Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (19 June): Politics Through Divination

2020 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Rahman Bouzari of the reformist Shargh newspaper has reportedly been released from Evin Prison.

1835 GMT: The Battle Within. The hard-line Mashregh News discusses the conflict over the Ahmadinejad Government's appointment of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh (see 0640 and 1225 GMT) as the staff and finance manager of the Foreign Ministry.

The website says there are eight reasons for the appointment, including the vacancy of about 50 Ambassadorial posts for more than a year. It claims that the team around controversial Ahmadinejad aide Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, who is close to Malekzadeh, will choose the new Ambassadors.

1250 GMT; Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Hengameh Shahidi, serving a sentence of six years and three months, has been released on temporary leave.

1225 GMT: Parliament v. Government. A letter for the Parliamentary interrogation of Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has been published, with the signatures of 26 MPs and more promised to be on the way.

Salehi faced questions today in the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Salehi is being challenged over the appointment of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh as the staff and finance manager of the Foreign Ministry (see 0640 GMT).

1200 GMT: Economy Watch. Fars claims that the head of Iran's Statistics Centre has rejected the Minister of Works' claim of 10% unemployment for 2010/11, saying the "real" rate has been 13.5%, with a projected rate of 11% in 2011/12.

1145 GMT: Picture of the Day (2). Peyke Iran posts a series of photos of "morality police" patrolling Iran's streets.

0820 GMT: Picture of the Day. The front page of the reformist daily newspaper Etemad, which returned to newsstands on Saturday after a 15-month ban was lifted by an Iranian court:

0640 GMT: The Battle Within. A possible new battlefront between the Ahmadinejad Government and its critics....

On the surface, the appointment of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh as the staff and finance manager of the Foreign Ministry appears a routine bureaucratic measure.

However, Malekzadeh previously was at Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Organization (ICHTHO). That organisation has become a target for foes of the Ahmadinejad camp, as it helped launch the political careers of Vice President Hamid Baghaei and the President's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, and Malekzadeh is a close associate of Rahim-Mashai, heading the Chief of Staff's Iranian Expatriates Council.

Leading MP and Government critic Ahmad Tavakoli said that Malekzadeh has a long record of corruption and his appointment was "unbelievable". MP Mohammad Dehghan claimed the move would lead to the interrogation (istizah) of Ahmadinejad by the Parliament.

BBC Persian has more on the dispute, with Dehghan and leading MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi leading the criticisms.

0610 GMT: The most unusual story from Iran on Saturday was that of the proposed Governor for Sari Province in the north, whose appointment was supposedly blocked after officials asked for guidance from God through divination.

The current Governor presented the outcome, “Since divination showed a bad result, we preferred to look for another choice." 

The Associated Press, which presented the story, failed to assess its significance, however. This is not a sensational story of a few crazy officials putting in a supernatural call to Allah. Instead, it is only another example of the ongoing, and arguably escalating, clash between the authority of the Iranian executive and that of clerics including the Supreme Leader.

Last month, the Khamenei and Ahmadinejad camps had clashed over the appointment of a governor for Fars Province. Before that there were the high-profile conflicts over the Ministers of Intelligence and of Oil in Tehran. 

And, of course, there is this fundamental for the religious and the secular at the centre of the system: many clerics believe that Ahmadinejad has tried to sideline them, and they have a particular dislike for the President's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

No need for divination to establish that.

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