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The Latest from Iran (18 May): Helping Damascus
1622 GMT: Claim of Day. Hamed Saleh-Abadi, a journalist for the reformist Donya-e Eghtesad, reports that former President Mohammad Khatami has expressed regret for his decision to vote in March's Parliamentary elections.
According to Saleh-Abadi, Khatami said, "The political atmosphere daily becomes more restricted. My vote must have shocked society. I accept criticism for it."
Before the election, Khatami had set the conditions for participation of freedom for political prisoners, adherence to the Constitution, and free activity of political parties. Many reformists and members of the opposition refused to vote on the grounds that those conditions were not met.
1620 GMT: Picture of Day. Claimed photograph of student activist Mahdieh Golroo, leaving Evin Prison today, after 30 months behind bars:
1340 GMT: Playing the Saudi-Bahrain Card. Four of Press TV's top nine stories in its Iran section are actually about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, such as "US, Saudi Arabia Seek Access to Bahrain Bases for Anti-Iran Purposes".
The most provocative article? "Saudi Wahabis Pay USD500K for Assassination of Iran Sunni Cleric":
A report says Wahhabi circles in Saudi Arabia had paid around USD 500,000 for the assassination of an Iranian Sunni cleric in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan earlier this year.
Two of the individuals recently arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Molavi Jangi Zehi have confessed that they received the sum from Saudi Wahhabis, the report said on Friday.
Jangi Zehi, the Friday prayers leader of Iran's southeastern town of Rask, was assassinated by terrorists after saying prayers in the evening, as he was on his way home in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province on January 20, 2012.
Over the past year, the late Iranian cleric publicly expressed his belief that revealing the crimes of the Riyadh and Manama regimes is a religious duty of the Sunni scholars in Iran.
1330 GMT: All-Is-Well Alert (Oil Edition). Press TV trumpets:
Italy’s oil imports from Iran have increased by 6 percent in March in comparison to the previous month, despite the European oil embargo on the Islamic Republic.
According to Italy’s oil refining industry body Unione Petrolifera (UP), the European country raised crude imports from Iran to 425,200 tons in March from 401,600 tons in February.
Italy’s oil purchases from Iran in the first three months of 2012 were 1.69 million tons, while the country imported about 1.44 million tons of Iranian crude in the January-March period of 2011, UP data revealed on Wednesday.
Everything OK, then? Not quite. Press TV changed one phrase when it modifed this report from Reuters:
Italy raised crude oil imports from Iran by about 6 percent in March from February ahead of the planned new sanctions against Tehran.
"Ahead of" --- in other words, Italy, which takes more than 10% of its oil from Iran, is stockpiling before the European Union's ban on imports from Tehran takes effect on 1 July.
1235 GMT: Clerical Intervention. Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad has derided "death fatwas", such as those issued against writer Salman Rushdie in 1989 and rapper Shahin Najafi this month, as foolish and dangerous.
Amjad, who taught in Qom and Tehran, left Iran in protest against the regime's oppression after the disputed 2009 Presidential election. He is now in Malaysia.
1010 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch (Nuclear Edition). Shahin Dadkhah, a member of Iran's negotiating team on the nuclear issue during the Khatami Government, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for "contacts with a hostile government".
0952 GMT: Ahmadinejad Propaganda Watch. "Hard-line" media analyst Abbas Salimi-Namin has accused State broadcaster IRIB of using archive photos to give a misleading impression of "success" of President Ahmadinejad's visit to Mashhad in northeastern Iran earlier this month. He claims that witnesses said far fewer people were present than were shown in the pictures.
0950 GMT: Currency Watch. Looks like the Central Bank is still worried about the stability of Iran's currency --- it has forwarded a list of illegal exchange offices to security forces and declared that 620 official offices must report their trade to the Central Bank's data centre.
The Iranian Rial, which weakened last week after a bounce-back earlier in the month, stands at 16900:1 vs. the US dollar in the open market. The official rate is 12260:1.
0630 GMT: We begin with a 21-nation survey by the Pew Research Center of attitudes around Iran. Pew's headline is "A Global 'No' To a Nuclear-Armed Iran", but we are more interested in the political dimensions of the outcome.
The survey offers bad news for the regime's projection of an "Islamic Awakening" following the path of Iran's 1979 revolution and the next 33 years:
Iran is...unpopular in many predominantly Muslim nations who are its neighbors. Roughly six-in-ten Lebanese (61%) give the Islamic Republic a negative rating, although views are sharply divided among the country’s major religious communities. About nine-in-ten Lebanese Shia Muslims (91%) hold a positive view of Iran, compared with just 5% of Sunni Muslims and 32% of Christians.
In Turkey, where diplomatic tensions with Iran have increased over the last year, 55% of the people have an unfavorable opinion about Iran, while only 26% express a favorable view.
Jordanians (79% unfavorable) and Egyptians (76%) give Iran especially poor marks. Moreover, ratings for Iran have declined precipitously since 2006, when 59% of Egyptians and 49% of Jordanians expressed a positive view.
There is also a generation gap on this question in some countries in the region. Young people in Tunisia, ages 18-29, are 16 percentage points more likely to have an unfavorable view of Iran than are people 50 years of age and older. In Turkey the generation gap is 14 points, while in Lebanon it is ten points.
The return for President Ahmadinejad is similar, except in two locations:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receives largely negative reviews in most of the predominantly Muslim nations surveyed. However, Pakistan is again a major exception. About half of Pakistanis (47%) express a favorable opinion of Ahmadinejad, while just 6% give him an unfavorable rating (47% do not offer an opinion). Also, a plurality of Tunisians (42%) hold a positive view of the Iranian leader.
Once more, Lebanese opinions are split along religious lines, with nearly all Shia (95%) expressing a favorable view of Ahmadinejad and nearly all Sunnis (92%) offering a negative rating. Nearly six-in-ten Christians (57%) also see him in a negative light.
About half of Turks (48%) and large majorities of Jordanians (83%) and Egyptians (73%) have an unfavorable view of the Iranian president.
One immediate lesson from the numbers: the Islamic Republic's strategy for influence has looked to Egypt as a focal point, with the ousting of the Mubarak regime and the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a leading political force offering opportunities for Tehran.
We had a far different view from early 2011, arguing that any Egyptian faction, including the Brotherhood, would be looking to local concerns rather than Iranian guidance for its policies. The highly unfavourable view of the Iranian regime in Pew's numbers is powerful support for that analysis.