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Entries in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (42)


Iran: A Beginner's Guide to the Economy, Past and Present

The Latest from Iran (16 October): Rumours and Drama, Khamenei and Karroubi
Latest Iran Video: Selling Ahmadinejad’s Economic Plan (13 October)

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IRAN TOMANEA's newest correspondent, Mohammad Khiabani, introduces us to the economics preceding and accompanying the post-election situation:

The subsidy system that exists in Iran --- one that benefits both individuals and industry by lowering costs of basic daily goods but is highly inefficient and unfair in the distribution of those benefits ---- was never meant to be permanent. It was an expansion of a earlier set of food and energy subsidies that began under the Pahlavi dynasty, as part of the old regime's economic and social policy.

During the 1980s war with Iraq and the US embargo, when Mir Housain Mousavi was Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic (and not too ideologically different from the Revolutionary Guard in his political positions), the subsidy system expanded into a general distribution network that kept consumption in Iran at decent levels. This involved government-run food centers throughout the country, price controls, nationalization of foreign trade, multiple currency exchange rates, and a rationed goods program. Just as in the Battle of London during WWII, when the average Londoner's nutrition levels went up even while the city was being bombed by the Luftwaffe, the effect of this network in Iran was to equalize the consumption of goods. This helped raise the lower classes' living standards even while Iran's wealth declined from the Pahlavi days of its oil-fueled economic "miracle".

However, since the late 1980s, the Iranian regime has slowly dismantled this system. First it opened up to foreign trade, then it aligned its currency rates, then it allowed foreign investment in small parcels, and it finally attempted to tackle the biggest problem of readjusting the prices of basic goods so that they adjust according to market fluctuations. This is a noble goal, because the richest Iranians get the most benefit from the subsidies of food, energy, and gasoline, simply because they consume more of everything. The Islamic Republic has also, in conjunction with slow economic liberalization, expanded the social safety net for its population over the last 20 years, with a combination of decentralized primary health centers in rural and urban areas, large social insurance funds that operate under the category of "non-governmental" organizations, and initiatives to give everyone at least some form of pension and health insurance.

This long process, seen up close, looks like chaos. But if you step back, it has an odd logic to it, and it has contributed to comparatively good standards of living in Iran versus other middle-income countries, as measured by life expectancy, literacy (including amongst females in a region where rates are historically low), and low infant mortality. If you read Thursday's Wall Street Journal article on China's unraveled health care system, which used to be one of the best in the Third World, Iran does not look that bad.

What does this mean? Yes, social policy in Iran is imbued with politics, just as in any large state (look no further than the daily grind on Capitol Hill in Washington). Factions exist, with constituencies, and they jockey for power and recognition of successful policies.

It is all too forgotten now that privatization, subsidy reform, foreign investment, and welfare expansion were all part of the Khatami administration's economic plans between 1997 and 2005. And in a very Clintonesque move, Ahmadinejad has borrowed some of the best ideas of his predecessor and claimed them as his own. It seems now that the current (and very tendentious) alignment of factions in the Majles has fostered the political will to actually pass a restructuring of subsidies, while those conditions did not exist in the second Khatami term.

Daily politics in Iran has lineages deeply embedded in its past. Even the Revolutionary Guard's intervention in the economy stems from the after-effects of the 1980s war, when President Rafsanjani utilized Guard manpower and engineering expertise for the reconstruction of the country. This also had the added benefit of keeping hundreds of thousands of Iranian veterans employed, with a few of them getting quite rich in the process.

It is difficult to predict how well the government will pull off a restructuring of the subsidy system. While a much smaller implementation of gasoline rationing two years ago resulted in a few instances of gas stations being attacked, today the measure is seen as a success and discussed as a microcosm for the reforms. Plans to utilize the social security system of Iran to distribute cash and aid to the lower 50% of Iranians to offset incoming higher prices may actually expand and strengthen the social safety net. This may also inadvertently decrease the power of religious foundations such as the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, widely criticized as a non-transparent charity organization, but currently very influential in poor Iranians' lives.

Any look through the microscope at Iranian politics must not be blinkered. Instead, it should be accompanied with a longer-term perspective on Iran's economy and society, one that allows us to talk about Iran with the same kind of language and terminology we use to talk about Turkey, Mexico, China, and any large middle-income country.

The Latest from Iran (15 October): Restricting the Movement

NEW Iran: Karroubi Responds to Government Threats "Bring. It. On."
Iran-US-Russia Deal on Enrichment, The Sequel
Latest Iran Video: Selling Ahmadinejad’s Economic Plan (13 October)
Iran: The Latest on Mehdi Karroubi
The Latest from Iran (14 October): Watching Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and the Supreme Leader’s Health

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2010 GMT: Our Daily Contribution to the Khamenei Death Rumour Mill. The Supreme Leader's Facebook site has the following message from Wednesday, "Today Noon; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran attended a rite in respect of Imam Sadeq(A.S)".

If true, this would disprove Tuesday's Peiknet story, the original source of the current health rumors, that the Supreme Leader had been confined to his house by doctors.

1620 GMT: A Dutch Member of Parliament, Harry van Bommel, has urged Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen to take further action against the imminent execution of Iranians sentenced in post-election cases:
Protest at the European level is not enough. The Netherlands should also use its own channels. There is an escalation of political oppression in Iran and we should react to that by using heavier diplomatic means....To prevent the eradication of any kind of opposition in Iran, the Netherlands must act now.

Human rights is one of Verhagen's policy priorities, and he can be contacted in English or Dutch via Twitter.

1545 GMT: Mehdi Karroubi has responded --- big-time --- to Government attempts to arrest him over his allegations of abuses of detainees. We've got the details in a separate entry.

1405 GMT: Fereshteh Ghazi has posted an interview with  the lawyer of Arash Pour-Rahmani, who was sentenced to death for subversive activity last week. Her headline is a blunt description: "Close to Death but Clueless".

1400 GMT: Iranian authorities continue to prevent filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who was briefly detained on 30 July, from leaving the country.

1110 GMT: President Ahmadinejad has used the setpiece of a meeting with an Egyptian writer and scholar to declare that further US sanctions on Iran are unlikely: “In a status where countries are seeking free trade, talk of embargoes is meaningless. At any rate, they have already imposed sanctions against our country, but achieved nothing. The world is a big place and all states are not controlled by a certain bullying regime."

Of course, this could be read as defiance but another reading is that Ahmadinejad is signalling that productive engagement is alive and well.

0900 GMT: Yesterday we noticed the latest message from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, delivered after his class at Qom's seminary, challenging the Revolutionary Guard. An EA correspondent adds details of the statement:
As Ayatollah Khomeini has said, the Army, Revolutionary Forces, and Basij militia must not interfere with the political affairs as it would be very dangerous for the country. These forces should use their power against the enemy not the people and friends.

Statements that protecting the Islamic republic is obligatory only apply if the Islamic system is loyal to its values and slogans.

The values and the slogans of the Islamic Republic are "Independence, Freedom, and the Islamic Republic". Independence means not to be obedient to a superpower. Freedom is having the freedom of speech and the belief that the opponents will not be put behind bars. Republic means a system based on people's votes and finally Islamic means that the system should be based upon the Islamic values.

0815 GMT: Amidst the rumours about the Supreme Leader's health, there will be some terrible "analysis" today, but the blogger Allahpundit takes an early lead in the competition. It's not so much that he/she declares "Irresponsible Rumor of the Day" and then treats it as true for his/her thought. It's more that the speculation is awful:
Before the summer uprising, the odds-on choice to succeed [the Supreme Leader] was Rafsanjani....One possibility is [now] the Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad’s own personal “spiritual advisor”....Another possibility is that the [Revolutionary] Guard will simply finish the process started this summer and stage a full-blown military coup, installing Ahmadinejad or Jafari as dictator and taking things from there....The third possibility is the likeliest — namely, finding a puppet from among the clerical ranks who can be sold to the west as a 'pragmatist' or 'reformist' while letting the Guard control things behind the scenes.

0625 GMT: Amidst continuing chatter --- all unconfirmed --- about the declining state of the Supreme Leader's health, including claims that the Tehran Bazaar is talking about Ayatollah Khamenei's passing, this line stands out: "Obviously, every rumor about Khamenei’s death to date has been false."

0615 GMT: Meanwhile, in the "West", there has been a notable switch from the nuclear issue to "human rights" to challenge the Obama Administration's engagement with the Ahmadinejad Government. This morning's Washington Post editorial endorses the latest speech by Iranian lawyer and Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi: "Mr. Obama has extended the hand of friendship to a man who has blood on his hands. He can at least avoid shaking the hand of friendship with him." Tehran Bureau, increasingly prominent as a site for the views of the Iranian diaspora, features Setareh Sabety's comment, "I do not want my President, who made me cry with his words of justice and freedom, who made me think that the impossible was possible, to shake the hands of the murderer of my children."

0600 GMT: More "Information"? Could be coincidence but Javan Online, the newspaper associated with the Revolutionary Guard, has followed its story on Hashemi Rafsanjani with a purported statement from Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani on the post-election protests. Mahdavi-Kani was named as co-author with Rafsanjani of the draft National Unity Plan, published by Fars News in late September, the incident that prompted Rafsanjani's denunciation on Tuesday of "false news".

Meanwhile, Javan's lead story is another purported analysis of US-supported regime change.

0500 GMT: A rather strange day on Wednesday.

We watched for signs of political movement from Mehdi Karroubi and Hashemi Rafsanjani; what we saw was the extent of the Government's attempts to break their challenge.

The headline story of the Government's threats to prosecute Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi was supplemented by accounts of the restrictions on the movements of both men. With constant surveillance and pressure by Government forces, they are confined to houses for long periods and, in the case of Mousavi, reportedly corresponding by written messages inside the home.

As for Rafsanjani, who is free to move and who holds key positions inside the establishment, he faces the Government distortion of his words and views. It also should not be forgotten that the regime maintains the threat of prosecution of his family members if the former President should move too far out of line.

A reader writes passionately, "Rafsanjani has no power any more and he lost it all trying to resolve his personal agenda." That's a fair challenge, especially given Rafsanjani's cautious and perhaps over-complex approach to politics, but I think it minimises the extent of the Government's fightback against a dangerous foe, especially after his mid-July Friday Prayers.

I also think that, as the Government is doing, one has to keep all the leaders in the picture. Individually, Karroubi, Mousavi, and Rafsanjani (as well as others like former President Khatami and senior clerics) can only have limited effect in the campaign for "reform" of the Ahmadinejad Government and Iranian system. It is only when there is both the movement of Rafsanjani inside the establishment and the challenge brought by Karroubi-Mousavi from outside --- again, a convergence we saw in mid-July --- that President Ahmadinejad and his allies are on the defensive.

Logically, then, the Government's approach is divide and rule. If Rafsanjani can be threatened and distorted into a strategy of gradual --- very gradual --- steps and Mousavi can be bottled up, then Karroubi's persistent statements are mere annoyances.

So is that it, then? Not quite. The paradox is that the umbrella political term in Iran right now is "National Unity Plan". Indeed, the Javan "information" that Rafsanjani supported Ahmadinejad's 2nd-term Government was put out in the context of a political meeting on that Plan.

We still don't know the details of the current draft Plan, from amongst the confusing reports of recent weeks, but any "National Unity Plan" which does not take some account of the opposition of past months will be seen as far from unifying.

And, yes, even that could be successful --- can Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, and the dissident clerics summon up the strength for another confrontation? --- were it not for another looming presence. The Green movement has been quieted and limited by time and Government restrictions, but it has not been vanquished. And 4 November, the day of the next major demonstration, is now less than three weeks away.

The Government restrictions have lengthened the political game --- we now see patterns in months, rather than weeks or days --- but it has not won it. No amount of surveillance, disinformation, or threat of prosecution can cover up that reality.

The Latest from Iran (14 October): Watching Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and the Supreme Leader's Health

NEW Iran-US-Russia Deal on Enrichment, The Sequel
Latest Iran Video: Selling Ahmadinejad's Economic Plan (13 October)
Iran: Tehran’s Growing Confidence Against the Israeli Threat

Iran: Rafsanjani Statement on “False News” (13 October)
Latest Iran Video: The Shiraz Protest Against Ahmadinejad (12 October)
Video: Protest at Tehran Azad University (13 October)
The Latest from Iran (13 October): Government Threatens Karroubi

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Buy Us A Cup of Coffee? Help Enduring America Expand Its Coverage and Analysis

IRAN 3 NOV DEMOS 32025 GMT: Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has issued a thinly-veiled challenge to the Revolutionary Guard through another statement. Focusing on the abuses of the armed forces, he declares, "Some think that because they have guns they should exercise the power of their guns and use it everywhere. In any society that wants to be obedient, its armed forces should not be cruel but rather be compassionate and merciful."

2000 GMT: Remember how we started this morning with a letter from Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticising and warning about "false news" to discredit him? Well, consider this from Javan Online, a publication closely linked with the Revolutionary Guard, as reported by Tabnak:
"Since the inauguration of the 10th administration, I believe in its legitimacy. Presently Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad attends the Expediency Council meetings as president, with invitations signed by myself," Rafsanjani said in a meeting with Iranian political figures in favor of the national unity plan.

It's not surprising that Javan would put this story, whether or not it is accurate. What is surprising is that, in light of Rafsanjani's warning that the only reliable news about him would come either from his website or the offices of the Expediency Council, an important website like Tehran Bureau would reprint Javan's claim without reflection.

1850 GMT: Amidst a quiet domestic news day, we've picked up on the international story missed by most of the media, "Iran-US-Russia Deal on Enrichment, The Sequel".

1500 GMT: The Facebook page associated with Mir Hossein Mousavi has responded to the Government threats to take Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to court with the reminder, "In case of the arrest of any of the Green movement’s leaders, we will take to the streets from 'Revolution' to 'Freedom' Square. The network [will use] media mobilization (SMS, email, flyer, wall notices, posters, Internet) for raising widespread awareness until the emergence of the Green army . (English summary via Iran News Digest)

1250 GMT: Amidst a lull in political developments, and as part of our increasing attention to the economic context, we've posted a two-part video from Press TV examining (and ultimately selling) President Ahmadinejad's economic proposals.

0805 GMT: We've posted what I think may be one of the most revealing analyses from within Iran, written by Dr Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, on the country's international position, "Tehran’s Growing Confidence Against the Israeli Threat".

0655 GMT: According to Peykeiran, a fifth death sentence over post-election conflict and "subversion" has been handed out to a "Davoud Mir Ardebili". The report claims that Ardebili is not a monarchist, the allegation made against three other condemned men, but merely called a radio station to report union protests.

0650 GMT: Today's Puffing of the Chest. Brigadier General Hussein Salami, the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps says,"Unlike the wrong conception of the enemies, Iran is strong and invincible."

No further comment or meat-related jokes necessary.

0640 GMT: Watching the Economy. Press TV's website has a must-read story betraying nervousness over both Iran's economic situation and the politics around the headline measure, Ahmadinjead's proposed subsidy reform.

The story begins with apparent good news, with a fall in the annual inflation rate from 20.2 percent to 18.5 percent. However, the headline also notes, "Jobless Rate Soars", rising to 11.3 percent from 10.2 percent over the summer.

And here's the stinger of the piece: "Economists fear that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's subsidy reform plan, which aims to gradually cut energy and food subsidies, will hike up inflation. The Iranian parliament has approved the outline of the bill, but lawmakers are still at odds over the details of the plan."

Our initial reading of the push for subsidy cuts, with the impulse being the worsening budget situation of the Iran Government, was too narrow. There are good structural reasons to reform the system, though I am uncertain how much these factor into Ahmadinejad's calculations. Far more significant --- and provocative --- is the President's political scheme, taking some of the money saved from the cuts and distributing it to Iran's poorest people.

0620 GMT: Our starting point today will be a close eye on the next steps of two key figures, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karroubi.

Rafsanjani surfaced yesterday to publish a letter via Iranian Labor News Agency, denying "false news" of a letter that he and Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani supposedly sent to Mir Hossein Mousavi on 28 September. We think this is a reference to the claimed "National Unity Plan", "revealed" by Fars News that day. At this point, however, Rafsanjani's step is a defensive move, fending off pressure from the Government and media who oppose him, rather than a major political step. We have an analysis and English translation of the letter in a separate entry.

The situation around Mehdi Karroubi is more dramatic. The Government threat to prosecute him, issued yesterday by two high-level officials, is a clear response --- showing nervousness as well as supposed strength --- to the resurgence of Karroubi's public statements, especially his Saturday meeting with Mir Hossein Mousavi.

So, to be blunt, we're wondering, "Does Karroubi back down?", and we're thinking, "No." His response to the Government's ham-fisted warning, which following similar threats over the last two months --- may not come today, but I would look for a clear signal from the cleric by the weekend.

Meanwhile, a brief article in Peiknet has stoked the fire of rumours about the poor state of the Supreme Leader's health. The website claims that three doctors were summoned urgently to Ayatollah Khamenei's house and, after examining him, insisted that he cancel all public and Government meetings and stay at home, with only his family seeing him. To our knowledge, no other source has corroborated the Peiknet assertion.

Rumors that the Supreme Leader has cancer, specifically prostate cancer, have persisted for years --- our readers have discussed these in comments. For now, we'll keep watch, especially to see if Khamenei stays out of public view.

Iran: The Latest on Mehdi Karroubi

Iran: Karroubi Responds to Government Threats “Bring. It. On.”
The Latest from Iran (14 October): Watching Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and the Supreme Leader’s Health
The Latest from Iran (13 October): Government Threatens Karroubi

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Buy Us A Cup of Coffee? Help Enduring America Expand Its Coverage and Analysis

KARROUBI3From an Enduring America correspondent inside Iran:

Karroubi's many offices have all been closed down. The only way to meet him now is to go to his house in a northern neighborhood of Tehran, but this is a problem as well since the house is being watched 24/7 and only immediate family and house workers can go in and out freely. This does not mean that he is under house arrest, but there are some unwritten restrictions in effect.

Karroubi is going to be sued by the government for things that he said with regards to the post-election victims of rape, but this will not put an end to the speculations about the abuses, nor will it end the support that he enjoys from the rest of the Green movement. His moves should be considered in relation to those of others, such as the second letter sent by the Association of Combatant Clerics to the head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, warning him not to be ignorant toward the truth about the claims over the Government of President Ahmadinejad.

Karroubi is not a man to give in to threat. The advantage that he has over [Mir Hossein] Mousavi, for example, is that he is a cleric wearing the famous clothing which makes it more difficult to discredit him. Karroubi was the only person that Imam Khomeini trusted with the authority over all his assets and belongings; it is not an easy task to tip over such a trustworthy individual.

Latest Iran Video: Selling Ahmadinejad's Economic Plan (13 October)

The Latest from Iran (14 October): Watching Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and the Supreme Leader’s Health

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As readers may have noted, we are taking an increasing interest in how the economic situation intersects with Iran's post-election crisis and the legitimacy of the Government. Following Monday's Parliamentary vote on President Ahmadinejad's proposal to cut energy and food subsidies, redistributing some of the cost saving to Iran's poorest people, here is Press TV's treatment of the issues:


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