council seats and nationwide they secured just 20 percent of local council seats. In many key cities, his candidates didnt win any seats at all.
The vote is widely seen as a rejection of Ahmadinejad's populist policy of antagonizing the West and Israel, rather than tackling Iran's high unemployment numbers and struggling economy.
A leading reformist Saeed Shariati said the electoral bashing was a "big no" to the president and his allies. Shariati, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, told AP, "The people's vote means they don't support Ahmadinejad's policies and want change."