Spotlight on Iran (Week of February 22-29, 2012)

Issued on: 29/02/2012 Type: Article

Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • Iran elects new Majles

  • Discourse on shari’ah aspects of nuclear weapons development continues following Supreme Leader’s statement at meeting with nuclear scientists

  • Ismail Haniyah’s support for Syrian regime opponents criticized in Iran

  • Iranians’ pride vs. regime’s unease: reactions to Oscar win for A Separation

  • Pictures of the week: election propaganda in Tehran

Iran elects new Majles

Coming up this Friday, March 2, are the ninth Majles elections. According to data released by the Interior Ministry last week, over 48 million eligible voters will be able to vote at 47,665 polling stations spread across Iran’s 31 provinces, divided into 1,000 constituencies. At 1,395 polling stations in 14 provinces, voting will be partially computerized.

Majles seats will be contested between over 3,200 candidates (including about 430 women), approved by the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council out of nearly 5,400 candidates who registered for the elections. All candidate lists are affiliated with the conservative bloc. Center-wing candidates in the traditional-conservative bloc are running on behalf of the United Osulgarayan Front, a coalition of several conservative organizations supported by two senior conservative clerics: Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts; and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, secretary general of the Association of the Lecturers of Qom’s Seminaries. Radical right wing candidates are running as part of the Steadfast Front, supported by radical cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi. Candidates affiliated with President Ahmadinejad are running independently rather than as an organized group, this being the result of political pressure exerted by the conservative religious establishment on the "deviant faction”. A number of candidates affiliated with President Ahmadinejad’s critics, mainly Majles member Ali Motahari, who have been excluded from the United Osulgarayan Front list, are running on the People’s Voice list. In addition, several candidates who define themselves as reformists but who in fact belong to the central wing of Iranian politics are running independently.

This week the reformist opposition once again called on the people of Iran to boycott the elections. In a special announcement released on behalf of the Council for Coordinating the Green Path of Hope, the reformist umbrella organization, Iranians were asked to stay home on election day to show solidarity with the reformist opposition leaders, who are currently under arrest.

The Digarban website reported this week that youngsters affiliated with President Ahmadinejad’s supporters have also recently announced that they have no intention of taking part in the elections due to the actions taken by the conservative religious establishment against the president and his supporters these past several months.

As the elections approach, top regime officials have once again stressed how important it is to vote. Top conservative cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said that taking part in the elections is a religious duty. There were also fatwas published on the duty of taking part in the elections, issued previously by the Supreme Leader. United Osulgarayan Leaders have speculated this week based on recently held public opinion polls that the voter turnout in the elections will exceed 60 percent.

This week the Revolutionary Guards weekly Sobh-e Sadegh called to vote for candidates who are loyal to the values of the revolution and the objectives of the Islamic republic, committed to the principle of "rule of the religious jurisprudent” and to the struggle against the United States and Israel, and opposed to the "seduction faction” (a term used to refer to the reformist opposition) and the "deviant faction”.

Discourse on shari’ah aspects of nuclear weapons development continues following Supreme Leader’s statement at meeting with nuclear scientists

An article published this week on the Supreme Leader’s official website and the Tabnak website listed the reasons why Islamic religious law prohibits the development of nuclear weapons. The author of the article is Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ahmad Mobaleghi, chairman of the research center of the Association for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in the city of Qom. The article was published on the heels of a statement made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a meeting with nuclear scientists held last week, during which he stressed that Iran has no desire to obtain nuclear weapons, and that possessing and using such weapons is forbidden in Islamic religious law.

Mobaleghi argues that the Supreme Leader’s ruling which bans the development of nuclear weapons is based on three major principles drawn from the Quran. The first is the principle of "burden”, which states that no man should bear the burden and suffer the consequences of another’s actions. The use of nuclear weapons contradicts this principle as it severely impacts a large group of individuals and even affects future generations.

A second principle states that any course of action that can eventually lead to an immoral deed must be avoided. Strategic studies show that obtaining nuclear weapons can lead to using them, potentially triggering a war during which immoral actions will take place. Hence, this principle forbids the development of nuclear weapons.

A third principle is the principle of "sin”, which states that if committing a certain act leads to a sin whose severity outweighs its inherent benefits, that act is forbidden. Developing nuclear weapons is forbidden, since using them is a sin whose severity outweighs the benefits of their development.

Another article published on the Supreme Leader’s website says that, in principle, Islamic religious law permits the possession of weapons that make one more powerful and instill fear among enemies who hold similar weapons for their deterring power. However, this is provided that the cost of obtaining such weapons is not greater than their expected benefit, i.e. the power they confer upon their owner and the fear they create among enemies. For example, while North Korea and Pakistan do possess nuclear weapons, they weaken those countries instead of making them stronger, the article says, adding that, at any rate, using such weapons is forbidden.

These two articles are yet another expression of the discourse that is taking place in Iran in recent years on the theological aspects of developing and using nuclear weapons. On several occasions, top Iranian officials claimed that the Supreme Leader had previously issued a fatwa (which was never published) prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons. Prior to his death, top reformist cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri also released a fatwa prohibiting the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Clerics affiliated with the radical right wing, on the other hand, have indirectly sanctioned the development of nuclear weapons. In a book of theological and political reflections published in 2005, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi argued that Iran must independently produce "special weapons of a particular kind” that other countries have. In February 2006, one of Mesbah Yazdi’s students, Mohsen Gharavian, was quoted as saying that, with the whole world equipped with nuclear weapons, it is only appropriate that they should be used when fighting an equal enemy.

Ismail Haniyah’s support for Syrian regime opponents criticized in Iran

A statement made by Ismail Haniyah, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, in support of President Assad’s opponents, "who are fighting for their freedom and for the rights that have been taken away from them”, has been strongly criticized in Iran this week.

The Asr-e Iran website defined Hamas’ support for the Syrian president’s opponents as a "historical mistake”. A commentary article said that Palestinian leaders have not learned from the mistakes they have made in recent decades, and that they continue to believe the false promises made by the leaders of Arab countries. Hamas leaders have been able to tip the internal, regional, and international balance in favor of the Palestinians by resuming their struggle against Israel, yet now they are once again committing historical mistakes. They have accepted the proposal made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt to abandon the military conflict phase and enter the political phase, and now they are willing to sacrifice the achievements of the armed struggle for the false promises of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE.

The website said that Haniyah’s remarks jeopardize Hamas’ standing with the Iranian people, who have paid a heavy price for supporting the Palestinian struggle in the past several decades. Haniyah should remember how the leaders of Arab countries were defeated by Israel in the war of 1967, and how Israel was defeated by Hezbollah in the second Lebanon war. His remarks about Syria should have at the very least expressed a balanced view towards those who have fed 500 thousand Palestinians in Syria in the past 60 years. Haniyah would be in error to believe that he can forget his old supporters, Asr-e Iran said. The Iranian people, who in 2009 rallied against the reformist opposition’s calls of "no to Gaza, no to Lebanon”, expected Haniyah to take a stand against the call of "no to Iran, no to Hezbollah” made by pro-Saudi Salafis in Cairo.

The Tabnak website also discussed Haniyah’s remarks in Cairo, saying that they were the result of heavy pressure exerted upon him by Saudi Arabia and Qatar after the failure of the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia and the success of the referendum held in Syria earlier this week.

As in previous weeks, Iran’s conservative press continued expressing support for the Syrian regime and its efforts to promote domestic reforms in the country. The daily Keyhan compared the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia to the Camp David conference, claiming that the conference was intended to guarantee peace along Israel’s borders with Syria and the Gaza Strip. An editorial published by the daily said that most countries that took part in the conference are opposed to the demands of the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to recognize the Syrian national council and arm President Assad’s opponents, since they realize that this would be a prelude to foreign military intervention in Syria, as well as Western and Saudi intervention in the affairs of other Arab countries. Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied reports on Iranian military involvement and arms shipments to support the Assad regime. 

Iranians’ pride vs. regime’s unease: reactions to Oscar win for A Separation

Tens of millions of Iranians were filled with pride this week when the film A Separation won the Academy Award. The Iranian regime, however, was faced with a dilemma between joining the victory celebrations or renouncing the movie, which contains subversive messages against the regime and reveals the problematic nature of Iran’s judicial system.

The political and ideological divide in Iran was clearly seen in the first reactions to the film winning the prestigious award. Dozens of websites and blogs affiliated with the reformist opposition and regime opponents gave extensive coverage of the Oscar win and portrayed it as a national achievement for Iran. Most official media, however, preferred to play down the story, relegating it to the margins of the news. While regime opponents consider the fact that A Separation has won the Oscar an expression of the regime’s failure to create cinema that is in line with the government, for the regime the award symbolizes the inappropriate connection between the creators of the film and the "corrupt” Hollywood movie industry.

In a telegram sent by reformist intellectual Mohsen Kadivar to the film’s director Asghar Farhadi to congratulate him for the Academy Award, the exiled regime opponent expressed his hope that the international success of A Separation will mark the beginning of Iran’s separation from injustice, oppression, discrimination, corruption, tyranny, and lies.

In contrast, Raja News, a website affiliated with the radical right wing of Iranian politics, argued that the attention lavished on the film by the Hollywood movie industry has to do with its "bleak portrayal of the cultural and religious struggles in Iran”. In recent months regime supporters have strongly criticized A Separation. Mas’oud Farasati, a film critic closely affiliated with the regime, recently said on Iranian national TV that if the movie won an Academy Award, it would be the result of the hostile policy pursued by the West towards the Islamic republic and of the connection identified by the West between the film’s creators and the opposition.

Fars News Agency, which played down the report about the Oscar victory, saw fit to "edit” film director Farhadi’s Oscar speech to bring it in line with the interests of the regime with regard to the nuclear issue. While Farhadi said he was proud to dedicate the award to the Iranian people, who throughout history have respected all cultures and kept away from hostility and hatred, Fars claimed that the film director said he was proud to give the award to the Iranian people, "who for the past several months have been facing expressions of hostility over Iran’s nuclear program”.

Iran elects new Majles

On Friday, March 2, over 48 million eligible voters will be able to vote for the ninth Majles, whose members are elected in single-member constituencies. According to data released by the Interior Ministry last week, Iranian citizens can vote at 47,665 polling stations spread across Iran’s 31 provinces, divided into 1,000 constituencies. At 1,395 polling stations in 14 provinces, voting will be partially computerized, but even there the votes will be counted manually. Esma’il Ahmadi-Moqaddam, chief of the internal security forces, reported this weekend that the Iranian police and 85 thousand Basij members will secure the voting and maintain public order during the elections (ILNA, February 24).

Iran elects new Majles

Majles seats will be contested between over 3,200 candidates (including about 430 women), approved by the Interior Ministry and the Guardian Council out of nearly 5,400 candidates who registered for the elections. The provinces with the most candidates are Tehran Province (652 candidates), Khorasan Razavi Province (283 candidates), Fars Province (248 candidates), Esfahan Province (222 candidates), and Khuzestan Province (202 candidates). The three provinces with the least candidates are Bushehr (25 candidates), North Khorasan (26 candidates), and Hormuzgan (26 candidates) (ISNA, February 27).

All candidate lists published ahead of the elections are affiliated with the conservative bloc. Center-wing candidates in the traditional-conservative bloc are running on behalf of the United Osulgarayan Front, a coalition of several conservative organizations supported by two senior conservative clerics: Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts; and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, secretary general of the Association of the Lecturers of Qom’s Seminaries.

Radical right wing candidates are running as part of the Steadfast Front (Jebhe-ye Paydari), supported by radical cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi. While formerly considered the president’s spiritual guide, the cleric has distanced himself from Ahmadinejad this past year due to the latter’s relations with the "deviant faction” (a derogatory term used to refer to the political faction affiliated with the president and his office chief, Rahim Masha’i). The Iranian media reported recently that three websites affiliated with the Steadfast Front (Seratnews, Bibaknews, and www.598.ir) were blocked by the authorities this week.

Candidates affiliated with President Ahmadinejad are running independently rather than as an organized group to avoid being disqualified by the Guardian Council for allegedly belonging to the "deviant faction”. An announcement released by the president’s office last weekend said that the government does not intervene in the elections and does not support any of the factions taking part in them (ILNA, February 23). On Tuesday, February 27, Fars News Agency reported that, seeing as most candidates affiliated with the "deviant faction” have been disqualified, supporters of the president and his office chief Rahim Masha’i released a list of candidates they recommend, some of whom belong to either the United Osulgarayan Front or the Steadfast Front. After the report was published, the two conservative fronts released an announcement stressing that their candidates were put on the "deviant faction” supporters’ list without their knowledge or permission (Fars, February 27).

Majles member Hossein Fada’i, chairman of the Isargaran Association (part of the United Osulgarayan Front), said this week that the "deviant faction” attempted to run over 600 candidates in the elections to try and win the majority of Majles seats, but that they were all disqualified by the Guardian Council (Mehr, February 25).

A number of candidates affiliated with President Ahmadinejad’s critics, mainly Majles members Ali Motahari, Hamid-Reza Katouzian, and Ali Abbaspour, who have been excluded from the United Osulgarayan Front list, are running on the People’s Voice (Seda-ye Mellat) list. Last week Motahari announced that the current Majles represents certain groups and factions rather than the people. People’s Voice, he said, was established because the conservatives do not pay enough attention to such key issues as freedom of expression and protecting the people’s rights (Press TV, February 23). In addition, several candidates who define themselves as reformists but who in fact belong to the central wing of Iranian politics are running independently.

This week the reformist opposition once again called on the people of Iran to boycott the elections. In a special announcement released on behalf of the Council for Coordinating the Green Path of Hope, the reformist umbrella organization, Iranians were asked to stay home on election day to show solidarity with the reformist opposition leaders, who are currently under arrest. The announcement said that participation in the elections would encourage the regime to persist with its policy of suppression, and would therefore run counter to the people’s values that underpin the Islamic revolution (Jaras, February 23).

The Digarban website reported this week that in recent days a number of young bloggers affiliated with President Ahmadinejad’s supporters have also announced that they do not intend to take part in the elections. One blogger stated that he is going to put the president’s name on the ballot instead of ticking the names of the candidates in his constituency. Another blogger, who declared himself as a supporter of Ahmadinejad, said that participating in elections whose results are predetermined is pointless, and that even if some Steadfast Front candidates do get elected to the Majles, they will be powerless to influence its work. He said that the vetting of the candidates by the Guardian Council has led to a situation where the only candidates who can be elected are those who oppose President Ahmadinejad, are associated with "Rafsanjani’s gang”, or have no opinion (Digarban, February 25-26). The calls made by some of the president’s supporters to boycott the elections are apparently intended to express their protest of the actions taken by the conservative religious establishment against the president and his "deviant faction” supporters.

As the elections approach, top regime officials have once again stressed how important it is to vote. Top conservative cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said that taking part in the elections is a religious duty, and that non-participation in the elections is a sin (Fars, February 22). In recent days there were also fatwas published on the duty of taking part in the elections, issued previously by the Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said in his Friday sermon that while Iran’s enemies encourage non-participation, the participation of the Iranian people in the elections will be more glorious than in any previous election campaign (Fars, February 24).

Hossein Mozaffar, member of the Expediency Discernment Council and the United Osulgarayan Front, has speculated based on recently held public opinion polls that the voter turnout in the elections will be 65 percent (Fars, February 23). Mohammad-Hassan Abu-Torabi Fard, also a high-ranking member of the United Front, said that according to public opinion polls, over 60 percent of eligible voters will take part in the elections (ISNA, February 27).

"Results of the Majles elections” (Fars, February 21)
"Results of the Majles elections” (Fars, February 21)

This week the Revolutionary Guards weekly Sobh-e Sadegh called to vote for deserving candidates who are loyal to the Islamic revolution and to the regime. An editorial in Sobh-e Sadegh, published on behalf of the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, said that the ninth Majles has to be such that it is able to realize the regime’s objectives in the fourth decade of the revolution and successfully deal with the conspiracies of the Islamic republic’s internal and external enemies. Accordingly, the people of Iran must vote for revolutionary candidates, those who are committed to the values of the revolution and the objectives of the Islamic republic, loyal to the principle of "rule of the religious jurisprudent”, are opposed to "world arrogance” and committed to the struggle against the United States and Israel, have an Islamic sense of morality, vision, experience, and oppose the "seduction faction” (a term used to refer to the reformist opposition) and the "deviant faction” (Sobh-e Sadegh, February 26).

Discourse on shari’ah aspects of nuclear weapons development continues following Supreme Leader’s statement at meeting with nuclear scientists

An article published this week on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s official website and the Tabnak website listed the reasons why Islamic religious law prohibits the development of nuclear weapons. The author of the article is Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ahmad Mobaleghi, chairman of the research center of the Association for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in the city of Qom. In the article, the cleric discusses Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ruling on the prohibition of developing and using nuclear weapons. Speaking at a meeting with nuclear scientists held last week, Khamenei said once again that Iran has no desire to obtain nuclear weapons, and that possessing and using such weapons is forbidden in Islamic religious law.

Mobaleghi argues that the Supreme Leader’s ruling which bans the development of nuclear weapons is based on three major principles drawn from the Quran. The first is the principle of "burden”, which states that no man should bear the burden and suffer the consequences of another’s actions. The use of nuclear weapons contradicts this principle as it severely impacts a large group of individuals and even affects future generations.

A second principle states that any course of action that can eventually lead to an immoral deed must be avoided. Strategic studies show that obtaining nuclear weapons can lead to using them, potentially triggering a war during which immoral acts will be committed. Hence, developing and arming oneself with nuclear weapons is forbidden according to this principle.

A third principle is the principle of "sin”, which states that if committing a certain act leads to a sin whose severity outweighs its inherent benefits, that act is forbidden. Developing nuclear weapons is forbidden, since using them is a sin whose severity outweighs the benefits of their development (Tabnak, February 25).

Another article published on the Supreme Leader’s website says that, in principle, Islamic religious law permits the possession for deterring power of weapons that make one more powerful and instill fear among enemies. However, this is provided that the cost of obtaining such weapons is not greater than their expected benefit, i.e. the power they confer upon their owner and the fear they create among enemies. For example, while North Korea and Pakistan do possess nuclear weapons, they weaken those countries instead of making them stronger, the article says, adding that, at any rate, using such weapons is forbidden (http://rovatehadis.com/archives/25854).

These two articles are yet another expression of the discourse that is taking place in Iran in recent years on the theological aspects of developing and using nuclear weapons. On several occasions, top Iranian officials claimed that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had previously issued a fatwa (which was never published) prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons and ruling that it goes against Islamic religious law, as Islam forbids the indiscriminate killing of innocents even in times of war. In October 2009, top reformist cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri also released a fatwa according to which developing and using nuclear weapons is forbidden in Islamic religious law. The ruling was given when he was asked by liberal cleric and intellectual Mohsen Kadivar to comment on the shari’ah aspects of nuclear weapons. Montazeri, who passed away in December 2009, ruled that developing nuclear weapons is a waste of national resources and a threat to other countries, and that using them leads to the killing of innocent people and hurts future generations, which is why they go against Islamic religious law. The citizens of a country that develops such weapons must take any possible action to prevent their leaders from continuing down this road.

Clerics affiliated with the radical right wing, on the other hand, have indirectly sanctioned the development of nuclear weapons. In a book of theological and political reflections published in 2005, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi argued that Iran must independently produce "special weapons of a particular kind” that other countries have. In February 2006, Mohsen Gharavian, one of Mesbah Yazdi’s students, was quoted as saying that, with the whole world equipped with nuclear weapons, it is only appropriate that they should be used when fighting an equal enemy.

Ismail Haniyah’s support for Syrian regime opponents criticized in Iran

A statement made by Ismail Haniyah, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, in support of President Assad’s opponents drew strong criticism in Iran this week. In a speech given at the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Haniyah expressed his support for the Syrian president’s opponents, "who are fighting for their freedom and for the rights that have been taken away from them”.

The Asr-e Iran website defined Hamas’ support for the Syrian president’s opponents as a "historical mistake”. A commentary article said that Palestinian leaders have not learned from the mistakes they have made in recent decades. In 1948 they left Palestine believing that they could soon return to their homes after the war of 1948, as they were promised by Arab leaders; in 1970 they got into a direct confrontation with the Jordanian regime, which led to Black September; in 1990 they supported Saddam Hussein’s regime after the occupation of Kuwait; and in the 1990s they went against Syria’s position and took part in hopeless negotiations with Israel, which left Arafat in isolation and with no support from any Arab leader.

By resuming their struggle against Israel, Hamas leaders have been able to tip the internal, regional, and international balance in favor of the Palestinians, yet now they are once again committing historical mistakes. They have accepted the proposal made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt to abandon the military conflict phase and enter the political phase, and they are sacrificing the achievements of the armed struggle for the false promises of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. The fall of the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, Abu Mazen’s traditional allies, has changed the political situation in the region in a way that benefits Hamas, but the movement’s leaders are now undermining its standing with the Iranians. All Muslim nations in the world are well aware that, for the past 33 years, the Iranian people have paid a heavy price for unconditionally supporting the Palestinian struggle. And yet, during his last visit to Cairo, Haniyah remained silent over the anti-Iranian statements made by pro-Saudi Salafis. He should have made clear that were it not for Iran and Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestine would nowadays not exist. Haniyah should remember how in 1967 Israel took over 80 thousand square kilometers of Arab territory in six days, and how Hezbollah defeated it in 33 days in the second Lebanon war. Haniyah’s remarks about Syria should have at the very least expressed a balanced view towards those who have fed 500 thousand Palestinians in Syria in the past 60 years. If he believes that he can forget his old supporters, he is making another historical mistake, since the leaders of the Arab regimes never have been and never will be dedicated to the Palestinian people. The Iranian people, who in 2009 rallied against the reformist opposition’s calls of "no to Gaza, no to Lebanon”, expected Haniyah to take a stand against the call of "no to Iran, no to Hezbollah” voiced in Cairo (Asr-e Iran, February 25).

The Tabnak website analyzed Haniyah’s remarks in a commentary article titled "What is the reason behind Ismail Haniyah’s dual stance?” The website argued that the failure of the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia, which was unable to mobilize Arab support for a military intervention in Syria, was a severe blow to Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s status. The failure of the conference and the success of the referendum held in Syria earlier this week may derail Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s plans, which is why they put heavy pressure on the Hamas leadership to express support for the Syrian president’s opponents in exchange for financial and political assistance (Tabnak, February 26).

As in previous weeks, Iran’s conservative press continued expressing support for the Syrian regime and its efforts to promote domestic reforms in the country. The daily Keyhan compared the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia to the Camp David conference, claiming that it would be more appropriately titled "Enemies of Syria”. Syria was the only Arab country that stood up for the Palestinians, and was one of the major factors behind Hezbollah’s victory in the second Lebanon war and Hamas’ victory in the Gaza Strip war. The Tunisia conference was intended to guarantee peace along Israel’s borders with Syria and the Gaza Strip and put pressure on Egypt and Jordan to continue their security cooperation with Israel.

While the United States, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey demanded during the conference to officially recognize the Syrian national council and arm President Assad’s opponents, most countries strongly opposed these demands, having realized that this would be a prelude to foreign military intervention in Syria, as well as Western and Saudi intervention in the affairs of other countries under the pretense of helping the Syrian people The daily said that the main problem faced by the Syrian opposition is not lack of weapons and official recognition, but rather its failure to mobilize social support in Syria (Keyhan, October 26).

The daily Siyasat-e Rooz argued that the participation of Syrians in the referendum held earlier this week is another step towards implementing the reforms and part of the Syrian government’s efforts to deal with the challenges facing it despite the anti-Syrian coalition’s attempts to destroy the country. The referendum reveals, the daily said, the true face of Arab countries, which make a pretense of supporting the Syrian people, and can be considered a slap in the face of the anti-Syrian coalition (Siyasat-e Rooz, February 27).

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied reports on Iranian military involvement to support the Syrian regime. Speaking about reports on Iranian military involvement in Syria and Iranian arms shipments to the Syrian regime, Ramin Mehmanparast said that the reports are completely false. He stressed that Iran’s position on the developments in Syria is based on supporting the promotion of reforms for the benefit of the Syrian people and opposing any foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs (Khabar Online, February 25).

Iranians’ pride vs. regime’s unease: reactions to Oscar win for A Separation 

Tens of millions of Iranians in Iran and abroad were filled with pride this week when the film A Separation won the Academy Award. The Iranian regime, however, was faced with a dilemma between joining the victory celebrations or renouncing the movie, which contains subversive messages against the regime and reveals the problematic nature of Iran’s judicial system.

The political and ideological divide in Iran, which has become even deeper since the political crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in the summer of 2009, was clearly seen in the first reactions to the film winning the prestigious award. Dozens of websites and blogs affiliated with the reformist opposition and regime opponents gave extensive coverage of the Oscar win and portrayed it as a national achievement for Iran. Most official media, however, preferred to play down the story, relegating it to the margins of the news and focusing on reports on the Majles elections coming up this Friday. While regime opponents consider the fact that A Separation has won the Oscar an expression of the regime’s failure to create cinema that is in line with the government, for the regime the award symbolizes the inappropriate connection between the creators of the film and the "corrupt” Hollywood movie industry.

In a telegram sent by reformist intellectual Mohsen Kadivar to the film’s director Asghar Farhadi to congratulate him for the Academy Award, the exiled regime opponent expressed his hope that Iranian politicians have heard the peaceful voice of the artists, and that the international success of A Separation will mark the beginning of Iran’s separation from injustice, oppression, discrimination, corruption, tyranny, and lies (Jaras, February 27).

"Separation wish à la Nader and Simin”: Learn from Nader and Simin! Separate, just go! (Rooz Online, February 27)
"Separation wish à la Nader and Simin”:
Learn from Nader and Simin! Separate, just go! (Rooz Online, February 27)

In contrast, Raja News, a website affiliated with the radical right wing of Iranian politics, briefly reported the Oscar win, insinuating that the attention lavished on the film by the Hollywood movie industry has to do with its "bleak portrayal of the cultural and religious struggles in Iran” (Raja News, February 27). The students’ Basij argued that the Academy Award was given to A Separation because the film serves the interests of Europe and the West (www.snn.ir, February 27).

Shortly before the film won the Oscar, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij wing, made an implicit reference to the international recognition received by A Separation, saying that artists who are "committed” (to the values of the revolution) do not even get breathing room from Hollywood, the symbol of "world arrogance”. In a video speech delivered at the conference of the literary and arts societies of the Artists’ Basij Organization, held in the city of Mashhad earlier this week, Naqdi said that Iran’s enemies put most of their funds into the arts (Fars, February 26).

The Basij commander’s statement was a telling example of the hostile attitude displayed by regime supporters towards A Separation in recent months.Mas’oud Farasati, a film critic closely affiliated with the regime, recently said on Iranian national TV that if the movie won an Academy Award, it would be the result of the hostile policy pursued by the West towards the Islamic republic and of the connection identified by the West between the film’s creators and the opposition. The movie reflects, he said, the image of Iranian society that the West seeks to depict, and should not be welcomed by the Iranian people.

Fars News Agency’s reaction to the Oscar win was particularly original. While the Revolutionary Guards-affiliated news agency played down its report about the film winning the Academy Award, it also saw fit to "edit” film director Farhadi’s Oscar speech to bring it in line with the interests of the regime with regard to the nuclear issue. Farhadi said after winning that he was proud to dedicate the award to the Iranian people, who throughout their long history have respected all cultures and civilizations and kept away from hostility and hatred. He even implicitly criticized the politicians in his country, saying that winning the award provides an opportunity to discuss Iran’s glorious culture, "hidden in the dust of politics”. Fars News Agency, however, reported that the film director said he was proud to give the award to the Iranian people, "who for the past several months have been facing expressions of hostility over Iran’s nuclear program” (Fars, February 27). The misreporting of Farhadi’s remarks by Fars was widely covered on websites and social media affiliated with regime opponents.

A Separation has won international recognition in the midst of a severe crisis between the Iranian regime and the local movie industry. The Iranian authorities recently decided to close the House of Cinema, the industry’s main trade union. Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Hosseini said that the decision was motivated in part by the conduct of the union leaders, which goes against the values of the Islamic revolution. As an example of such conduct he mentioned a statement released by the union this past September in support of several documentary filmmakers detained by the authorities on charges of collaborating with the BBC. The minister also said that regime opponents who reside abroad and have even made statements against the regime have been invited to the annual celebrations organized by the House of Cinema. In September 2010 Asghar Farhadi himself was the subject of a political controversy after being awarded best director of the year for his film About Elly at the annual film festival organized by the House of Cinema. The movie starred Golshifteh Farahani, who had sparked an outrage in Iran in 2008 after playing in the Hollywood thriller Body of Lies, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. In his acceptance speech, Farhadi criticized the Iranian regime and called for political change in the country.

Pictures of the week: election propaganda in Tehran

Pictures of the week: election propaganda in Tehran

 

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