Spotlight on Iran (Week of March 7-14, 2012)

Issued on: 15/03/2012 Type: Article

Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • Iran remains defiant over President Obama’s statements and resumption of nuclear talks with the West

  • Cyberspace comes under increasing control: Supreme Leader orders establishment of "Supreme Cyber Council”

  • Majles postpones implementation of second phase of subsidy reform, public remains concerned over abolishment of cash benefits

  • Debate resumes on Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations in the Islamic republic

 

Iran remains defiant over President Obama’s statements and
resumption of nuclear talks with the West

U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby in Washington last week drew mixed reactions from Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed the president’s speech at a meeting held last week with members of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran. He said that Obama’s remarks were good and that they reflected the United States’ detachment from the illusion (that Iran can be stopped by the use of military force). He added, however, that the president’s remarks in favor of using sanctions against Iran to defeat the Iranian people are an indication that the Americans are still holding on to an illusion as far as this issue is concerned.

Meanwhile, top Iranian officials warned once again that Iran will react strongly if attacked. Ground Forces Commander Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan said this week that an act of aggression against Iran will trigger a strong reaction from the Iranian armed forces. He noted that the army is taking the threats facing it very seriously, even if the president of the United States does say that he has no intention of attacking Iran. Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, warned that Iran has 11,000 missiles ready to launch on Israeli and American targets in case of an attack.

The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami argued that President Obama was using anti-Iranian rhetoric and reiterating his baseless allegations about Iran’s nuclear program to prove his commitment to the "Zionists” and mobilize their support ahead of the presidential elections. "The occupying, blood-spilling, and illegitimate Tel-Aviv regime”, which is one of the main reasons why the region is still gripped by instability and crisis, continues to enjoy "consecrated support” from President Obama, who prior to being elected president promised to change his country’s policy. Not only did he not keep his word, but the United States now pursues a "Zionist policy” with greater conviction than during the terms of previous American presidents.

Referring to a possible Israeli attack on Iran, the daily Ebtekar called on world countries to let Israel launch such an offensive so that Tehran can rid humanity of this "historical evil” once and for all.

Meanwhile, the daily Keyhan commented on the expected resumption of the nuclear talks between Iran and the West. An editorial published by the daily earlier this week said that Iran’s position on the eve of the resumption of the talks is considerably better than it was during the previous talks, which ended in a failure over a year ago.

First, the Majles elections have proven that external pressure on Iran only made it more internally cohesive, and the public more supportive of the regime. Second, the West is coming back to the negotiating table with the clear knowledge that, even if the talks fail, it cannot mobilize the support of Russia and China, which now understand that Western pressure on Iran is intended to bring about a regime change in Tehran. The only thing that the United States can do in case the talks fail is to impose more unilateral and ineffective sanctions. Third, this past year Iran has made considerable progress in its nuclear program, which has taken the military option off the table. The Americans therefore have no options left, Keyhan said.

Cyberspace comes under increasing control: Supreme Leader orders establishment of "Supreme Cyber Council”

Last Wednesday, March 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a new directive on the establishment of a "Supreme Cyber Council”. The directive says that the decision to establish the council was made in response to the growth of information and telecommunications technology, particularly the global internet network, and its impact on individual and social life. Other factors behind the establishment of the council are the need to facilitate the most effective possible use of the opportunities inherent in technological progress for the advancement of public services, and the need to step up planning and integration of efforts to prevent damage that can be caused by the growing use of the internet. The new council has been instructed to promptly establish a "National Cyber Center” to be in charge of all cyber activities in Iran and elsewhere.

Headed by the president, the council members will include the Majles chairman, the chief of the judiciary, the head of Iran Broadcasting, the ministers of telecommunications, Islamic guidance, intelligence, and science, the chairman of the Majles Culture Committee, the chairman of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the chief of the Revolutionary Guards, the commander of the internal security forces, as well as seven experts on internet and information technology.

The establishment of the Supreme Cyber Council was widely covered by Iranian media and even discussed by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, who praised the Supreme Leader for his decision to establish the council. The top cleric noted that cyberspace makes it possible for secrets to be stolen, and that the internet poses a considerable threat to world nations and is intended to create insecurity in the world.

On the margins of the extensive media coverage about the council’s establishment, the composition of the council was criticized by an Iranian blogger. He said that while in principle he does support the establishment of the council, he has several reservations about its activity and composition, which may, in his view, weaken its effectiveness. He expressed his concern that the council may undermine the authority of the Majles, took issue with the fact that most council members are either engineers or technical experts, and criticized the presence of security and intelligence services on the council, which may lead to the adoption of a "security-oriented approach” and a stricter attitude towards internet users.

As the authorities tighten their control of the internet, this week Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour once again addressed the threats posed by the network, and the intent to create a national intranet. In an interview given to ISNA News Agency, the minister said that the intranet will operate separately from the global internet network and will make it possible to transfer information securely, which is currently impossible with the global network.

Meanwhile, this week the Iranian Center for Statistics published information on internet penetration and web surfing habits in Iran for 2010-2011. According to the information, during the period in question, the internet penetration rate reached 18.9 percent in urban areas and 4 percent in rural areas. Yet another figure from that information: 83.8 percent of all web surfers in Iran still use a dial-up connection.

*Majles postpones implementation of second phase of subsidy reform, public remains concerned over abolishment of cash benefits

The Majles has decided to postpone the implementation of the second phase of the subsidy reform program to the summer of 2012. The government initially intended to launch the second phase in the beginning of the new Iranian year, which starts on March 21.

According to the decision made by the Majles, the government will be unable to introduce changes in the subsidy reform law before the Iranian month of Tir (June-July 2012). This means that there will be a several-month delay at the very least in the implementation of the second phase of the program. As part of this phase, the government intends to stop paying the cash benefits that have replaced the subsidies to more than 10 million Iranians whose monthly income is considered high.

Earlier this week many Iranians got a text message sent from a phone number used by the Subsidy Reform Organization. The text message called on Iranians to inform the organization of their willingness to give up the cash benefits by going to the organization’s website. The text message was also sent to low-income individuals and caused much concern for Iranians. The Asr-e Iran website reported that many citizens who got the text message complained that their economic situation does not allow them to give up the cash benefits, and that if they do not continue receiving them, they will find themselves in a severe economic crisis. They also strongly criticized the government for sending the message.

Following the report, a spokesman for the Subsidy Reform Organization announced that the text message was sent by accident, and that in any case the organization has no intention, of its own initiative, to stop paying cash benefits to citizens who received it.

 Debate resumes on Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations in the Islamic republic

Two top clerics ruled this week that the tradition of Chaharshanbeh Souri, the last Wednesday of the Iranian year (ending on March 20), is forbidden in Islamic religious law.

Top conservative cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi ruled that the holiday customs are superstitions that should be abolished. In response to a question from a listener on a radio show about Islamic religious law, Makarem-Shirazi noted that some of the customs of Nowrooz (the Iranian New Year) are good, but that other customs, such as building fires on the night of Chaharshanbeh Souri, are prohibited in Islamic religious law. The ruling was seconded by Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, who argued that the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremonies are forbidden since they constitute a revival of pre-Islamic (jahiliyyah) traditions.

The debate on the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremonies emerges every year, owing particularly to its pre-Islamic roots. Conservative clerics have ruled in recent years that these are forbidden "heathen” ceremonies. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has also ruled that, since the holiday tradition has no basis in Islamic religious law and these customs involve physical and material damage, it would be wise to avoid celebrating the holiday.

The tradition of Chaharshanbeh Souri symbolizes the beginning of the Nowrooz celebrations. The custom of building fires and jumping over them originates in Zoroastrianism, reflecting the desire to expel evil on the eve of the New Year. Iran’s authorities attempted to abolish such rituals in the first years after the Islamic revolution; however, those attempts failed since the tradition is so deeply rooted among Iranians. Accordingly, in recent years Iranian authorities have been forced to come to terms with the Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations and settle for monitoring them so that they do not turn into clashes between youngsters and security forces, which happened on several past occasions. In addition, the authorities work to minimize the many physical injuries that occur as a result of the reckless use of fire and flammable substances during the holiday.

 

Iran remains defiant over President Obama’s statements and
resumption of nuclear talks with the West

U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby in Washington last week drew mixed reactions from Iran. In the speech given to the AIPAC conference goers, Obama said that Iran should not doubt the United States’ determination or Israel’s right to defend itself, and that a nuclear Iran would be unacceptable for the national security interests of the United States. He stressed, however, that the international community has a responsibility to first of all try and resolve the crisis with Iran using sanctions, and that he will only use force when the timing and circumstances require him to do so.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed the president’s speech at a meeting he held last week with members of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran. He said that Obama’s remarks were good and that they reflected the United States’ detachment from the illusion (that Iran can be stopped by the use of military force). He added, however, that the president’s remarks in favor of using sanctions against Iran that are intended to defeat the Iranian people are an indication that the Americans are still holding on to an illusion as far as this issue is concerned (Fars, March 8).

Meanwhile, top Iranian officials warned once again that Iran will react strongly if attacked. A top Iranian military official announced this week that any act of aggression against Iran will trigger a strong reaction from Iran’s armed forces. Ground Forces Commander Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan said that the army is taking the threats facing it very seriously, even if the president of the United States does say that his country has no military option against Iran. According to Pourdastan, the armed forces are on alert in case of a possible American attack. Pourdastan quoted Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite imam, who said that a more dangerous enemy is one that claims not to be preparing for another war (Fars, March 8).

Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, warned against an attack on Iran, saying that Iran has 11,000 missiles ready to launch on Israeli and American targets in case of such an attack. At a talk with journalists in Beirut, the ambassador said that Iran is taking all the threats facing it very seriously. If the "Zionist regime” is, in fact, interested in attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities, it will do so without any advance warning, and in such case Iran’s reaction will be painful and severe (Mehr, March 12).

The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami also discussed President Obama’s address to the AIPAC conference. In a summary of weekly events published on Thursday, March 8, the daily argued that President Obama was once again using anti-Iranian rhetoric and reiterating his baseless allegations about Iran’s nuclear program to prove his commitment to the "Zionists” and mobilize their support ahead of the presidential elections.

Iran remains defiant over President Obama’s statements and resumption of nuclear talks with the West

It is unfortunate, Jomhuri-ye Eslami said, that the United States, which has thousands of nuclear warheads, and the "Zionist regime”, the only one in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, are talking about security and stability in the region. It is even more unfortunate that the international community, and particularly the IAEA, lacks the courage to go into U.S. and Israeli nuclear facilities, and that it focuses instead on Iran’s nuclear activity.

"The occupying, blood-spilling, and illegitimate Tel-Aviv regime”, which is a main reason why the region is still gripped by instability and crisis, continues to enjoy "consecrated support” from President Obama, who prior to being elected president promised to change his country’s policy. Not only did he not keep his word, but the United States now pursues a "Zionist policy” with greater conviction than during the terms of previous American presidents. The daily noted that President Obama’s remarks on his commitment to Israel demonstrate once again that the United States cannot be counted on to solve the crisis in the Middle East.

In a reference to a possible Israeli attack in Iran, the daily Ebtekar called on world countries to let Israel follow through its threats. An editorial titled "Please let them attack us” said that every time the nuclear talks between Iran and the West resume, more and more voices in Israel call for an attack on Iran. There is no doubt that Israeli leaders are interested in attacking Iran. Having no ability to do so, however, they are trying to mobilize international support for a military option. Such support is not possible thanks to Iran’s strategic position, military capabilities, regional influence, and the possible impact a military attack would have on the global economy.

The psychological warfare campaign waged by Israel with regard to a possible attack on Iran is intended to provide Israeli leaders with an escape route out of the conditions that have emerged in the region in the wake of the Arab spring and improve their domestic and foreign status. The author of the article called on world countries to let Israel make the serious mistake of launching such an offensive so that Tehran can rid humanity of this "historical evil” (i.e., Israel) once and for all (Ebtekar, March 11).

Meanwhile, the conservative daily Keyhan commented on the expected resumption of the nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 group of countries. An editorial published by the daily earlier this week said that, after the failure of the previous round of negotiations in 2011, Western countries assumed that Iran would soon be asking for a new round as a result of the escalating sanctions against it, and that time was on their side. More than one year later, the resumption of the nuclear talks finds Iran in a much better position compared to the previous round of talks.

First, the Majles elections have proven that the external pressure on Iran only made it more internally cohesive, and the public more supportive of the regime. Second, the West is coming back to the negotiating table with the clear knowledge that, even if the talks fail, it cannot reach an international agreement on a policy to be adopted towards Iran. The United States’ relations with Russia and China are in a state of severe crisis. With all Western intelligence services agreeing that Iran has made no decision to develop nuclear weapons, Russia and China understand that Western pressure on Iran is intended to bring about a regime change in Tehran, not to make sure that its nuclear program is peaceful. The only thing that the United States can do in case the talks fail is to impose more unilateral sanctions—ones that will prove ineffective and will not be endorsed by many countries, such as Russia, China, India, Korea, and Japan. Third, this past year Iran has made considerable progress in its nuclear program, mainly the launch of the enrichment facility in Fordo, which rendered the military threat obsolete. Without a military option and without sanctions, the Americans have no options left on the table, Keyhan said (Keyhan, March 11).

Ali Ahani, Iran’s ambassador to France, also addressed the resumption of the Iran-West talks. He announced that while Iran is optimistic about the new round of negotiations, it will not be willing to cease or reduce the enrichment of uranium in its territory. Referring to a possible Israeli attack on Iran, Ahani said that Iran does not believe it will be attacked by Israel, since such an attack would have devastating and unpredictable consequences for the entire world (Fars, March 10).

Cyberspace comes under increasing control: Supreme Leader orders establishment of "Supreme Cyber Council”

Last Wednesday, March 7, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a new directive on the establishment of a "Supreme Cyber Council”. The directive says that the decision to establish the council was made in response to the growth of information and telecommunications technology, particularly the global internet network, and its impact on individual and social life. Other factors behind the establishment of the council are the need to facilitate the most effective possible use of the opportunities inherent in technological progress for the advancement of public services, and the need to step up planning and integration of efforts to prevent damage that can be caused by the growing use of cyberspace.

The Supreme Leader’s directive on the establishment of the Supreme Cyber Council, as it appeared on his official website
The Supreme Leader’s directive on the establishment of the Supreme Cyber Council, as it appeared on his official website

Headed by the president, the council members will include the Majles chairman, the chief of the judiciary, the head of Iran Broadcasting, the ministers of telecommunications, Islamic guidance, intelligence, and science, the chairman of the Majles Culture Committee, the chairman of the Islamic Propagation Organization, the chief of the Revolutionary Guards, the commander of the internal security forces, as well as seven experts on internet and information technology.

The new council has been instructed to promptly establish a "National Cyber Center” to be in charge of all cyber activities in Iran and elsewhere, which includes issues of software, hardware, and internet content. The center will also supervise the implementation of decisions made with regard to these issues. The Supreme Leader instructed all government institutions to cooperate with the new center.

Seyyed Mehdi Khamoushi, chairman of the Islamic Propagation Organization, discussed the need for the establishment of the new council. In an article published on the Supreme Leader’s official website, Khamoushi said that Iran’s enemies consider the "soft war” and the cultural attack on Iran to be the most important struggle intended to undermine the Islamic revolution. Iran needs to protect its philosophical, religious, and cultural borders, and take advantage of cyberspace to send out its message to the world and fight against the messages sent by its enemies.

Iran is facing a "tsunami of information”, which is why it needs a concerted effort to deliver its messages and deal with the efforts made by its enemies in this field. Iran is also facing a technological progress that can be harnessed to provide more effective social and government services and improve the relationship between the administration and the public.

The chairman of the Islamic Propagation Organization noted that, in recent years, experts, culture figures, clerics, and scientists have communicated their concerns about cyberspace to the Supreme Leader, and that the new council will be tasked with formulating ideas and plans in fields pertaining to the internet and information technology. These ideas will then be presented to the Supreme Leader (www.khamenei.ir, March 8).

Dr. Kamyar Saqafi, who has been appointed to the council, said that cyberspace cannot be the responsibility of just one government ministry, and that it requires coordination between many different bodies. Different models used so far to formulate policies on information technology were insufficient, as the field requires a broader outlook. Saqafi said that the composition of the council shows how important this issue is for the Supreme Leader (Mehr, March 10).

The establishment of the Supreme Cyber Council was widely covered by Iranian media and was even addressed by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran. Jannati, who serves as chairman of the Guardian Council, said that the establishment of the council is an indication of the attention given by the Supreme Leader to issues others tend to dismiss. Jannati noted that cyberspace makes it possible for secrets to be stolen, and that the internet poses a considerable threat to world nations and is intended to create insecurity in the world (Fars, March 10).

On the margins of the extensive media coverage about the council’s establishment, the composition of the council was criticized by an Iranian blogger. In a post made by Ali Pour-Tabataba’i on his personal blog, the blogger said that while in principle he does support the establishment of the council, he has several reservations about its activity and composition, which may, in his view, weaken its ability to solve the severe problems that exist in Iranian cyberspace.

The blogger expressed his concern that the establishment of the council will undermine the Majles’ authority and its ability to pass new laws pertaining to cyberspace. He noted that similar councils established in the past, such as the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, saw themselves above all other branches of government and as having powers not subject to any kind of control. For instance, laws passed on the initiative of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution could not be changed even by the Guardian Council or the Expediency Discernment Council.

In addition, the blogger said that the composition of the council will not allow it to be in charge of both content issues and technology issues involving cyberspace. He noted that most council members are engineers or technical experts. The council has no experts on social sciences or humanities, and no senior representative from the religious seminaries who could speak for top clerics and religion students.

The presence of representatives from the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence, and the internal security forces is similarly problematic, Pour-Tabataba’i said, since it can prompt the council to adopt a "security-oriented approach”. Such an approach considers every online activity a conspiracy that has to be combated. If this approach is adopted by the new council, the result may be an escalation of the struggle already waged on "cyberspace activists”. This struggle has already provoked dissatisfaction from cyber activists who support the Islamic republic, according to Pour-Tabataba’i.

Finally, the blogger warned that the establishment of the new council will make it even more difficult to solve currently existing problems with cyberspace. Instead of scaling back the agencies involved in the field, the council may become a new bloated and inefficient government center that will provide no solution to the demands brought up by the Supreme Leader (http://www.kheyzaranonline.ir/1390/12/18/supreme-council-of-cyberspace-affect-all-irans-cyber-space).

As the authorities tighten their control of the internet, this week Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour once again addressed the threats posed by the network, and the intent to create a national intranet. In an interview given to ISNA News Agency, the minister said that the intranet will operate separately from the global internet network and will make it possible to transfer information securely, which is currently impossible with the global network. He added that the creation of the national information network requires the cooperation of the public and private sectors (ISNA, March 10).

At a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Taqipour said that Western countries, particularly the United States, use the internet for spying and spreading corruption, but that Iran has launched activities designed to manage the use of the internet and limit its abuse. The internet should serve all countries in the world, not just the West, which uses it for its economic needs and for harming other countries, the minister said (Fars, March 10).

Meanwhile, this week the Iranian Center for Statistics published information on internet penetration and web surfing habits in Iran for 2010-2011. According to the information, during the period in question, the internet penetration rate reached 18.9 percent in urban areas and 4 percent in rural areas. A total of 11 million Iranians accessed the internet.

According to the data, 83.8 percent of all web surfers in Iran still use a dial-up connection, 13 percent use ADSL, and 0.9 percent have wi-fi.

About 4.3 million of the 20.3 million families in Iran (21.4 percent) have an internet connection at home: 94 percent of families living in urban areas and only 6 percent of families living in rural areas. Among urban families 91.5 percent have a personal computer at home, compared to 12 percent of families in rural towns and villages.

6.4 million (58.1 percent) of Iran’s web users are men and 4.6 million (41.9 percent) are women. 16.6 percent of Iran’s male population use the internet, compared to 7.12 percent of the female population.

0.4 percent of internet users are less than 10 years old, 26 percent are 10-19, 43.2 percent are 20-29, 21 percent are 30-44, 8.7 percent are 45-64, and 0.5 percent are over 65.

75.2 of internet users surf the web at home, 22.4 percent use internet cafés, 14.4 percent surf at work, 13.4 percent surf at school, 4.3 percent use cellular telephones, 3.9 percent surf at other people’s houses, and 1.4 percent surf in libraries.

26.1 percent of internet users access the web at least once a day, 33.1 percent at least once a week but not every day, 26.6 percent at least once a month but not every week, and 14.1 percent access the web less than once a month (Alef, March 11).

Majles postpones implementation of second phase of subsidy reform, public remains concerned over abolishment of cash benefits

The Majles has decided to postpone the implementation of the second phase of the subsidy reform program to the summer of 2012. The government initially intended to launch the second phase in the beginning of the new Iranian year, which starts on March 21.

According to the decision made by the Majles, the government will be unable to introduce changes in the subsidy reform law before the Iranian month of Tir (June-July 2012). This means that there will be a several-month delay at the very least in the implementation of the second phase of the program. The economic daily Donya-ye Eqtesad ("World of Economy”) reported that the government representative who was present at the Majles meeting voiced no objections to the decision to delay the next phase of the reform by several months (Donya-ye Eqtesad, March 12).

As part of the second phase, the government intends to stop paying the cash benefits that have replaced the subsidies to more than 10 million Iranians whose monthly income is considered high. The abolishment of the cash benefits to high-income individuals is intended to let the government overcome the severe deficit it is currently undergoing as a result of the extraordinary expenses involved in the implementation of the reform’s first phase. For this phase, the government pledged to pay cash benefits to all citizens regardless of their economic situation.

Last week the government organization in charge of implementing the subsidy reform plan announced that Iranians who are not interested in receiving any more cash benefits or willing to give up part of the sum can inform the authorities through the organization’s website (www.refahi.ir) or by sending a text message to the telephone number used by the organization.

The reformist daily E’temad argued this week that the government cannot realize the goals of the reform by leaving citizens with the decision of whether they want to continue receiving cash benefits. An editorial published by the daily said that, given the ongoing increase in prices, it is unlikely that Iranians will voluntarily give up their right to receive cash benefits, even if they do not belong to the weaker sectors of society. If the government wants to implement the subsidy policy reform based on the principle of social justice, it must seek help from government institutions working with the weaker sectors, such as the welfare committees. The government has to approach these institutions for information about people in need, and transfer the cash benefits to these people. At the same time, it has to cut back the cash benefits paid to other citizens (E’temad, March 12).

As preparations for the implementation of the second phase of the subsidy reform continue, Iranian media reported that earlier this week many citizens received a text message sent from a phone number used by the Subsidy Reform Organization (98300025). The text message called on Iranians to voluntarily give up the cash benefits due to their economic abilities by going to the organization’s website. According to media reports, the text message was also sent to low-income individuals, not just to those who belong to the upper deciles (Donya-ye Eqtesad, March 12).

The text message sent out this week on behalf
The text message sent out this week on behalf of the subsidy reform organization

After the reports appeared, a spokesman for the Subsidy Reform Organization announced that the text message was sent by accident, and that in any case the organization has no intention, of its own initiative, to stop paying cash benefits to citizens who received it (IRNA, March 12).

This past January a number of Iranians received a text message from an unknown source stating that, since they own a car and an apartment, they are no longer eligible to receive the cash benefits. Following the media frenzy sparked by the text message, Behrouz Moradi, chairman of the organization in charge of implementing the subsidy policy reform, said that the text message was fabricated and intended to raise concerns among the public. He asked the legal authorities to check who is responsible for sending it, and said that a lawsuit would be filed against those individuals.

The Asr-e Iran website reported that this week’s text message caused much concern for Iranians, particularly for those without a high income. According to the website, some of the people who received the message are simple laborers, unemployed individuals, and citizens below the poverty line. The website cited Iranians who received the message as saying that their economic situation does not allow them to give up the cash benefits, and that if they do not continue receiving them, they will find themselves in a severe economic crisis. They also strongly criticized the government for sending the message (Asr-e Iran, March 12).

Debate resumes on Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations in the Islamic republic 

Two top clerics ruled this week that the ceremonies of Chaharshanbeh Souri, the last Wednesday of the Iranian year (ending on March 20), are forbidden in Islamic religious law and must not be celebrated.

Top conservative cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi ruled that the Chaharshanbeh Souri customs are superstitions that should be abolished. In response to a question from a listener on a radio show about Islamic religious law, Makarem-Shirazi noted that some of the customs of Nowrooz (the Iranian new year) are good, such as cleaning one’s house, social visits, and assistance to those in need. However, other customs, such as building fires on the night of Chaharshanbeh Souri, are superstitions that must be avoided. The top cleric also pointed out the dangers inherent in the Chaharshanbeh Souri customs, which sometimes result in serious physical injuries for those celebrating around fires, and ruled that they have to be abolished (Mehr, March 10).

The ruling was seconded by top cleric Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, who argued that the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremonies are forbidden since they constitute a revival of traditions from the jahiliyya (the period of ignorance that came before Islam) (Mehr, March 10)

Debate resumes on Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations in the Islamic republic

The debate on the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremonies emerges every year, owing particularly to its pre-Islamic roots. Conservative clerics have ruled in recent years that these are forbidden "heathen” ceremonies intended to compromise the Islamic identity, and banned them. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has also ruled that, since the holiday tradition has no basis in Islamic religious law and these customs involve physical and material damage, it would be wise to avoid celebrating the holiday. His view was shared by senior cleric Ayatollah Ja’far Sobhani, who ruled that the holiday contradicts Islamic religious law and logic. Sobhani noted that one of the goals of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to release people from pre-Islamic customs and traditions which had shackled human thought. The Prophet sought to prevent the influence of those traditions on people’s lives and morals and therefore abolished them. Chaharshanbeh Souri, Sobhani said, is one of those wrong traditions, and the way it is marked in Iran results in the injuries and even death of many youngsters who mark the holiday by building fires and jumping over them.

In the past, cleric Hojjat-ol-Eslam Yousefi Gharavi from the religious seminary in the city of Qom also expressed reservations regarding the Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations, saying they were a reflection of the ritual of fire which was commonplace before the advent of Islam. He admitted, however, that the celebration of the holiday by Iranians could not be prevented, and said that it should be marked differently than it is now, for example by praying, reading the Quran, and giving charity.

The tradition of Chaharshanbeh Souri symbolizes the beginning of the Nowrooz celebrations. The custom of building fires and jumping over them originates in Zoroastrianism, reflecting the desire to expel evil on the eve of the New Year. Iran’s authorities attempted to abolish such rituals in the first years after the Islamic revolution; however, those attempts failed since the tradition is so deeply rooted among Iranians. Iranian authorities were therefore forced to accept the Chaharshanbeh Souri celebrations and settle for monitoring them so that they do not turn into clashes between youngsters and security forces, which happened on several past occasions. In addition, the authorities work to minimize physical injuries stemming from the use of flammable substances. In recent years, many Iranians, including children, have been hurt in accidents taking place during Chaharshanbeh Souri as a result of reckless use of fire and dangerous substances, such as firecrackers and fireworks. Ahmad Reza Radan, deputy commander of the internal security forces, warned this week that those arrested on the night of Chaharshanbeh Souri for violating public order will remain under arrest for the entire Nowrooz vacation (Fars, March 13).

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

Pictures of the week: the funeral of Simin Daneshvar, one of Iran’s most important women authors, who passed away in Tehran at the age of 91

 

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