April 24, 2008


A passion for Persia, Disneyland and dolphins (Nazila Fathi, April 24, 2008, IHT)

The indoor dolphin show was in full swing as Hossein Sabet walked in to a burst of applause from the 1,200 people in attendance. Clad in tight beige equestrian pants and long black boots, he waved at the crowd and went straight to his office behind the pool.

Sabet, 58, an Iranian expatriate who spends most of his time in Germany, is no performer, however. He is a businessman and something of a local legend, having invested more than $300 million here in hotels and attractions like the dolphin show, the only one in the Middle East.

He has built this island's fanciest establishment, the Dariush Grand Hotel, modeled after the Persian capital of Persepolis, which dates from 500 B.C. He also owns 11 hotels in Europe and the Canary Islands.

One of the Iranian islands in the Gulf, Kish is accessible to foreigners without a visa and to Iranians looking to vacation in a relatively relaxed atmosphere, though things are not as relaxed now as they were before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power.

In addition to the Dariush Grand - named for Darius the Great, the empire builder of the sixth century B.C. who was eventually defeated by the Greeks at Marathon - Sabet owns five other hotels here and a huge park with exotic birds, an aquarium, a butterfly enclave and the dolphin show.

He says he is also negotiating to build the first Disneyland in the Middle East, but his passion is Iran and its Persian identity. "I have reached a point in life that money does not matter anymore," he said in an interview at the Dariush Grand. "I want to make people happy. I want to revive the 7,000-year-old identity of this nation."

There's a great bit in Tony Horwitz's trerrific book, Baghdad Without a Map, when he attends Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral, along with millions of Iranians:
One of the demonstrators peeled off to rest by the curb, and I edged over to ask him what the mourners were shouting.

'Death to America,' he said.

'Oh.' I reached for my notebook as self-protection and scribbled the Farsi transliteration : Margbar Omrika.

'You are American?' he asked.

'Yes. A journalist.' I braced myself for a diatribe against the West and its arrogant trumpets.

'I must ask you something,' the man said. 'Have you ever been to Disneyland?'

'As a kid, yes.'

The man nodded, thoughtfully stroking his beard. 'My brother lives in California and has written me about Disneyland,' he
continued. 'It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.'

With that, he rejoined the marchers, raised his fist and yelled 'Death to America!' again.

Soon, we'll go to Kish while he comes here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2008 7:48 AM

When the man in the street shouts "Mag bar America!", we know he doesn't really mean it.

But when the clerics, the Guard, and the other gangsters do, it might be a different story.

Posted by: ratbert at April 24, 2008 11:07 AM

What's this "we" stuff, time-zone boy?

Posted by: b at April 24, 2008 11:52 AM

'It has always been my dream to go there and take my children on the tea-cup ride.'... after we turned the White House into a mosque.
Margbar Omrika

Posted by: ic at April 24, 2008 12:27 PM

The "teacups" quote sounds like one of those invented interviews from the last season of "The Wire". Still, I know many Iranians and even if it's fake it sounds accurate.

Posted by: Patrick H at April 24, 2008 1:14 PM

What's this "we" stuff, time-zone boy?

By then they'll have taken over, and the entire Caliphate will be on Mecca time. So no time-zones or borders to cross. QED.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 24, 2008 1:52 PM

It's not.

Posted by: oj at April 24, 2008 4:37 PM

"Kurush-world", if you really want to get along with those folks.

Posted by: HT at April 24, 2008 9:18 PM

I've just come back from Friday prayers at a mosque today whose building was funded by the government of Qatar and attracts a mostly Arab congregation.

The guy giving the address (I think he was a local student) pretty much accused the Shia of being a cult whose members were to blame for the destruction in Iraq. They had also apparently been plotting against Muslims for centuries, aiding outsiders whenever they could, since they wanted to take revenge for the demise of Zoroastrianism.

Iran dumping Twelverism and moving to a pro-American stance would really start off a cat-fight.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at April 25, 2008 8:58 AM

The affinity between Shi'ism and Christianity/Judaism is natural. The notion that the Messiah is back or about to be is always a recipe for trouble.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2008 9:32 AM