Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (1 February): Is the Supreme Leader Fretting About Syria?

A poster encouraging Iranians to demonstrate publicly on 25 Bahman (14 February)

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

2019 GMT: Food Watch. Continuing problems with grain shipments to Iran....

The news that 400,000 tonnes of grain has been held up on 10 ships outside Iranian ports has been followed by confirmation that traders are no longer booking cargoes on Iranian ships to transport grain exports from Ukraine because of difficulties with payments following European Union sanctions.

"The indication is that Iranian flag ships would not be welcomed (at Ukrainian ports) that is the guidance that is being given." one trade source said.

Another source said, "They will not load vessels bound for Iranian destinations or Iranian ships. It is not entirely clear if this has come from the government and it looks like companies have to make their own decisions on what to do. EU sanctions are very much part of the considerations."

Ukraine's Transport Ministry said there were no restrictions on Iranian ships. "Nobody knows anything about this," a ministry spokesman said. "All our ports are open to foreign ships. There are no restrictions, nor can there be any."

However, a grain trader said, "The trade in Iranian food is getting extremely difficult as the impact of the sanctions is still developing each day. Ukraine has been a leading supplier of grain to Iran. Now it appears Iranian buyers will only be able to buy with delivery to Ukrainian ports and will face further difficulties in arranging shipments."

Ukraine exported about 445,000 tonnes of grain to Iran in the first half of the 2011/12 season. This included 92,000 tonnes of feed barley and 357,600 tonnes of feed maize.

2010 GMT: CyberWatch. An interesting tale from cyber-world....

Alan Eyre, the State Department's Persian-language spokesperson, has started a site on the Persian weblog service Blogfa.

Reporting the development, Zohur News has politely asked Alireza Shirazi, the manager of Blogfa, to delete Eyre's account immediately. An EA source reports that the site is already filtered in Iran.

1934 GMT: Currency Watch. The opposition website Kalemeh reports on the currency situation, claiming that most trade is occurring in the black market after the Central Bank's failure to impose a rate of 12260:1 for the Iranian Rial vs. the US dollar.

The website claims police are releasing arrrested currency traders after fining them. While official exchange offices refuse to buy or sell dollars at the imposed rate, the dollar is trading for 18800 Rials on the street.

Kalemeh adds that Central Bank employees have nothing to do because foreign exchange transfers have been prohibited.

1930 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Fatemeh Kheradmand has been released on bail of 50 million Toman (about $28,000).

Kheradmand is the wife of journalist Masoud Lavasani, who was released last September after almost two years in prison. She was seized in a raid on her house on 7 January.

1920 GMT: Elections Watch. The conservative Jahan News jabs at President Ahmadinejad, "Safeguarding people's votes is the same speech that [former President] Rafsanjani made in 2009" about the disputed Presidential election.

Khabar Online, linked to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, challenges Ahmadinejad on the economic front -- interest rates hit a new record high, and benefits for companies relapsed to the 2005 level.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar has claimed that 20 MPs have still not been approved yet by the Guardian Council to stand in March's Parliamentary election.

The Ministry of Interior, in the initial screening, blocked 32 MPs.

1905 GMT: CyberWatch. Iran Police Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam explains that, despite Western efforts, Facebook has now become a tool to export the Islamic Revolution.

1845 GMT: Currency Watch. The price of old gold coin has fallen below the 800,000 Toman (about $450) level for the first time since the spike in prices earlier this month.

The price had been as high as 1,020,000 Toman before the Central Bank raised interest rates to 21%.

1818 GMT: Warning of the Day. The head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has said that "economic troublemakers could even face execution".

1800 GMT: Currency Watch. Assadollah Asgarouladi, one of Iran's wealthiest businessman, has declared that, in spite of the Central Bank's effort on Saturday to replace five different levels for the Iranian currency, "there is no single rate for foreign exchange".

Asgarouladi jabbed at the Bank for other measures he claimed were counter-productive, such as restricted allocation of dollars for travellers and for importers.

1700 GMT: Ahmadinejad Watch. MP Mostafa Reza Hosseini has declared that the President has not convinced legislators with his recent statements, and he will be summoned for questioning during the month of Esfand (Feb-March).

Ahmadinejad was supposed to be questioned earlier this month, but he avoided this because of his tour of Latin America.

1650 GMT: Budget Watch. Back from a lengthy academic break to find that President Ahmadinejad has presented his 2012/2013 Budget, 57 days after it was due.

The 510 trillion Toman (about $270 billion) budget is a reduction from the 2011/12 budget of 538 billion Toman.

Ahmadinejad told MPs to work in "double shifts" to approve his proposals.

1025 GMT: Foreign Affairs (Syria Front). Press TV reports that 11 more Iranian pilgrims have been abducted on the road between Hama and the Syrian capital Damascus.

Eleven Iranian men were also reportedly seized last week from a bus carrying pilgrims across Syria.

1016 GMT: Nuclear Watch. Returning from a three-day visit to Tehran, an International Atomic Energy Agency team said there were "good" talks about Iran's nuclear programme but more discussions were needed.

"We are committed to resolving all the outstanding issues and the Iranians certainly are committed too. But of course there is still a lot of work to be done and so we have planned another trip in the very near future," Herman Nackaerts, the IAEA's deputy director general told reporters.

An unnamed Iranian source told Fars, "Talks between Iran and the visiting team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were constructive and... the two sides agreed to continue the talks."

The IAEA said in a statement that another meeting" target="_blank">will be held in Tehran from February 21 to 22.

1004 GMT: Economy Watch. A clash between the Money and Credit Council and the Minister of Economy, Shamseddin Hosseini over interest rates....

The Minister said in a televised interview on Monday that banks are no longer allowed to choose their interest rates, and any who attempt to do so will face punishment. The Council has challenged this, saying that a sound environment for investment depends on banks being able to decide their rates.

It’s good to mention that yesterday the Minister of Economy (Sayed Shamsuddin Hussaini) in an interview with IRNN (shabake Khabar) frankly said all the banks should follow the same policy and based on the president opinion no banks are allowed to choose the interest rates. And any banks doing this will face punishment.

1000 GMT: Cyber-Watch. On the first anniversary of the establishment of the Virtual Police of Iran (FATA), a new branch, "FATA --- Great Tehran", has started its operations.

An Iranian police official said 40% of Iran's cyber-crimes occur in Tehran.

0944 GMT: Justice Watch. Hussain Naeimipour, the son of former MP Mohammad Naeimipour, has been arrested.

The former MP said, "Five plainclothes officers arrested my son in a very insulting and rude way without showing any warrants or documents, and they confiscated all the documents in my office."

0930 GMT: Currency Watch. The political conflict around the recent currency crisis appears to have escalated. MP Fazel Mousavi has said that Parliament's Article 90 Commission has written to the Ministry of Intelligence request information and data from the currency market." He added the claim, "The Government intentionally increased the price of dollars" versus the Iranian Rial.

0917 GMT: Campus Watch. The Ministry of Science and Higher Education has announced that it will no longer accept degrees from British universities..

Hassan Ghafouri Fard, former MP and the head of the committee of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution evaluating the situation, said, "Following the plan to reduce the relationship between Iran and the United Kingdom, from now on not only we will not send students to UK but we’ll not accept UK universities degrees. Consequently students should not choose UK for higher education."

Iranian officials have been dissuading students from coming to Britain since late 2009, for both financial and political reasons, and the Ministry announced last autumn that it would stop funding scholarships for applicants to British universities.

0915 GMT: Clerical Intervention. The grandson of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Sayed Hassan Khomeini, speaking about the forthcoming anniversary of the Islaimc Revolution, has said, "The greatest danger for our country is the people being treated badly by the officials who are telling them lies."

Khomeini, who participated in the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Sane'i's wife, also repeated his criticism of the Government for mis-treating senior cleric. badly.

0855 GMT: CyberWatch. Iran’s cyber-police have arrested four administrators of a Facebook group called “Daaf and Paaf”, which had launched an online beauty competition.

The cyberpolice posted a note on the group's Facebook wall, saying that the two women and two men had confessed: “In the name of God, we inform you that the page 'Daaf and Paaf' is now under the control of [the cyber police]. The four main managers of this group have been identified and arrested on the charge of inciting and encouraging individuals to access vulgar content through the Internet.”

Comments on the note condemned the cyber-police. “You...took away the right of the youth to be happy in the streets; they are all sitting at home spending their days and nights having online fun. Now you have an issue with this too?" wrote one user.

Others targeted Iran’s Supreme Leader with comments such as “Down with Khamenei! Down with the dictator!”

The Facebook group had called on its 27,000 fans to send in pictures to take part in a competition for choosing attractive Iranian men and women. The wall is filled with the pictures of young Iranians of both sexes who are identified only by their first names.

Despite the aggressive action, it looks the cyber-police may have to go further in their crackdown: a new "Daaf and Paaf" page has been established on Facebook.

0715 GMT: Protest Watch. On Monday, we briefly noted, "The opposition Coordination Council of the 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."

What I did not put in that entry, but what was in my mind as I wrote was this: the Council has put out calls for public demonstrations on several occasions over the last year, but amidst the continuing crackdown on dissent, this has not brought a significant public response. So will this 25 Bahman return to the tens of thousands on the streets last year, or will protest be muted?

Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau picks up the story this morning, quoting the Council statement:

Iran and Iranians are being challenged in one of the most difficult eras of their history. The government's incompetence has led to the devastation of the country's interests and resources. Despite the fact that Iran's oil revenues in recent years [under President Ahmadinejad] have surpassed $600 billion (more than the revenues of all the [previous] postrevolutionary governments combined), the conduct of those who rose to power promising justice, the delivery of the oil income to the people's tables, and the stamping out of poverty, corruption, and discrimination has yielded nothing but economic decline, vanishing investments, and the rise of inflation and unemployment to their highest level in the past 20 years, while the scope of poverty, corruption, and discrimination has widened at a disastrous rate.

Sahimi continues, "Noting the recent statement by 39 prominent political prisoners that called on the people to pursue their rights and for the release of Mousavi, his wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, and Karroubi, the council urged Iranians to come out to the streets on the evening of February 14 to protest and demonstrate their solidarity." He quotes another passage from the Council:

[Instead of] making up for its errors, [the regime] is still insistent on pursuing a policy of suppression, as hundreds of activists remain illegally behind bars, more than two and a half years after the 2009 [presidential] election. It is the human, legal and legitimate right of Iranians to protest against the state of their lives and their country. Protesting is the right of all Iranians.

0655 GMT: On Tuesday, the Supreme Leader's office put out a series of Twitter messages about Ayatollah Khamenei's views on the situation in Syria:

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.

To me, this read as more than the standard support for Damascus. With the opposition gaining ground, in political and military terms, and with a growing prospect of international intervention, it seemed the Supreme Leader was getting worried.

But was this, in its English translation, an accurate portrayal of his views? A Twitter stream on Monday from Khamenei's staff had put out the Supreme Leader's message that each Islamic revolution had to follow political, social, and religous paths in the context of each nation --- a different tone than his February 2011 statement, just after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, "Our Revolution has managed to be inspirational and has set a model." However, when I saw the full English text of Khamenei's message to a youth conference, I could not find a statement putting out this shift.

So this morning I look at Press TV's summary of the Supreme Leader's line on Syria, put out in a meeting with the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, Ramadan Abdullah Mohammad Shallah:

"The Americans and certain Western countries want to take revenge on Syria for their recent defeats in the region, including Egypt and Tunisia,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. 

The Leader stated that Syria's only crime is backing the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance, adding that if Syria promises the US that it will withdraw support for the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, all problems will be resolved. 

Taking a glance at the developments unfolding in Syria, it is clear that the United States has hatched a plot against Syria and “unfortunately, certain foreign and regional countries take part in the plot,” the Leader observed. 

Ayatollah Khamenei added, “The main purpose of the United States' plot in Syria is to deal a blow to the resistance front in the region because Syria is supporting the resistance of Palestine and the Islamic resistance of Lebanon. 

Regional developments over the past year are the blessings of Almighty God and this is just the beginning and more victories are ahead, the Leader noted. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran's stance toward Syria is to support any kind of reform that would benefit the country's people and oppose the interference of the United States and its allies in Syria's internal affairs,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. 

That seems to match up with the summary sent out by his office yesterday.

So what are we getting from the Supreme Leader: defiance, concern, or both?

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