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« UPDATED Iran's Nukes: The Real Story on Vienna Talks and the Deal for Uranium Enrichment | Main | Latest Iran Video (19-20 October): More University Demonstrations (Tehran & Karaj) »

The Latest from Iran (20 October): Green Waves or Green Mirage?

NEW Video (19-20 October): More University Demonstrations (Tehran & Karaj)
Iran’s Nukes: The Real Story on Vienna Talks and the Deal for Uranium Enrichment

Iran Snap Analysis: Mousavi’s Webcast Takes “National Unity” Beyond Politics
Video: Mousavi’s First Post-Election Webcast (18 October)
The Latest from Iran (19 October): Beyond Bombings, The Pressure on the Government

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2005 GMT: A look at the economy as we draw to a close today. The Iranian Parliament has passed a large portion of the Ahmadinejad Government's proposals for reductions in subsidies on food and energy, objecting only to cuts in subsidies on medicines.

2000 GMT: We've posted updates on today's Vienna talks on Iran's nuclear programme in a separate entry.

1950 GMT: Now that the Iranian press has announced the sentencing of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh (see 1620 GMT), the State Department has commented with further details. Spokesman Ian Kelly said that Tajbakhsh had been given 15 years in prison, clarifying the "more than 12 years" in Iranian reports. Kelly added that the US was "deeply concerned":
Mr. Tajbakhsh poses no threat to the Iranian government or its national security. Given the groundless nature of charges against him we call on Iran to grant his immediate release. As an independent, internationally respected academic, Mr. Tajbakhsh has always sought to foster better understanding between Iran and the United States and Iran and the international community.

1850 GMT: More University Demonstrations. AUT News reports on a protest at Qazvin University today.

1800 GMT: Great Moments in Journalism. Press TV devotes several paragraphs to the "hundreds of Iranian students [who] gathered in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy to protest the Kingdom's policies towards Muslims" but somehow has failed to notice the thousands of students who protested at Iranian universities today.

1755 GMT: Reuters reports, from Fars News, that more than 100 members of Parliament have filed a complaint with the Iranian judiciary against opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi for "harming the image of the system".

1655 GMT: Protest of the Day. Kayhan, the fervently pro-Government newspaper, had to shut its guestbook and take down its flag at the Iran Media Fair today after visitors filled the guestbook with sentences and decorated the flag with green ribbons. The show of support for the opposition took place even though the Fair was moved behind closed doors because of the fear of protest.

1645 GMT: An Iranian report on the latest demonstrations at Tehran University, involving more than 1000 students, has been posted.

1635 GMT: A "National Unity" Warning to Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami? An interesting and disturbing to the Sunday comments of Habibollah Asgharoladi, the member of Parliament who revealed that the National Unity Plan had been sent to the Supreme Leader for critique. Tabnak reports, from Mehr News, that Asgharoladi has given a warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami, after their "provocative" post-election activity, that they must decide whether or not to come "within the system".

1620 GMT: Stunning and Depressing. In a dramatic illustration of stick following carrot, Iran has followed the release of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (see 1600 GMT) by imprisoning Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh for at least 12 years. Reports of the sentence circulated this weekend, but it was only confirmed today by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

I must say I am surprised that the regime would make this move, even to show its strength. While Tajbakhsh has been paraded as proof of the "velvet revolution", imposing such a stiff sentence risks a strain in engagement with the US Government, which has asked Tehran to release the academic. And this time, unlike the Roxana Saberi case, where an Iranian court handed down a long prison term before President Ahmadinejad intervened, this verdict had to have the full backing of the Government.

1615 GMT: The Supreme Leader's Back. Ayatollah Khamenei's official website has posted a photograph and full report of the Supreme Leader's meeting with thousands of female scholars and teachers. Khamenei declared that Islam show its "respect and dignity for women and women's talents" in the family, society, and national and international activities. He repeated his criticism of Western academia, specifically the humanities, for its teaching and worldview in contrast to an Iranian approach based on Qu'ranic principles.

The Islamic Republic News Agency is also featuring photographs and repeating the official article word-for-word.

1600 GMT: Newsweek magazine has announced that its journalist, Iranian-Canadian dual national Maziar Bahari, has arrived in London after being allowed to leave Iran. Bahari was detained from 21 June until last Saturday, when he was freed on $300,000. It is unclear whether Bahari will have to return to Iran to stand trial again or will simply forfeit the bail.

1510 GMT: Back from teaching with a key piece of information from a valued EA source. The Supreme Leader did meet the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Ezatullah Zarghami, at the end of last week. Previously we had reported that the meeting was scheduled but, amidst the rumours about Ayatollah Khamenei's health, had no confirmation that it took place.

One of the topics of conversation may have been a proposal for a statement by the Supreme Leader on IRIB announcing a "five-year plan" for Iran.

1100 GMT: We've posted videos of yesterday's demonstration at Amir Kabir University, Tehran, and today's at Azad University, Karaj. We're waiting for footage from today's protest at Azad University, Tehran.

1030 GMT: Although not as dramatic or as large as the protests at the start of the academic year, demonstrations have persisted in Iranian universities. Today's reports are of 3000 students protesting at Azad University in Tehran and a demonstration at Azad University in Karaj.

0820 GMT: Who's Not on the Enemy List? So Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki declares in a press conference on Tuesday, "[Foreign agents] are resident in Pakistan but violate [the] border of Iran and Pakistan They have links with intelligence services which are settled in the regional countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan." Later he says, "In Basra, British forces were in contact with certain terrorist groups and hold [training] courses for them. When Iranian authorities presented evidence about the issue, the British forces were forced to cut their links with terrorists in southern Iraq and left the area."

OK, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Britain have all supported troublemakers, such as the Baluch insurgent group Jundallah, inside Iran. But, wait, where is the US?

Mottaki's conciliation by not mentioning Washington, reflecting the Cabinet line on Sunday night, was accompanied by an outstretched hand towards Pakistan. He praised measures taken by Islamabad in the last year to jail or extradite "criminals", mentioned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's talk with Pakistani President Asif Zardari on "effective measures", and said an Iranian delegation will soon be in Islamabad for discussions.

0745 GMT: On the international front, we've posted a special analysis after the first day of the Vienna technical talks on Iran's nuclear programme. Don't be distracted by Tehran's posturing and the subsequent poor journalism of "Iran Threatens to Walk Out of Talks". A deal for third-party enrichment is on the table.

0525 GMT: Yesterday morning we speculated, "Other events may prove more significant than the Baluchestan bombing." It has taken less than 24 hours for the speculative to become likely.

The bombing will undoubtedly have long-term effects. Beyond the diversionary headlines over Revolutionary Guard commander Jafari's press conference --- he was blaming the US, Britain, Israel, Pakistan; Iran would "retaliate" --- were his more important comments about a restructured and empowered Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and military ensuring security and control. The overall impression, however, is still of a regime which is trying to regain its footing. The Supreme Leader's statement (whether from him or from his office) is no more than a general bandage of rhetoric, and it was notable that no other high-ranking Government officials acted yesterday to steady the political ship.

Instead, the "other event" that tried to take the initiative was the webcast of Mir Hossein Mousavi. Even though communications are still restricted within Iran, the novelty of Mousavi's first Webcast --- as well as the declared significance of the message on "National Unity" --- should ensure that the news travels quickly. For all the limits on his movement (both physical and political), Mousavi has put out a rallying call to match those of the days before and after the 12 June election.

So far, however, reaction seems mixed. There was a buzz of excitement as word of the Webcast spread. And Mousavi's general invocations for a movement of all --- not just politicians or clerics or intellectuals --- to restore justice and responsibility, fulfilling the ideals of the Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic should raise spirits and hopes.

But then uncertainty set in for some (including, it must be admitted, some of us at EA). Mousavi's call is not to engage with the current political process around the National Unity Plan; it is go beyond it with his own conception of "National Unity" fulfilled by the "Green Path of Hope" social network. Some see this as a bold move to rally the Iranian people with a vision beyond the manipulations and compromises of politics; others see it as Utopian, evasive, or escapist.

Yet for all the importance and merits of that debate --- is the Green Wave overcoming the politics of the regime or dissipating in the face of it? --- the more important issue is whether Mousavi's call is part of a wider strategy encompassing other leaders, networks, and movements.

Early in the post-election crisis, a shrewd EA reader identified Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami as individual but complementary parts of a coordinated opposition machine. Mousavi made the rallying statements, Karroubi pressed the specific cases of injustice and Government abuses, and Khatami worked within the system to gather support. One conceivably could add to that scenario senior clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Sane'i and Grand Ayatollah Dastgheib. Even if Hashemi Rafsanjani proved not to be part of this coordinated movement, but rather pursued his own goals parallel to it, this might be enough to bring significant change.

So today we watch for the statements and measures taken not by Mousavi but by others. Was his declaration of "National Unity", made even as the National Unity Plan of others (conservatives, principlists, Rafsanjani) was being presented to the Supreme Leader, a dramatic but isolated appeal? Or was it only the first of a series of Green waves, all hoping to build strength against an unsettled Government?

Reader Comments (9)

It's significant that in the webcast Mousavi twice underlined that he's been left out of the [so-called] national unity discussions. In other words, the entire opposition has been left out/ignored.
So, quid pro quo, he addresses the opposition without even a nod to the establishment and directs the Greens to divide themselves into small cells and rule the future.
The difference in the two models or implied definitions of national unity is very consistent with each party's profile. The regime's is a top-down commandment, secretive, exclusive, proprietary; the oppositions' is flat, grassroots, democratic, in progress, free.

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermahasti

RE 0525 GMT: The Supreme Leader’s statement (whether from him or from his office) is no more than a general bandage of rhetoric, and it was notable that no other high-ranking Government officials acted yesterday to steady the political ship.

Is that because "others" have taken over already and are writing statements for him that sound like the sort of thing he would say if he were conscious? ;-)

The reason I ask is because I just read this (albeit from last Sunday):

Where/who does this guy get his information from? Can anything he says be taken seriously?

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Iranian TV is showing footage of Khamenei speaking to a large crowd of cheering women, and he talks about the Koran. There are no political comments or mention of the recent explosion, that I heard. I think the conference is tied to a celebration for Imam Moussa Khazem's daughter. Do we know for a fact that this footage is from today? Does anyone have any ideas or thoughts?
Edward Yeranian

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEdward Yeranian

@ Baluchestan bombing:
According to peykeiran, IRGC-General Nur-Ali Shushtari, who was killed during this assault, was also at the head of a huge syndicate named "Revival of Khorassan", including major industries from copper mining and cement factories to tourist organizations:
Another nice example of this bunch of militia, systematically looting Iran's natural resources, while the local population is starving. I have seen their villages, deserted because of extreme drought in 2001.

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArshama


Re: Ledeen

[...]Where/who does this guy get his information from? Can anything he says be taken seriously?[...]

Here's the NIAC's take on Ledeen (posted on Thursday):

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSomebody

More on what to expect from the National Unity Plan:

Asgaroladi's comments (Tabnak Oct 18, TehranBureau, tr.
"We are looking to unite political parties, but unity does not mean telling those who are at odds with one another to kiss and make up. We want these people to reconcile with the establishment and leadership."

And more:
"We still have not reached the conclusion that Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami are seditionists. We believe that certain individuals around them are exploiting them and have placed them in circumstances that compel them to react in such a manner."
Asgaroladi went on to say he believed Karroubi had "gone astray" and needed to be steered back to "the right path."

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermahasti

^Asgaroladi's remark is silly. Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami can barely leave their homes due to gov. restrictions, and they're being "exploited?" Please.

Re: 5-yr. plan. Does the regime HAVE 5 yrs. to play with?

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkevina

I'd love to know how far "over 100" the number of MP's is. Are there not 290 MPs? So, only 100 or so is less than 50%?

Also, Hamid Rasaie refers to the "Islamic System," not the "Islamic Republic." Says a lot about where the hardliners are coming from, no?

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkevina


Re: the NIAC’s take on Ledeen (posted on Thursday):

Thanks. His involvement in the Iran Nigerian yellow cake purchase rumour was all I needed to know!

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

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