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Entries in Moharram (10)


The Latest from Iran (25 December): A Pause before Ashura?

MOHARRAM12130 GMT: Hot Gossip of Night. There is a statement lurking on Hashemi Rafsanjani's website in which the former President uses the story of Imam Hossein, the third Imam whose death is marked by the ceremony of Ashura on Sunday, to argued that it is important to keep public consciousness alive.

Rafsanjani puts forth Hossein's opposition to the caliph as the most significant political movement in the last 1400 years, with its promotion of virtues and condemnation of injustice and evil. And, in an all-too-obvious parallel with the 21st century, he asserts that Hoseein was accused of having revolted for power and collaborated with foreigners to which the Imam answered: "I'm not revolting to Govern; my revolt is to protect and correct the course of the disciples of my ancestor [the Prophet Mohammad]."

I say that the statement is "lurking" because it has not been picked up by other Iranian media and Rafsanjani has not moved to exploit it in another public forum....yet.

NEW Latest Iran Video: Montazeri’s Farewell Speech (November 2009)
REVIVED Iran Top-Secret: The President’s Gmail Account
Latest Iran Video: Tehran Protests (23-24 December)
Iran: The Momentum of Protest (It’s No Longer Just….)

1900 GMT: Iran's Nuclear Programme. On a relatively slow news day, an EA reader has pointed out the recent Doha Debate on the subject. Participants include Mahjoob Zweiri of the Centerfor Strategic Studies in Jordan, Seyed Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University, Baria Alamuddin of Al-Hayat, and Alireza Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London.

1850 GMT: Kalemeh is reporting that there will be no Ashura services in the Imam Khomeini mausoleum this year.

1800 GMT: Tonight's Hot Rumour. The chatter, supported by an article in Parleman News, is that former Presidnet Mohammad Khatami will speak tomorrow after the local Tasua service (6 p.m. local time) in Hosseiniyeh No. 1 in Jamaran in north Tehran.

1755 GMT: Repeating the Ashura Demonstration Routes. The plans for marches in 22 Iranian cities on Sunday (see 1415 GMT) have now also been posted by Unity4Iran.

1530 GMT: Regime Message --- Desecration, Mousavi, and Sane'i. Fars News is headlining a supposedly very large demonstration in Qom condemning the "desecrations" of the rallies after the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. The pro-regime protesters called for the arrest of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and, perhaps most strikingly, chanted, "Death to Sane'i", the reformist cleric who has been in the forefront of commemorations for Montazeri and challenges to the Government.

1520 GMT: Your Friday Prayer Update. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami in Tehran today saying, Don't Demonstrate. Really --- Don't. "Our mourning ceremonies for Imam Hussein should not make the enemies of Islam pleased since Imam Hussein is ... the symbol of unity, so the ceremonies should not be used as platform for disunity," said Khatami. He added that if people do demonstrate, it is because they are supported by the US, Israel, and other bad countries.

1420 GMT: Memorial Defiance. Despite the Government prohibition on ceremonies, Ayatollah Taheri has announced that "7th day" memorials of the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri will be held on Saturday night and Sunday (coinciding with Ashura) in Isfahan.

1415 GMT: Routes for demonstrations on Tasua and Ashura (26-27 December) in 22 Iranian cities have been posted.

1152 GMT: A Not-So-Happy New Year for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad? An EA correspondent passes on information from the Economist Intelligence Unit, one of the foremost locations of analysis in Britain, with its latest views on Iran. The entire report is worth a read, but the opening summary is enough to raise eyebrows:

Public criticism of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, because of his direct intervention in the political domain has exposed a large breach in Iran's s intricate power structure, which may weaken his authority in 2010-11.

The position of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be increasingly challenged by sections of the clerical establishment, as well as by his reformist and pragmatic-conservative opponents, following his divisive re-election.

1140 GMT: An Opening in Nuke Talks? Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has told Iranian state television that Iran "does not have a problem with Turkish soil" for an exchange of enriched uranium. If true, that would be a shift from Tehran's insistence since November that a swap had to occur inside Iran.

1025 GMT: Marches continue in Tehran. Reports that Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri was present at the mourning service in Khomeni Shahr --- video has now been posted.

0915 GMT: Reports of Moharram gatherings in Tehran, watched over by security forces.

0910 GMT: The "Proper" Demonstrations. Nice example of ignoring events to tell the "right" story on Press TV's website: there is a lengthy piece on "Zanjan, venue of world's largest mourning parade". This is the gathering today on the 8th day of Moharram, which is expected to draw more than 200,000 Shi'a followers.

Funny, but there's no mention at all in the article of the other reason why Zanjan is making headlines this week (albeit not in Iranian state media): it was the site of the cancelled memorial for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri yesterday.

0730 GMT: During this week of memorials to Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, we've posted the video of what is claimed to be his last public speech.

And, for a bit of flashback fun on this day, we've revived Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top-secret Gmail account.

0620 GMT: Today, 24 hours before the fast day of Tasua and 48 hours before the commemoration of Ashura, has started relatively quietly. There is talk of memorials for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, but so far no confirmation of demonstrations. Meanwhile, the unconfirmed news is that a grandson of Montazeri was arrested.

Iran Analysis: RegimeFail?

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO3If a demonstration occurs in the square but no one really notices, does it make a sound?

It is less than 24 hours after the Iranian regime tried to build up a mass rally on the first day of  the religious month of Moharram, not only for the pretext of protesting the burning of Ayatollah Khomeini's photograph but for the wider goal of showing the Government's political superiority over its opposition. Yet this morning, Iranian state medium Press TV, which was proclaiming that "millions" were on the streets of Iran, is not even bothering to mention the story, let alone update it. Fars News is now on the nuclear issue and promoting art about martyrs.  The Islamic Republic News Agency is trying to boost President Ahmadinejad, after his appearance at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, with his rhetoric on how Iran --- unlike European countries --- supports freedom and democracy around the world. (IRNA, further down its page, has a short, rather limp story that a million people marched in support of Khomeini and the Supreme Leader.)

Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

We tentatively suggested yesterday afternoon that the attempted demonstrations in Tehran, let alone in other parts of  Iran where I have still not seen visual evidence, were a regime "flop". No need to be tentative now: this was a clear picture, after six months, not of a regime asserting its political strength but of a Government and even Supreme Leader struggling to maintain even a 24-hour appearance of political legitimacy. The sensational cries of "Death to Mousavi", whipped up by an Ayatollah Khamenei ally, made little more than fleeting headlines; indeed, I don't think even the base charge of "insult to Khomeini" was successfully stuck upon the opposition.

This, however, is the easy analysis to make this morning. Now the ball bounces back into the court of the opposition, be that Hashemi Rafsanjani, senior clerics, or the Green movement. Once more they have both the initiative and the burden of showing that their supporters are still ready to press their demands.

So on to Ashura (27 December), the key day of mourning and commemoration in Moharram marking the death of Imam Hossein. The Green movement rallied on Qods Day (18 September), which traditionally had been a regime day as it displayed its support of the Palestinians and their claim on Jerusalem. It rallied on National Students Day (7 December), which had marked the supremacy of the Islamic Republic over the Shah with the memory of the killing of three students in 1953. Can the opposition now mark one of the most important days on the Iranian and Shi'a Islam calendar as their own?

The regime failed yesterday, but that is far from enough to argue that it has lost. Those challenging the regime now have to prove they can make a meaningful, otherwise many Iranians (how many?) may sit on their hands in passivity and resignation.

It is eight days to Ashura.


Today on EA - 18 December 2009

TOWN CRIERIran: We're following the first day of the religious month of Moharram. After a slow start, state media claimed "millions" (live shots show thousands) in the streets of Tehran and across the country. We're not so sure: see our interim assessment of what appears to be disappointment for the regime.

We have Mehdi Karroubi's (rather disappointing) interview with BBC flagship current affairs programme Newsnight, broadcast last night.

We've got the latest on claims that Twitter was hacked by agents acting for the Iranian regime. Twitter continues to run slowly this morning.

President's Ahmadejad's travels abroad continue --- he's now in Copenhagen and his PR machine continues to "big him up" at every opportunity.

Afghanistan: EA's Julian Mercille analyses the politics and conflicts between Afghanistan's drug production and profits  and exposes the trail of drug money, involving not only the Taliban but also other Afghan groups, the US military and NATO forces.

Israel-Palestine: Ali Yenidunya assesses a move by Hamas to claim the "liberation" of all of Palestine, and he looks at an attempt by Israel and Turkey to repair relations.

As always, you can keep up with all the news, as it happens, on our live weblog.

Latest Iran Video: Interview of the “Basij Member” on the Election and Abuses (16 December)
Iran & The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “To Men Who Are Not Ashamed of Being a Woman” (Shirin Ebadi)
Latest Iran Video: The Larijani Threat to Arrest Green Leaders (16 December)
The Latest from Iran (17 December): An Uncertain Regime


The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO2310 GMT: A Sad End, Another Day. We took the night off to catch our breath (and catch up with some friends), as Iran winds down after an anti-climactic and possibly damaging day for the regime.

On a day that started with the cyber-drama of the attack on Twitter, probably by a group supporting the Iranian Government, the evening ends with the sad news that the domain of Mowj-e-Sabz, one of the key locations for information in this crisis, has been released for purchase. The activists of the website announced yesterday that they are taking a well-earned break.

But we'll back in a few hours to see what Saturday brings.

NEW Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
NEW Latest Iran Video: Mehdi Karroubi Interview with BBC (17 December)
NEW Iran: The Regime Takes On (Hacks?) Twitter for Moharram
Iran Analysis: The Regime’s Sword Wavers
Latest Iran Video: Interview of the “Basij Member” on the Election and Abuses (16 December)
Iran & The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “To Men Who Are Not Ashamed of Being a Woman” (Shirin Ebadi)
Latest Iran Video: The Larijani Threat to Arrest Green Leaders (16 December)
The Latest from Iran (17 December): An Uncertain Regime

1810 GMT: Stratospheric Media Speculation of Day. The cyber-attack on Twitter this morning (see separate analysis)? It's all down to the Iranian Government's new strategy in the nuclear negotiations.

That's according to TechCrunch, who get bored with all things computer-y and decide to become political analysts (this morning, they didn't even know that the "Iranian Cyber Army" had been assaulting Green Movement websites):

Other sources told us that the timing of the attack on Twitter is part of a concerted effort across the Iranian government and military to take a stronger diplomatic stance against the United States and European Union in the lead up to negotiations on Iran’s nuclear plans.

Oh, yes, it has to be all about "us" in the West and not about the internal political battle in Iran. That's why the hackers went after the website Mowj-e-Sabz, which as far as I know is not involved in any way with discussions of uranium enrichment. And that's why they invoked Imam Hossein, who may just have something to do with the first day of Moharram, which just happens to be today.

All of this would be end-of-day silliness were it not for the high-profile and normally perceptive blog The Daily Dish, who decided to feature this as the real story behind the Iran Regime v. Twitter fight.

1730 GMT: More "The News is No News". Fars News, spinning a tough line, only offers further testimony to the weakness of the regime's position. It headlines the warning of the Supreme Leader's aide, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian (see 1405 GMT), that those who "continue to intrigue...will encounter the worst possible situation" and the response of those demonstrating, "Green riot leaders should be executed".

At no point, however, does Fars let us know how many actually joined in this heart-warming performance.

1630 GMT: The News is No News. Our interim assessment of the regime's "flop" today is holding up pretty well. Press TV website's story drops the "millions" of its over-excited (or over-scripted) correspondent and of other state media; indeed, it puts no number at all on a rather bland description of the protest for Ayatollah Khomeini.

The non-Iranian media are nowhere to be found. Having chased after the "hacking of Twitter" story, they now have the distraction of some Iranian troops acting up on the border and occupying a (possibly out-of-use) Iraqi oil well. We're monitoring the story, but sources indicate this incident, which appears to the third incursion in recent weeks, is more a political signal by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps --- don't think of attacking Iran --- than the start of a serious conflict.

1440 GMT: Western Mediawatch. Let's give Reuters credit for at least noticing that something happened in Tehran today, as other outlets are blissfully void of news.

That said, Reuters' headline --- "Death to Mousavi" --- succeeds in being both sensationalist and tangential at the same time. It may be that some folks chanted, "Mousavi, this is our last warning. The sedition leaders should be executed," and that --- as we just noted --- the regime put out one representative (Rahimian) to issue that call.

This lifting of a few snippets from Iranian state media, however, says nothing about the size of the rallies or their political impact (or lack of such).

1405 GMT: Shaking the Fist. Actually, in the context of the threats earlier this week, the regime's efforts today were not that intimidating. Ayatollah Emami Kashani, the leader of Friday Prayers in Tehran, does not exactly cut the most menacing figure.

That said, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, the Supreme Leader’s former representative in the Bonyad-e Shahid (Martyrs' Foundation), tried his best in his speech in front of Tehran university. Arrest the opposition leaders? Too soft, asserted Rahimian: why not execute them?

And here's today's unsubtle connection: Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has declared that the cases of several people accused of "insulting Imam Khomeini" will go to court next week.

1310 GMT: An Interim Assessment of The Regime's Demonstration on Moharram. We have enough to venture an interim assessment of the significance of today's events for the regime and its attempt to establishment of "legitimacy".

1125 GMT: Hmmm..... IRNA now has a story about today's events, but it is a dry recitation of a "Friday Prayers" resolution condemning the insult to Ayatollah Khomeini, accompanied by a photograph of a group of protesters (see inset).

1100 GMT: The Regime's Day. Press TV has now got its lines straight, "Iran Outrage", with shots of thousands in Enghelab Square in Tehran and large posters of Ayatollah Khomeini (but note: few prominent images of the Supreme Leader). Correspondent Saman Kojouri is reciting the same litany he used 30 minutes ago.

Fars and IRNA still have no visible coverage on their websites. (This has now changed with IRNA --- see our interim assessment.)

1030 GMT: Let's Try This Again. OK, now this is more like it. Here's Press TV's live coverage from "the streets of Tehran" with correspondent Saman Kojouri:
Thousands of Iranians, millions of Iranians all across the nation have taken to the streets, especially here in the capital Tehran. The people have flooded the streets after Friday prayers to show their anger over what happened a few days on December 7th, when an insult occurred against the portrait of Imam Khomeini, the Father and Founder of the Islamic Revolution.

From that day on, the Student Day on, the public outrage went high across the country and many people took to the streets, from different walks of life.

Kojouri repeats this for about four minutes. The widest shots offered by Press TV are of thousands at the venue outside Tehran Friday Prayers.

1015 GMT: Really, That's All You've Got? So far, the story has been lack of attention byIranian state media to the ceremonies for the first day of Moharram. The Islamic Republic News Agency's lead story is on 250 new suppliers of "hot meat" in Tehran.

Press TV has the Copenhagen Summit at #1, then it's Iran's nuclear programme at #2, and only then do Tehran's Friday Prayers sneak in. The spin is unsurprising: Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, leading the prayers, has criticised the defacing of the image of Imam Khomeini. He then "called on Iranians to be aware of enemy plots to take advantage of objections against the June Presidential election....The protests that started in the wake of the vote will eventually benefit the enemies."

And Kashani's reference to the political challenge from Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement? "Officials should try to prevent radical moves that...merely triggered  new triggers in the country....All political groups should stick to the guidelines of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, to resolve disputes and promote unity."

0933 GMT: Pushing "Regime Change". The Wall Street Journal, a firm advocate of the toppling of not only the Ahmadinejad Government but the Islamic Republic, features an editorial by Heshmat Tabarzadi, leader of the Iran Democratic Front:
Dec. 7 [the protests of 16 Azar] proved that the movement for a free, democratic Iran is robust and only growing in strength. If the government continues to opt for violence, there very well may be another revolution in Iran. One side has to step down. And that side is the government—not the people.

Here's the interesting points, especially in light of the continuing debates over the aims of the Green Movement. Tabarzadi never uses the words "regime change" --- those belong to the Journal's headline writers --- but he does feature university protests "openly denouncing the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, challenging the entirety of the ruling establishment, and demanding the separation of religion and state".

So does this constitute the demise of the Islamic Republic?

0930 GMT: Karroubi Reaches the West. We've posted the video of the BBC's (rather disappointing) interview with Mehdi Karroubi.

0750 GMT: Iran Mediawatch (2). After early-morning silence on Moharram from regime outlets, Fars News is now headlining today's commemorations, claiming ownership of Ayatollah Khomenei amidst the recent "burning picture" controversy: "United Iran will declare its love for the Imam".

0740 GMT: Cyber-wars for Moharram. Here's an entry we didn't expect to write today: an Iranian group, which also took over the Mowj-e-Sabz website this week, has claimed to have hacked Twitter, which has been running slowly since 1200 GMT on Thursday. We've got the latest.

0655 GMT: Iran Mediawatch. Right now, the state media --- at least on the Web --- are more concerned with "bigging up" President Ahmadinejad and his speech in Copenhagen ("capitalism and materialism are to blame for environmental crisis", "profit-making approach to the world resources must be avoided,", ""greenhouse gas emission has dealt a blow to the planet earth") than they are with today's events. The Islamic Republic News Agency confines itself to a statement from the head of the Islamic Propaganda Organization that Moharram commemorations will be even bigger and better than last year.

0630 GMT: Eleven days after the protests of National Students Day on 16 Azar, the holy month of Moharram begins today. In contrast to the period between previous important public occasions since July, there has been no significant pause in protest, demonstration, and political manoeuvre. University campuses have continued to simmer, the regime has raised the threat level with its dark hints of arrests and trials, and opposition political figures have been more forthcoming in their statements despite (and indeed because of) those threats.

So we begin this morning watching for two signs of the political situation. The easier reading will probably be of the opposition. The indecision over whether to march today, diluting if not seizing the Government's control of the commemoration of Moharram, is likely to end in 1) a declaration from Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi that they regret that their request for a permit has been denied by the regime; and 2) an acceptance by most of the Green movement that it is best to lie low. A scattering of opposition demonstrators are likely to turn out, but this will not be an organised response.

So that leaves the public arena open to the regime for the first time in six months and raises the more difficult question: how significant will their own effort and that of their supporters be today? As an EA reader noted yesterday, the answer does not rest solely or even primarily on the number who appear at Friday Prayers and the subsequent rally: there are enough core elements such as the Basiji movement and enough people who will be brought into the demonstration to fill a television screen or the front page of a newspaper. How many others will not only turn out but will be vocal in their acclamation for not only Imam Khomeini but also the Supreme Leader? And perhaps more significantly in the short-term, how many will be raising their voices not only for Ayatollah Khamenei but also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO2It's just before 1300 GMT (1630 Tehran time) and, based on Iranian media coverage and sources from Iran, we are willing to venture the following:

At the start of today, we asked, "How significant will their own effort and that of their supporters be today?" The answer: "Not very".

Apart from Press TV, it didn't appear this mornig that Iranian state media was even trying to put out the story of a mass demonstration for the regime. Fars News is still filled with reports of speeches from Ayatollahs and Hojetoleslams but has nothing beyond these.

The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

From about 1:30 p.m. Tehran time, about 90 minutes after Friday Prayers had finished, Press TV went into hyper-drive with its assertion of "millions" of Iranians campaigning against the insult to Ayatollah Khomeini on 16 Azar (7 December). Just after 4 p.m. Tehran time (1230 GMT), IRNA finally posted an article with the "millions" claim and the photograph shown in our inset.

Apart from a live shot of a crowd in Tehran's Enghelab Square, Press TV had little to back up its correspondent's on-a-sound-loop report of the Iranian nation's mass rebuke to the Green opposition's alleged treatment of Khomeini; the station fell back on photographs which may or may not have been of today's gathering (one showed an awful lot of leaves on trees for December). It has now gone quiet on the story, apart from a boiler-plate 15-second summary each half-hour.

EA sources report the following: after the 12 p.m. Azaan, for which all Iranian channels break, there was no live coverage of any supposed demonstrations. Some images on Iranian television before that had suspect colour schemes of the supposed crowd for the outdoor sermon, packing "too many people in too small a space as usual". Another source says that the regime struggled to even fill Enghelab Square, the focal point of the demonstration.

Beyond the question of whether there was a significant turnout, another point stands out. Press TV's coverage is so concentrated on the insult to Ayatollah Khomeini that it leaves the Supreme Leader, let alone President Ahmadinejad, suspended in a vacuum. That is not exactly a boost for regime "legitimacy" amidst post-election questions.

IRNA has tried to redress this with its article boosting slogans such as "all divisions come to support the Leader" and defending Ahmadinejad. There is also a shot at Mir Hossein Mousavi and claims that the crowd was demanding punishment of opposition leaders.

Right now, however (and accepting that this is only an interim assessment), this appears to be too shrill, too little, and too late. The regime has had one day to itself, and I am not sure it has delivered.