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Saturday
Aug062011

The Latest from Iran (6 August): Enemies Everywhere (and Beware of the Books)

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami2120 GMT: About Those Water Fights.... In our separate feature, we have been following the story of the regime's crackdown on the crime of public water fights, first in Tehran and now in other Iranian cities. Well, Ayande News is not so certain about the approach....

The website asks, "Which sin is bigger? Water games or slander, lies and corruption?" Considering the behaviour of "senior Iranian officials", it considers where there are "great sins" of misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and fraud. Without naming names, it describes situations of alleged corruption involving 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Vice President Hamid Baghaei.

Ayande suggests that youths, even those who are religious, are turn away from Islam because they see the officials --- in addition to the corruption. slander, and lies --- promoting a religion of sorrow and death.

1805 GMT: Labour Front. Nurses of Imam Khomeini Hospital have protested in front of the facility, complaining about discrimination and six months of unpaid wages.

1735 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Siavash Eslami, a board member of the Teachers Union in Sari in northern Iran, has received 37 lashes, fulfilling the verdict of an Appeals Court.

Eslami is a union activist was charged with acting against national security after participating in protests over the 2009 Presidential elections. He was initially sentenced to 74 lashes, but the Appeals Court reduced the verdict to 37 lashes.

Eslami was flogged last Sunday, just before the month of Ramadan began.

Eslami has been a teacher for 24 years and holds a master’s degree in political science. He has been teaching Islamic Studies in various high schools in Sari.

1710 GMT: Campus Watch. Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran has eliminated 13 branches of the humanities, leaving only six disciplines for students to pursue in the coming academic year.

Etemaad reports that Iran’s top humanities university will only offer courses in law, Arabic language and literature, Persian language and literature, theology and Islamic studies, insurance. and tourism administration.

Journalism, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, communications, pedagogy, accounting, administration, education administration, pedagogy for special needs, early childhood education, and economics have been removed from the curriculum.

In the past year, Iranian officials have announced that they are planning a complete overhaul of the humanities, removing 12 "Western" disciplines to ensure the "Islamic" nature of education.

1635 GMT: Reformist Watch. Massoumeh Ebtekar, Vice President in the Khatami Administration, has told ILNA that, in current circumstances, no one can expect reformists to run for the Parliament.

1615 GMT: The Supreme Leader Does Politics. Ayatollah Nourullah Tabarasi has said that Ayatollah Khamenei's representatives support the effort at hard-line unity led by Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, the head of the Assembly of Experts.

Mahdavi Kani and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi have been instrumential in assembling a "7+8" committee seeking to unify conservatives and principlists amidst discontent with the camp of President Ahmadinejad. 

1600 GMT: CyberWatch. The President's website appears to have been knocked off-line --- we have been unable to access it yesterday and today.

1430 GMT: Economy Watch. Economist Mahmoud Jamsaz has warned that energy prices could rise again in the second half of the Iranian year (Sept.-March) and that the outlook for econ development is bleak.

Jamsaz that while the Government received $5 billion from the Central Bank for support payments for subsidy cuts, Iran's production sector is under pressure and there will be more inflation in the country.

The economist noted that government companies owe $49 billion to the Central Bank, which "has lost its independence", and the current budget is the most dependent on oil revenues in the history of the Islamic Republic. He puts this question, "How can the Government create 1.5 million new jobs with 0.5-1% growth?"

1420 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). The conservative blog Kheyzaran Online has posted, "It's time to say goodbye to [Syrian President] Assad. You can't remain silent, when the army kills civilians."

1415 GMT: Jabbing at the President. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani may have called a brief cease-fire earlier this week as the Majlis confirmed four Ministerial nominees, but he is now back on the offensive against President Ahmadinejad --- the Speaker said the Government must refund some subsidy cuts to the agrarian sector and stop food imports.

1410 GMT: Economy Watch (cont.). Earlier we noted (see 0555 GMT) a story by Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post about economic disparities, "Iran's Rich Eat Ice Cream Covered in Gold as Poor Struggle to Survive".

The story has now been picked up by the conservative outlet Aftab News.

1400 GMT: The US Hikers. Lots of chatter this afternoon about a statement by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on the trial of detained US hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, "The judicial case of these American nationals is following its course. We hope their trial will advance in a way that would lead to their freedom....We thank the judiciary for treating the issue with justice and fairness. The people at the judiciary will communicate about this issue at the appropriate time.""

International media are treating Salehi's comment as "the most positive signal yet that their ordeal may soon end". We are more cautious, given the rather general nature of Salehi's words.

Fattal and Bauer, along with fellow US citizen Sarah Shourd, were detained just over two years ago while hiking along the Iran-Iraq border. Shourd was released last September on $500,000 bail and returned to the US.

1240 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Human rights activist and journalist Kouhyar Goudarzi and his mother Parvin Mokhtare were reportedly arrested last Sunday and transferred to Kerman prison. There has been no news of them since the detentions.

Last November, after Goudarzi was given the John Auchobon Award for press freedom by the National Press Club, his mother wrote the Club to say the award was "an encouragement for the mothers of all political prisoners".

Goudarzi was initially arrested last December. He had already been expelled by Sharif Industrial University, where he was pursuing studies in aerospace engineering.

1215 GMT: Oil Watch. Amidst reports of difficulties with production (see 1010 GMT), newly-appointed Minister of Oil Rostam Qassemi has said Iran will need about $40 billion this year to spur the development of oil and gas fields, especially the large South Pars energy reservoir.

Qassemi, who was the head of Khatam al-Anbia, the engineering branch of the Revolutionary Guards, added that while Iran might seek foreign capital to finance energy projects, it did not need foreign know-how: "There are currently very competent contractors domestically on which we can rely for the development of oil and gas can be done....For the development of oil and gas fields we don't need foreign contractors."

The development of the energy fields has been hindered by the withdrawal of the expertise of foreign firms, amidst international sanctions, including Royal Dutch Shell and France's Total. Khatam al-Anbia has taken over those contracts.

Qassemi's figure of $40 billion for the development of shared fields is in line with the amount set out by his predecessor, Massoud Mirkazemi, who said Iran must invest a total of $200 billion in the period 2010-15.

1210 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Kurdish author and researcher Sajjad Jahanfar has been arrested in Kermanshah in western Iran.

1015 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). The opposition Coordinating Council for the Green Path of Hope has sent a message of support and sympathy to the Syrian people:

 

The Syrian rulers, incognizant of the fate of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and many other parts of the world, and oblivious to the legitimate demands of their citizens, have chosen the same path as the likes of Muammar Gaddafi. Autocrats such as Assad and Gaddafi on the one hand provide the means and possibility for foreign intervention in the sociopolitical developments in their country and on the other hand leave behind a ravaged and destroyed nation, sacrificing all human and financial capital of their respective countries in their unquenchable thirst for power.

 

All freedom fighting, democratic opposition movements face a similar predicament when confronting authoritarian regimes. Over the past two years, the freedom seeking Green movement of the nation of Iran has also endured violent repression, threats and continued suppression at the hands of an authoritarian and illegitimate regime. Despite these tragic events, the totalitarian, tyrannical rulers [in Iran] refuse to learn from the mistakes and the fate of their counterparts in the region.

 

1010 GMT: Oil Watch. Reuters reports that Iranian fuel oil inflows to East Asia are expected to stay at depressed levels of less than 300,000 tons for a third consecutive month. The National Iranian Oil Company has told its Asian buyers that September-loading cargoes will be down by about half from average monthly exports.

Regular buyers said they were uncertain if the cut in exports will last beyond September, as NIOC has not given any information. A trader said, "“No one knows what the real problem is...beyond that they are keeping the cargoes at home due to disruptions to their natural gas supply.”

1000 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Labour Edition). Iran Labor Report summarises the latest sentences and detentions of labour activists, including fines and prison terms for Vafa Ghaderi, Yadollah Ghotbi, Pedram Nasrollahi, Ali Nejati, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, and Gholamreza Kani and an extension of the imprisonment of Hashem Khastar.

0555 GMT: Economy Watch. Thomas Erdbrink, the Tehran-based reporter for The Washington Post, offers a dramatic snapshot, through observation and interviews, of the economic situation: "Iran's Rich Eat Ice Cream Covered in Gold as Poor Struggle to Survive".

0540 GMT: Literature Danger. No, with "enemies everywhere" (see 0525 GMT), it appears that Iranians are not even safe from their books.

An EA correspondent brings news of a new penalty points system from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, each book rejected by the Ministry as inappropriate will bring the points that could lead to the blacklisting of the publisher.

Bahman Dorri, the Deputy Minister of Culture, offered the public face of this policy, calling upon publishers to "accompany government policies" with support for proper works on Islamic history, religion, and contemporary history. He said all problems have been checked with publishers during the past three months.

Indeed, there appear to have been casualties from the "checks". The correspondent claims that the head of the Publishers Association, Hassan Kiayian, was forced to resign last November. Kiayian is the owner of Cheshmeh, one of ten publishers who lost their permits in February, at least temporarily.

0525 GMT: Iranian media has given lots of space to a speech on Thursday by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, one of Tehran's prayers leaders, in which he said Iran faces enemies on three fronts but concluded with the "optimism" that all plots will fail.

The hard-line cleric saw foes inside and outside the country and also spotted undercover agents: 

This war which exists in Europe and the US against the Islamic Republic of Iran indicates that the arrogant [powers] want to prevent the growth of the revolution through their sanctions and schemes....
The royalists and those smitten before the Revolution, who were also part of the ruling system and agreed to the hijab ban in return for [promises of] a house, are standing against Islam with the US, UK and Zionist regime.”

But while much of the rhetoric was directed at the permanent targets of the US and Israel, the more interesting passage of Khatami's speech was about the possible conflict inside the Iranian system, as he "pointed out the destructive role of hypocritical elements that pretend to zealously believe in the establishment but spare no chance to inflict blows on the body of the Muslim community" and specifically mentoned "infiltrators who managed to secure positions in the ranks of power in order to harm the establishment". 

Indeed, Khatami joined the fray over the "deviant current", often a label for the advisors to President Ahmadinejad. He "condemned some articles and editorials which attacked senior Iranian clerics for criticizing the deviatory movements in the country, and warned the clerical society would strongly respond to such attacks".  

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