See also Iran Feature: Are Revolutionary Guards Among the 48 "Pilgrims" Freed in Syria? br>
Iran Feature: The Week in Civil Society --- Political Prisoners, Freedom of Expression, and Killer Smog br>
Friday's Iran Live Coverage: How to "Engineer" an Election
1820 GMT: Sanctions Watch. Marcus George of Reuters profiles the "informal currency dealers of Dubai, [who] have emerged as an important link between Iran's economy and the rest of the world" amid international sanctions:
Since businessmen trading with Iran could no longer transfer their money through normal banking channels, they turned to the dealers. Iranian savers moving their wealth out of the country were another source of business.
"Trading went crazy after those sanctions," the dealer in the Deira office said in a snatched conversation between endless calls and cups of tea. On one day, he recalled, he handled about 1 billion United Arab Emirates dirhams ($270 million).
What is most interesting about George's piece, however, is the indication that --- with foreign reserves dwinding --- Iran may have to limit even this informal trade:
last October, as the rial plunged in value, the government in Tehran clamped down on the supply of hard currency. That hit the Dubai dealers hard - both by restricting the amount of funds they handled and making it harder to gauge prices acceptable to both them and their customers.
"Now it's different. The government is fixing rates. Everything is grinding to a halt," said the Deira dealer....
On some days, the dealer said, he doesn't trade at all. On others, he handles around 10 to 15 million dirhams worth of businesss - and only with trusted clients.
1710 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Egyptian Front). The office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has denied that Morsi's senior aide Essam El-Haddad recently met Major General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force.
El Haddad said in an official statement Friday, issued through the Egyptian Embassy in London, that Mr Suleimani never entered Egypt: “We are concerned that a respectable news outlet such as The Times [of London] would fail to uphold basic journalistic standards. The Times chose not to solicit a reaction from the [Egyptian] Presidency, Dr El-Haddad’s office or the Foreign Ministry."
The men --- poet, blogger, and teacher Hashem Shabaninejad, chemistry teacher Hadi Rashedi, blogger Mohammad Ali Amourinejad, and the brothers Seyyed Jaber Alboshokeh and Seyyed Mokhtar Alboshokeh --- were convicted of waging war on God, sowing corruption on earth, propagating against the Islamic Republic, and acting against national security.
The men were arrested in spring 2011. They claimed they have been tortured and forced to sign confessions, two of them on State outlet Press TV.
1602 GMT: The Battle Within. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has again swung at the Government for alleged mismanagement of the economy, declaring during a provincial visit that “the road to solving the economic problem is not through the solving of international issues”.
Since the autumn, several prominent international airlines --- including British Airways and Asia Air --- have stopped services because of difficulties with financial transactions, amid sanctions and Iran's currency problems.
From April, Germany's Lufthansa will be the only European airline offering service to Tehran.
1503 GMT: Foreign Affairs Watch (Syrian Front). Back from a Saturday break to find the Iranian Ambassador to Damascus denying Friday's reports of an assassination attempt on officials from Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah.
“Such rumours are lies and lack authenticity and have been spread by ill-wishers only to affect the important achievement of the release of 48 Iranian hostages in Syria,” Mohammad Reza Raouf-Sheibani said.
The unconfirmed reports claimed that a bomb had hit a convoy near the Presidential Palace.
1103 GMT: Elections Watch. Al Jazeera English reports on recent Parliamentary changes to administration of elections, seeing it as part of the wider battle between the President and the Majlis:
1052 GMT: Elections Watch (Loyalty Edition). Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, one of the Tehran Friday Prayer leaders, has contributed to the definition of "free elections". Speaking before the main Prayer yesterday, he said, "Political parties and factions have no meaning in the Islamic Republic. All must obey the Supreme Leader."
1035 GMT: Press Watch. The managing editor of Shia Online has been given a four-month prison sentence for a report that the Hojjatieh movement --- officially banned in the Islamic Republic since the 1980s --- took over mosques linked to the Iranian military in 2009.
Syria government sources...say the militants entered the base after government troops left it according to an army evacuation order a few days ago and that all important military equipment deployed there as well as officers, pilots and soldiers were evacuated before the arrival of militants.
It is believed that the Syrian army has left behind only useless military equipment and weapons.
An opposition watchdog also said that the Syrian military had removed all its helicopters from the base, except for 20 which were no longer in working condition.
0635 GMT: Engineering the Elections. It only took three days for the Supreme Leader's declaration, "It is obvious that there should be free elections," to turn into high-profile fighting within the regime --- yesterday, Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, used Tehran Friday Prayers to knock down not only detained opposition leaders and reformists but also former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In hindsight, Ayatollah Khamenei opened the door for the conflict with his warning, "Everybody --- even those who may offer general pieces of advice about the elections out of care and compassion --- should take care not to further the goal of the enemy." Within hours, his representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Ali Saeedi, added that it was the "duty" of the Revolutionary Guards to "engineer" the ballot.
Both former President Mohammad Khatami and Rafsanjani countered that "free elections" should truly mean free elections, with the latter issuing the implied rebuke to the Supreme Leader's camp that "the Iranian people" --- rather than the regime's leaders --- "would pave the way". Other signs, notably in the pro-Rafsanjani outlet Baztab, indicated the the former President is going to circumvent Ayatollah Khamenei with an appeal to those people.
So Jannati lashed out yesterday with the curious formula that, while there would be free elections, anyone who openly spoke of "free elections" was aiding and possibly working with the enemy. He slapped the opposition --- the Green Movement, troublesome reformists, and the detained 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi --- “The public has identified your movement and knows your leaders and the leaders of sedition, and they know what your aim is; you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Then Jannati went after his primary target, Rafsanjani:
Those who consider themselves men of politics and have had important roles in the Revolution should be ashamed of themselves for repeating the statement of the foreign enemies of the regime....
The political losers are now talking about free elections and one of them is quite powerful and since a while ago he has begun talking about this issue and the rest have followed his line.
Perhaps the only saving grace, for those who hope for a quiet Presidential election, was that Jannati did not challenge President Ahmadinejad.
Yet, given that Ahmadinejad also hit back at the call to "engineer" the elections --- "No individual or group can manage the people and their vote....It is the people who will manage them" --- can there be a truce on that front?