Iran’s nuclear issue has preoccupied the international community for more than two years. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration is tightening its oppressive, suffocating grip on every aspect of life in Iran. Workers, women, youth and progressive intellectuals are daily experiencing the brutality of Islamic rule.

Last month, protesting locked-out workers and their families were set upon by “Islamic law enforcers” in Babolsar. Many were arrested and beaten up for daring to ask for their jobs back and for payment of unpaid wages. The government is amending the labor law to remove any remaining protection for workers and their right to organize independently. Fired trade unionists of Tehran’s Public Transport Company (Sherkat-e-Vahed) are starving due to lack of any severance pay or unemployment benefit.

Also last month, scores of student activists at Tehran’s Amir-Kabir Technical University were expelled from their courses for daring to support the activities of their independent-minded student association. A number of leading student activists have been arrested in recent weeks and are evidently being coerced under torture to confess their “crimes.”

But the treatment the media is receiving currently deserves close attention. Shargh (East) daily, one of the few remaining reformist newspapers, was recently ordered to replace its editor after publishing a cartoon. The cartoon depicted a chessboard with a white knight facing a black donkey with its head surrounded by a halo. Under pressure the paper actually agreed to remove the editor, but nonetheless it was closed down. The cartoon’s apparent reference was to Ahmadinejad’s claim that last year, while he was addressing the UN General Assembly, a halo had formed around his head and for 27 minutes the audience listened watching him without blinking! In the weeks since the closure of Shargh, two other independent publications have seen the same fate.

The issuing of formal threats against press freedoms and gag orders by the regime’s conservative press watchdog are normal and reoccurring events in Iran. Recently the Ministry of Islamic Guidance requested all newspapers to use state-owned web sites as their only sources of information. The recent closure of Shargh and the other publications is seen by many observers as the start of a wider offensive to crush and silence all voices of dissent.

The nuclear issue is being used by Iran’s theocratic regime to divert public attention from its real sinister internal agenda and to whip up religious and nationalistic sentiments. The blatant violation of international laws by U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Middle East in turn helps Ahmadinejad to portray himself as an anti-imperialist champion. The theocratic regime’s anti-Western stand is based on a reactionary and medieval mindset that is opposed to modernity, progress and democracy. It is, in effect, based on the regime’s fight against heresy and non-adherence to Islam and has nothing to do with the struggle against capitalism.

Last month at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad, along with two democratically elected leaders, Chavez of Venezuela and Morales of Bolivia, rightly condemned and rejected Bush’s brutal imperialistic foreign policy. However, it is important to note that, unlike Chavez and Morales, Ahmadinejad was not democratically elected and he presides over a brutally oppressive and economically corrupt apparatus.

More importantly, Ahmadinejad’s denunciation of the existing world order does not stem from a desire to create a different world based on democracy, gender equality and social justice. Twenty-seven years of theocratic rule in Iran have clearly demonstrate this reality. The regime fundamentally rejects basic human rights and individual freedoms in the name of its divine rule. Ahmadinejad and his sponsors preside over a highly lucrative and extremely corrupt and distorted form of a capitalist system in Iran.

Ahmadinejad’s “anti-imperialist” show is a sham, as George Bush’s claim to champion the cause of democracy in the world is nothing but a false pretense. Both are trying to capitalize on each other’s appalling, inhumane, dangerous policies and backward world outlook. The U.S. neoconservatives and the theocratic regime in Tehran share a common interest in disenfranchising the people from the democratic process. Both enforce and justify their policies on the basis of fundamentalist and reactionary versions of Islam and Christianity. Their confrontation has nothing to do with tackling key issues such as eradicating poverty, disease and exploitation or the very real dangers facing humanity because of climate change.

Ahmadinejad and Bush together are a threat to peace, democracy and civilization. All those who believe in a better world should oppose the dual danger they pose.

Nima Kamran is a correspondent for the Tudeh Party (Party of the Masses) of Iran, Iran’s Communist Party.