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Entries in Mohammad Khatami (11)


The Latest from Iran (30 March): Strategies

2000 GMT: Politics, Religion, and Culture. Reihaneh Mazaheri in Mianeh offers a detailed article setting out how President Ahmadinejad has tried to use financial support of religious and cultural centres, often supervised by his close allies, to reinforce his political base. An extract:
The administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using state funds to spread its political and religious ideology and at the same time maintain powerful allies during times of turmoil, critics say.

The authorities have set aside 4.5 billion of the 347 billion US dollar, 2010-11 budget, which took effect on March 21, for cultural matters - but much of it is spent on religious and culturally hardline institutions sympathetic to the administration.

Ever since first becoming president in 2005, Ahmadinejad has made a clear effort to defend religious groups and organisations to a degree previously unknown in the country.

He set out his thinking in a speech to clergy in southern Fars province in 2007, saying, “In the budget of previous administrations, no room was found for religious centres and religious matters. However, we have taken them into consideration in the budget.”

The budget for “mosque centres”, one of the government’s main sources of popular support, has increased to 25 million dollars from 1.6 million in 2005 at the end of the term of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, according to Mohammad Hosseini, the minister of culture and Islamic guidance.

NEW Iran: Preventing Tehran from “Going Nuclear” (Ramazani)
NEW Iran Politics and Music: Sasi Mankan’s “Karroubi”
NEW Iran: The Green Movement’s Next Steps (Shahryar)
Iran: A View from the Labour Front (Rahnema)
Iran’s Nukes: False Alarm Journalism (Sick)
The Latest from Iran (29 March): Questionable Authority

1545 GMT: A Media Note. To the Charlie Rose Show on the US Public Broadcasting Service: I've now viewed what amounted to a half-hour propaganda special for the Iranian regime, aired in the US last night. Given the substitution of polemic, distortions, and misrepresentations posing as "analysis", I'm not even posting a link.

I'm hoping that this unfortunate interview disappears quickly. However, if it receives any attention as supposed "insight" into post-election Iran, I will be back with a fury.

In the meantime, this should suffice: this programme is a disservice and, indeed, a disgrace given the thousands detained, abused, and denied rights and freedoms. Speak to them, not the two "experts" to whom you turned over airtime last evening.

1540 GMT: Today's Propaganda Drama. After the reported rescue of Iranian diplomat Heshmatollah Attarzadeh Niaki from abductors in Pakistan, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence has declared, “The Islamic Republic did not capitulate to any of this armed group’s demands which is supported by the US and Mossad.”

1535 GMT: Grounding Iran's Airliine. The European Commission has imposed a ban on flights by Iran Air within Europe.

1530 GMT: The "Other" Khamenei Visits Freed Reformist. Hadi Khamenei, the brother of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, joined others in visiting Mostafa Tajzadeh, the former Deputy Minister of Interior who is on temporary release for Nowruz, at his house last night.

1520 GMT: Revival of the Photograph. Pedestrian reports that Amir Sadeqi of the photo blog Tehran Live is out of prison and again taking and posting his photographs.

1500 GMT: Another Death Sentence. Back from an academic break and an appearance on Al Jazeera English's Inside Story (airing 1730 GMT) about the latest in Iraq's power politics, I find confirmation on websites of the news --- reported yesterday --- that 42-year-old schoolteacher Abdolreza Ghanbari has been sentenced to death for  "Mohareb (war against God) through contacts with dissident groups". This broad charge covers "suspicious emails and having contacts with television media outside the country".

1110 GMT: Joke of the Day. An EA correspondent has pointed out the feature from the blog Persian Letters on post-election humour in Iran but, in my opinion, the best joke came from a reader in the comments:

Q. How Many Basijis Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?
A. None. The Basijis will sit in the dark and blame Israel and the USA.

0810 GMT: Latest on the battle over subsidy reform comes from "principlist" member of Parliament Mohammad Hossein Farhangi, who says the Government is obliged to act according to the vote of the Majlis.

0800 GMT: Rule of Law. Rah-e-Sabz tries to interpret what a meeting between the Supreme Leader and the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, means for Iran's judicial procedure and sentencing.

Rah-e-Sabz also claims information on a strategy by the Revolutionary Guards to avoid exposure of human rights violations, including the effort to crack down on human rights organisations in Iran.

0655 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Children's rights activist Maryam Zia Mohaved has reportedly been released from Evin Prison after a 13-day hunger strike.

0645 GMT: We begin today with three Iran specials. Josh Shahryar thinks about the next steps for the Green Movement. R.K. Ramazani evaluates the best US strategy to deal with Iran's nuclear programme. And, after the arrest of underground rap artist Sasi Mankan, we post his April 2009 single "Karroubi".

The Latest from Iran (25 March): Lying Low

2200 GMT: A Very Quiet Day. Little to report, with only ripples coming from references backs to earlier stories. Human Rights Watch, for example, has issued a statement declaring that "Iran's state-owned media, judiciary, and security forces have opened a coordinated attack on human rights groups in recent weeks".

NEW Iran: “We are Going to Make the Future Better”
UPDATED Iran Appeal: Japan’s Deportation of Jamal Saberi
UPDATED Iran: The Controversy over Neda’s “Fiance”
Iran: An Internet Strategy to Support the Greens? (Memarian)
The Latest from Iran (24 March): Regime Confidence, Regime Fear?

1730 GMT: Khabar Online is now also running the report on the supposed  Mousavi-Rafsanjani meeting.

1630 GMT: Rumour of the Day. According to Green Voice of Freedom, Farda News reports that Mir Hossein Mousavi met with Hashemi Rafsanjani on Sunday afternoon. The story comes from “news sources close to the government....This source, which is known for its support for [Ahmadinejad advisor Esfandair Rahim] Mashai, has spoken of the presence of Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard and a group of reformist leaders in this meeting.”

Hmm.... Neither the Mousavi nor Rafsanjani camps have released any word of such a meeting, nor have websites linked to the men offered any clue of this. The source is close to Rahim-Mashai, who is no friend of Mousavi and no fan of Rafsanjani.

I'll put my money on this as another arrow in the volley being fired at Rafsanjani by groups within the regime. Anyone --- including Mr Rahim-Mashai --- care to enlighten me?

1310 GMT: Meanwhile, in Local Government.... Outside Tehran, there's a claim of major fraud by city council in Mahabad in northwestern Iran, amounting to billion of tomans (millions of dollars), which has supposedly been reported to Ali Larijani. Peyke Iran claims a boycott of the last city council elections by the people, with the current council being backed by the Iranian Government.

1135 GMT: Mahmoud Says "Quit Your Fussing". And here is the latest on that Ahmadinejad nuclear policy, courtesy of a televised speech announcing the construction of a new dam in southwest Iran:
[Western powers] are saying we are worried that Iran may be building a bomb. But we are saying you have built it and even used it. So who should be worried? We or you? They are just making a fuss. They have ended up humiliating themselves.

Let me tell you, the era when they could hurt the Iranian nation is over. The Iranian nation is at such a height that their evil hands can't touch it. They want to stop, even for an hour, the fast speeding train of Iranian progress. But they will be unable to do it.

1125 GMT: Challenging Ahmadinejad on Nukes. Khabar Online offers space to Elaheh Koulaei, professor of political science at Tehran University and a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, to denounce the President for his failure to protect national interests in his nuclear policy.

1120 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. RAHANA updates on Mousavi campaigner Mansour Miri-Kalanaki, who has been held incommunicado since 17 July.

1100 GMT: Mousavi Watch. So what has Mir Hossein Mousavi been up to? Well, he and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, visited journalist Azar Mansouri, who was recently released from detention after receiving a three-year suspended sentence from the Revolutionary Court. Rah-e-Sabz has the story and photographs.

Mousavi and Rahnavard also saw the family of Seyed Alireza Beheshti-Shirazi, a senior advisor of Mousavi who has been detained for more than three months.

Former President Mohammad Khatami has been doing his own visiting, spending time with released economist and journalist Saeed Laylaz.

0755 GMT: Parliament v. President. Khabar Online's English-language site headlines, "Ahmadinejad calls for referendum on subsidy plan execution".

It's a strange article, as there is nothing new beyond the President's appeal last Friday and the subsequent hostility from some members of Parliament, including Speaker Ali Larijani. The purpose seems to be to fire a warning shot: "It would be risky measurement [measure] taken by the head of the government since the first referendum led to the early retirement of...the head of the Iran Statistics Center who cooperated with the government on the plan."

Khabar is also featuring more criticisms from individual MPs, such as Sattar Hedayatkhah's declaration that the Government should forward its ideas about subsidy reductions "within legal boundaries".

0730 GMT: The Makan Controversy. As the concern and confusion over Caspian Makan, the purported "fiancé" of Neda Agha Soltan, increases (see separate entry), Josh Shahryar intervenes:
No one speaks for [Neda]....[So] does Caspian Makan speak for the Green Movement? The answer is again, no....

Let’s get over this.

0715 GMT: We begin the morning with an update on a human rights case, with a new protest at the Japanese Embassy in Washington over the attempted deportation to Iran of activist Jamal Saberi. And, with news slowing down from inside Iran on the state of the opposition, we counter pessimism with a note from a reader, "We Are Going to Make the Future Better".

On the international front, "5+1" talks (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China) resumed Wednesday on how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme. The Wall Street Journal offers evidence to back up our evaluation that the Obama Administration is downplaying tougher international sanctions against Tehran while pursuing bilateral discussions with countries and companies for withdrawal of investment:
The U.S. has backed away from pursuing a number of tough measures against Iran in order to win support from Russia and China for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions....Among provisions removed from the original draft resolution the U.S. sent to key allies last month were sanctions aimed at choking off Tehran's access to international banking services and capital markets, and closing international airspace and waters to Iran's national air cargo and shipping lines.

Iran Analysis: Politics and Subsidy Reform (Harris)

Kevan Harris writes in Middle East Report:

Although most Iranians forget it today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a platform of technocratic competence. The clique surrounding his rise to mayor of Tehran and beyond once called themselves Abadgaran, “the Developers.” In a column four months after Ahmadinejad’s election to the Iranian presidency, commentator Saeed Laylaz reminded readers of the sage advice of Deng Xiaoping, arguing that a hard-line conservative government could push through economic reforms where the reformist administration had failed. “The cat is finally catching mice,” Laylaz wrote, “and its color no longer matters.” After the exhaustion of the reform movement’s momentum, Ahmadinejad presented himself to the people as the intrepid engineering professor, the humble, principled and no-nonsense expert who could get things done. “Expert,” in fact, is one of the good doctor’s favorite words.

What occurred was instead second-rate. The network of clients enveloping the new president set its sights on capturing the money and resources controlled by the ossifying bureaucracy of the Islamic Republic. Abadgaran men and assorted hangers-on replaced the aging first generation of post-revolutionary technocratic cadres. No sweet plum remained unpicked in the state agencies and ministries, not even in provincial offices and the development projects they oversaw. The rebellious tone with which this turnover was presented—“throw the bums out”—resonated with the lower social strata, who have rarely benefited from state largesse.

In 2007, the president stuck a pitchfork of his own in the 60-year old Planning and Budget Organization, taking away its independent auditing power. But overall the Ahmadinejad administration has not exactly been distinguished by fiscal discipline and managerial efficiency. Ahmadinejad, for instance, has paid three rounds of highly publicized visits to the oft-neglected provinces. On his tours, he has been met with hundreds of thousands of handwritten letters asking for small favors—resolving a quarrel with a local official, helping a son lacking sufficient connections for a state post, defraying the cost of an upcoming wedding or paying an overdue bill. The supplicants received personalized replies, and a few dozen thousand-toman notes (1,000 tomans equal $1) were stuffed into the envelopes for good measure. Ahmadinejad’s political vehicle was nothing less than a new patronage machine. It is an administration charismatic in appearance, but inconsistent in policy and practice.

In the spring of 2010, with the country still in political tumult over the dubious election of the previous June, and in economic pain due to global recession, the reinstalled engineer-president announced a plan that drew out critics of his competence in droves. The government proposed to enact the most sweeping economic policy change in over a decade: a phasing out of price subsidies for nearly all staple commodities—bread, electricity, water and gasoline—starting in March and continuing until 2015, when they would cease entirely. The plan provoked immediate protest and predictions of chaos, prompting parliamentarians to chop half of the cuts out of the budget bill they passed on March 9

Easy Money No More

Ahmadinejad’s political opponents within the Islamic Republic, from reformists to pragmatic conservatives, and irrespective of their feelings about the Green Movement arising after the June election, were pleased to see the president on the economic hot seat at last. After 15 years of attempting to construct their own versions of a modernization project, they were aghast that this upstart had labeled them as the backward, out-of-touch cronies of an old elite. Whether they had sought to do so through a glasnost-style opening, like former President Mohammad Khatami, or through a top-down economic restructuring, like Khatami’s predecessor Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, they had been equally disparaged. Infuriating them more was that Ahmadinejad liberally stole from their policy playbook, just as President Bill Clinton was etched into the pages of US history though the use of softened Republican Party talking points. Politically, the Islamic Republic’s bêtes noires in the Bush administration gave the Iranian regime easy targets with which to justify their position: a region in conflagration and blatant enforcement of double standards in nuclear geopolitics.

For most of Ahmadinejad’s first term, the money poured in, in the form of oil rents inflated due to the same regional crises. The government rode the heady boom in land prices and resplendent construction projects. In 2006–2007, many Iranians with capital jumped into the housing market, seeing dizzy gains of 100 percent every year. The resulting real estate bubble temporarily concealed the lack of a coherent development policy. The benchmarks and proposals of the Fourth Five-Year Plan (2005–2009), passed in Khatami’s era, were discarded in favor of hundreds of bridges to nowhere, and most of these were not even completed. The economy entered a liquidity trap, where over-accumulation of capital and a lack of profitable outlets for investment drove down the rate of return while sending prices into an upward spiral. Finally, Iran’s central bank reined in the easy money in mid-2008, months before the collapse of global financial markets (with much resistance from the president, who forced the two largest state banks to continue to hand out loans, resulting in the large debt burdens of today, as borrowers default). Each block of every middle-class neighborhood in Tehran is now home to three or four real estate offices, all filled with jacketed agents listlessly huddled together.

The economic hangover allowed political competitors to pin the label of ineptitude on the president’s dwindling faction and make it stick. If any theme permeated the televised debates between presidential candidates before the June 2009 election, it was competent governance. The intra-elite bickering was so intense that it arguably burned through the electorate’s apathy and ignited mass participation in the balloting.

Into this environment the President introduced his subsidy reform law, whose provisions were as follows: The government spent around 40 percent of its 2006 budget ($40 billion) on such subsidies and even more during 2008’s oil price peak. Of the revenue gained from the lessening of subsidy levels, the state would keep 20 percent, ostensibly compensating for increased costs in the public sector. Another 30 percent would be allocated to industries that rely heavily on subsidies and development of more energy-efficient infrastructure. The remaining 50 percent would be given back to Iranians in direct cash transfers or indirect welfare benefits, “targeting” the poorest strata of the population. After five years, the prices of the staples were to be close to regional market levels. The parliament wrote into the law that the government should gain no less than $10 billion and no more than $20 billion during the first year, which would have meant increasing prices for subsidized goods on average between 2.5 and 4 times their current levels.

Debate over the law was heated, even a bit melodramatic, with parties for and against seeming to believe equally in the awesome power of unregulated markets. The president identified this single reform as the solution to the country’s many economic, social and perhaps even cultural woes. On March 9, amid reports that Parliament would approve only half of the cuts, state news agencies relayed that Ahmadinejad was praying in the chamber for passage of them all. Critics of the law, including stalwart conservatives in Parliament, predicted hyperinflationary catastrophe and industrial collapse. Green Movement supporters hoped that an intensification of economic grievances would keep middle-class Iranians, some of whom see the plan as a government attack upon their livelihoods, coming into the streets. Labor activists foresaw a new surge of working-class unrest to fuel the Green fire.

The drama of the subsidy debate was all the higher for playing out against the backdrop of the post-election turmoil and the fragmentation of the political elite into so many temporary chiefdoms, with the accompanying fleeting wars and alliances. In this climate, no policy initiative on the scale of subsidy reform would proceed without the express approval of Ahmadinejad’s patrons, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. Why, given the hubbub, did they permit the president to move forward with the subsidy-cutting plan? Have they gone nuts?

Read rest of article....

Iran: Ethnic Minorities and the Green Movement (Ghajar)

Shayah Ghajar writes in

Iran is home to a staggeringly diverse population, with a wide variety of languages and cultures. Due to centuries, if not millennia, of cultural exchanges, intermarriages, and the inherent fluidity of identity in such a pluralistic nation, “ethnicity” does not necessarily hold the same racial baggage that it does in Western cultures, and a family’s self-described ethnicity may change from one generation to the next.

Nevertheless, certain minority cultures in Iran are restricted from publishing in their native languages, and face educational and economic disadvantages. Academics and political figures active in promoting their cultures face arrest, and are occasionally executed. Consequently, many Iranian minorities feel antagonized by the current government and support political causes to increase their cultural rights and representation.

The Green Movement and many minority political groups have similar goals, namely to increase popular representation in government, ending media censorship, and open Iranian society for greater internal political dialogue. Additionally, prominent politicians of the Green Movement hail from minority backgrounds as well. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi is an Iranian Azeri, and grew up speaking Azeri Turkish. Mehdi Karroubi, another prominent opposition leader, is from Lorestan and grew up speaking the Lori dialect.

Iran’s minorities first got a taste of a more liberal, open approach to minority rights under President Khatami (served 1997-2005). Khatami pledged to dramatically increase the status of minorities in Iran, taking steps to ensure Kurdish politicians were elected to the national government. However, most of his campaign promises to minority groups were broken, leaving many feeling disenchanted with the possibility of any change coming from Tehran. After the 2005 elections that saw Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, the meager concessions of the Khatami era disappeared utterly.

Before the June elections, Karroubi also addressed the question of inequality and ethnicity in an interview with Press TV, an unprecedented act. He said, “First of all, our constitution states clearly that all minorities and all followers of different religions are equal[…]I think that we should have an approach where all people regardless of their gender, religion, or ethnicity can feel that they are part of this government. Nobody else is saying the things that I am saying.” Thus, considering the backgrounds and goals of prominent opposition leaders, and the commonalities of goals between the Greens and some minority groups, the question arises whether or not the Green Movement and minority political groups have, or will, join forces to achieve these common goals.

The answer is both a resounding no and a qualified yes --- yes in the sense that many minorities participate in the Green Movement, and no in the sense that the Green Movement’s prominent politicians have no known formal or informal ties with minority political groups.

The Green Movement’s most prominent figures have good reason to steer clear of direct contact with minority rights political groups. In Iranian political discourse, many politically active minority groups bear the stigma of ethno-nationalism or separatism. Some Kurdish groups, as well as the Baluchi Jundallah terrorist organization, have used violence for political ends in trying to establish independent regions based on ethnic and religious ties. These ethno-nationalist groups have alienated the Iranian public at large through their use of violence on Iranian civilians, and have made it harder for peaceful minority rights groups to maintain political legitimacy in such a polarized atmosphere. Jundallah, for example, is said to be disliked by most Baluchis for causing economic havoc, murdering locals, and setting back Baluchi political movements by stigmatizing the topic of Baluchi rights, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

In January, the state-controlled news agency IRNA accused the Green Movement of having ties with an armed Kurdish group, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. Mostafa Hejri, the leader of the group, issued statements and published an article in January declaring support for the Green Movement’s ideals, according to Kurdish nationalist website Medya News. The accusations from the Iranian government were exactly what the Green Movement has sought to avoid in its attempts to steer clear of extremist elements both in and outside of the movement.

The reluctance to form an alliance is by no means restricted to the Green Movement–many minority political groups have expressed reluctance to put any faith in the Green Movement. An editorial in the Kurdish Globe, an Irbil-based website affiliated with the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, may represent many minority activists’ sentiments when it declares the Green Movement to be an anticlimax for ethnic minorities. The Kurdish Globe sees the dispute between opposition leaders and the government as an internal power struggle amongst the political elites of Tehran, saying their dispute is the latest of many “internal power struggles that have existed since the early years of the Islamic Republic in Iran. Therefore, it is logical to argue that a new leader would not have fundamentally changed government’s position on minority rights or its human-rights stand.”

Kaveh Ghoreishi of Rooz Online reported a myriad of sentiments amongst a variety of Kurdish groups, comparing their approaches both before and after the election. He found, despite different decisions on precisely what stance to take, all of the Kurdish political groups showed reluctance to become involved with the Green Movement in any tangible way, opting instead for silence, or, at most, a statement of solidarity.

The reluctance of political groups to form alliances by no means indicates a dearth of Green Movement supporters amongst minorities. The Guardian’s map of the government’s election results and resulting June 2009 protests, indicates that many major protests occurred in areas inhabited predominantly by ethnic minorities. A similar search on youtube for the names of minority-populated cities and the word “protests” likewise shows no shortage of Green protesters: e.g. Kurdish Orumiyeh, the predominantly Azeri city of Tabriz, and Arab/Persian Ahvaz, among others.

The extensive grassroots participation in the Green Movement in minority-dominated areas seems counterintuitive in light of the lack of formal political ties between minorities and Greens. However, this discrepancy may be explained by the awareness amongst minorities that the Green Movement is currently the most powerful vehicle for change in Iranian society, one which lacks the demographic restrictions or political stigma of ethnically-based movements.

The realization of the Green Movement’s goals–the enforcement of the constitution, the end of media censorship and the recognition of basic rights of self-expression in Iranian society–by definition includes the goals of many Iranian minority groups for increased self-expression and cultural autonomy. Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution promises the right to one’s native language, while Article 19 prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity, color, or religion. If opposition leaders live up to their pledges to enforce the existing Constitution, the fulfillment of these two basic rights would satisfy many minorities.

In recent months, however, minority support in key areas may be waning. InsideIRAN’s Mohammad Khiabani reports that Tabriz, cultural capital of Iranian Azerbaijan and the historically the most rebellious province in Iran, is currently experiencing an economic boom thanks to Turkish investment, and politics is far from anyone’s mind. The IWPR article referenced earlier says that in the wake of the arrest of Jundallah’s leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, the border between Iran and Pakistan in the Sistan-Baluchistan province has reopened, prompting a relative boom in the destitute region’s trade. The government’s recent efforts to politically and economically stabilize minority regions may well prove to be effective in distracting would-be supporters from the Green Movement’s arduous path to reform.

The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2225 GMT: Rafsanjani Watch. This could be interesting --- Hossein Marashi, cousin of Hashemi Rafsanjani's wife and a Vice Secretary-General of the Kargozaran Party. has been arrested.

2220 GMT: Edward Yeranian of the Voice of America offers an analysis, "Iranian Government Releases Prisoners for Persian New Year", with contributions from EA staff.

NEW Latest Iran Video: Mousavi's and Rahnavard's New Year Messages (18 March)
NEW Iran: Reading Mousavi & Karroubi “The Fight Will Continue” (Shahryar)
NEW Iran & the US: The Missed Nuclear Deal (Slavin)
Iran Labour Front: Minimum Wage, “Unprecedent Poverty and Hunger”, and Strikes
Iran Analysis: What Does the Fire Festival Mean?
Latest Iran Video: Two Views of the Fire Festival (16 March)
UPDATED Iran Document: Mousavi Speech on “Patience and Perseverance” (15 March)
The Latest from Iran (18 March): Uranium Distractions

2215 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Women's rights activist Somaiyeh Farid was arrested on Wednesday. Farid was at Evin Prison enquiring about her husband, Hojat (Siavash) Montazeri, who was arrested on 5 March.

2145 GMT: A Ray of Light. Amidst some poor analyses today of the Iranian political situation and the Green Movement, Melody Moezzi comes to the rescue with this piece in The Huffington Post:
The arrests before Revolution Day last month (11 February) surely dissuaded many opposition protesters not already in jail from pouring into the streets and risking beatings and unlawful detentions. I personally know of several opposition activists who stayed home as a result of the intimidation, and I can't say that I blame them. Still, no matter how few or many pro-democracy demonstrators show up in the streets for Nowruz the Iranian opposition has far from died. Rather, it has merely been pushed underground, but it is germinating like a stubborn hyacinth, taking on a course and a life of its own, teeming with the sweet smell of a freedom to come.

2100 GMT: A slow evening. Only significant news that we've noted is the release of Abolhasan Darolshafaei from detention. He is the last member of the family to be freed, following the releases of daughters Banafsheh and Jamileh and nephew Yashar.

No members of the Darolshafaei family are any longer in custody, just in time for New Year festivities.

1625 GMT: We have posted the New Year's video greetings of Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, to the Iranian people.

1440 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Journalist Bahman Amoui, who has been detained since 20 June (read the letter to him from his wife, Zhila Baniyaghoub), has reportedly been released.

1415 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch: Journalist Akbar Montajabi has been released on bail. So have journalist Keyvan Samimi and Hojatoleslam Mir Ahmadizadeh.

1410 GMT: The Case for Change. Hassan Rowhani, a member of the Expediency Council and ally of Hashemi Rafsanjani, has used a long interview to discuss nuclear issues and to make the case for electoral reforms.

1355 GMT: Escape. The BBC is now reporting the story, which we carried last week, of student activist Ali Kantouri, who has fled Iran after being given a 15-year prison sentence for abduction and extortion.

1340 GMT: We have posted a special analysis by Mr Verde of the political significance of this week's Chahrshanbeh Suri (Fire Festival).

1220 GMT: On the Economic Front. Following up on our Wednesday special on the minimum wage and "unprecedented poverty and hunger"....

Six independent labor organizations have argued that the poverty line is $900 per month and asked for that to be new minimum wage. (The Government has authorised $303.) Economists at Mehr News Agency” have set the poverty line in the coming year at above $1000.

(Persian readers may also be interested in Faribors Raisdana's detailed analysis of minimum wages and labourer's poverty.)

1000 GMT: We have two specials for you this morning (and there's a third on the way). We've posted an excellent account by Barbara Slavin of the US-Iran deal on uranium enrichment that almost came off but then collapsed last autumn, and we have Josh Shahryar's analysis of the latest moves by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

0855 GMT: We're Taking Our Subsidy Bill and Going Home. The ongoing fight between the President and Parliament for control of the budget and expenditure is highlighted by a bad-tempered interview of Ahmadinejad supporter Ruhollah Hosseinian in Khabar Online.

Hosseinian declares that, since the Majlis only gave the President $20 billion of the $40 billion he wanted from subsidy reductions, Ahmadinejad should withdraw the proposal: "It's not clear which portion of the government's revenue will be channeled to other sectors by the Parliament, so I believe implementing subsidy reform bill is against our interests."

Asked how the Administration could avoid implementing a plan which has been passed by Parliament, Hosseinian replied:
Although the bill has become a law, a way must be explored to halt its execution, since enforcing this law in its current form will simply add to the problems. As the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei coordinates the interactions between state branches of the country, a method must be found to annul implementing subsidy reform bill.

0830 GMT: The Uranium Issue. An EA reader asks for clarification on the claim that Iran may be facing a crisis over uranium stock for its medical research reactor.

I am strongly influenced by the knowledge that Iran's approach to the International Atomic Energy Agency last June, which set off this round of talks over uranium enrichment, was prompted by the specific issue of isotopes for medical treatment. I have my suspicions, though no firm evidence, that the renewal of a Tehran push for a deal may also be prompted by this immediate need for 20 percent enriched uranium.

We will soon be posting an excellent investigative piece by Barbara Slavin highlighting this issue.

0605 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Amnesty International is featuring the case of student activist Milad Asadi, detained without charge since 1 December.

0555 GMT: We might have been concerned with the Fire Festival and the renewed protest through the statements of prominent opposition figures (Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami), parties (Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution), and activist groups (Committee of Human Rights Reporters).

Looks like the Ahmadinejad Government wants to talk uranium, however. Iran's atomic energy agency chief, Ali Akhbar Salehi, put out the line that it was time to agree a uranium swap inside Iran. First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi insisted, "During the new year, new nuclear plants will be built and the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue with its path without allowing the arrogant powers to meddle."

But, with the US threatening more sanctions and no sign that the "West" will accept a deal where the swap occurs inside Iran, where is the hope for Tehran? No problem: "Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin has called for stronger ties...and urged closer cooperation between Iran and Russia to confront existing regional and international threats."

Better hope so. I get the sense that not only is Iran concerned about economic restrictions, primarily through the withdrawal of foreign companies and investment, but also that there may be a crisis looming over uranium for the medical research reactor.