Spotlight on Iran (Week of May 2-9, 2012)

May 2012-Ordibehesht 1391
Week of May 2-9, 2012
editor : Dr. Raz Zimmt
Highlights of the week
  • Iran Second round of parliament elections is over, conservative right wing cements its hold on the Majles
  • Iran satisfied with Sarkozy’s defeat in French presidential elections
  • Iranian press harshly attacks Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states as tensions increase between Iran and its neighbors
  • Shrine erected on spot where Khamenei sat: another example of Supreme Leader’s glorification
Second round of parliament elections is over, conservative right wing cements its hold on the Majles

The final makeup of the ninth Majles was decided as the second round of parliament elections came to a close on Friday, May 4. The second round was held in 33 constituencies in 18 provinces where candidates had failed to achieve at least 25 percent of the votes in the first round, held on March 2. About 130 candidates competed for 65 Majles seats, including 25 in Tehran Province, whose representatives are usually seen as having the most political influence of all Majles members.

According to figures released by the Interior Ministry, the voter turnout in the second round was once again considerably higher than voter turnouts recorded in previous election campaigns.

As in the previous round, the main opposing sides in the latest round of elections were the United Osulgarayan Front, affiliated with the traditional conservative faction, and the Steadfast Front, supported by radical cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and affiliated with the radical right wing of the conservative camp.

According to the second round results, the United Osulgarayan Front has obtained the most seats compared to the rest of the participating lists, but has failed to achieve an overwhelming majority. Candidates belonging to this front have won over 100 out of 290 Majles seats, compared to about 75 seats to be filled by Steadfast Front candidates. The other seats are divided between independent candidates (about 100 seats) and candidates affiliated with the other lists that competed in the elections, from the center wing of Iran’s political system. The ninth Majles will include nine women, compared to eight in the outgoing Majles.

Eleven out of the twenty-five candidates elected for Tehran Province in the second round of elections are affiliated with the United Osulgarayan Front, eight with the Steadfast Front, four are members of both conservative lists, and two are affiliated with the list of Ahmadinejad’s critics headed by Majles member Ali Motahari.

As the elections came to an end, outgoing Deputy Majles Speaker Mohammad-Reza Bahonar said that the Steadfast Front hasn’t won enough seats to bring the Majles under its control. He added that the ninth Majles will not be subject to the interests of the government, since the number of Majles members in line with the position of the government is highly limited. However, Prof. Sadeq Zibakalam, a political commentator from Tehran University, speculated that the election results do not spell certain defeat for President Ahmadinejad. In an interview given to Mehr News Agency, Zibakalam said that, contrary to claims heard from the traditional conservative faction, the president and his supporters have been able to get about 100 candidates into the Majles, some of whom are affiliated with the Steadfast Front while others are independent candidates who support the president.

The completion of the elections for the ninth Majles, whose term will officially begin on May 27, marks the beginning of a political contest between Gholam-Reza Haddad Adel and current Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, the two candidates for the position of next Majles speaker. At this point Haddad Adel’s chances to be elected look better, since he has both the support of Majles members affiliated with the Steadfast Front and the support of some Majles members affiliated with the United Osulgarayan Front. The two candidates are considered close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iransatisfied with Sarkozy’s defeat in French presidential elections

Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat in the French presidential elections was met with satisfaction in Iran. Top Iranian officials and media affiliated with the conservative camp expressed their content with François Hollande’s victory and their hope that it will lead to a change in France’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to the United States and Iran.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast commented on the French election results by saying that Sarkozy’s defeat reflects the failure of his erroneous policy. He expressed his hope that Hollande will adopt a different policy than the one pursued by his predecessor. Mahmoud Vaezi, the chairman of Foreign Policy Department at the Strategic Studies Center of the Expediency Discernment Council, estimated that the new president will take a more level-headed approach with regard to Iran’s nuclear program and bring about an improvement in Iran-France relations.

The Majles Research Center also estimated that Hollande’s victory in the presidential elections will have an impact on France’s foreign policy, and particularly its relations with the United States. In a special evaluation published before the final election results were announced, the center said that, even if the French policy towards its Western allies and the United States remains basically the same, the socialists’ tendency to adopt a more independent foreign policy will likely have an effect on France-U.S. relations.

Fars News Agency, too, speculated that Hollande’s election for president will lead to a change in France’s policy towards the United States and create tensions in France-Germany relations. The news agency noted, however, that the French policy towards the Middle East is unlikely to undergo any significant changes, and mentioned that the socialists in France are considered “traditional and historical allies of the Zionist movement”.

In the margins of the media discourse on the elections in France, circles affiliated with the reformist faction discussed the significant differences between French democracy and the political system in Iran. In an interview given to Mehr News Agency, the political commentator Prof. Sadeq Zibakalam argued that the French elections should be a lesson on how to run an election campaign and keep it ethical even after a political defeat. The elections show that a 51-percent majority can bring about a change of power in 24 hours with no need for violent protest, and that a voter turnout of 80 percent can be achieved without anyone telling the people who they should vote for.

A blogger affiliated with the reformist opposition also discussed the lessons that can be learned from the elections in France, saying that the citizens of Iran must understand that freedom and justice are not just given away, and that they need to be fought for and bought at a heavy price.

Iranian press harshly attacks Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states as tensions increase between Iran and its neighbors

As tensions escalate between Iran and the Persian Gulf states, the Iranian press stepped up the media attack on Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The tensions between Iran and its neighbors have flared following President Ahmadinejad’s visit on April 11 to the island of Abu Musa, a territory in dispute between Iran and the UAE.

Last week Saudi Arabia once again warned Iran against any attempt to compromise the sovereignty of Persian Gulf states. Speaking at a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council ministers held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud said that a threat to one member of the GCC will be considered a threat to all of them. In addition, he accused Iran of occupying the three islands at the center of a dispute between Iran and the UAE, and of being involved in the Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain.

The Tabnak website issued a strong reaction to the statement made by the Saudi crown prince, saying that the GCC countries are taking an anti-Iranian stand and supporting the territorial claims of the UAE even though they themselves are unable to resolve their numerous border disputes with each other. The website warned that if the Persian Gulf countries persist with their aggressive policy towards Iran, it will be forced to exploit the border disputes between Arab countries to exert counter-pressure on them.

A report in the Arab media that the Egyptian intelligence services recently foiled an Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Cairo also provoked anger from the Iranians. In response to the report, which was later denied by the Egyptian authorities, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that it is completely baseless, calling on the leaders of the region to avoid making false accusations against Iran and exercise caution to ensure their own national interests as well as those of the entire Muslim world.

The conservative daily Jam-e Jam argued that the new accusations made by Saudi Arabia against Iran and the Saudi foreign minister’s call for a union of GCC countries prove that Riyadh has become a major axis for Western attempts to inspire hatred against Iran. According to the daily, Saudi Arabia is trying to divert public opinion from the domestic protest that threatens the stability of the Saudi royal family and make up for its failures in the Arab world by spreading false information against Iran. Fars News Agency also accused the Saudi regime of running anti-Iranian propaganda, arguing it was an attempt to divert public opinion from the domestic crisis in the kingdom. According to Fars, the Saudis are stepping up their media attacks on Iran in light of the possibility for a settlement in the nuclear issue and the failure of the attempts to topple the regime in Syria.

The joint GCC-France military maneuver which ended in the Persian Gulf last week also drew strong reactions from Iran. The daily Siyasat-e Rooz harshly criticized the policy of the Persian Gulf states and argued that Iran has “independent and free” military forces able to deal with threats of any kind, while the Arab Persian Gulf states are completely dependent upon the West.

Shrine erected on spot where Khamenei sat: another example of Supreme Leader’s glorification

A Basij base in Kerman Province recently erected a shrine on a rock where Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sat while taking a rest during a visit to the region he held several years ago. The shrine was etched with a verse from the Quran, an image of Khamenei, and text that reads, “The place where the honorable Supreme Leader sat on Friday, the 16th in the month of Ordibehesht, 1384 [May 6, 2005] while mountain trekking”.

The photograph of the shrine was widely commented on by Iranian web surfers, with most of the comments being critical and mocking. An Iranian blogger said that the photograph reflects the proliferation of superstitions in the Islamic republic, which does not concern itself with improving the living conditions of its citizens but instead builds tens of thousands of mosques, mausoleums, and religious sites. The day is not far off, the blogger wrote, when the people of Iran will be forced to pay respects to Khamenei’s statue and ask for his help and forgiveness instead of going to work or school.

Another blogger said that, even during the Shah’s time, no shrines were erected to mark the spot where he sat during his trips across the country. One blogger reacted to the report on the new shrine with a “report” of his own about a decision to give the Supreme Leader’s name to an Iranian river in which he once relieved himself during a visit to the region.

The report on the creation of the shrine to mark the spot where the Supreme Leader sat joins other reports that demonstrate the ongoing efforts made by Khamenei’s allies to glorify him. The trend has been on the rise for the past two years, and can be witnessed in a number of incidents. For instance, a video circulated on YouTube in April 2011 documented a sermon given by the Friday prayer leader in the city of Qom. In the sermon, the cleric related stories told by those close to the Supreme Leader that, at Khamenei’s birth, the delivery nurse began screaming and saying that she had heard him say “Ya Ali”, a common utterance among Shi’ites attributed to the first Shi’ite imam, Ali bin Abi Taleb. In addition, in recent years media affiliated with the traditional conservative faction have been using the honorary title of “imam” when referring to Khamenei, similarly to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution.

The efforts made by the conservative establishment to glorify the Supreme Leader and cement his political and religious status can be seen as a direct response to the increasing challenges to his political leadership and religious authority, which have become significantly greater since the political crisis that broke out after the presidential elections in the summer of 2009.

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