Iran’s annual commemoration of the U.S. embassy takeover – which became an international crisis in 1979 and made the yellow ribbon a national symbol – was cancelled due to the coronavirus. Rallies were planned in Tehran and other cities for November 3 (the takeover occurred on November 4, but Iran marks the anniversary according to the Persian calendar date, which is 13th of Aban). But by November 2, the daily count of COVID-19 deaths soared to 440, a new daily record. So the government imposed a four-day travel ban on 25 cities; dozens of towns, including the capital, were already locked down.
Only a few people gathered spontaneously outside the embassy; they burned an American flag, a common practice on the anniversary. A youth troupe also sang a song in front of the compound, now a museum run by the Basij paramilitary that chronicles the tortured history of Iran-U.S. relations. For decades, thousands usually gathered in front of the former embassy and chanted “Death to America.” More than 1,000 cities across the country also hosted anti-American demonstrations, where Iranians burned U.S. and Israeli flags. Many attendees were bussed in from schools to participate as part of “Student Day.” But in 2020, all were cancelled.
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But the regime still marked the anniversary with rhetoric. The Revolutionary Guards decreed, “U.S. arrogance and hostility towards the Islamic Republic have not changed” after more than 60 years of “confrontation and animosity by the domineering U.S. regime towards the Iranian people with Democratic or Republican presidents at the helm of power.” Resistance against the United States will not change, whatever party is in power, it vowed in a statement on November 2.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ridiculed the U.S. election but did not directly reference the embassy takeover in a speech marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad on November 3. “The incumbent president, who is supposed to hold the elections, says this is the most-rigged U.S. election throughout history,” he said. “Who says this? The sitting president who is arranging the elections himself. His opponent says Trump intends to widely cheat. This is American democracy.” He dismissed the importance of the results. It “is none of our business, meaning it won’t influence our policy at all.”
In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chastised Iran for “the inhumane tactic of hostage-taking to advance its destructive agenda in the region and across the world. We call on Iran to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizens Morad Tahbaz and Siamak and Baquer Namazi,” three dual Iranian-American citizens imprisoned in Iran, he said in a statement on November 4.
In Tehran, life went on as normal, even around the embassy.