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Thursday
Aug042011

The Latest from Iran (4 August): Harmony Breaks Out?

2040 GMT: Picture of Day. Journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi, released on 48-hour furlough from a six-year prison sentence, with his family:

See also Iran Interview: Ahmadinejad on Mousavi and Karroubi "There are Prisons in Every Country"
Iran Analysis: Thoughts on Resistance and the Green Movement
Iran Special: The List of the 100+ Journalists Detained Since the 2009 Elections --- Part 1

2030 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. HRANA reports that journalist Isa Saharkhiz has had two years added to his prison sentences because of his "media activities".

Saharkhiz, detained in July 2009, will now serve five years.

Labour activist Ali Nejati has been sentenced to one year in prison.

2025 GMT: Oil Watch. Fars --- quoting the American financial publication Dow Jones --- says Iran's oil production has dropped further to 2 million barrels of oil per day. (The pre-1979 figure was 5 million barrels per day, the National Iranian Oil Company claimed as late as spring 2009 that the country was producing 4 million barrels per day.)

2020 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Do Politics. The Revolutionary Guards commander in Qazvin in northern Iran has made clear that a good MP must be faithful to velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy), know the political currents, reject the threats of the "deviant current" and sedition.

2015 GMT: Humour of the Day. Satirist Ebrahim Nabavi explains that, in a joint action by Iranian agencies, dozens of hostile naval combatants organised months ago by Facebook, NATO, the Pentagon, and Mossad were arrested and a huge domestic sedition was broke up, Commander Noghli (Persian for "candy"), head of the naval Basij militia --- formed 37 seconds ago --- said this was a much more complex plan than that of the "deviant current", which "we managed to control".

1505 GMT: The Battle Within. The website Basirat, connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has resumed the challenge to President Ahmadinejad's right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. It claims that the sect of the advisor has Freemasonry and "Hidden Jew" tendencies, and it says documents on secret meetings with foreign intelligence services are available.

1450 GMT: We Arrest Them for Their Own Good. A novel explanation for the treatment of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi comes from former Deputy Minister of Culture Mohammad-Ali Ramin....

Ramin explains that if the Green Movement had won the elections, Mousavi and Karroubi would have been the first to be killed by "enemies". Thus, the house arrests in February --- 19 months after the ballot --- were to save their lives.

1435 GMT: Unity Watch. In a joint statement, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, head of the Assembly of Experts, and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi have insisted that hard-line factions are unified.

The two clerics have led the drive for a committee to bring together conservatives and principlists, overcoming the political tension that has complicated relationships with the Ahmadinejad Government, before the 2012 Parliamentary elections.

1425 GMT: Corruption Watch. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, meeting anti-fraud and anti-smuggling committees, has said that billions of dollars leave Iran via smugglers each year.

Rahimi's line follows that of President Ahmadinejad, who criticised smuggling and illegal imports last month, but is complicated because Rahimi is under investigation for alleged involvement in fraud.

1220 GMT: Revolutionary Guards Do Politics. Writing in Rooz Online, Bahram Rafiei summarises the plan of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards to send 12,000 “political messengers” --- 5000 from its ranks and 7000 from the Basij militia --- across the country.

1210 GMT: Political Prisoner (Near Miss) Watch. Security forces have failed to arrest Babak Ejlali, the chief editor of Rahsa News and human rights activist, in a raid on his home.

1100 GMT: All-is-Well Alert (IMF Edition). The International Monetary Fund continues to do sterling work in its unexpected role as PR firm for Tehran. Its latest "report", beginning with high praise for subsidy cuts "expected to increase efficiency and competitiveness of the economy, improve income distribution, reduce poverty, and help Iran unlock its full growth potential".

The press release then trumpets "economic growth rebound[ing] from the cyclical downturn in 2008/09 to reach 3.2 percent for the 2010/11 [period], spurred by a recovery in agriculture production, and higher oil prices"; containment of inflation which "only increased from 10.1 percent in December to 14.2 percent at end-May 2011"; and "overall fiscal surplus is estimated at 1.7 percent of GDP in 2010/11, reflecting prudent spending policies". The overview concludes, "On the backdrop of high oil prices and expected efficiency gains resulting from the domestic subsidy reform, the outlook is positive with growth expected to rebound in the medium-term."

For those who follow economic news from Iran closely, including the observations of economic analysts inside the country, these findings may come as a surprise.

The likely explanation? The primary source for the IMF report and its figures are "Iranian authorities".

1050 GMT: Oil Watch. The US Government Accountability Office has claimed that activity of foreign energy firms in Iran has fallen, with the number of firms investing in 2010/11 less than half that in 2009.

Only sixteen foreign firms were operating in the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors between 1 January 2010 and 30 May 2011, down from 41 in 2009,

Four of the 16 firms are Indian, three are Chinese, two are South Korean, and the remainder are from Venezuela, Italy, Austria, South Africa, Angola, Croatia, and Belarus.

0825 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The opposition website Kalemeh is publishing a daily prisoner calendar for the month of Ramadan, featuring detainees such as Zia Nabavi, Hossein Younesi, and Fereydoun Seyedi-Rad.

0815 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Ayatollah Dastgheib has continued his high-profile criticism of the Government: "People have largely lost belief due to inadequate post-election behaviour of officials."

0650 GMT: Reformist Watch. Ayatollah Mousavi Khoeiniha, the Secretary-General of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, has broken a long silence to comment on the forthcoming Parliamentary elections.

In an interview with Mardomsalari, the cleric speaks of the reformist commitment to fulfil the Constitution and considers whether participation in the March elections will lead towards that goal. He claims there are still "hard-liners" ready to accept reformists --- reforms are not dead but should continue.

0600 GMT: After months of political conflict, President Ahmadinejad savoured a political victory on Wednesday, as the Parliament approved his four nominees for Ministeral posts, including Revolutionary Guard commander Rustam Qassemi as Minister of Oil, by large margins.

It was a sharp contrast to the scene last month as Ahmadinejad was heckled in the chamber and his proposed candidates, including a Deputy Foreign Minister and a Minister of Sport --- were unceremoniously rejected by the legislators. This time, there were hugs and kisses after Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani made clear that approval of the Ministers would be a sign to the international community of Iranian unity.

Observers can speculate how much of the alteration in tone and outcome was due to the Supreme Leader's intervention after last month's clash, telling MPs --- including Larijani --- to stop the "holliganism" of the "disgraceful" treatment of Ahmadinejad.

Still, even amidst victory, there were ripples of the recent past.  Deutsche Welle posted audio of its interview with Hamidreza Taraghi, a leader of the conservative Motalefeh Party, in which he declared that the nezam  (system) would operate to remove Ahmadinejad "brain tumour", i.e., his deviant advisors such as right-hand man Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai and Vice President Hamid Baghaei.

Yesterday, while harmony was breaking out, there was no reference to either Rahim-Mashai and Baghaei. So how long will peace reign?

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