Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (23 June): Welcome to Phase Zero

2045 GMT: Elections Watch. Yesterday, we reported the rumour that the Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Mojtaba Zolnour, is resigning to run for Parliament next March. Khabar Online continues the story with the claim that pro-Ahmadinejad officials such as Deputy Minister of Defense Javad Darvishvand, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Mirtajoddini, and Ali Shahidi are leaving position to campaign for the Majlis.

2025 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Sharif University student activist Tara Sepehri has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 74 lashes.

2020 GMT: Sanctions Watch. The US has imposed further economic sanctions on Iran Air, claiming it has provided "material support and services" to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in acts of terrorism and human rights abuses.

The US Treasury also accused the Tidewater Middle East Company of the IRGC of exporting arms and military equipment from its seven ports in Iran.

Iran Air has been under US sanctions since 1995, preventing it from buying aircraft or spare parts from Boeing or Airbus.

2000 GMT: Economy Watch. Ayande News updates our earlier entry that transport fares have risen 30% in Tehran over the last six months (1400 GMT) --- the website says the increase for buses has been 70 to 100%.

1935 GMT: Deviant Current Watch. Another alleged member of the "deviant current" --- Ali Asghar Parhizkar, the managing director of the Arvand Free Zone --- has been arrested.

Parhizkar is a long-time friend of Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

1930 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Ayatollah Dastgheib, continuing his criticsm of the Government, has said that others have been silenced by pressure and threats.

Dastgheib also maintained that the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from house arrest is the wish of "all pious people and lovers of the Islamic Republic".

1925 GMT: Parliament v. President. Parliament's Cultural Committee has rejected the merger of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance with Iran's Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization.

The ICHTO has been seen as a bastion of controversial Ahmadinejad advisors such as Vice President Hamid Baghaei and Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

1915 GMT: The Battle Within. Back from a break to find that the pro-Ahmadinejad site Absar News accusing the team of Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf team of working with rogue "praisers" to develop its campaign propaganda.

1500 GMT: All the President's Men. And now a new target --- Khabar Online says that the head of AN's staffing office, Hojatoleslam Samari, has a file with Iran's judiciary for investigation and must be dismissed.

1455 GMT: The Battle Within. Fars and Alef have reminded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of his statement in 2004, when he was beginning his campaign for President: "The country belongs to the Supreme Leader, he has to decide [on matters]."

1445 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The family of photojournalist Maryam Majd have confirmed her arrest in an interview with Radio Farda.

Majd was detained last week just before she was supposed to fly to Germany to cover the Women's World Cup in football.

1415 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Amidst the latest news of arrests and denunciations of the President's camps, MP Ali Akbar Oulia has broached the possibility of impeachment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He claims the initial stage will start next week when 100 MPs submit a motion for the questioning of Ahmadinejad about subsidy cuts, the failure to fulfil laws, and the dispute of Ministry of Intel affair, subs cuts

1405 GMT: The Hunger Strikes. The six political prisoners in Rajai Shahr Prison who have joined 12 detainees in Evin Prison in a hunger strike (see 1055 GMT) --- Keyvan Samimi, Isa Saharkhiz, Massoud Bastani, Ali Ajmi, Jaafar Eghdami, and Heshmatollah Tabarzadi.

1400 GMT: Economy Watch. Mardomak reports that transport fares have increased again in Tehran, rising in total by 30% over the last six months. Municipal and national authorities are accusing each other over the latest price hike.

1325 GMT: All the President's Men. Aftab cogently summarises the news about the arrest of Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh of the President's camp (see 1115 and 1240 GMT), "One step closer to the arrest of (Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar) Rahim-Mashai. How will Ahmadinejad respond?".

1255 GMT: Economy Watch. Iranian Students News Agency reports that 10,000 workers at brick factories in Rashtkhar in Khorassan Province in northeastern Iran have been dismissed because of high energy costs after the Government's subsidy cuts.

1240 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Mehr has confirmed that Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, who stood down as Deputy Foreign Minister earlier this week, was arrested today on charges of financial corruption (see 1115 GMT).

1145 GMT: Human Rights Watch. The head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has said that Iran will not allow a visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, as "human rights has become a weapon against those who disagree" with the "West".

1135 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. And yet more worry for the President's camp....

Hojatoleslam Mehdi Taeb has verbally attacked the President's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, claiming he is trying to topple Ahmadinejad.

Taeb warned that a fitna (sedition) even bigger than that of 2009 is ahead and claimed that the "deviant current" around Ahmadinejad wants to topple the Iranian system.

And, in a jab against Rahim-Mashai's supposed promotion of "Iran" above "Islam", Taeb said the Presidential aide was just like opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi --- under strict house arrest since February --- in propagating false nationalism.

1115 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, whose nomination as Deputy Foreign Minister brought heated criticism from Parliament until he withdrew his name on Tuesday, has reportedly been arrested.

There are no details of the charges against Malekzadeh, considered an ally of controversial Presidential Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai; however, critical legislators had warned that Iran's judiciary might try him over financial issues.

Malekzadeh, like Rahim-Mashai before him, held a key position at Iran's Culture, Heritage, and Tourism Organization. He has been head of an organisation for Iranians abroad, founded by Rahim-Mashai.

1105 GMT: Reformist Watch. Ali Shakouri Rad, a leading member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, has reiterated that reformists will not participate in next March's Parliamentary elections, given the current situation.

There have been reports of some reformists considering participation, and even of Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani holding secret talks to encourage their involvement, but former President Mohammad Khatami has said there must be guarantees of free elections, freedom for political prisoners, and adherence to the Constitution.

1055 GMT: The Hunger Strikes. Six political prisoners in Rajai Shahr Prison, including journalist Isa Saharkhiz, have declared a hunger strike in support of 12 detainees at Tehran's Evin Prison who stopped eating last Saturday.

The hunger strikers are protesting over the deaths of activists Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi as well as general conditions of detention.

See also Iran Feature: "One Voice" Campaign for 12 Political Prisoners on Hunger Strike

1040 GMT: The Battle Within. An EA reader follows up our coverage of the attacks upon the President's camp by Mojtaba Zolnour, the Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guards....

According to Aftab, Zolnour told a conference on Monday of a conversation with Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, the head of Iran's police. The police chief supposedly said that the President was preventing him "from confronting improper hijab".

Then Zolnour went to the heart of the battle between the Supreme Leader's camp and that of the President. He said that Ahmadinejad believed that only 7 million of Iran's 75 million people were loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei and velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy).

And there was this warning: "If the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] considers that a movement is directing its sword against the ideals of the Revolution and the velayat-e faqih, it will without any hesitation take a stance against any such movement, even the President."

1015 GMT: Where's Mahmoud? President Ahmadinejad used a speech on Wednesday to the heads of guilds and trade unions to tout the success of his subsidy cuts: “I bear witness that the guilds in key sectors wisely pushed ahead with the plan.”


Ahmadinejad also used the address to chide the "West" over Iran's nuclear programme: “They are not worried about our production of an atomic bomb; rather, they regard the Iranian nation as the real bomb that can achieve whatever it sets out to do. In that case, no place would be left for them, and that's why they are so angry at the Iranian nation.”

Ahmadinejad spoke of "foreign plots" and claimed, “They tried to infiltrate our nuclear facilities at Natanz… but our experts vigilantly detected the move and prevented the sabotage.”

0810 GMT: Pet Danger. Tehran Police Chief Hossein Sajedinia has warned that his force is seizing the cars of people who take their dogs into vehicles and is also taking away the pets.

0435 GMT: We start this morning with yet another announcement --- we've lost count of how many have been issued --- that Iran is on the verge of a "national Internet" free of the "the loose commitment to ethics and morality" of the West.

Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taghipour said “Phase Zero” of the Clean Web would be launched within the next two weeks: “In light of the promises to increase internet bandwidth, this project will be tested on some users until its next phases become operational."

Since 2009, Iran has promises Phase Zeroes with a national search engine, a national e-mail system, and a national portal for proper stories on the Net. However, none of those has made it to testing stage.

So, for now, a more interesting question may be whether we are at a "Phase Zero" in politics after the recent setbacks for President Ahmadinejad in Parliament. With Ahmadinejad reduced to giving way on his plans, not in key areas such as overall control of the Ministries of Intelligence and Oil but on lesser posts like the Minister of Sport, will there now be a cease-fire in hostilities as the President's critics believe they have him boxed in?

Certainly there was one unusual ripple which may or may not point to this. The Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Mojtaba Zolnour, has been in the lead recently in criticism of the "diversionary current" around Ahmadinejad. Last night, however, it was reported that Zolnour was being moved from his post. 

The reason was not stated, so pro-Ahmadinejad media claimed it was because Zolnour had slandered the President and his men. Other outlets said it was only because Zolnour would be running for Parliament next March.

So let us add our speculation: is Zolnour stepping back as a sign of a breathing space in the current dispute between the Supreme Leader's office and its Presidential compatriots?

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