Iran and the ‘Old Enemy’

Relations between Iran and Britain have often been strained. Yet the relationship is an old one, marked by mutual admiration.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refinery, Abadan, 1945.During the Iranian elections of 2016, opponents of President Hassan Rouhani appealed to a tried and tested trope. Britain, the ‘old enemy’, they argued, was up to its usual tricks, seeking to manipulate the election in its favour by promoting and supporting key moderates as candidates. The campaign left little to the imagination. Posters depicting the ‘wily fox’, complete with Union Flag waistcoat, reminded the electorate that the ‘evil’ state of the United Kingdom (or ‘England’ in the Persian vernacular) was a perennial enemy of Iran. Britain’s malevolent message – spread by the BBC Persian Service – had to be rejected. Such sentiments build on a reading of Britain’s relations with Iran over the last two centuries, an abridgement – like all myths – of a historical relationship simplified to one of ‘cunning’ imperialism, sophisticated manipulation and control, principally of resources (especially oil), against which stands Iran’s valiant determination to liberate itself, an aim that, for some revolutionaries, is yet to be fulfilled.

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