Spotlight on Iran

Issued on: 10/09/2009 Type: Article

Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  1. Yet another expression of the Revolutionary Guards’ increasing involvement in the political system: the Revolutionary Guards chief lashes out against reformist bloc leaders, provoking strong reactions.

  2. The cancellation of two religious ceremonies planned for late Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr was most likely caused by the authorities’ concern that they would be used to demonstrate the power of the reformist opposition.

  3. Following the Supreme Leader’s speech on humanities and social sciences curricula, Iran is on its way to another "cultural revolution” in its universities.

  4. Saudi involvement in the battles between Yemenite authorities and Shi’ite rebels leads to further deterioration in Iranian-Saudi Arab relations.

  5. Iran’s scandal of the week: the outgoing science minister in Ahmadinejad’s government took part in a meeting also attended by Israel’s former science, culture, and sports minister.

  6. The Marxist-Shi’ite president: on a visit to Iran, Hugo Chavez declares that the "hidden imam” will come back one day.

Strong reactions to the Revolutionary Guards chief’s
lashing out against reformist leaders

Statements made last weekend by Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari against reformist bloc leaders have been severely criticized this week by Iran’s top reformists.

Speaking at a convention of Iran-Iraq War veterans, Jafari commented on the riots which broke out following the latest presidential elections in Iran, saying they were the most significant incident in the history of the Islamic republic and that they could potentially pose a threat to the revolution. He further noted that Iran’s enemies had taken action to topple the regime and to undermine the principles and values of the Islamic revolution.

The Revolutionary Guards chief made direct accusations against some senior figures belonging to the reformist bloc, including former president Mohammad Khatami; secretary general of the Association of Combatant Clerics, Ayatollah Mousavi Khoeiniha; Mostafa Tajzadeh, one of the leaders of the Islamic Iran Participation Front; Behzad Nabavi, one of the founders of the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization; and Abol-Fazel Fateh, the media headquarters chief of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Jafari noted that based on the "confessions” of those detained during the riots as well as other information in his possession, the reformist bloc leaders sought to take advantage of the presidential elections to undermine the status of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Among other things, Jafari noted that in early 2009, Ayatollah Khoeiniha had supposedly declared that the Supreme Leader had to be impeached at any cost, and that Khatami had said that Ahmadinejad’s loss in the presidential elections would spell the end of the Supreme Leader’s position, making it impossible for him to continue exercising his authority.

Based on the confession of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami’s former vice-president who was arrested after the outbreak of the riots, the Revolutionary Guards chief said that the reformists’ goal was to eliminate the "guardianship of the jurisprudent” and Iran’s religious leadership, using the victory of their presidential candidate to land a crushing blow on the conservatives and on the leader of Iran (Fars; IRNA, September 2).

The speech given by the Revolutionary Guards chief provoked strong reactions from reformist leaders. In an open letter issued by the Association of Combatant Clerics, Jafari is accused of spreading lies and unfounded allegations designed to justify an erroneous policy and provide legitimacy to actions which go against religious and secular law. According to the open letter, Jafari’s big lies and unjustified accusations, based on the supposed confessions of those detained during the riots, prove that the Revolutionary Guards is no longer the esteemed institution it once was—instead, it has become a tool for justifying an incorrect policy and taking steps which contradict the foundations and values of Islam and the revolution. The association even called on the judiciary to take legal action against Jafari for spreading lies and incitement (Agahsazi, September 3).

evolutionary Guards chief Jafari shooting at the reformists
Revolutionary Guards chief Jafari shooting at the reformists
(www.roozonline.com, September 3, 2009)

Mehdi Karoubi, a reformist presidential candidate and chairman of the Etemad-e Melli party, also condemned Jafari’s statements, saying they were detrimental to the Revolutionary Guards. The Revolutionary Guards’ meddling in political affairs was unwarranted, said Karoubi (Etemad, September 5).

Mohammad Reza Tabesh, a Majles member and secretary-general of the Line of the Imam parliamentary faction, also addressed Jafari’s statements, saying that declarations based on detainees’ confessions were worthless. According to Tabesh, it is those who let the Revolutionary Guards interfere with the elections, take part in the arrests, and collect the detainees’ confessions who should be put to trial, rather than those whose past proved their loyalty to the regime, to the Supreme Leader, and to Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution (Rooz Online, September 3).

Hassan Rouhani, chairman of the Research Center of the Expediency Discernment Council, condemned Jafari’s statements, saying that accusations against those who had taken part in the victory of the revolution and served the Islamic republic were a severe blow to the regime. Not only do such accusations hurt the public trust in those revolution loyalists, they compromise the entire regime and contradict Iran’s morality, religious law, and national interests (ISNA, September 3).

On the other hand, senior conservative figures have rushed to the defense of the Revolutionary Guards chief this week. For example, Mohammad Karim Abedi, member of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, declared that Jafari’s views were consistent with the Iranian constitution, which lays upon the Revolutionary Guards the responsibility for maintaining the values of the regime and the achievements of the revolution (Fars, September 5).

In an interview granted to the Parleman News website this week, Hossein Hashemian, the chairman of the Line of the Imam faction in the Majles, said that according to some information in his possession, several members of the Revolutionary Guards were planning to resign over the involvement of Revolutionary Guards senior figures in political affairs (Parleman News, September 6).

Mohammad Ali Jafari’s statements join a series of condemnations made by Revolutionary Guards leaders of senior reformist figures, condemnations which have escalated over the past several months. In recent years, the Revolutionary Guards have increased their political involvement by supporting the conservative bloc, even though the Iranian constitution prohibits the armed forces from taking part in politics. In the election campaigns held in Iran in recent years, Revolutionary Guards senior figures have publicly and openly taken the side of conservative candidates, taking a stand against the reformists. Following the riots which broke out after the Iranian presidential elections, senior Revolutionary Guards members even joined the call to put the reformist leaders to trial. For example, last month Yadollah Javani, the head of the political department in the Revolutionary Guards, issued a call to put Mousavi, Khatami, and Karoubi to trial. In an article published in the Revolutionary Guards periodical, Javani discussed the need to examine the role played by the three reformist leaders in the attempt to stage a "velvet coup” in Iran. If they are found guilty, says Javani, they must be brought to justice and punished without taking into consideration their past or their position.

Political crisis in Iran also affects Ramadan ceremonies

This week, reformist-associated media in Iran have widely reported about the cancellation of religious ceremonies which were meant to be held soon, at the end of the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month-long fast. Reformist sources claimed that the ceremonies were cancelled over the authorities’ concern that they would turn into a power display for the reformist opposition.

The family of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, made an announcement last weekend on the cancellation of the Ihya prayer ceremonies. For the past 20 years, the annual prayers are held at Khomeini’s mausoleum on the 19th, 21st, and 23rd nights of Ramadan, when, according to Islam, Muslims’ fates are decided (various news agencies, September 4). This year as well, the ceremonies were supposed to be led by Ali-Akbar Nateq Nouri, the Supreme Leader’s advisor and former Majles speaker; Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president; and Hassan Rouhani, chairman of the Research Center of the Expediency Discernment Council, who are all considered Ahmadinejad’s political adversaries. According to a number of reports, the two reformist candidates in the latest presidential elections, Mehdi Karoubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, were also supposed to take part in the ceremonies this year.

The announcement published by Khomeini’s family said that unfortunately, the religious ceremonies could not be held this year due to "problems at the mausoleum site”. Reformist sources report that in recent days considerable pressure has been exerted on Khomeini’s family (mostly on his grandson Hassan Khomeini) to prevent senior reformist figures, primarily Khatami, from holding the rituals. Hassan Khomeini himself is associated with the reformist bloc and did not attend President Ahmadinejad’s recent swearing-in ceremony. Prior to the cancellation announcement, it was reported that, unlike previous years, the ceremonies would not be broadcasted live on Iranian television. Reformist website Norooz has reported this week that the ceremonies were cancelled as a result of pressure exerted on the mausoleum management by the Supreme Council of National Security, which was concerned that Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s supporters would use the ceremonies for demonstrations (Norooz, September 7).

Conservative Majles member Asadollah Badamchian has addressed the announcement on the cancellation of the ceremonies this week, saying that the mausoleum management had no choice but to cancel the ceremonies in order to preserve the sanctity of the site. According to Badamchian, political parties which were involved in the post-election riots sought to turn the ceremonies into a political event, which could compromise their sanctity (Farda, September 6).

In contrast, Mohammad Hashemi, the brother of Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts and of the Expediency Discernment Council, expressed his regret about the cancellation of the ceremonies at Khomeini’s mausoleum. In an interview granted to ILNA news agency, Hashemi said that if the ceremonies had indeed been canceled as a result of political pressure, it was an indication that even Imam Khomeini and his mausoleum no longer had immunity in Iran, and that there was no telling where the Islamic revolution was heading (ILNA, September 6).

End of Ramadan ceremony in Tehran, 2008 (Fars)
End of Ramadan ceremony in Tehran, 2008 (Fars)

A few days after the announcement about the cancellation of the religious ceremonies at Khomeini’s mausoleum, Tehran’s municipality announced that the Eid al-Fitr prayer site was moved from the Mosalla compound in downtown Tehran to the University of Tehran. Mohammad Eydian, the head of Eid al-Fitr office in Tehran’s municipality, said that the prayers were canceled as a result of construction works at the compound, where 1.5-2 million worshippers used to pray in the past several years. He noted that the Tehran municipality had not been able to complete the construction works in time, and that the compound could not accommodate such a large number of worshippers in its current state (IRNA, September 5).

This week, reformist website Etemad questioned the official reason given by the municipality spokesman about the cancellation of the prayer at the Mosalla compound, noting that the construction works held there in previous years had not interfered with the prayers. The website believes that the simultaneous cancellation of the two religious ceremonies was the result of political reasons that had to do with the elections and with the authorities’ intention to contain the reformists and prevent them from using those ceremonies for power demonstrations (Etemad, September 6).

Iran on its way to a second "cultural revolution”

Hamid Reza Ayatollahi, chairman of the Humanities and Culture Studies Institute, has announced this week that the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution had instructed the institute he heads to inspect the humanities and social sciences curricula in Iran’s universities. According to Ayatollahi, many of the universities’ study programs are not up to date and are not compatible with Iranian-Islamic culture. They therefore must be reassessed according to the objectives of the humanities education and the instructions of the Supreme Leader.

Ayatollahi noted that a special committee had been recently established for that purpose, which would examine the curricula and present its recommendations to the Ministry of Science. According to those recommendations, some parts will be removed from the curricula and new contents will be added. Those changes will be mandatory for all of Iran’s universities (Mehr, September 6).

Ayatollahi’s statement was made only one week after a speech given by the Supreme Leader at a convention of lecturers and directors of Tehran’s universities and academic research institutions, in which Khamenei expressed his concern over the large number of students of humanities and social sciences in Iran.

In his speech, Khamenei said he was concerned about the fact that 2.5 million out of Iran’s 3.5 million students studied humanities and social sciences. He noted that the number of humanities and social sciences books produced in Iran was small, as was the number of lecturers in those fields who held an Islamic worldview. Many of those sciences are based on "materialistic philosophies” which consider human beings to be animals, not recognizing their responsibility to God. If humanities are translated and studied in Iran exactly as they are written in the West, said Khamenei, it could induce doubt and lack of faith in God and Islamic values in young Iranians. He further added that government organizations, including the Ministry of Science, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, and the universities must look into that issue (various news agencies, August 30).

The Supreme Leader’s statement was soon commented on by other conservatives. Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, member of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, has said this week that all the humanities study materials in Iran’s universities are translations of Western works, which may lead to a social change by secular university graduates at the expense of the Islamic regime. Speaking at a ceremony of the Islamic Engineering Society in the Imam Sadeq University, Azghadi said that there was a visible departure from revolutionary thought during the time of the reformist governments which ruled Iran in the 1990s. Even though the individuals who made up those governments were religious on the personal level, when it came to decision making there was no difference between their decisions and decisions made by secular people. Iran’s current government is religious, said Azghadi, but there is still a long way to go before a religious regime is installed (Fars, September 4).

Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a Friday prayer leader in Tehran, also addressed the issue in his last sermon, saying that the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and the universities must pay more attention to humanities and social sciences in the universities in light of their importance (Mehr, September 4).

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Iranian authorities initiated a process of Islamization in Iran’s education system and higher education in particular, in which changes were introduced to study programs in order to adapt them to the values of the revolution. Nevertheless, in recent years Iran’s universities have been criticized by senior conservative figures, including President Ahmadinejad, saying they operate in a non-Islamic environment and are ruled by secular, pro-Western elements. Senior ultra-conservative cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, considered one of the top critics of Iranian universities, has issued several calls to promote an accelerated process of Islamization in the universities.

During the tenure of Ahmadinejad’s first government, top officials in the Ministries of Education, Higher Education, and Islamic Guidance announced their intention to step up the Islamization process of the education system, including the universities. In July 2008, former Science and Higher Education Minister Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi said that the government promoted a plan for the Islamization of the universities. Zahedi noted that the Islamization process implemented in Iran’s universities during the first three years following the Islamic revolution was unable to achieve all of its goals, and that changes were still required in the universities’ social sciences and textbooks.

In the past four years, several dozen lecturers and some of Iran’s university presidents who were known as reformists or regime critics were laid off.

Further deterioration in Iranian – Saudi Arab relations

Iran’s conservative media and circles have recently stepped up their lashing out against Saudi Arabia, mostly against the backdrop of its involvement in the clashes between Yemenite authorities and Shi’ite rebels headed by Abd al-Malek al-Huthi in northern Yemen.

The daily Keyhan, which has reported about the civil war in Yemen this week, accused Saudi Arabia of supporting the oppression of the Shi’ite rebels. According to Keyhan, Saudi Arabia is the main inciting factor in Yemen, and it supplies weapons and ammunition to the Yemenite authorities in an attempt to curb the expansion of Shi’ite influence in the Middle East. The daily also accuses the Saudi authorities of attempting to establish a radical Sunni government in Yemen, in like manner to what they had done in the Afghan civil war, which led to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban (Keyhan, September 6).

In an editorial published on September 6, the conservative daily Qods also addressed the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in it. The daily claimed that Saudi Arabia’s role in the recent happenings in the Middle East was perfectly clear, and that it was reflected in its inhumane stance on Israel’s attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon and its support of terrorist activity in Iraq. According to the daily, the King of Saudi Arabia, who is concerned about possible developments in the Middle East, provides the Yemenite authorities with three billion dollars towards bombing the Shi’ite areas in northern Yemen. Qods claims that Yemen has become Saudi Arabia’s number one partner in the implementation of Riyadh’s terrorist plans, and that Saudi Arabia has turned Yemen into a regional base of Al-Qaeda operations.

Senior cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi has also strongly lashed out against Saudi Arabia this week, referring to it as "champion in creating enmity among Muslims”. Shirazi blamed Saudi Arabia for murdering and injuring hundreds of Yemenite Shi’ites per day, saying that the Saudis were working to create enmity between Muslims also in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He further claimed that while the Saudis were willing to cooperate even with Israel, they would not cooperate with the Shi’ites (Fars, September 7). Fars news agency, which quoted the senior cleric, had reported shortly before that that the Saudi authorities instructed Saudi Shi’ites to refrain from holding their religious ceremonies in Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite regions at the end of the month of Ramadan, and even threatened to shut down Shi’ite mosques and religious centers if they did not obey (Fars, September 7).

Additionally, the Iranian authorities blamed Saudi Arabia for the fate of Shahram Amiri, an Iranian national who disappeared recently after traveling to Saudi Arabia to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said in a press conference that Iran considered Saudi Arabia responsible for providing information on the fate of the missing Iranian. He also criticized the Saudi authorities for having yet to comply with Iran’s request for details on the fate of the missing person (various news agencies, September 7).

Scandal of the week: the science minister in the outgoing government
met with Israel’s former science minister

A scandal broke out in Iran this week after conservative website Jahan published a report accompanied by photographs showing Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, the outgoing science and higher education minister in Ahmadinejad’s former government, sitting near Israel’s former science, culture, and sports minister, Ghaleb Majadla. The report and the photographs were soon published on many other Iranian news websites.

Jahan reported that the two ministers had met at a science convention held in Jordan in 2008. The story was published against the backdrop of reports about President Ahmadinejad’s intention to appoint Zahedi as Iran’s ambassador in the UAE. According to Jahan’s report, President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli views are a source of power for Iranian diplomacy, and the appointment of Zahedi, who violated the principles of the Iranian regime and diplomacy by agreeing to appear and even be photographed with a minister from the "Zionist regime” may severely compromise the Iranian regime (Jahan News, September 6).

Jahan News, September 6
Israel’s Science Minister Ghaleb Majadla (center) with Iran’s
Science Minister Zahedi (left)
 (Jahan News, September 6)

Picture of the week: Marxist-Shi’ite President Hugo Chavez visits Iran for the eighth time

Following the publication of the report, the Science Ministry denied the meeting between the two ministers. An official announcement published by the ministry said that while Zahedi did take part in the convention in Jordan, which the Israeli minister attended as well, there was no meeting or conversation between the two of them. Furthermore, when Zahedi found out that the person sitting next to him was an Israeli, he left the meeting in protest (Mehr, September 8).

This week, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez visited Iran for the eighth time in several years. Chavez met with President Ahmadinejad and with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Several agreements were signed between the two countries during the visit, including an agreement to export 20 thousand oil barrels worth 800 million dollars from Venezuela to Iran.

On his last day in Iran, President Chavez surprisingly joined President Ahmadinejad on a visit to the grave of Imam Reza in Mashhad, declaring that some day Jesus and the twelfth imam ("the hidden imam”) would return and establish true justice in the world. President Ahmadinejad said that Chavez’s presence at the grave of the eighth imam in Mashhad indicated the depth of the shared beliefs between the two peoples and the two governments in Iran and Venezuela (Fars, September 6).


Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez visits the grave
of the eighth imam in Mashhad (Fars)

Chavez’s visit in the holy Shi’ite site triggered considerable criticism in Iran, because entry for non-Muslims is considered forbidden. In an article titled "Has Chavez converted to Islam?” the news website Fararo wondered what were those deep beliefs shared by the two peoples, one of which was Muslim and the other Christian, and the two governments, one of which was Islamic and the other left-wing. Even though Christians and Muslims believe in the same god, the article says, that is not enough to justify the visit of a Communist Christian president at the grave of Imam Reza. Chavez’s presence at the imam’s grave and his statement on the reappearance of the twelfth imam may be considered using religion for political needs (Fararo, September 7). Some of Iran’s senior clerics also expressed their reservations about the Venezuelan president’s visit to the holy site (Mardom Salari, September 8).

Hugo Chavez (center) on a meeting with Khamenei (right)
Hugo Chavez on a meeting with Khamenei
 and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad (Fars)

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