Spotlight on Iran (Week of March 10-17, 2011)

Issued on: 17/03/2011 Type: Article

Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

  • Earthquake in Japan: lessons from Tehran

  • Majles Research Center warns about a severe crisis in Iranian electricity industry

  • Results of a public opinion poll held by the Majles: the public is relatively satisfied with the government’s performance, strongly supports a hawkish stance on the nuclear issue

  • Iran calls on Islamic hackers to enlist to the Iranian "cyber war”

Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the
Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

A documentary shown in Iran in the past several months has provoked a heated religious-legal debate. Titled "The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent”, the film claims that the events that took place in the Middle East in recent years should be considered proof of the coming return of the Twelfth Imam (the Mehdi).

Interest in the film has been fueled by the recent dramatic events in the Arab world. As the film becomes widely distributed, traditional conservative circles in Iran’s religious establishment strongly criticize the filmmakers, accusing them of straying from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. The clerics’ struggle against the film and its creators is part of an overall struggle waged by the Iranian regime for several years in an effort to tighten control over religious expressions that are incompatible with the official interpretation held by Iran’s current religious leadership.

One example of the view which considers the developments in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s imminent return could be seen in a Friday sermon given by senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, who claimed that the uprisings in the Arab world may be considered signs of the Mehdi’s return according to Shi’ite religious-legal literature.

Earthquake in Japan: lessons from Tehran

This week, Iranian media have extensively covered the implications of the earthquake that struck Japan last weekend.

Alongside constant reports on the heavy damage caused by the earthquake and its impact on Japan’s nuclear power stations, Iranian press also discussed the consequences of a possible strong earthquake that may hit Iran in the future. Iranian media have warned that a major earthquake in Tehran will completely obliterate the city, calling on the government to increase precautionary measures against a potential earthquake and improve the safety of buildings and infrastructure.

The Iranian media’s discussion of the possible consequences of an earthquake in Iran did not address, however, the safety of Iran’s nuclear facilities in an earthquake scenario.

Majles Research Center warns about a severe crisis in Iranian electricity industry

In a report published as part of the Majles Research Center's commentary on the budget proposal recently submitted by the government, the Majles Research Center has warned about a severe crisis looming over Iran’s electricity industry next year. According to the center, the government has not taken the necessary measures to guarantee the required investments in the electricity industry. As a result, it will be impossible to further develop the industry, and the electricity companies will be unable to pay their debts.

Despite the financial crisis hitting Iran’s electricity industry in recent years, the deputy energy minister has recently announced that the government intends to increase electricity exports to Iraq and expand cooperation in the field of electricity with other countries, including Russia, Tajikistan, Georgia, and India.

Results of a public opinion poll held by the Majles: the public is relatively satisfied with the government’s performance, strongly supports a hawkish stance on the nuclear issue

The Majles Research Center has released the results of a large-scale public opinion poll among 17,293 Iranians from 30 provinces across the country, examining the public’s views on various issues, mainly the performance of the government and state institutions.

The findings of the poll include the following (percentage of total polled):

Government performance assessment:

 

In economy

In domestic policy

In foreign policy

Very successful/successful

32

38.6

39.5

Unsuccessful/completely unsuccessful

28.4

19.7

23.1

Government performance in various areas:

 

Fight against inflation

Promotion of social justice

Fight against economic corruption

Defense of nuclear rights

Very good/good

19.9

35.6

35.2

75.4

Very bad/bad

45.4

22.4

27

4.9

Score for government ministers:

Excellent/good

38.4

Low/very low

29.5

Government performance in implementation of subsidy policy reform:

Excellent/good

41.7

Weak/very weak

22

How vital is the resistance and strong stand on peaceful use of nuclear energy?

Very high/high

72.1

Low/very low

7.1

Iran calls on Islamic hackers to enlist to the Iranian "cyber war”

The head of the Passive Defense Organization announced last week the coming establishment of the Cyber War Headquarters of the Islamic Republic, calling on "good-intentioned, revolutionary” hackers to help Iran promote its objectives. The senior official claimed that the past year’s events in Iran have increased the awareness of Iranian officials of the vital importance of the cyber field, and that following the cyber attacks against Iran the security and intelligence apparatuses in the country have increased their cooperation in that area.

The statement made by the head of the Passive Defense Organization joins similar statements made by Iranian officials, showing that the Iranian regime has become increasingly involved in the cyber field. The acting Basij chief has announced this week that hackers working for the Basij attack websites used by Iran’s enemies, while the Iranian deputy chief of staff claimed that the vital strategic facilities of the U.S. are not immune to an Iranian cyber attack and that the U.S. is concerned about Iran’s ability to react to cyber attacks on it.

 

Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the
Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

A documentary shown in Iran in the past several months has provoked a heated religious-legal debate. Titled "The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent” ("Zohur besyar nazdik ast”), the film has been distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies by a group calling itself "Harbingers of the Reappearance”. The group, which began its activity online in 2009, spreads Shi’ite messianic messages and claims that signs indicate that the Twelfth Imam (the Mehdi) will return soon.

Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?
Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani

"The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent” claims that the events that have taken place in the Middle East in recent years must be considered proof that the Mehdi will make his reappearance in the near future. While the distribution of the film began before the recent dramatic developments in the Arab world, the developments have fueled interest in the film and increased its circulation. The film’s creators indicate similarities between events that have taken place in the Middle East in recent years (such as the war in Iraq and developments in Lebanon and on the Palestinian scene) and events mentioned by various Shi’ite sources, portraying them as proof of the coming return of the Twelfth Imam. The film also draws parallels between the appearance of major political players in the Middle East (Ali Khamenei, Hassan Nasrallah, and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah) and characters whose appearance, according to Shi’ite sources, marks the Imam’s return (the 75-minute Persian-language film can be viewed at http://www.shiatv.net/view_video.php?viewkey=14974e7fd34f975ced5b).

The film’s wide distribution and the considerable interest in has generated have recently drawn criticism from traditional conservative circles in Iran’s religious Shi’ite establishment, which runs an aggressive campaign against expressions of popular Islam and messianic beliefs. Last weekend, the Messianism Center in the religious seminary in the city of Qom released a detailed memorandum which categorically rejects all the claims brought up in the movie. 

The clerics argue that the film is based on weak, unreliable religious traditions and on unfounded sources of Islamic religious law, and that some of the claims brought up in the movie are not supported by any religious authorities. According to the memorandum, it is true that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, stated that the Islamic revolution in Iran could be considered a first step in the process of the Imam’s return and a prelude to redemption. The attempt to predict the time of the Imam’s return based on current events, however, is a deviation from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. God alone has the power to determine the time of the Twelfth Imam’s return, and associating various events with signs allegedly showing that redemption is at hand is dangerous, since it may cast doubt among the believers over the principle of messianism.

The memorandum further states that only clerics, headed by the Religious Jurisprudent (Vali-ye Faqih, as the Supreme Leader is known in Iran) are authorized to express opinions on religious issues, including issues pertaining to the coming return of the Twelfth Imam. No other person has the authority to speak out on issues pertaining to the Imam’s return and toy with public sentiments on the basis of dubious, weak evidence. The clerics stress that, in accordance with the principles of Shi’ite faith, it is strictly forbidden to state the time of the Twelfth Imam’s return, and those who do so are necessarily liars. Arguments such as those brought up in the documentary, the clerics say, serve the Shi’ites’ Christian and radical Jewish enemies, who also seek to lay the foundations for an apocalyptic war and for the return of the messiah in accordance with their faith (www.mahdi313.org).

Websites affiliated with the traditional conservative bloc have also strongly criticized the film’s distributors, accusing them of straying from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. The anticipation of the Imam’s return is a major principle in Shi’ite Islam, and every Shi’ite believer longs for his return, say the critics of the film. Creating false expectations among the public about the time of the Mehdi's return (such as by distributing movies about the issue) is harmful, however, and compromises the mental preparation of the public for the day of the Imam’s return (www.yalsarat.com, March 6).

One example of the view which considers the developments in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s imminent return could be seen in a Friday sermon given by senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, who claimed that the uprisings in the Arab world and the massacres of citizens by their tyrannical rulers may be considered signs of the Mehdi’s return according to Shi’ite religious-legal literature (Fars, March 11).

In recent years, the Iranian regime has been involved in an intensive campaign to tighten control over religious expressions that are incompatible with the official interpretation held by Iran’s current religious leadership and with the concept of "rule of the religious jurisprudent”. Any view that may potentially threaten the status of Iran’s clerics and allows a religious commentary that does not depend on the religious institution is considered a theological, ideological, and political threat to the regime and the Supreme Leader’s status.

The campaign to increase control over the religious life in Iran is also reflected in the intensifying struggle against expressions of popular Islam and Shi’ite messianism, suppressing Sufi orders, and curtailing the freedom of clerics who question the concept of "rule of the religious jurisprudent”. Part of the escalating struggle against messianism also has to do with the conduct of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frequently makes reference to the possibility of the Vanished Imam’s return. Ahmadinejad’s messianic views have been strongly criticized by leaders of the religious establishment and his critics in the conservative bloc.

Earthquake in Japan: lessons from Tehran

This week, Iranian media have extensively covered the implications of the earthquake that struck Japan last weekend. Alongside constant reports on the heavy damage caused by the earthquake and its impact on Japan’s nuclear power stations, Iranian press also discussed the consequences of a possible strong earthquake hitting Iran. The Iranian media’s discussion of the possible consequences of an earthquake in Iran did not address, however, the safety of Iran’s nuclear facilities in an earthquake scenario.

The head of the Faculty of Science at Tehran’s Azad University has warned that an earthquake stronger than 7.0 on the Richter scale would completely obliterate Tehran. In an interview to Mehr News Agency, earthquake expert Dr. Bahram Akasheh said that, considering the ground conditions and the state of Tehran’s buildings and transportation system, a 7 or 7.5 point earthquake would lead to a complete shutdown of Tehran for a period of up to 10 years. He noted that even a 5 point earthquake would be more than the buildings of Tehran can withstand (Mehr, March 12).

The website Asr-e Iran compared the earthquake that struck Japan to that which had struck the city of Bam in 2003 and claimed the lives of 25,000 people despite measuring only 6.6 on the Richter scale. The website warned that Tehran is not prepared for a powerful earthquake, accusing Iran’s politicians of occupying themselves with meaningless political debates instead of preparing for an earthquake and guaranteeing the safety of Iran’s cities and villages. Japan was not always prepared for earthquakes, but it learned the lesson from the earthquake that struck in 1923 and prepared accordingly. As a result, most of the earthquakes in Japan no longer claim any victims. The Iranians, however, have not learned the lesson from the earthquake that struck Bam, preferring to talk instead of taking action to improve the safety of the buildings and infrastructures. If the Japanese were anything like the Iranians, Asr-e Iran claimed, millions of people would have died in the recent earthquake (Asr-e Iran, March 12).

An editorial published by the daily Afarinesh says that the earthquake in Japan must be considered a warning sign for Iran. The daily called on the government to assist Tehran’s senior officials in preparations for an earthquake. School drills are not enough for an earthquake scenario, and the safety of the city’s buildings and infrastructures must be improved (Afarinesh, March 14).

The Tabnak website also claimed that Iran should learn the lesson from the earthquake in Japan. The efforts put in recent years into preparations for earthquakes in Iran are not enough, the website argued, and the earthquake in Japan provides a good opportunity to apply the lessons from the earthquake to aid delivery and crisis management. The website suggested that the authorities should send teams to Japan to study the different aspects of earthquake preparations, aid delivery when roads are cut off, assistance to victims, safety of energy sources and reserves, and so forth (Tabnak, March 13).

The daily Mardom Salari satirized the earthquake in Japan. In a satire column, Mohammad Hossein Ravanbakhsh compared how Japan and Iran handle earthquakes.

If just one person was killed in an earthquake measuring over 8.0 on the Richter scale in Japan, everyone is surprised, Ravanbakhsh wrote. However, if over 40 thousand people are killed in a less than 7.0-point earthquake in Iran, nobody is surprised. The Japanese prepare for earthquakes by building safe buildings. The Iranians, however, suggest relocating five million people from Tehran to prepare for an earthquake. An earthquake, a tsunami, and an explosion at a nuclear power plant in Japan claims the lives of 11 thousand people, while over 21 thousand people are killed every year in car accidents in Iran.

Both the Iranians and the Japanese use the internet. However, if a single day goes by in Iran without the internet going down, everyone is surprised. In Japan, however, the internet doesn’t go down even after an earthquake and a tsunami, and nobody is surprised. The author concludes by mentioning that, several years ago, a senior Iranian official denied saying that Iran was striving to become an "Islamic Japan”. It now appears that the denial was valid, since it is a goal that obviously cannot be achieved (Mardom Salari, March 14).

It should be mentioned that, last year, the government of Iran offered a series of dispensations and benefits for government employees willing to relocate from Tehran. The government also decided to move several ministries and government companies from Tehran to alternative locations. These measures are part of comprehensive preparations for the possibility of a strong earthquake hitting the city. In recent years, a proposal to relocate the capital from Tehran to an alternative location has come up several times owing to the city’s vulnerability to earthquakes due to its problematic geological situation. President Ahmadinejad warned about the possibility of an earthquake taking place in Tehran, saying that at least five million residents of the capital had to leave in order to minimize the devastating effects of such an earthquake.

Majles Research Center warns about a severe crisis in Iranian electricity industry

The Majles Research Center has warned that Iran’s electricity industry may face a severe crisis if the government’s budget proposal, as it currently stands, is approved.

A report published as part of the Majles’ commentary on the budget proposal for next year says that the budget sources earmarked by the government for investment in the electricity industry are untenable. According to the Majles, the government has not taken the necessary measures to guarantee the required investments in the electricity industry. As a result, the industry will likely find itself in a severe budget crisis that not only will make it impossible to develop but also prevent electricity-producing companies from paying their debts. The revenues of Iran’s electricity industry are currently based on selling electricity to consumers in Iran and exporting electricity abroad.

The Majles Research Center recommends that the government transfer all the expected revenues from selling electricity next year to the Iranian electrical company (Tavanir), reduce the company’s losses, and take the necessary measures to encourage the private sector to increase investments in the electricity industry (the official Majles website, www.majlis.ir, March 8).

The Iranian electricity industry has been gripped by a severe financial crisis in recent years. In early 2010, the head of the electricity industry syndicate warned that 900 thousand people directly or indirectly employed in the Iranian electricity sector could lose their jobs due to the crisis, saying it mostly stemmed from the government’s five-billion-dollar debt to the electricity production companies. He noted that the electricity production units were facing many difficulties, and that many had been taken offline or operating at limited outputs. He warned that in light of the crisis experienced by the electricity production companies, Chinese and Indian companies were gradually taking over Iran’s electricity sector, and that unless the severe problems facing the electricity industry were solved, Iran would not be able to fulfill its commitments regarding the transfer of electricity to foreign markets and may even face deliberate nationwide power outages (ILNA, February 15, 2010).

Despite these difficulties, Iran’s deputy energy minister Mohammad Behzad has recently announced that the government intends to increase electricity exports to Iraq and expand cooperation in the field of electricity with other countries, including Russia, Tajikistan, Georgia, and India. Behzad also reported the coming establishment of an electricity stock exchange in Iran, aimed to encourage the private sector to increase its investments in the electricity industry, as well as the government’s efforts to increase the efficiency of power plants and reduce electricity consumption on the national level (Press TV, January 8; ISNA, January 12; Fars, February 21).

Results of a public opinion poll held by the Majles: the public is relatively satisfied with the government’s performance, strongly supports a hawkish stance on the nuclear issue

The Majles Research Center has released the results of a large-scale public opinion poll among Iranians from 30 provinces across the country, examining the public’s views on various issues, mainly the performance of the government and state institutions.

Held in October-December 2010, the poll surveyed 17,293 people aged 18 and up out of the total 14,632,690 Iranians living in the provinces where the poll was held. The poll included 72 questions on various issues.

Following are the poll’s results on various issues (in percentage of total polled). The complete results divided by province are available on the Majles website: http://www.majlis.ir/mhtml/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3670.

What is your assessment of the government’s performance in the following areas:

 

Economy

Domestic policy

Foreign policy

Culture

Very successful

6.8

8.4

12.8

10.8

Successful

25.2

30.2

26.7

32.2

Somewhat successful

33.8

29.8

23.9

28.8

Unsuccessful

19.3

13.4

13.8

12.5

Completely unsuccessful

9.1

6.3

9.3

7.2

What is your assessment of the government’s performance in handling the following:

 

Citizens’ quality of life

Employment of young people

Fight against inflation

Advancement of social justice

Very successful

5.5

3.4

3.2

6.1

Successful

24.8

13.7

16.7

29.5

Somewhat successful

37.1

27.1

31.5

35.9

Unsuccessful

19.2

29.7

27.8

14.7

Completely unsuccessful

10.9

23.6

17.6

7.7

What is your assessment of the government’s performance in handling the following:

 

Fight against economic corruption

Preservation of national unity

Preservation of principles of revolution

Education

Defense of nuclear energy rights

Very successful

7.7

18

29.5

9.3

40.1

Successful

27.5

39.7

41

37.5

35.3

Somewhat successful

31

24

16.9

29.3

12.8

Unsuccessful

17.6

7.6

4.7

9.8

3.2

Completely unsuccessful

9.4

4.4

2.9

5.2

1.7

What is your assessment of the government’s performance
in implementing the subsidy policy reform:

Very good

7.4

Good

34.3

Average

33

Weak

15.7

Very weak

6.3

What are the chances that the subsidy policy reform will lead to an increase in inflation:

Very high

27.7

High

29.7

Moderate

29.6

Low

6.7

Very low

5.5

Do you agree that the subsidy policy reform will lead
to increased dissatisfaction among the public:

Totally agree

16.4

Agree

29.1

No opinion

20.6

Disagree

20

Totally disagree

6.8

To what extent has the government fulfilled its promises:

To a highly significant extent

5.8

To a significant extent

20.1

To some extent

37.5

To a limited extent

16.5

To a highly limited extent

9.2

What score would you give to ministers and Majles members:

 

Ministers

Majles members

Excellent

14.8

9.9

Good

23.6

20.7

Average

30.4

33

Poor

16.4

18.9

Very poor

13.1

15.5

How important, in your opinion, is the resistance
and strong stand on peaceful use of nuclear energy?

Extremely important

39.5

Important

31.6

Somewhat important

20

Rather unimportant

4.8

Very unimportant

2.3

How satisfied are you with the following bodies:

 

Iran Broadcasting

Government hospitals

Social Security Organization

Government banks

Private banks

Very satisfied

13.7

8.2

9.2

9.2

10.9

Satisfied

39

29.5

34

39.9

33.2

Somewhat satisfied

25.1

30.4

27.2

29.3

23.2

Unsatisfied

10.9

17

10.8

10.3

8.9

Completely unsatisfied

7.6

9.4

5.5

4.5

4

In recent years, your faith in the future of Iran has:

Increased

29.3

Remained unchanged

25.9

No opinion

20

Decreased

17.5

Considerably decreased

6.9

In your opinion, in recent years the state of Iran’s society in the following areas has:

 

Social justice

Moral corruption

Public safety

Public trust in Iran’s leaders

Improved

37

42.5

48.3

28

Remained the same

36.7

27.5

29.3

32.3

Deteriorated

18.4

20.2

17.9

32.1

How would you assess the impact of the economic sanctions on Iran (the results of the poll on this question were published in the economic daily Donya-ye Eqtesad on March 14, but did not appear in the full report published on the official website of the Majles):

High

39.9

Moderate

41.6

None

11.5

Iran calls on Islamic hackers to enlist to the Iranian "cyber war”

Last week, Gholam-Reza Jalali, the head of the Passive Resistance Organization, announced the coming establishment of the Cyber War Headquarters of the Islamic Republic to act against Iran’s enemies in the cyber field under the Passive Resistance Organization.

Bultannews, a website affiliated with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, reported that, at a press conference held during the second conference of the Passive Resistance Organization, Jalali called on "good-intentioned, revolutionary” hackers to help advance the objectives of the Islamic republic. Jalali also warned that the Iranian authorities monitor the activities of hackers seeking to harm Iran’s citizens, and intend to take action against them.

Speaking about the cyber activities of Iran’s enemies, Jalali said that up to the riots that broke out following the presidential election in the summer of 2009, some senior Iranian officials had ignored the warnings about the cyber threats facing Iran and did not agree with the assessments on the potential significance of cyber warfare in the battle waged by Iran’s enemies on it. Last year’s events, however, have clearly proven that the world is currently focused on the cyber war, as indicated by the establishment of the cyber commands in the U.S. and Germany in the past year.

Gholam-Reza Jalali, head of the Passive Resistance Organization
Gholam-Reza Jalali, head of the Passive Resistance Organization

Jalali further stated that last year’s events have led to an increased awareness of cyber warfare in Iran. According to Jalali, this was reflected, for example, in dealing with the Stuxnet computer worm, which brought about increased coordination and cooperation in cyber warfare between Iran’s various security and intelligence apparatuses, including the Passive Resistance Organization and the Ministry of Intelligence. He added that all the relevant agencies in Iran, including security elements, internal security forces, and the judiciary, are now taking the necessary steps to increase the safety of Iran’s computer systems (Gerdab, March 7).

In another statement on cyber warfare, Ali Fazli, the acting chief of the Basij militia, admitted this week that hackers working for the Basij attack websites used by "Iran’s enemies”. Speaking about the activities of the Basij to counter the cyber threats facing Iran, Fazli said that the Basij takes measures in various areas to deal with the "soft war” waged by the enemies of Iran and protect state security. He noted that the Basij Technology and Information Department is working in the field of cyber warfare, and that without the capabilities of the Basij members Iran would be unable to seriously contend with its enemies. He added that defense without offense is meaningless, and that the meaning of successful defense is offense based on thought and planning. Fazli noted that the Cyber Army working for the Basij has members who are lecturers, students, and religion students, and also includes women (Mehr, March 13).

In the past two years, the Iranian Cyber Army has claimed responsibility for attacking a number of websites used by reformist opposition activists, including the Twitter website; the website of Radio Zamaneh, a radio station based in the Netherlands and affiliated with the opposition; the website of the reformist student union of Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran; and Jaras, a website affiliated with the supporters of opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. On every hacked website, the hackers left political messages against the protest movement and the West and in favor of the regime. In late February, Iranian websites reported that several dozen websites associated with the U.S. State Department and PR apparatus, mainly the Voice of America website, were attacked by the Iranian Cyber Army in protest of the support shown by Western media for the resumption of the reformist opposition’s demonstrations in Iran, and in response to the attacks on several Iranian websites used by government institutions and media affiliated with the conservative bloc.

Meanwhile, a top Iranian military official announced last weekend that the U.S. is exposed to Iranian cyber attacks. At a meeting with politics and economy experts in Tehran, Mas’oud Jazayeri, Deputy Chief of Staff for culture and defense publicity, said that the Americans’ failures to protect their vital facilities show that they are unable to successfully deal with the weak spots of their vital and strategic infrastructure. Jazayeri noted that following the cyber attack on the U.S. power grid in 2006, the Americans came to the realization that it was necessary to improve the protection of their strategic facilities against cyber attacks. Nevertheless, America’s sensitive facilities are still vulnerable, according to Jazayeri, to a cyber attack due to the security shortcomings of its computer systems, and the U.S. is therefore concerned over Iran’s capabilities to react in case it comes under a cyber attack (Fars, March 9).


Pictures of the week: preparations for Norooz (the Iranian New Year)

Preparations for Norooz (the Iranian New Year)

Preparations for Norooz (the Iranian New Year)

Preparations for Norooz (the Iranian New Year)

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