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Entries in Mehdi Hashemi (5)


The Latest from Iran (19 March): Untamed?

2120 GMT: Mahmoud Goes to the Country? OK, it's not just Internet chatter. EA readers bring me up to speed: in a televised statement on Friday night, President Ahmadinejad set out the possibility of a referendum on his proposal to control $40 billion from subsidy reductions (the Parliament only gave him $20 billion).

And Ahmadinejad wasn't pulling punches: he said that his "conservative" opponents in Parliament were verging on "treason" with exaggerated statements of the inflationary potential of his plan. Fortunately, he reassured, their economic estimates were not correct.

NEW Iran: Ethnic Minorities and the Green Movement (Ghajar)
NEW Iran Academic Question: Suspending North American Studies?
Latest Iran Video: Mousavi’s and Rahnavard’s New Year Messages (18 March)
Iran: Reading Mousavi & Karroubi “The Fight Will Continue” (Shahryar)
Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)
The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2110 GMT: Containing the Poet. Another story to pick up --- National Public Radio has a profile of 82-year-old Simin Behbahani, the poet who is so dangerous that Iranian authorities seized her passport as she was about to board a flight for an awards ceremony in Paris.

2100 GMT: Back from a movie break. (Iran as Wonderland? Discuss.) Little happening this evening, though there is Internet chatter that Ahmadinejad may go to the country for a referendum on his subsidy reform proposals.

The break is useful to pick up on a couple of important stories. Persian2English has posted an English translation of the Committee on Human Rights Reporters statement of 17 March, responding to the regime's efforts to break human rights activists with charges of their role in US-backed "cyber-warfare":
Exaggerated claims that human rights activists are connected to foreign or political organizations have been repeatedly disseminated by Tehran’s prosecutor, domestic and military media, intelligence interrogators, and internet bandits. No plausible or credible evidence has been introduced to back their accusations of blatant lies....

The Committee of Human Rights Reporters has indicated in their mission statement, in interviews, and in their official announcements that their activities are limited to human rights issues, and they are proud of their work.

1615 GMT: And Via Satellite. European Union ambassadors have declared in Brussels that the EU is determined to end Iran's "unacceptable" jamming of satellite broadcasting and Internet censorship: "The EU calls on the Iranian authorities to stop the jamming of satellite broadcasting and Internet censorship and to put an end to this electronic interference immediately."

1520 GMT: Internet Diplomacy? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Bloomberg, has highlighted the US Government's support of initiatives to get around Iranian restrictions on Internet access.

Clinton declared, “We’re doing a lot, let me just put it at that, because we think it is in the interests of American values and American strategic concerns to make sure that people have a chance to know what is going on outside of Iran." She claimed that a license had been issued to an (unnamed) company to boost access. Clinton added:
I’m sure that the Iranian authorities will do what they can to block any move that we make, so it’s like a chess game. We’ll go back and make another move, because we think we owe it to the Iranians, particularly during this period when there is so much at stake

1430 GMT: The President and the Clerics. An EA reader brings up to speed on the Ahmadinejad visit to Qom: Khabar Online has pictures of the President with Ayatollahs Mesbah Yazdi, Nouri-Hamedani and Jafar Sobhani, as well as a group shot.

Ahmadinejad's deputy for religious affairs claims that the meeting's atmosphere was good with the President "convincingly" answering some complaints from the clerics. The marjas brought up the people’s income problems, which should be solved, and cultural matters. AN promised to deal with these and also to transform Qom into the most beautiful town of the country.

Another meeting is planned with Jame’eye Modarressin (Association of the Teachers and Researchers of Qom).

1230 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Human Rights Activists in Iran have issued a list of 2560 detainees for the Iranian Year 1388 (March 2009-March 2010). The large majority were arrested after the election.

0855 GMT:  Political Prisoner Watch. Philosophy student Ali Moazzami has been released on bail; however, other detainees such as journalist Emadeddin Baghi remain behind bars for Nowruz.

0845 GMT: Remembering. Mourners gathered yesterday at the graves of post-election martyrs, placing flowers and cards.

In front of Evin Prison, relatives gathered to demand the release of detainees, including Ms Elham Ahsani, supporter of the Mothers of Mourning.

0825 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Here's the Rumour of the Day --- Islamic Republic News Agency claims Hashemi Rafsanjani flew to Kish Island to meet his son Mehdi Hashemi, who wants to return illegally to mainland Iran via Dubai.

AFP picks up on the news, which we reported last night, that Hossein Marashi, a relative of Rafsanjani's wife and an ally of the former President, has been jailed for one year for "spreading propaganda".

0820 GMT: Economy Watch. Jahangir Amuzegar offers a broad analysis of the state of Iran's economy and the problems it poses for President Ahmadinejad.

0815 GMT: Qom Absentee. Looks like one person who was not at the President's meetings with senior clerics (see 0645 GMT) was Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. Khabar Online, unsurprisingly, surmises that this is because the President was firmly told to leave Rahim-Mashai behind.

0755 GMT: On the International Front. Lots of media attention to apparent tensions in Moscow between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian hosts over Iran. The immediate focus is on whether Russia will finally help Tehran to bring the Bushehr nuclear power plant on-line (Helpful Hint: the Russians are playing a double game, trying to delay completion while publicly declaring that they will ensure Bushehr will start operations in 2010).

The wider issue --- overlooked in The New York Times summary --- is whether Russia will give public backing to an expanded sanctions programme. The dispute in Moscow moves the arrow towards "No".

0745 GMT: Taming the Internet? The New York Times highlights the ongoing battle of the opposition for access to and dissemination of information with "Iran’s Opposition Seeks More Help in Cyberwar With Government". The article highlights both the steps forward and the sizeable challenge that remains. The take-away quote from Mehdi Yahyanejad of the Persian-language news portal Balatarin:
The Islamic Republic is very efficient in limiting people’s access to these sources, and Iranian people need major help. We need some 50 percent of people to be able to access independent news sources other than the state-controlled media.

0730 GMT: Pick Your Analysis. In sharp contrast to the analyses of other "Western" observers, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor asks, "Does Iran’s most powerful man – whose official title is God’s Deputy on Earth, infallible to his ardent followers – think he is winning?"

Caution is needed here as well. Peterson's supporting evidence of "several close observers" is primarily two unnamed Iranian academics, and some of their declarations are sweeping:
[The Supreme Leader is] in triumphant mood right now. But deep down, he knows he’s lost the war of legitimacy and popularity....Deep inside –-- this is my belief –-- he does not have a very good sleep at night. He’s very angry –-- that’s what I can see in his face. The slogans they leveled against him, the image he’s got –-- he’s lost a lot of the popularity he had.

More useful may be assessments which don't rely on speculating inside Khamenei's head:
It’s almost like one voice coming out of the establishment, state-run television, all their hard-line newspapers, saying that "we managed to crush them”

At the same time, worries are clear to see. They are not in a state of panic [as] in the past, but are still on very high alert. They feel that enemies are organizing, and reformers are just pawns.

0645 GMT: We start the morning clearing away the underbrush of distorted or wayward analyses of Iran's internal situation.

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have written another hit piece, with weakly-supported polemic posing as analysis, claiming the death of the Green Movement.

Far more seriously (since I am not sure key circles in Washington are still paying attention to the Leveretts' repetitions), Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the Financial Times, who has been a quality front-line journalist in Iran, has carried out an examination of the opposition which gets muddled in editing. Bozorgmehr's evaluation is sharp and incisive in places, such as "The Green Movement’s leaders have changed course, publicly urging followers to stop mass demonstrations, to avoid bloodshed and to win support of other social groups, notably lower-income people." She adds, "Iranian analysts and western diplomats doubt if the regime has snuffed out the challenge of the opposition."

However, Bozorgmehr also has some loose, unsupported sentences, "Reformists concede that the intensifying radicalism of demonstrations helped Mr Ahmadinejad to shore up support." And the headlines are caricatures: the Financial Times goes for "Iran's Regime Contains Opposition", while the Irish Times creates, "Hard Line Seems to Have Tamed Iran's Green Movement".

Elsewhere, others have not been tamed. Journalist and activist Isa Saharkhiz, who has been detained for eight months, has told his family that he went on hunger strike Thursday morning and that other prisoners in Section 350 of Evin Prison will join him to protest illegal detention and inhumane conditions.

And President Ahmadinejad has tried to carry out his own taming by visiting senior clerics in Qom. The Financial Times reports that Ahmadinejad met six marja but gives no details beyond that. There is only the cryptic sentence from an analyst, "A massive lobby by the most influential authorities happened to convince the clergy to see the president."

That just raises another question: which "most influential authorities"? We are monitoring.

Iran Analysis: Rafsanjani's "Finger in the Dike" Strategy 

Masoud Shafaee writes at The Newest Deal:

As the Persian Nowruz New Year fast approaches and Iran's post-election crisis enters its ninth month, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani remains as mercurial a figure as ever in Iranian politics. True to his nickname of Kooseh, or "The Shark", Rafsanjani has been paying lip-service to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei while simultaneously signaling (if only tacitly) solidarity with Iran's Green opposition movement. With his reputation as an incredibly calculating figure, it is hard to believe that this contradiction is coincidental. In fact, Rafsanjani's high level of influence in the system may be paradoxically inhibiting him from more closely aligning with the Green Movement.

In many ways, Rafsanjani's position resembles that of the boy who stuck his finger in the leaking dike in Hans Brinker's classic tale.

In the story, the boy's plugging of the hole with his finger was not an attempt to solve the problem at hand, but rather, to prevent an immediate and far more dangerous outcome from occurring. Had the boy gone to fetch help to repair the dike, the levee would have broken and the city would have been flooded. By staying at the dike all night -- not fixing the problem, but preventing it from worsening -- the boy bought time until others discovered him the next morning and were able to make necessary, lasting repairs.

Rafsanjani may find himself in similar circumstances and equally incapable of making a significant move. Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard have shown no intention of curbing their quest to completely control the Islamic Republic. What started out as a President hand-in-hand with the Supreme Leader (with his undoubted blessing of plans to rig the June election) has grown into something far greater. Only one month after the election, Ahmadinejad publicly disobeyed Khamenei by failing to immediately withdraw Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai as his top deputy after the Supreme Leader voiced his disapproval. A month later, he showed up unannounced in the Majlis parliament flanked by his armed bodyguards. Constitutional rights have been discarded in countless instances. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship" appears troublingly accurate.

One factor that has arguably prevented a complete takeover of the regime from already occurring is the enormous weight that Rafsanjani carries inside of Iran. A father-figure of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, head of two constitutional branches of government, and a man of considerable wealth and influence, Rafsanjani has in many ways served as a buffer to Ahmadinejad's megalomaniacal ambitions. And while by no means himself a democratizing figure, Rafsanjani's perceived loyalty to the Supreme Leader (and the ruling theocracy) has gone to ensure that he remains a formidable presence in the country's politics, thereby creating space for the Green Movement to breathe, evolve, and grow. Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani's recent remarks labeling "those who want to exclude Rafsanjani" from the system as "irrelevant" speaks of just this clout.

This public backing of Khamenei came as recently as two weeks ago, when Rafsanjani reaffirmed his support for the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih. “Our focal point is clear and that is the constitution, Islam, the principle of the office of the jurisprudent and supreme leadership,” he said. Statements such as this are far more calculated than simply supporting the Supreme Leader for the sake of winning political capital. Indeed, Rafsanjani is essentially forcing Khamenei to own the very mess that he created. This was just the case when he stated back in December and again earlier this month that the Supreme Leader is “the only one” capable of unifying the country out of the current crisis. While elevating the position of the Supreme Leader with false praise, Rafsanjani’s words actually directly clash with the regime’s official line that there is in fact “no crisis in the country" to begin with.

This obviously does not mean that the Supreme Leader will lead the country out of crisis, nor would it excuse his actions were he to do the unthinkable and actually reverse course and unify the country. Rather, it points to Rafsanjani’s maneuvering within the system. He is not with the Greens per se, but he is taking steps that ultimately help their cause. He is not fixing or replacing the dike; he is plugging the hole until help arrives.

But just as Rafsanjani has been cautious to not stray too far from the conservative camp, he has also been equally cognizant of the need to reassure the Greens that he shares many of their same concerns. His daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, has phrased it less ambiguously,claiming that her father's demands "are the same as the Green Movement." When asked of the possibility of political reconciliation, she went even further, stating that any compromise would be "out of the question" if it did not take into account the gross violation of people's rights. The fact that the Iranian judiciary has now filed charges against Faezeh Hashemi (and her brother Mehdi) for "fomenting riots" in Tehran only adds to the credibility of the Rafsanjani name within Green circles.

Whether Rafsanjani is technically a 'Green' or not, comments posted on his website following his Khobregan [Assembly of Experts] address are unmistakably similar to some of the criticisms coming from the leaders of the Green Movement. Comparing the current crisis to the events surrounding the 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution, Rafsanjani said that certain individuals, while conspiring against the regime, pretend to be supporting the ideals of the Islamic Revolution. With the proper historical context, his message is less veiled: much like how the country's very first National Assembly collapsed, leading to the coup d'etat of Reza Shah in 1921, the regime faces similar dangers today from those who carry the regime's banner but stray from its ideals. Mir-Hossein Mousavi made a similar assessment when he told Kalemeh in a post-22 Bahman interview that the refusal to listen to the people's demands "is a sign of tyranny and a distortion of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution."

And while "the Shark" has kept a relatively low profile during the last few months  -- at least when compared to the increasingly pointed rhetoric of both Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi -- his maneuvering within the Islamic Republic's framework points to a strategy to align with some of the more immediate goals of the Green Movement. Just as Mousavi called for the reform of electoral laws in his 17th statement, the Expediency Council  -- a constitutional body which Rafsanjani chairs -- began considering a proposal that would take away the Guardian Council's vetting role, and instead give it to a new "National Election Committee." The committee, not coincidentally, would be under Rafsanjani's supervision at the Expediency Council. It should also be noted that Rafsanjani himself alleged election fraud following his defeat in the 2005 presidential election to none other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet it would be remiss to neglect mentioning that Khamenei ordered the new election plans to be drawn up two years ago. The plans, in other words, outdate post-election developments. Irrespective of their origin, there is no chance that the regime, facing its greatest crisis since its inception, will suddenly decide to make itself more democratic, and inevitably, more vulnerable.

Rafsanjani's intentions should not be seen in an altruistic or nationalist light. If he is indeed scheming to help the Greens, then he is surely being driven in part by his own political ambitions. For this was Ayatollah Khomenei's right-hand man, a two-term (and almost three-term) president, and still the head of two powerful constitutional bodies. He is Iran's de facto number-two. Helping the Green Movement's cause ultimately helps his cause: more power.

While Rafsanjani's current primary concern may be preventing Ahmadinejad from tearing Iran's already-polarized political landscape asunder, that may in time prove to be lead to his grander scheme: he was the boy who saved the city from ruin.

UPDATED Iran Document: The Hardliners' Project --- Full Text (Bahavar)

Pedestrian posts the thoughts of Emad Bahavar, a political activist in the Freedom Movement of Iran, writer, and the head of “Supporters of Khatami and Mousavi” in the 2009 Presidential campaign. He was arrested shortly after the election, and released after two months. He was detained last week but released on Tuesday.

Bahavar's recent article in Rooz Online, “The destination was to begin the journey”, was the reason for his latest arrest. This is Part 1 of 3, with the following parts coming out in the next few days:

The Latest from Iran (11 March): Marathon

The destination was to begin the journey
Rooz Online, 6 March 2010

It is now quite obvious that what happened before and after the presidential election was a result of a very clumsy solution devised by security and military forces, to solve the “crisis of leadership” in the future system of the Islamic Republic. A solution that did not solve the crisis, and in fact, inflicted irreversible injury and damage to the very structure and legitimacy of the political system.

The ruling elite try to deny the existence of any political crisis, and to show that indeed it is the reformists who have reached a dead end. But analyzing their behavior and their responses to the aftermath of the election and the “green movement”, proves the opposite. A “political crisis”, in its most urgent form presents itself as a “crisis of legitimacy”, and a “crisis of legitimacy”, at its worse, becomes a “crisis of leadership”. Thus, not only is the system in a political crisis right now, this crisis is no ordinary quandary and is the worst of its kind.

“Who will be the next leader?” “What sort of mechanism will be used to choose the next leader?” “Is the current system of Leadership of the Jurist, in the current context of the constitution, sustainable?” These are questions which reformists, principalists and conservatives have been grappling with. The events of the recent election are in a way the product of different groups thinking of these questions. The events are in fact, a direct result of “serious measures” taken by the most hardline base of the establishment, in response to those questions. The result of the explosive, destructive actions following the election brought to light the very fact that a solution to these questions is not possible by “simple minded solutions” and the “crisis” and “dead end” argued here is much more serious to be solved by an adventurous wing of the establishment on its own.

What was this all about?

These events first seriously began when the most hardline wings of the system, composed of military groups, quasi-miliatry groups and extremist clerics, devised a strategy for “the transfer of leadership”. When Ayatollah Khamenei began his leadership of the country, most groups in the ruling establishment formed a consensus on his appointment and by acting above and beyond any faction or group, he was able to give the system relative stability and solidity. The election of a reformist president during his time, also gave many groups the belief that there is a chance to be active in the system and to reform it, without jeopardizing the stability of the entire system. But there was no guarantee that this stability would continue on forever.

There was no guarantee that when it came time to transfer the leadership to a “new leadership”, the same political stability would remain. By all accounts and all analysis, the system would experience great tension during this period and this tension might undermine its very existence. That is why all political factions within the system, from reformist to conservative to hardline, attempted to put forth a solution to this quandary in the frameworks of their own beliefs. For reasons of which I can not write about, it was the hardliners who were given the opportunity to carry out their solution. They were appointed to establish a “military rule”, a homogeneous ruling system empty and silent of dissent, to create an appropriate circumstance for the period of the transfer of leadership. This is how in 2005, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad” was chosen to serve as president and to prepare suitable conditions for this period.

What was the hardliners’ solution?

The worst kind of political stability is when the future of an entire system is put to depend on the future of one person, because the smallest change in the top of the hierarchy will influence the entire system. In a monarchy, this quandary has been relatively solved by hereditary rule and the selection of the children or kin of the monarch as the next rulers. In this system, the death of the king and the succession of his son is seen as a legitimate, natural process, and does not undermine the entirety of the system.

But in the current ruling system of the Islamic Republic, the mechanisms are neither monarchical or democratic. From one angle, it seems that the Assembly of Experts is chosen by the nation to elect a leader, from another angle, the approbation supervision of the Guardian Council over the members of the assembly means that a substantial number of the nation’s real representatives never make their way through and thus have no say in the selection of the leader. Thus, the very principle of legitimacy and admissibility of the leader by the people [in the tradition of democratic systems] is undermined with the role of “approbation supervision” of the the Guardian Council.

So what was the solution the hardliners put forth? As we know, the hardliners follow extremist clerics like Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who never believed in the selection of the leader by the Assembly of Experts, and has always disapproved of this article of the constitution. The emphasis of Ayatollah Yazdi on the appointment of the leader is based on a theory of “seeking and appointing” --- not electing.

Thus, the solution of the hardliners for the transition process is something like a hereditary monarchy, with the different that the new leader does not necessarily have to be next of kin. In the view of Ayatollah Yazdi, the current leader has ways to seek the opinion of the twelfth Imam [who will return from occultation one day], and when notified of the Imam’s choice, inform the Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts will in turn swear allegiance to the new leader on behalf of the nation and through this mechanism, the people’s approval will be satisfied. Thus, the new leader will be appointed by the old one (he will be “sought and appointed”), will have holy legitimacy, and through the approval of the Assembly of Experts (an indirect swearing of allegiance by the people) also have the people’s approval.

The belief of the hardliners is nothing but a recreation of theory of the caliphate. The Assembly of Experts and Parliament are nothing but a seal of approval for the caliphate. Hardline Shi’as in this way are very similar to hardline Sunnis. They believe that by implementing these theories, the tensions during the transition period will reach a minimum, and these tensions will be limited to insignificant political dissent and disapproval. In this way, the old leader will appoint the new one, and the Assembly of Experts will approve.

But the real quandary for the hardliners was implementing these plans, not writing them, as they had been written long ago, from the time of Sheykh Fazlollah. How can it ever be brought to fruition in the time of reformist publications, numerous newspapers, well known intellectuals, and clerics deeply opposed to such views? Is the implementation of such a project possible in such a pluralistic, politicized environment?

How did the hardliners’ project begin?

The hardliners were appointed to create a military government, homogeneous and clear of dissent, to pave the way for the new leadership. For this purpose, Ahmadinejad was chosen as president in 2005 and most of the positions on his cabinets were taken by former military officials. The hardliners’ plan was written out in “two parts”, for two presidential terms. In his first term, Ahmadinejad was appointed to either control or destroy the potentials created in civil society during the reformist era. The aim of this period was to “return to square one”. In this period, student associations, NGOs, political parties and the press were put under excruciating pressure, to attempt to return to the pre-1997 era [before Khatami].

The most important part of the project however, was to do with Ahmadnejad’s second term. The second term was a “period of elimination”. Two groups of political players had to be eliminated. One group which was a “barrier”, and one group which was the “goal”. The reformists were a barrier to the hardline project. It could be predicted that they would be vocal in their opposition to election fraud. So a scenario was written to widely arrest and eliminate the reformists, by accusing them of a “velvet revolution” and “soft overthrow”.

A second group which was to be eliminated consisted of moderate conservative politicians who had traditional been an ally to Rafsanjani. The goal was to eliminate Rafsanjani and his allies, because, in the view of hardliners, this group would have a big role in determining the next leader. Before the election, and in Ahmadinejad’s first term, there was great effort to take many of Rafsanjani’s close allies to court, people like [Hassan] Rowhani, [Housein] Mousavian, and Mehdi Hashemi. And that attempt was not very successful. The process of eliminating Rafsanjani was to begin with Ahmadinejad’s televised debate, and by firing up the nation, it was to be carried out swiftly.

Thus, by imprisoning more than 500 political and civil activists, and eliminating conservatives from the top of the ruling establishment’s hierarchy, a suitable environment for the period of transition was to be prepared. In such an environment, there would even be an appropriate chance for changing to constitution to be more inline with the principle of “seeking and appointing”. But as we saw, all did not go according to the hardliners plan. The green movement was born.

What really Happened?

The discussion about how the Green Movement was born requires a lot more space, and will  not be the focus of this article. But what is quite obvious is that this movement was a blow to the hardliner project which they had been planning for years. Not only did they not achieve an appropriate environment for transferring leadership, but rather, the political landscape of the country was badly shaken. The hardliners expected to see hopelessness and silence from political activists and the public, after a brief period of protest following the election. But just the opposite happened. The protests saw no end and they became louder and louder every day. Even those people who had previously been apolitical and disinterested, got involved. Thus, not only were the political not silenced,the apolitical became active as well.

The hardliners project was defeated. The reformists stood their ground and did not back down. Imprisoning the reformists was not a victorious strategy, and did not have the desired result. The resilience of some reformists actually gave more life to their cause. Rafsanjani with his insightful brilliance, deterred any attempts by the hardliners to be eliminated. Not only did he not lose his position, he wisely kept his distance with the leadership.

The hardliners solution for this period of transfer was a simple minded “the use of brute force”. They assumed that technology and money would be enough. But the result was just the opposite of what they had planned for. The legitimacy of the system was greatly tarnished, and over night, its national and international appeal was damaged. Many of the system’s previous supporters became doubtful. The stability of the system was greatly undermined and the fracture between the people and the political elite became wider.

Thus, the effort of the hardliners was to return things to the way they were before the election. They tried to substitute their betrayal of the nation with violence. But whatever they did, it created a worse situation.

The blow that the hardliners forced on the system was worse than what any opposition could do. The damage and destruction brought on the system after the  election was the sole responsibility of military and quasi military forces which were the masterminds of the project. Only relying on their might and financial backing, they jeopardized the very existence of the system.

What was the role of pragmatic conservatives?

Last year, a group of conservatives had sent a message to reformists, asking them not to announce a candidate for the presidential election, and instead to back the conservative candidates (someone like [Mohammad-Baqer] Qalibaf, [Ali] Larijani, etc). The argument was that if the reformists have no candidate, there will less of a consensus on Ahmadinejad, and the moderate conservative would win. In the view of these pragmatic conservatives, that was the only way to unseat Ahmadinejad. The reformists of course turned down this offer. In their view there was no way to be sure that a consensus around Ahmadinejad could be broken. The conservatives took orders after all, and the harliners were bent on keeping Ahmadinejad in power. The only power that could unseat Ahmadinejad would be a nation wide momentum, like that of the 2nd Khordaad [when Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997], not backroom deals between political factions. Thus, the reformists put their efforts in nominating Khatami again, and recreating 2nd of Khordaad.

Now, after nearly a year, individuals like Ali Motahari send letters to Mousavi and ask him to back down, and leave the job to moderate conservatives. The likes of Motahari argue that so long as the reformists are active, the hardliner and conservative consensus around  Ahmadinejad will not be broken. But if the reformists back down, the conservatives themselves will take care of Ahmadinejad.

This time too, the reformists and Mousavi’s response was negative. If Karoubi and Mousavi back down, not only will this not weaken Ahmadinejad, it will allow for a swift move on the part of hardliners to eliminate conservatives as well. The only reason that Rafsanjani’s allies and moderate conservatives have gone unscathed is that the hardliners have been busy with the repression and silencing of the green movement. The pragmatic conservatives underestimate the hardliners. If the hardliners remove the “barrier” that is the green movement, they will go straight for the conservatives. We must not forget that the actual aim was Rafsanjani and his allies, and the project remains unfinished. If the hardliners are not deterred, the pragmatic conservatives will not fare any better than the reformists.

During the months following the birth of the green movement, pragmatic conservatives tried to steer clear of the fights so that the two reformist and hardline factions would wear each other down. So that once both these factions were completely weakened, they could emerge as “the third force” or “saviors” and take control of government. But what happened was that the conflict between reformists and hardliners grew worse by the day and the political landscape was becoming ever more polarized and radicalized to a point where the entire system was at risk and there was no place for the conservatives.  That is why these conservatives decided to play a role in the events, after seven months of silence. A mediating role. The letter Mohsen Rezaie wrote to the leader, their attempts to reform election laws and to take Saeed Mortazavi [former Tehran Prosecutor General] to court, an attempt at changing the head of the police forces and the IRGC, parliament’s reports on government’s violations of law, their efforts to free imprisoned reformists and their numerous interviews in criticizing the government were all efforts on the part of pragmatic conservatives to end the conflict. Their efforts became more apparent after 22 Bahman [31st anniversary of the revolution].

What is waiting ahead?

The events of 2009 were a result of the deadlock in the reformist movement between 2002-2006. Who can clearly guess the repercussions of eliminating the reformists all together? The silencing of the symbols of the green movement has not destroyed that movement, but taken it to the inner layers of society. The green movement was beyond just “street protests” to be killed off when protests were no longer possible. The demands of this movement are very serious and the lack of a response to them leads the way for possible future political crises and more tension. Right in that moment when the hardliners think everything has come to an end and everything is calm, everything will start anew.

Two groups have always offered a wrong analysis of the Green Movement: an opposition which wants to overthrow the system, who interpreted the street protests as a “last action before the fall of the system” [a reference to Mohsen Sazegara] and the other group is conservatives who thought the Green Movement is the only obstacle towards a final stability of the system. (a writer in the conservative magazine Panjereh [Window] had declared the “end of history” right before a “final sin”; a sin that was the greatest sin of all and was the product of the devil).

The Green Movement however is a reformist, peaceful civil rights movement with clear demands, which is stubbornly trying to create better living conditions for all citizens. Thus, this movement will continue to live beyond the frameworks of those two groups, and will continue to speak out of its demands to the rulers, in whichever way possible, – and not just street protests. With the eruption of every national or international crisis, there is the chance that more street protests will take place. Even though Ahmadinejad has spent a great budget giving charity to the impoverished populations, with growing inflation and unemployment, this group too has much to protest. Amir Mohebian was right when he said: “Mousavi couldn’t tie the struggle of the lower classes to that of the middle class” but certainly, Ahmadinejad is up to the task.

2- Reformists and their leaders will not stop protesting. But the protests of the pragmatic conservatives will be much more effective and useful when they stand with the green movement, and not when they are alone. One of the reasons the reform movement was defeated was that Saeed Hajjarian’s strategy of “pressure from below, bargaining from above” never materialized. There was no pressure from below, and those around President Khatami had no ability to bargain.

The Green Movement is the restructuring and the reforming of the reform movement. When[Saeed] Hajjarian was in prison and was preparing for his televised interview, his strategies were being implemented outside prison. In an unwritten agreement, the people and the leaders of the Green Movement were pressuring [the ruling establishment] from below, and the bargaining was being done by the conservatives from above. This was an effective, realistic dividing of the responsibilities.

3- Up to this point, the hardliners have been defeated in their project. They have not been able to unseat Rafsanjani, and they have not been able to imprison Khatami, Mousavi and Karoubi. Even if Tehran does not see any other street protests, the political environment is so tense and inflamed that it will not allow them to carry out any other projects.

But we must remember that the hardliners are so determined to take the next leadership of the country that they are willing to put the country under any pressure. In order to create extreme circumstances, they are even willing to go to take the country to war with neighboring countries. We know that a war is a good excuse to carry out certain political decisions inside the country. (Faridedin Adel, the son of [Gholam-Ali] Hadad Adel [hardline ex-speaker of parliament] has predicated in an article that Iran will be going to war with Turkey in the next few months.)

4 – It has become quite obvious to the ruling establishment that the hardliners’ solution for the transfer of leadership is very very costly, and full of risk. And that even if this project was to succeed, sustaining it (in terms of its national and international legitimacy, economic difficulties, etc) would be near impossible. That is why we can be hopeful that in the future, the reformists and the pragmatic conservatives will also have the chance to put forth their  solution. These solutions include democratizing the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, eliminating the approbation supervision of the Guardian Council and creating a “Council of Leaders”.

The destination, was to begin the journey.

We can clearly witness two defeats for the contemporary  hardline Shi’a movement: the executions of Sheykh Fazlollah and Navab Safavi. Ayatollah Khomeini too left them dissappointed when establishing the Islamic Republic, by incorporating modern democratic institutions within the frameworks of the system. After the ayatollah’s death, the hardliners spent years trying to reclaim their century long pursuits. But in the last instant, with the rise of the “Imam’s prime minister” [Mousavi], a great movement took shape. The birth of the green movement was an end to the hardliner project, and marked another disappointment for them in history. The family of Ayatollah Khomeini raised their voice in protest and many of the marjas [grand ayatollahs], even some of the most conservative, spoke out in criticism.

If there is any group that is guilty of attempting to overthrow the system, it is the hardliners who wanted to overthrow the “Islamic Republic” and replace it with a “Shia Caliphate”. Mousavi had no choice but to disagree with such a move, even though it had a heavy price for him and the people. Mousavi consciously paid this  price to steer the reformists out of deadlock, because the reform movement is the only way of saving the democratic aspects of the system, and saving the Islamic Republic.

The hardliner project for eliminating the democratic aspects of the system was defeated with the birth of the green movement. The green movement reached its aim right at the start; whatever it might gain hereafter, are all added achievements. The destination was to begin the journey.

The Latest from Iran (6 March): Justice

2130 GMT: Jailing the Workers. Radio Farda reports the arrests of a number of labour activists in northwestern Iran in recent days.

2120 GMT: Mystery of Day. Iranian Labor News Agency reports that Ayatollahs Safi Golpaygani and Javadi-Amoli have met recently.

Given that these meetings between senior clerics are rare, what were the issues that brought the two ayatollahs together? And was there any connection to the clerical disquiet over the Mohammad Amin Valian death sentence?

UPDATED Death, Confusion, and Clerics in Iran: The Case of Mohammad Amin Valian
NEW An Open Letter to the Editors of Iran’s “Principled” Newspapers
University Special: Iran & Conservapedia Ally Against Dangerous Professors
The Latest from Iran (5 March): Re-aligning

2045 GMT: Mohareb Trial for Dr Maleki? Iranian Labor News Agency reports that Dr Mohammad Maleki, the first post-1979 Chancellor of Tehran University is being charged with "mohareb" (war against God). Maleki's lawyer, Mohammad Sharifi said that his client, who is 76 and suffers from prostate cancer, is also charged with links to an outlawed organisation.

2040 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Banafsheh Darolshafaei, the sister of blogger Agh Bahman, has been released from detention.

1955 GMT: The Khomeini Challenge. Seyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, has again criticised Iranian authorities. He claimed some people refuse to see the truth, and even when they are told about it, try to “accuse you of an offence”
1945 GMT: A Little Change? The Expediency Council voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to consider changes in Iran's electoral law, starting deliberations on qualification of voters, candidates, and the quality of election campaigns, according to Council member Mohammad Hashemi, the brother of Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Hashemi said a large number of council members insisted on the need to reform the election law, prevailing over others who believed that the issue should be delayed due to the country’s "special condition".

1930 GMT: Nothing to See Here, Move Along. "Conservatives" in the Parliament have decided not to press the Ahmadinejad Government on the issue of last June's attack on Tehran University dormitories.

The spokesman for the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, MP Kazem Jalali, said the committee found nothing new in an 18-minute graphic film --- an abridged version of which was broadcast by Persian and found nothing new --- of the attack.

Jalali claimed that the emergence of the film, which was shot by a member of the attacking force, was because Iran's "enemies" were "disappointed" by massive pro-regime rallies on 11 February, Iran's nuclear, aerospace, and scientific achievements, and the capture of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi.

1620 GMT: The Rigi-US-Capitalism-Zionism-"9-11 Was a Lie" Conspiracy. Western news media have picked up on President Ahmadinejad's statement, in a meeting with Ministry of Intelligence personnel, that the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 was a "complicated intelligence scenario and act": "The September 11 incident was a big fabrication as a pretext for the campaign against terrorism and a prelude for staging an invasion against Afghanistan."

That, however, is only the top of Mahmoud's West-Did-It-All Iceberg. The full speech, reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency, announces that the arrest of Jundullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi exposes the core of the campaign by US and Israeli intelligence services against Iran. This in turn is part of a struggle of "good" human nature against the devils of capitalism, liberal democracy, and US global leadership.

1515 GMT: Women's Solidarity. Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, has posted a message for International Women's Day on Monday.

Rahnavard noted that discrimination and oppression of Iranian women has increased and invited the Iranian people and ruling powers to return to compassionate and humane values honouring the dignity of Iranian women.

Rahnavard added that today the leading women of the Green Movement are unjustly in prison only because they demand justice in the political, social and cultural affairs of the country. She stressed that the Green Movement is the manifestation of the ideals of any noble and justice-seeking human and that it honours women because of these humane and moral principles.

1415 GMT: Mohareb Watch. We've published two updates on the case of Mohammad Amin Valian, reportedly sentenced to death this week.

1045 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling on the Iranian judiciary to release six women, connected with Mothers of Mourning, arrested in January and early February 2010.

0945 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Reporters Sans Frontieres offers this summary of recent developments:
Journalist Abolfazl Abedini Nasr was arrested at his home in the city of Ahvaz on 2 March by several men in plain clothes. The men, who all wore hoods, broke down the door of his house and brutally beat him. He had been earlier arrested on 30 June 2009 and freed on 26 October after putting up bail of 300 million tomans (270,000 euros).

Several human rights activists were arrested on the same day, among them the blogger and activist Naghipour Nasour. The director of the website was arrested at home in Qazvin by agents in plain-clothes. The reasons for his arrest and the place in which he is being detained are still unknown.

Reporters Without Borders learned on 3 March of the release of three journalists:

Noushin Jafari, journalist for Etemad, arrested on 3 February. Reza Norbakhsh, editor of the daily Farhikhteghan, arrested at his workplace in Tehran on 4 August, and who had been sentenced to six years in prison for “taking part in illegal demonstrations” and for articles posted on the news website Jomhoryat. Mortaza Kazemian, journalist for several reformist newspapers, arrested on 28 December 2009, was released after spending 34 days in solitary confinement in section 209 of Evin prison.

Journalist Said Laylaz had his sentence of nine years in jail reduced to three years by the Tehran appeal court. Kambiz Norrozi, head of the Association of Iranian Journalists, sentenced on 17 November to two years in jail and 76 strokes of the whip for making “publicity against the regime and disturbing public order”, had his sentence reduced on appeal to one year in prison.

0850 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. HRA News Agency publishes reports, which we have heard for days, of "the widespread arrests of human rights activists, particularly members and affiliates of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA)". Among those detained in "at least 27 incidents of arrests" is Milad Abrahamian.

0845 GMT: Iran Down Under. Our partner, Arshama3's Blog, offers an interesting account of a meeting of activists in New Zealand supporting democratic change in Iran.

0835 GMT: We begin this morning with two specials, one putting a wry smile on a regime threat, the other offering a response to a story which has no smile.

Our "black comedy" moment comes out of a speech by Iran's Minister of Science and Higher Education, Kamran Daneshjoo, in which he threatens to dismiss deviant professors. And our more serious reflections are in an open letter responding to the editors of Iran's "principlist" newspapers, who have criticised "Western" media for unfair coverage of Iranian events.

The Latest from Iran (2 March): Can The Regime Defuse the Crisis?

2200 GMT: An Ashura Death Sentence? We are following reports that a 20-year-old university student has been sentenced to death as "mohareb" (warrior against God) for demonstrating on Ashura (27 December). We want to ensure confirmation without doubt before posting the details.

1955 GMT: Another Journalist Freed. Etemaad journalist Keyvan Mehregan, arrested just after Ashura (27 December), has reportedly been released from detention.

1945 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. Fars News, quoting Iranian Minister of Justice Murtaza Bakhtiari, says a criminal case has been filed against Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, and his son Mehdi Hashemi.

I'm sure this has nothing to do whatsoever to do with Faezeh Hashemi's interview yesterday, in which she declared that Hashemi Rafsanjani stood with the Green Movement.

NEW Iran Document: Women Activists Write Mousavi & Karroubi
NEW Iran Analysis: The Mousavi Strategy “We Are Still Standing”
The Latest from Iran (1 March): In Like a Lion?

1645 GMT: Apologies that updates will be limited until later this evening. Off to talk to a seminar about "Green Tweets: US Foreign Policy, Post-Election Iran, and New Media".

1325 GMT: The Detained Filmmaker. More on last night's arrest of Jahar Panahi after a raid on his house. Jafar Panahi and his whole family abducted by plainclothes men from home early this morning, searching it for 5 hours, taking away comp and personal objects, Rah-e-Sabz has an interview with Panahi's son Panah, who was not at home:
The local police station, contacted by neighbours, allegedly replied that they cannot do anything against plainclothes men who belong to security forces.

1210 GMT: A True (and Important) Media Story. Ten minutes ago, during a break in class, I was speculating to an EA correspondent, "The Government will suspend publications like [the reformist newspaper] Etemaad. But look for new Green websites to spring up." Five minutes ago, I received this from an EA source.
Looks like Bahar, the recently unbanned paper with former Etemade Melli and Sarmayeh staff --- have fixed their website. Perhaps the Etemaad web folks came over and helped? This might be the new reformist paper.

Iran Dokht was not "Karroubi"-affiliated as much as a great variety of the various reformist strands with sections on politics, economy, history, culture, film, etc. every week.

1055 GMT: Silencing the TV Star. Actor and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting presenter Valid Jalilvand, host of the country's best-known religious programme, has reportedly been suspended for expressing his political views after the Presidential vote.

1050 GMT: Silencing the Filmmaker. Kalemeh reports that Iranian security forces have detained film director Jafar Panahi. Panahi was held at his home with his wife Mahnaz Mohammadi, daughter,and 15 guests on Monday evening. His home was searched and some of his belongings seized.

Last month, Iranian authorities prevented Panahi from traveling to the Berlin Film Festival.

1030 GMT: Iranian activist Shadi Sadr is one of 10 women honored by the State Department's International Women of Courage Award. (Read Sadr's speech at the United Nations on Abuse, Justice, and Rights)

1010 GMT: Hmm.... The pro-Larijani Khabar Online features an interview with Mohammad Salamati of the reformist Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution party and gives him the space to make a vigorous defence of the opposition movement on 22 Bahman:
People from various layers of Iranian society attended the rally. All reformist parties had earlier made statements encouraging people to participate at the event....

It was not necessary for the government to create an intense security ambiance. Why some attacked Mahdi Karroubi and targeted the car of Mohammad Khatami?.... When such figures come to the scene, people are encouraged and moved to join the national events and feel that they are united....

I would say why those who raid top reformists figures are immune from investigation and prosecution. People should know about that. As a political activist, Mousavi has to expose the reality. The problem lies within the groups which committed these acts. Those who are behind such aggressions must be accountable.

1000 GMT: We have posted a letter from Iranian women activists to Mousavi and Karroubi, asking them to ensure that women's rights are recognised and promoted in the challenge to the Government.

0910 GMT: First, a clarification of yesterday's tagline, "In Like A Lion". The saying that March comes "in like a lion and goes out like a lamb" was taught to me as a boy, and so as we began yet another "Western" month covering this crisis, I wondered if those who said the Green Movement was no longer roaring were correct. To be precise, I thought that proclamation of the opposition's demise was far from certain; the more interesting issue was whether the regime could turn the Green lion into a lamb.

And so today we begin with an analysis and an observation. The analysis is of Mir Hossein Mousavi's Saturday statement. I think it is being mis-read by some as a vague -- and thus flawed --- statement of strategy. It is not. It is a declaration that, after the disappointment of 22 Bahman (11 February) and the attempts by the regime to crush it, the opposition still stands.

Just as interesting, however, is what appears to be a new regime approach to de-claw the Green Movement once and for all. Since last week, a series of prominent detainees --- notably journalists but also political advisors --- have been freed, usually on bail, even as others have been sentenced. Mr Verde steps in to help me out with the interpretation:
The release of prisoners is to lessen the pressure on the Supreme Leader. Although these people will be out of prison, they will still be the Islamic Republic’s prisoners: having posted large bails, they can be put back in jail anytime and the bail can be revoked with no reason. So these people are less dangerous for SL than before they went to prison. (With the exception of Behzad Nabavi, who gave interviews and conducted meeting when he was released, the rest have been quiet --- and Nabavi went back to jail.)

Then there is another aspect of the possible strategy, the banning of newspapers and journals which included a Karroubi magazine and the big "reformist" daily Etemaad and is continuing today:
I think the banning of the press is the long term policy of SL and Ahmadinejad camp. They know how dangerous the free flow of information would be. That’s why the bussed in foreign press to cover Ahmadinejad’s speech on 22 Bahman and beat people to keep them away from Azadi Square. So now you expect them to shut the press....

The Supreme Leader is trying to hold things together. The problem is that he has lost a lot of his credibility and acceptability since June. Put this next to the contradictory actions, and it could be further indication of trouble behind the scenes.

And so it is another day of watching the lions....