Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (31 January): "Democracy and Freedom Are A Big Lie"

See also Iran Prescription: Oh My God, Tehran Almost Has The Bomb! (Repeat as Necessary)
The Latest from Iran (30 January): Posturing Over Oil

2054 GMT: Threat of the Day. MP Mostafa Kavakebian, a member of Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, has warned that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors should be banned from re-entering Iran if they again publish a "unrealistic report" on Tehran's nuclear programme and “mislead the global community”. He also asked security officials to exercise vigilance over the inspectors to prevent them from collecting and leaking confidential information.

A six-member IAEA team, led by the agency's Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, completed a three-day visit today, after talks over future co-operation.

Kavakebian is considered a reformist, but has broken from others over the position towards March's Parliamentary elections and is attempting to form a "Democracy Front" for the campaign.

1947 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's representative for foreign policy, has issued a statement about detentions, harassment, and threatened executions by Iranian authorities:

I am extremely worried about the growing harassment and persecution of journalists and internet bloggers in Iran. The right to free speech is an internationally enshrined fundamental human right, which Iran itself has freely signed up to respect and protect.

In the past few weeks, security forces have reportedly arrested many journalists, including Sahameddin Bourghani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, Hassan Fathi, Farshad Ghorbanpour, Ehsan Houshmand, Fatemeh Kheradmand, Saeed Madani, Shahram Manouchehri, Marzieh Rasouli, Arash Sadeghi and Mohammad Soleimani Nia. I call on the Iranian authorities to release these journalists and restore their rights to freely communicate their views.

I am equally concerned about the continued interference with and censoring of the internet. Iran has gone far beyond filtering access and content: three bloggers - Saeed Malekpour, Ahmadreza Hashempour and Vahid Ashghari as well as web developper Mehdi Alizadeh Fakhrabad– have recently been sentenced to death on charges of “spreading corruption on earth” and “mohareb” (enmity against God). Civil society organisations have raised serious concerns over the fairness, transparency and speed of the court proceedings. The EU holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. I repeat my call on Iran to review these sentences, to halt all pending executions and to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.

1847 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syrian Front). Is this the sign of a worried Supreme Leader? A series of Twitter messages from Ayatollah Khamenei's office 30 minutes ago:

Comprehensive observation of developments in Syria, proves that there is an American plan in action....Unfortunately, some foreign countries and countries in MidEast are participating in American plan for Syria....The main purpose of USA's plan in Syria is to harm the resistance movement, & Syria's support of Palestine & Lebanon....If Syria promises America that it will not support resistance in Palestine & Lebanon, all issues will settle down.

1840 GMT: Oil Watch. Hamid Behbahani, the Minister of Transport who was impeached by Parliament in February 2011, is replacing Mohammad Souri, chairman and chief executive of the National Iranian Tanker Company.

Souri has resigned after 26 years in charge amidst the challenge of US-led sanctions.

Behbahani is a close ally of President Ahmadinejad.

London-based analyst Valerie Marcel said, "(Ahmadinejad wants) to have a close ally in that strategic position of supervising or controlling tankers when there's an impending embargo on Iran's exports. I think it's a sign that he wants to keep a close eye on those operations."

1700 GMT: Currency Watch. Aftab reports that police have arrested several foreign exchange traders on Ferdowsi Street in Tehran today.

Traders were banned from selling currency outside banks and exchange offices earlier this month, amidst the crisis over the Iranian Rial.

Meanwhile, Yahya Al Eshagh, head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, assures that" target="_blank">all is well: Iran has reserves of $17.5 billion to buy 907 tons of gold at $600/ounce and $120 billion in foreign reserves.

(Al Eshagh's calculations on the gold price seem a bit off, given that the international price today is $1738.)

1630 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Shiraz News Agency claims that the Revolutionary Guards have prevented Ayatollah Dastgheib, a prominent critic of the regime, from attending the funeral of his son in Shiraz.

Meanwhile, Ayatollah Dastgheib, in a statement on his website, has called for the release of the opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi from their strict house arrests and the freeing of political prisoners from detention.

1620 GMT: Distinctively Unhelpful Statement of the Day. Somehow I don't think this approach by the Obama Administration will reduce tensions and talk of war with Iran --- from The Washington Post:

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Iran is prepared to launch terrorist attacks inside the United States in response to perceived threats from America and its allies, the U.S. spy chief said Tuesday.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in prepared testimony that an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington that was uncovered last year reflects an aggressive new willingness within the upper ranks of the Islamist republic to authorize attacks against the United States.

That plot “shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime,” Clapper said in the testimony, which was submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee in advance of a threat assessment hearing Tuesday. “We are also concerned about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas."

We have just found the entire text of Clapper's statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee --- there is nothing beyond the sentences quoted by the Post. So there is no support from Clapper for the "changed...calculus", the willingness "to conduct an attack", or "Iranian plotting". Nor is there anything to bolster the narrative, challenged by many observers, of an Iranian-led scheme to kill the Saudi ambassador.

What's more, Clapper's scare statement is likely to swallow the more significant passage. His statement deflates the recent hyperbole about Iran being on the verge of The Bomb: "We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

1615 GMT: Subsidy Cuts Watch. According to Hamidreza Fouladgar, a group of MPs has presented an alternative to President Ahmadinejad's proposed second phase of subsidy cuts. Instead of providing support payments in cash, they would be designated for particular production sectors, insurance, and housing.

1345 GMT: The Battle Within. Former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, a prominent figure in the "Unity Front" of conservatives/principlists, has declared that the rival Islamic Constancy Front, led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, has one month to join forces.

The Constancy Front has held out for months against an agreement because of its opposition to representatives of politicians such as Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.

1335 GMT: Fraud Watch. Iran Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei on Monday has called on Interpol to arrest and hand over Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former managing director of Bank Melli who fled to Canada when the $2.6 billion bank fraud was announced.

1325 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Saudi Front). Khabar Online reports that the Saudi Arabian delegation walked out of the 7th annual assembly of the Union of Islamic Countries’ Parliament in Indonesia, protesting the speech of Iran's former Speaker of Parliament Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri.

Nategh Nouri, who had been invited as a special guest because of his role in the formation of the Parliament, was criticising the Saudi Arabian regime at the time of the walk-out.

1255 GMT: The Battle Within. An EA source reports that former President Mohammad Khatami, in two separate messages to Hashemi Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili, has asked them to intervene to solve current political problems, including seeking negotiations with the Supreme Leader.

Meanwhile,Rafsanjani has not only criticised the Government's economic policies but also implicitly challenged its foreign policy: "Creating enemies will not help us to achieve the Revolution aims. By having correct and useful relations with the world, we can resolve and solve our country’s problems and issues."

1245 GMT: Elections Watch. State news agency IRNA reports that the Guardian Council has barred a member of the Assembly of Experts --- the body which has the authority to choose and dismiss the Supreme Leader --- from standing in March's Parliamentary elections due "to lack of practical commitment to Islam".

1125 GMT: The Supreme Leader's Brother Watch. Sayed Hadi Khamenei, a leading member of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, has visited the children of the detained opposition figure Mir Hussain Mousavi.

Khamenei expressed his appreciation for Mousavi, saying that "all the issues he raised during the election shows that he was an expert in cultural, economic, and political fields". He wished "for the bitterness of these times to be sweetened" by the release of Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and fellow opposition figures Mehdi and Fatemeh Karroubi, all of whom have been under strict house arrest since last February.

1115 GMT: Questioning the Supreme Leader. Readers who understand Persian may be interested in a spirited discussion on Voice of America among filmmaker Mohammad Reza Nourizad, analyst Babak Dad, and opposition spokesman Mojtaba Vahedi (Parts 1, 2, and 3).

1110 GMT: Elections Watch. An EA source reports that State broadcaster IRIB is planning, as with the 2009 Presidential contest, to broadcast debates for the upcoming Parliamentary elections, featuring the heads of different parties.

However, after the subsequent controversy over the 2009 election --- not only highlighting the debate between President Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, but also Ahmadinejad's charges of corruption against former President Hashemi Rafsanjani --- the debates will not be television but broadcast through radio channels.

0935 GMT: Oil Watch. A Turkish Ministry of Energy spokesman has said, "'We are not bound by EU [European Union] or US decisions, so we will only block Iranian oil imports if the UN decides to impose such sanctions on Iran."

At the same time, the spokesman said that while Turkey's private refiner Tupras was free to buy crude from any source it chose, the company had given an undertaking not to import crude from Iran if the Turkish Government opted to impose sanctions.

The spokesman's statement re-confirms the line put out by Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz on 12 January,"We are not bound by any decision except for the UN decisions."

Turkey takes almost half its oil from Iran.

0915 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Human Rights Watch has called on Iranian authorities to "immediately release dozens of labor and independent trade union activists imprisoned for speaking out peacefully in defense of workers". The organisation continued, "Convictions solely for the peaceful exercise of freedom of association and assembly should be quashed, and charges should be dropped against others facing prosecution for these reasons".

Human Rights Watch noted recent arrests Tehran, East Azerbaijan and Kurdistan Provinces. Those detained include Alireza Akhavan, a teacher and labor rights activist; Mohammad Jarrahi and Shahrokh Zamani of Tabriz; Shays Amani, a prominent rights activist and member of an independent trade union in Sanandaj; and Mehdi Shandeez.

0755 GMT: Supreme Leader Watch. Ayatollah Khamenei, responding to a question in a meeting with university students, has declared that it is acceptable under Sharia law to kiss his hand.

However, according to an Iran-based correspondent for Tehran Bureau, the Supreme Leader may need to think beyond the issue of kissing his hand.

The correspondent notes the spread of jokes about Ayatollah Khamenei: "Some jokingly refer to him as Farzaneh Khanoum -- Lady Farzaneh. Farzaneh is a common female name, and the joke is a play of words on the epithet he is customarily accorded on state television: rahbar-e farzaneh --- wise or learned leader."

And then the correspondent moves from the satirical to the critical:

The criticism voiced by ordinary Iranians is increasingly uninhibited, at times quite personal and laced with loathing. Khamenei is described as stubborn, obstinate, jealous, and vindictive. He is said to hold permanent grudges against his opponents, including those Iranians who did not accept his choice for president, whom he labels seditionists in virtually every speech he delivers.

Babak, a music teacher who was injured in a post-election protests, calls Khamenei "so cruel that, if he could kill all of us, he would so, he would have no opponents." Marzieh, the daughter of a well-known ayatollah, discusses the way Khamenei has dealt with Rafsanjani as well as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the former presidential candidates who been under house arrest for almost a year: "Mr. Khamenei holds a grudge in his heart against these men both because of the Imam's [Khomeini's] love and support for them and also because in comparison to these three, in particular Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and Mousavi, he is clearly a second-rate individual."

And Khamenei's authoritarian behavior is not the only source of criticism; there is also his support for Ahmadinejad and the president's policies, the bad economic conditions, and the growing external pressures. An economics professor at Allameh Tabatabai University says, "Unrestrained imports, the destruction of the country's productive capacity, inflation, and corruption have made people worried about the future of the nation. Without a doubt, many consider him to be responsible for the situation." He goes on to say that many ordinary people are puzzled over Khamenei's inclination "to take the country toward ruin. The only answer they have is that he is willing to do it because he wants to maintain power."

0655 GMT: Currency Watch. The leading currency website Mesghal puts the Iranian Rial at 18300:1 vs. the US dollar, a return to its opening level of Monday before it slipped 3% during the day.

This is still nowhere near the declared single rate of 12260:1, put out by the Central Bank on Saturday. Reports indicate that foreign exchanges are refusing to sell "cheap" US dollars at the official level.

0645 GMT: A brief, direct opening to Tuesday's coverage....

More than 2 1/2 years after his disputed re-election, President Ahmadinejad has said that freedom and democracy are nothing but a "big lie".

According to State outlet Press TV, Ahmadinejad was not referring to the Islamic Republic but to the US, where he claimed the Democratic and Republican parties are merely two sides of the same coin: "“There is one group behind the curtain that leads the people on, but their objective is one."

Beyond its borders, the US used bombs and economic sieges, the President continued, “and if any one supports them, it's because of fear.” 

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