Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (30 January): Posturing Over Oil

A map of Tehran's oil exports

See also The Latest from Iran (29 January): Future Election, Past Election, House Arrest

2039 GMT: A Shift in the Awakening. The Supreme Leader has sent a message to an international youth conference in Tehran, centred on the theme of the "Islamic Awakening".

Much of the message, put out by Ayatollah Khamenei's Twitter account, is standard rhetoric: "The Zionists, Great Satan (USA), & Western powers are incapable in facing the Islamic awakening, & they'll fail more & more."

This, however, catches the eye: "Due to geographical, historical and social differences, there is no single model that can be applied to Islamic countries."

Hmm... Last year, just after the Egyptian uprising had removed President Mubarak, the Supreme Leader put out a message that Iran's Islamic Revolution was precisely that model.

So why has the line changed?

2027 GMT: Currency Watch. Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, the head of Parliament's Economy Committee, has blamed currency fluctuations on "poor Government and poor management by the Central Bank".

1827 GMT: Picture of the Day. A female football fan at the Sahand Stadium in Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

1818 GMT: Protest Watch. The opposition Coordination Council of Green Path of Hope has called for a rally on 25 Bahman (14 February).

The same occasion last year saw one of the last significant public protests by the Green Movement in Tehran. It also brought the house arrests of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

1808 GMT: Food Watch. Trade sources say European Union sanctions have held up about 400,000 tonnes of grain, held on at least 10 ships outside Iranian ports, for as long as three weeks.

Amidst tougher European Union sanctions, including those passed last Monday, major EU banks have pulled back from financing grain shipments to Iran.

"The myriad of sanctions have worked to the point where the Iranian banking system is virtually defunct, thereby not allowing international trade houses to receive workable letters of credit," one European grain trader said. "Their ships are stopped while people figure out how to get payment done, it's a mess."

1621 GMT: And Now the Supreme Leader. Mehr reports that Ayatollah Khamenei will lead Friday Prayers in Tehran this week.

1618 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Hassan Fathi has been released on bail today.

1428 GMT: Fraud Watch. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei has said that trials in the $2.6 billion bank fraud will start in mid-February, with about 30 defendants, some of whom have confessed to receiving bribes.

1420 GMT: Headline of the Day. Rah-e Mardom declares, "Policy of Suppressing Inflation Does Not Work Anymore".

1405 GMT: Food Watch. The Protein Nutrition Committee has said that the export of livestock has been stopped, and frozen meat priced at 8800 Toman (about $4.60) will be distributed in the Bazaar at the end of week.

1355 GMT: Currency Watch. A report in Mehr backs reports from EA sources (see 1145 GMT) with a direct message: "Mr Director General! Shut up the foreign exchange traders! Even three days after a single [currency] rate, the market doesn't accept it!"

Confirming that the traders are refusing to sell US dollars at the rate of 12260 Rials --- a level putting the Rial almost 50% stronger than its mark of a week ago --- Mehr asks, "Where are the Central Bank's supervisors?"

The website says the "real" rate on the streets between the Rial and the dollar is 18880:1, a 3% fall in the Iranian currency since Sunday.

1215 GMT: Economy Watch. Aftab has reacted sharply to the news that Government officials have blamed media for economic and currency problems (see 0610 GMT). The site asks, "Did media raise prices for food as well?", claiming the cost of milk is up by 30%, cooking fat more than 50%, sugar more than 20%, and meat more than 40%.

1215 GMT: Campus Watch. In the latest episode in the quest for control of the Islamic Azad University, Iran's largest private group of campuses, President Ahmadinejad has issued an order for Farhad Daneshjoo, the brother of the Minister of Science and Higher Education, to become the new head of the university.

Ahmadinejad has been embroiled in a battle for two years to assume control of Islamic Azad, in which former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has been the dominant influence.

1155 GMT: At the Movies. More than 2000 filmmakers, actors, and others in the film industry have written in protest at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance's dissolution of the House of Cinema, Iran's leading organisation for those involved in film.

Meanwhile, Digarban reports that the Ministry has seized The Golden Collars, a film about the Green Movement, apparently in film that its distribution might spur protests.

1145 GMT: Currency Watch. EA sources offer stories supporting our perception (see Sunday's Live Coverage) that the Central Bank's attempt to impose a single exchange rate --- 12260 Iranian Rials to the US $ --- is not succeeding.

Iranian exchanges operating overseas have suspended transfers to and from Iran, because of difficulty of setting a viable rate which will protect both their income and the interest of their customers. They expect the situation to last well into this week.

Exchanges in Tehran are offering to send money abroad, but are asking for a substantial fee as "insurance" against fluctuations in the rate.

0915 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. The opposition website Kalemeh reports that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani made a two-day visit to the religious city of Qom, where senior clerics discussed with him how officials should solve people's problems.

0745 GMT: Execution Watch. Canada's Foreign Minister, John Baird, has declared, “Canada is deeply concerned about reports that Iranian citizen Saeed Malekpour’s death sentence has been confirmed by the Iranian authorities. His case is but one example of the refusal by Iranian authorities to respect their international human rights obligations."

The punishment of Malekpour, a permanent resident in Canada, was confirmed earlier this month by a Revolutionary Court. He has been condemned for developing an "obscene" website.

Baird also raised the cases of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death for adultery, and Pastor Youcef Naderkhani. facing the death penalty for apostasy if he does not "repent". The Foreign Minister added, “Iranian authorities sentenced seven administrators of the Baháí Institute for Higher Education to four- and five-year sentences solely on the basis of their faith."

0650 GMT: The Supreme Leader, the President, and the Economy. An EA source reports an interesting claim from Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, addressing the monthly assembly of the Islamic Society of Engineers. Criticizing the Government over its handling of the economy Bahonar reported, “After the lack of control over the currency market by the Government with its silence, the National Security Council held a meeting in which the Supreme Leader ordered the increase in the Central Bank's interest rate."

After the Iranian Rial sank to 23000:1 last week, the Bank ordered a rate rise to 21%. That strengthened the Rial by about 25% and brought gold prices down by more than 20%.

Now the question: in ordering the rise, did Ayatollah Khamenei overrule President Ahmadinejad, who has opposed higher interest rates because of his growth-first strategy?

0640 GMT: Economy Watch. Fars reports that 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has told the head of the State broadcaster IRIB to feature a "soft" interview with Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini. The Minister will write the questions,with no others allowed, and there should be no challenge or debate.

0610 GMT: Economy Watch. After it was postponed on Saturday, yesterday's meeting of MPs with Government and Central Bank officials over the economy does not appear to have gone well.

Baztab-e-Emrooz, the new outlet of the Expediency Council's Mohsen Rezaei, headlines, "The economy team of the Government was put on trial in the private assembly of the Parliament." Mehr continues, "In this assembly, [leading MPs] Ahmad Tavakkoli, Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, Mohammad Reza Bahonar and Seyyed Hussein Hashemi strongly criticised the Government. [Minister of Economy Shamseddin] Husseini, [Central Bank head Mahmoud] Bahmani, and [Minister of Industry] Mehdi Ghazanfari, as the representatives of the Government, spoke defiantly for 45 minutes."

The Government representatives accused the media of spreading false news about the currency as well as accusing brokers of speculation. Responding to claims of Government delay in dealing with the situation, Hussaini joked that it had caught a “cold”, postponing action.

That did not sit well with Ahmad Tavakkoli, who challenged the Minister of Economy, “What have you been doing in the last two weeks?" He noted Husseini had accompanied Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his Latin American tour earlier this month, "Why in such a critical situation, did you go to the inauguration of the Nicaraguan President?”

Husseini replied, “I did not want to go, but Mr President asked me to go with him. Of course I was thinking about this crisis throughout the trip to Nicaragua."

In an interview, Abbas Ali Noora, an MP and economy lecturer, called the Government's blame of the media "a joke", saying that officials had not understood the problem. MP Hussain Sobhani Nia said the Government was guilty of a 20-day delay in controlling the currency market and the falling Iranian Rial.

0530 GMT: Tehran is in a bit of a jam.

Facing the prospect of tightening sanctions, with the European Union declaring that it will suspend imports of Iranian oil from 1 July, the regime considered hitting back. MPs and officials declared that Iran would strike first, cutting off shipments to Europe immediately. This would drive up oil prices and specifically hit countries like Greece and Italy, both facing their own economic difficulties, with significant imports from Tehran.

The problem is that the regime needs the revenue from its oil shipments. So the cut-off, even if it punished the  Europeans and the world, might also do damage to a fragile Iranian economy and destroy the Government's already-suspect handling of the budget.

So what we saw this weekend was a lot of posturing facing some reality. Sunday came and went without the Parliamentary bill that would halt the oil supplies. Indeed, there was no bill, only the "idea" of a bill that might be introduced as early as Saturday.

The posing continued, of course. After the head of the National Iranian Oil Company, Ahmad Qalebani, warned that global oil prices might rise 35% to $150 a barrel, Minister of Oil Rustam Qassemi insisted that the taps to Europe would be turned off soon

Meanwhile, assurances are given that the West's sanctions will not be effective. The latest line is that India will maintain its present level of oil imports, with Minister of Finance Pranab Mukherjee saying "It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the imports from Iran drastically, because among the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economies, Iran is an important country amongst them," the Indian finance minister said. 

 India is Iran's second largest oil customer after China, purchasing about $12 billion each year. The trade has been complicated since December 2010, however, by problems over payment arrangements. Currently, India is proposed to pay Tehran in rupees, but Iran wants part-payment in Japanese yen. 

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