Iran Election Guide

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Entries in Voice of America (3)


The Latest from Iran (21 March): Happy New Year, Mr Ahmadinejad

1750 GMT: It's All About US and Us. A slowish news phase, so the media are focusing on Ayatollah Khamenei's Sunday speech. It's on the lines of the Twitter publicity put out by his office (1330 and 1420 GMT), but this extract is especially provocative:

The enemies wanted to divide the people... and to create a civil war, but the nation was alert. If they were able to do it, the US and Zionist regime would have sent troops to Tehran's streets, but they knew it would hurt them. Thus they spread propaganda and supported the rioters.

1730 GMT: We've posted Iranian New Year videos featuring defiant chants from the opposition.

1440 GMT: Parliament v. President. Islamic Republic News Agency is claiming a fight-back against Parliamentary resistance to Ahmadinejad subsidy reform and spending proposals, quoting Arsalan Fathipour, head of the Parliament's economic commission, "We believe it is not possible to implement the subsidy reform plan at 20,000 billion tomans ($20 billion). So delegates intend to raise the figure to 35-38,000 billion tomans ($35-38 billion)." That would be almost all the $40 billion demanded by the President.

NEW Latest Iran Election Video: Nowruz and the Green Movement
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NEW Iran Video and Summary: Karroubi’s New Year Message
Latest Iran Video and Transcript: Obama’s Nowruz Message (20 March)
Iran Appeal: Japan’s Deportation of Jamal Saberi
Iran Analysis: Ahmadinejad Fails in Qom? (Verde)
Iran: Inside the Mind of the Interrogator
The Latest from Iran (20 March): Nowruz

1430 GMT: Obama and Iran. Edward Yeranian of the Voice of America claims that there was a "mized" reception amongst "Iranians inside and outside Iran" of President Obama's Nowruz message.

1420 GMT: "Rights" Annoys Khamenei. The emphasis in Barack Obama's Nowruz message on rights for Iran's people has annoyed the Supreme Leader. His office's Twitter barrage continues:
USA President sent letter and message to normalize relations, but his actions was against his words....USA President called distruptives "civil movement" and supported arsonists in recent events....Aren't you ashamed of killing in innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan while talking about Human Rights?

1340 GMT: Winning on the Internet. The Guardian of London offers an interview with Austin Heap, the creator of the Haystack initiative to assist Iranians with access to the Internet, evading regime blocks and protecting their security.

1330 GMT: Everything Most Excellent Here. Really. The Supreme Leader's Twitter machine is extracting English quotes from his Nowruz message. My favourite so far: "Last Iranian year was the nation's year and their victory; a year of seeming presence in glorious arena."

1005 GMT: Speaking of Rights. Nooshabeh Amiri, writing in Rooz Online, considers "Women’s Movement [As] a Prelude to the Green Movement".

1000 GMT: US, Iran, and Rights. We've put our snap analysis of a possible shift in US policy on Iran into a separate ent

0900 GMT: The Ruling of the Umpire. The Iran-based blogger Persian Umpire is back after an absence with three entries: one on the events of 22 Bahman (11 February), one on waiting outside Evin Prison for a detained friend, and one on last week's Chahrshanbeh Suri (Fire Festival) ceremonies.

The summary of the festival offers one of the classic observations of this post-election crisis: "No one gave a certain rodent’s bottom for the fatwa [of Ayatollah Khamenei]. In fact it solidified people’s resolve to come out and celebrate."

0700 GMT: As Iranians celebrate Nowruz, they have been greeted by messages for the New Year. And there is more than a bit of politics behind the best wishes. The most pointed intervention may have come from Mehdi Karroubi, who derided the regime (a "small barge" not a "galleon") as illegitimate. We have the video and a summary.

President Ahmadinejad offered his own message, but the question is whether it has been overshadowed by events which do not point to 1389 as his happiest year. Consider....

As EA's Mr Verde predicted, the President got both a slap and a warning with the release of Hashemi Rafsanjani's relative and political ally Hossein Marashi from prison. Officially, the freedom is only temporary for Nowruz --- Marashi was jailed on Thursday after an appeals court upheld a one-year sentence for "propaganda against the regime". Beyond the official, the political significance will be whether Marashi goes back to prison; if not, it will be a dent in the authority of the Government.

Rooz Online echoes Mr Verde's assessment of an Ahmadinejad failure in his Thursday mission to Qom to get the support of senior clerics, claiming "the chief authorities refused his presence". (Rooz adds a name to those who did meet with Ahmadinejad: Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi.)

In Tehran three lawmakers, prominent in economic discussions, criticised Ahmadinejad for his Friday suggestion of a referendum on his subsidy reform and spending plans, saying he is legally obliged to execute the economic reform plan approved by the Parliament. Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moqaddam, Ali Tavakkoli, and Elyas Naderan  said in ajoint statement, "The president does not have the right to disobey a law which has been approved by the Parliament."

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)
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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?
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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.

The Latest from Iran (14 March): False Strategies, Real Conflicts

1910 GMT: More on the Universities Purge (see 1145 GMT). The Revolutionary Guards get in on the act, with Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the former commander and current advisor to the Supreme Leader, declaring, "The universities aren't in good shape today, missing from them are revolutionary forces and experts who are beholden to the Imam, the Supreme Leader, and the Constitution."

Rahim-Safavi, speaking at a conference organized for the "cultural experts" of the IRGC, said, "The goal of soft war is to change the culture, values and beliefs of the youth....Our weakness is in this very issue of culture, which our enemies have identified before we did. Therefore we must battle against and overcome the attacking culture with our soft and cultural power."

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The Latest from Iran (13 March): Settling In

1830 GMT: Let's Make Up a Cyber-War. More regime propaganda --- the Revolutionary Guard has briefed the Parliament on the nefarious cyber-plot of the opposition around Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, bringing in names like the filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and human rights activist Ahmad Batebi. (There's a video as well.)

After the briefing, the head of Parliament's National Security Committee said Human Rights Activists in Iran had fabricated a list of killed protesters and passed it to Mir Hossein Mousavi.

1725 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch --- One Who Did Not Remain Silent. Emad Bahavar, head of the youth branch of the Freedom Movement of Iran, has been re-arrested.

Bahavar was arrested earlier this year and released after a short period. However, instead of refraining from criticism of the regime, he wrote a long, incisive analysis of "The Hardliners' Project".

On Wednesday, after Bahavar had appeared in court to defend his case, security forces raided his house without a warrant, threatened his family, and confiscated personal possessions. Bahavar was re-arrested when he went to court to protest the illegal behaviour.

1705 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The former Chief Executive Officer and founder of Persian Blog, Mehdi Boutorabi has been arrested.

1700 GMT: We've posted an update and an analysis of this weekend's "opposition campaign", which proved to be far less than a campaign, in the US.

1530 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has confirmed that Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh has been released for 15 days on $800,000 bail.

1525 GMT: Really, They Are All US-Sponsored "Cyber-Terrorists". Fars continues the propaganda overload attacking human rights activists with an "analysis" claiming that the Bush Administration and the CIA launched a $400 million campaign in 2006 for a cyber-battle against Iran.

This is a convenient pretext for Fars to lump together all the "bad guys" --- the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, monarchists, Baha'is, and human rights activists --- as traitors. Named groups includes Human Rights Activists in Iran, Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi's Center for Defense of Human Rights, and the Human Rights Committee and the One Million Signatures campaign for women's equality.

1515 GMT: Stopping the Fire Festival. As our readers have noted, the Supreme Leader has turned on one of Iran's national ceremonies, Chaharshanbeh Souri, as an event “void of religious roots and cause of great harm and corruption".

Chaharshanbeh Souri, which takes place on the eve of Iranian New Year, is an ancient Iranian pagan festival with the building of bonfires and symbolic gestures and chants. These summon the fire to burn all sickness and lend its energy to a healthy new year.

1500 GMT: Back from a family break (Happy Mother's Day to all those celebrating in Britain) to go on Rafsanjani Watch.

Looks like the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has continued his careful prodding of the Government, this time with attention to state media. He urged Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (Seda va Sima) not to operate as “a gang”, warning that it would lose the trust of the public if it did so. He added that IRIB needs to assume a more “national” approach and pay more attention to people.

1145 GMT: Purge the Universities!

Press TV, from Islamic Republic News Agency, reports that up to 130 Iranian members of Parliament have written the Minister responsible for higher education, Kamran Daneshjoo, calling for strict action to be taken against proponents of secularism in universities throughout Iran.

The legislators warned Daneshjou of the activities that were carried out in universities by "certain individuals who are hostile toward the Islamic system". They insisted, "The cultural message of the [1979] Islamic Revolution is the most important topic that university professors and the elite must seek to promote....Activities of individuals, who feel enmity toward the Islamic establishment, are unacceptable. What is more, nowhere in the world are resources and opportunities generously handed out to those who seek to bring down the establishment and the principles that society is governed by."

Of course, the demand of the MPs for "serious and decisive" action against "the enemies of the Islamic establishment," "proponents of secularism," and "those who work to weaken the government" is a political set-up for the regime to get rid of unacceptable professors and limit scholarships and overseas education to only "proper" students. Last week Daneshjoo used a speech to denounce "deviant" academics.

0920 GMT:~Khomeini in the Cold. Looks like the regime is going to continue treating the family of the late Ayatollah Khomeini as too dangerous to acknowledge, given their criticisms of the Government. The memorial service for Khomeini's son Ahmad has been cancelled due to "mausoleum repairs". Most ceremonies at the Khomeini site since June 2009 have been postponed.

0915 GMT: Two Sunday Specials for You. We feature a defiant weblog from released detainee Foad Shams, "I Am Still Alive to Tell the Story", and Mr Verde has an analysis of 5 Signs of Regime Trouble.

0910 GMT: A Lament for the Election. Eshagh Jahangiri, the Minister of Industries and Mines in the Khatami Government, has declared that, after the Presidential vote on June 12, the chances of progress were lost for Iran.

OK, he would say that as he's a reformist, right? Yes, but the location of the criticism...the not-so-reformist Khabar Online.

0900 GMT: No More Satire --- Iran's Changing Flag. Remember a couple of months ago that we posted a comedy story about the apparent changing of the colours in Iran's flag, removing Green for Blue?

Well, look likes we might have to replace our satire warning for a label that this is Very Serious. From Khabar Online:
At the last session of Iran's Guardian Council in the current Iranian year (ends on March 20) held today, the speaker of the entity, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, answered the questions raised by the journalists.
He said that if a trustable evidence is provided on the national flag color change at the recent state ceremonies, the council will probe the issue."

"The rules are transparent on this case and must be abided by all executive bodies. If it's true, those organizations which have committed such act should be questioned," he maintained.

Recently at some ceremonies held by the government, the green stripe on the Iranian flag had changed to blue or black, including one attended by the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad staged a in Tehran for the head of the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). At the ceremony in a graphic design behind Ahmadinejad, the green stripe of the country's national flag had turned to blue.

0650 GMT: I thought at one point on Saturday that the main story might be an opposition initiative to sway American opinion, with a purported spokesman for Mehdi Karroubi holding forth to US journalists in a press conference and private talks.

That proved a fizzle, however, as the "former senior aide" primarily offered a distracting thesis of an Ahmadinejad-Khamenei split and got little coverage from a nuclear-focused (obsessed?) US media. The New York Times, for example, prefers a tangential thinkpiece by David Sanger, and The Washington Post is also off on a Tehran and the Bomb story.

Still there's an important lesson for the Green Movement here in the diversion and possibly damage of those claiming to be "spokesmen" for the opposition, when they are in fact expressing primarily personal opinions, and how they could built up as Green representatives by a media started of significant information from inside Iran. We'll have an update later today.

So what were the real stories? Well, there is what appears to be a regime strategy to break the opposition through the "revolving door" of releasing some detainees --- with the threat that they go back to prison if they step out of line --- and taking new prisoners with declarations of terrorists front groups and agents for the US.

On Saturday, a number of high-profile prisoners, notably journalists and the Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh, were reportedly freed. At the same time, the campaign to break human rights organisations was declared with the propaganda of media like Fars and Kayhan, with their announcements of dozens of arrests of campaigners linked to the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq and Washington, and the attack on the websites of Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The latest statement from the Revolutionary Court declares that those arrested belong to a group called “Iran Proxy,” which is accused of
“downloading national databases, infiltrating and sabotaging internet sites, resisting government filtering efforts, creating secure spaces for users of internet networks, creating secure telephone lines and data for interviews with Radio Farda, Radio Zamaneh and television networks of Voice of America”. The Court alleges, in a reference to a campaign to distribute anti-filtering software so Iranians can access the Internet, “Members of Iran Proxy in Iran were in receipt of significant salaries in Iran in order to distribute over 70 thousand proxies through the internet.”

Then, however, there is the news of pressure on the Government, not through manufactured rings of secret US-backed agents but through members of Parliament. The  story of the battle between the Majlis and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the President's budget and subsidy reform plan seems to have attracted little notice. But, after the President appealed to the Supreme Leader and then gate-crashed the Parliament and still lost the vote on his proposal, it is a sign of Ahmadinejad's authority in jeopardy.