A Comment on the Currency Situation: President Ahmadinejad vs. the US Dollar
2145 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. More than 140 writers, journalists, artists, and activists have issued a statement condemning the new wave of repression and arrests, noting in particular the detention of prominent literary translator Mohammad Soleimani Nia.
Soleimani Nia was seized on 10 January and taken to an unknown location.
In fact, the news is old --- Malekpour was condemned at least 11 days ago by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, which has confirmed the punishment for several bloggers and website operators in recent weeks.
Malekpour was arrested in October 2008 and charged with disseminating obscene materials via the Web.
MPs Fazel Mousavi and Hamidreza Fouladgar said the Government's and Bank's explanations were "repetitive" and "unconvincing".
1950 GMT: Proclamation of the Day. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, the head of the Basij militia, has pronounced: "Today not only the Straits of Hormuz but the most important straits of the world are controlled by Muslims and the Supreme Leader's soldiers."
Fakhar Moghaddam has been arrested and bailed on three occasions since February 2011.
1645 GMT: Currency Watch. The website Alef, linked to leading conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli, has thrown a particularly sharp punch at President Ahmadinejad over the currency issue, saying that the Government of reformist Mohammad Khatami was the most successful in preserving the value of the Rial. Compared to this, Ahmadinejad's "record is a shame".
On Saturday, Tavakoli published a lengthy criticism of Ahmadinejad's administration, concluding with a five-point plan to stabilise the economy.
Mohammad Keshti Araei, the head of gold traders union, has given another warning of the likely rise in gold prices amidst a lack of confidence in the Rial. He said people had put away 100 tons of gold and that the Government had pre-sold 10 million gold coins within one month.
1632 GMT: Elections Watch. More confusion from the Guardian Council over the approval of candidates for March's Parliamentary elections....
Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said 32 MPs are still on the list of rejected candidates, although examinations are continuing.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the Council had approved a number of the 32, who had been blocked by the Ministry of Interior. Those supposedly reinstated include conservatives Ali Motahari, Hamidreza Katouzian, and Ali Abbaspour and reformist Dariush Ghanbari.
Kadkhodaei said yesterday that 55% of candidates had been approved so far, even though the Council had earlier said that only 20% had been rejected.
1502 GMT: The Battle Within. Conservative MP Ali Motahari, a leading critic of the Ahmadinejad Government, has refined his attack. He said that the President and his right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, were trying to eliminate former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was the first to recognise Ahmadinejad's real nature.
Motahari --- who warned last week that the Islamic Republic was moving towards "Constitutional dictatorship" --- was careful to support the Supreme Leader. He said Ayatollah Khamenei accepts criticism and answers questions, "but some try to present him as an idol".
But, in the end, this appears to be a clear endorsement of the former President: "As long as Rafsanjani does not return to the political scene, the crisis will not end."
1457 GMT: Economy Watch. Leading conservative MP Habibllah Asgarouladi has pulled back from an earlier statement about the economy: "I never said there would be famine in six months. I apologise to people."
Habibollah thanked the Government for offering dollars at the "official" level, before this weekend's attempt to bring in one rate, to importers to prevent an escalation in their costs.
1452 GMT: Currency Watch. The Central Bank's attempt to impose a single exchange rate of 12260 Iranian Rials to 1 US dollar (see 0720 GMT) does not appear to be working. The leading currency site Mesghal places the "real" open-market rate at 18300:1, a fall of about 2% in the Rial's value since this morning.
The price of gold has also started to rise again, after a fall of more than 20% last week --- the cost of old gold coin has moved from 800,000 Toman (about $450) to 850,000 Toman (about $480).
1312 GMT: Oil Watch. Contrary to the declarations of some MPs and officials, Parliament will no take action today --- or in the next few days --- on a proposed bill to cut oil exports to Europe immediately, pre-empting the European Union's cut-off of crude imports from Iran on 1 July.
Emad Hosseini, a spokesman for Parliament's Energy Committee, said, "No bill has been designed nor has it come to the Parliament," He said he hoped negotiations on preparing the bill would be finalised before Friday.
Some legislators, including the deputy head of the Energy Committee, had said the bill could be table under "double emergency" procedures on Sunday. However, Hamidreza Katouzian, the head of the Energy Committee, had said that no such bill was ready.
Hosseini's announcement seemed to bear out Katouzian's information, as he said there was just "an idea by lawmakers" that still had to be studied by the Energy Commission.
1235 GMT: Oil Watch. Ahmad Qalebani, Deputy Minister of Oil and head of the National Iranian Oil Company, has warned that oil prices could reach $150 per barrel after the European Union banned imports of crude from Tehran, effective 1 July.
Qalebani said, "Although a precise prediction cannot be made on the oil prices, it seems we will witness $120 to $150 oil price per barrel for future."
Brent crude oil is currently at $111.58 per barrel, forecast to be $115 a year from now.
Perhaps more interesting are Rafsanjani's comments about the 1979 Islamic Revolution, pondering if they might be an allusion to today: "People did not lose hope in hardships. Recanting errors and returning to the people best way to overcome current difficulties."
0840 GMT: Economy Watch. Fars has noted an 18% increase in the price for raw milk and asked, "If the price...is fixed at 650 Toman (about 35 cents) per litre, how much will be final price [for the consumer]?"
0810 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. President Ahmadinejad, opening the Islamic Awakening and Youth conference in Tehran, has said the "hegemonic powers of the world" installed Israel in the Middle East: “Why did they install the Zionist regime? To gain control over oil, as well as the popular and revolutionary uprisings in the Middle East. It is clear that this was a historical scheme.”
Chief inspector Herman Nackaerts told reporters on the team's departure from Vienna, "We are trying...to resolve all the outstanding issues with Iran..We are looking forward to the start of a dialogue, a dialogue that is overdue."
0720 GMT: Currency Watch. Khabar Online offers clues that the Central Bank's attempt on Saturday to impose a single exchange rate, replacing the five that had operated in Iran, is already under pressure.
The Bank had declared a rate of 12260:1 for the Iranian Rial vs. the US dollar, which is a slightly weaker level for the Rial than the Bank's former "official" rate but about 50% stronger for the Iranian currency than the open-market rate.
So Khabar reports that foreign exchanges refused to sell "cheap" US dollars. The effective rate for exchange soon was 15000 Rials for a dollar and reached 18000:1 --- around the rate on Saturday morning, before the Bank's declared level was supposed to take effect --- by the end of the day.
Elham Roozbehi, a Baha'i resident of Semnan, has been given a three-year prison sentence.
0700 GMT: The Iranians in Syria. Lebanon's Minister of Interior, Marwan Charbel, has denied that five Iranians --- engineers and technicians, according to Tehran; soldiers, according to the Free Syrian Army, who seized them --- have been moved to northern Lebanon.
Press TV claimed on Saturday, from "a tribal leader" in the area, that the five men had been relocated. They were abducted near Homs last autumn.
0640 GMT: We begin with a story that illustrates how the current political situation can bring out tales about past tensions.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar is under pressure from rival conservatives and principlists, ahead of March's elections for the Majlis. Some went as far as to say that Bahonar supported the "seditious current". They declared that the Deputy Speaker, in the 2009 Presidential campaign, had predicted a victory for Mir Hossein Mousavi --- held under house arrest, along with fellow opposition figure and 2009 candidate Mehdi Karroubi, since February 2011 --- in a letter to the Supreme Leader.
In a defence published on Saturday, Bahonar denied he had predicted a Mousavi win --- instead, he had just reminded Ayatollah Khamenei that "some friends" wanted to execute Mousavi and Karroubi amidst the "sedition" after the election. Bahonar then explained that he was a "moderate" voice seeking an alternative.
Much of the rest of the defence is standard if effusive rhetoric, as Bahonar maintains that he was not a "silent supporter" of the sedition, instead supporting the "good reformists" of the Islamic Revolution who chose not to boycott March's election and to stand for office. He flatters the Supreme Leader and pronounces that the Iranian system was victorious on 30 December 2009, three days after a show of strength by the opposition, when "40 million" people turned out to support Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Republic.
But even amidst this rhetoric, there is revelation. So we learn from Bahonar, if there is truth in his defence, that the judiciary had sought the house arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi six months before they were shut away. And he maintains that the Supreme Leader was the last authority in the regime to to accept the house arrests.