Spotlight on Iran (Week of May 30-June 6, 2012 )

June 2012-Khordad 1391
Week of May 30-June 6, 2012
editor : Dr. Raz Zimmt
Highlights of the week
  • Iran and the regional upheaval: summary of a conference held in Tehran on “Developments in the Middle East and the Future of the Regional Order”
  • Speech given by Islamic revolution founder’s grandson on anniversary of Khomeini’s death once again interrupted by pro-regime demonstrators
  • Central Bank steps up efforts to combat bounced checks
  • Neckties are next in campaign for enforcement of Islamic dress code
Iran and the regional upheaval: summary of a convention held in Tehran on “Developments in the Middle East and the Future of the Regional Order”

Last Tuesday, May 29, the Strategic Studies Center of the Expediency Discernment Council held a special conference titled “Developments in the Middle East and the Future of the Regional Order”. It was attended by members of the Iranian administration, diplomats, and researchers from the academia. The opening statements of the conference were given by Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chief of the Expediency Discernment Council, and Ali-Akbar Velayati, the advisor to the Supreme Leader on international affairs and chairman of the World Association of the Islamic Awakening.

At the beginning of his statement, Rafsanjani spoke about the various terms used to define the developments in the Arab world. He expressed his opinion that there is no need to insist on a particular definition to be used in reference to the developments, and that various definitions can be applied: “Islamic awakening”, “Arab spring”, or “popular revolutions”. The developments in the Arab world can be considered as the awakening of the Islamic commonwealth, an important movement in the Arab world, and also a change in the conduct of the region’s nations, Rafsanjani said, which is why it is acceptable to use different definitions.

Rafsanjani pointed out the main reasons behind the revolutions in the Arab world, particularly the dissatisfaction and anger felt by the people for the tyrannical and corrupt regimes; the dependence of the old regimes on foreign powers, which led to the humiliation of the Arab nations; the indifference of the regimes to the religion and religious beliefs prevailing among the Arab nations and their use of religion for their own interests; and the weakness of the parties and the non-government organizations, which ultimately results in a revolutionary outbreak in the absence of any other way to implement changes and gradual reforms.

Speaking about Iran’s ability to serve as a role model for the revolutions in the Arab world, Rafsanjani said that Iran can serve as a role model for the rest of the nations in the region thanks to its long history, marked by the people’s involvement in its political developments. He added, however, that if Iran was able to better solve the problems it is currently facing, it could be a more successful inspiration for the nations of the Middle East and the Islamic revolution would spread quicker.

Rafsanjani then went on to discuss the central place of religion in the developments in the region, saying that even though there were various elements operating in Iran at the time of the constitutional revolution (in the early 20th century) and the Islamic revolution, including communists and nationalists, in the end the overwhelming majority of the people ended up supporting the clerics.

Rafsanjani cited the information explosion as a main factor behind the developments in the Arab world. Any event that takes place anywhere across the globe is immediately reported by all the media in the world, and the impact of one Facebook page on millions of people is comparable to that of many television and radio channels. According to Rafsanjani, telecommunications and social media have had a profound significance and an enormous impact on the developments these past two years. He argued that these are welcome changes that help humanity in its struggle against oppression.

Rafsanjani concluded his remarks by pointing out the dangers and threats faced by the revolutions in the Arab world, particularly the internal differences of opinion. He noted that Iran, too, experienced differences of opinion in the first two years after the revolution, and that some groups were unwilling to accept the majority opinion and agree to have the state affairs managed by the clerics, who enjoyed a great deal of support among the people. Iran was able to overcome the challenge thanks to the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and the considerable support he enjoyed. Rafsanjani said that if the Arab countries that underwent revolutions are able to gain the support of the majority of the people and act in accordance with the desires that underpinned the revolution, they will be able to overcome the problems. If they stray from the path of the revolution and prove unable to achieve an internal unity, they will find themselves facing many dangers. He called on the Arab countries to cooperate with Iran and take advantage of its experience, stressing that Iran has no hostile aspirations or intentions towards Arab countries, and that it is interested in cooperating with them (ISNA, May 29).

Contrary to the opinion of Rafsanjani on the correct terminology for defining the developments in the Arab world, former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati said that “Islamic awakening” is the only definition that is appropriate for the developments. He noted that, after the revolutions, there appeared numerous interpretations of their significance. While some claimed that they were “color revolutions”, others said that it was an “Arab spring”, and others still referred to them as an “Islamic awakening”. Velayati said that, as time went by, it became clearer that the correct term was “Islamic awakening”, since it cannot be denied that the elections held after the toppling of the regimes in the Arab world led to the victory of the Islamists.

He said that various elements, particularly the West, Israel, and some of the countries in the region, would like to derail and contain the revolutions in the Arab world, bring back the conditions that prevailed prior to the revolutions, and above all prevent the Islamists from winning. It was his assessment that, considering the unprecedented popular mobilization that led to the revolutions, there will be no turning back the clock (Aftab, May 29).

Dr. Hossein Ala’i, a member of the scientific committee of Imam Hossein University and a former commander in the Revolutionary Guards, listed 12 challenges facing the new governments in the Arab world:

1. Philosophical differences of opinion between the Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the secularists over the nature of the government and the administration. Ala’i listed four main models that are currently available for the revolutionaries in the Arab world: the Iranian model, which integrates religious democracy, protection of Palestine, and struggle against the “Zionist regime”, the establishment of a new order in the region, cooperation between Muslims, and independence of action vis-à-vis the United States; the Turkish model, based on a democratic, secular government, good relations with the West, and recognition of Israel coupled with support for the Palestinian groups; the Saudi model, based on a royalist regime seeking to implement Islamic religious law, which supports Palestine without being hostile to Israel and cooperates with the United States; and the national model, which seeks to restore the historic dignity of the Arabs while putting an emphasis on hostility to Israel and support for the Palestinians.

2. The remnants of the “old regime” and its apparatuses, which used to protect the dictatorship and continue posing a threat to the new regimes.

3. The intervention of international players, particularly the United States, which could be seen in the American support for the military council in Egypt and the American intervention in Bahrain.

4. Israel and the way of dealing with the Palestinian issue. The biggest loser from the developments in the Arab world is Israel, and the Zionists fear for the fate of the Camp David Accords and the future of their relations with the next government of Egypt. The Egyptian people are calling for the peace treaties to be reexamined, but Egypt needs the annual assistance provided by the United States.

5. Countries in the region. Saudi Arabia would like to keep the developments in the Arab world away from its borders and maintain the stability of the regime, which is why it is sending troops to Bahrain, making efforts to encourage Salafi thought, working through its television networks, and channeling funds to Arab countries, including Egypt. Turkey would also like to expand its influence in the Arab world in cooperation with the United States.

6. The expectations of the civilians. The revolutionaries are interested in a fundamental change in economy and social welfare, the establishment of a government that will facilitate social and political liberties as well as free elections, laws that coincide with Islamic religious law, government support for the Palestinian people, stability, and better relations with other governments in the region.

7. Security challenges. In some Arab countries, such as Libya and Yemen, tribal and religious conflicts destabilize the internal situation and lead to the emergence of such groups as Al-Qaeda.

8. The economic challenge.

9. Rivalry between various parties.

10. The new governments’ lack of experience in managing state affairs.

11. The lack of leadership. The movements in the Arab world have no leaders, which creates room for foreign powers to intervene in the internal affairs of Arab countries.

12. Differences of opinion among the revolutionaries between the young people interested in a quick, radical change, and the veteran leaders, who have spent many years in prison and prefer a gradual change (www.snn.ir, May 29).

The former diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi, of the Foreign Policy Studies Department in the Expediency Discernment Council, analyzed the characteristics of the revolutionary movements in the Arab world. He argued that one common characteristic shared by these movements is that they had no aspirations of causing a change in the sociopolitical regime—they set their sights only on their victory and did not lay out objectives for the future. In addition, they had no particular slogans, such as the need for the revival of Islamic religious law.

Dr. Davoud Firhi, a member of the scientific committee in the University of Tehran, also pointed out the unique characteristics possessed by the revolutionary movements in the Arab world, particularly the Islamic movements. Firhi argued that the September 11 events led to the emergence of a new Islamic movement which differs in two aspects from those Islamic movements that operated in the past. First, while the traditional movements worked under a single leader and were not democratic, the new Islamic movements are more popular. Second, while the old Islamic movements sought to establish an Islamic government as a means for the Islamization of society, the new movements ascribe no particular significance to the government, and put most of the emphasis on society. Their expectations from the government focus on the need to establish a limited order and provide welfare for the citizens—they no longer expect the government to entrench Islam in society (www.snn.ir, May 29).

Dr. Hossein Salimi, a member of the scientific committee in Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba’i University, said that in recent years there has been an increased regional kinship between Arab countries, describing it as the result of economic, media-related, and philosophical processes. Arab countries need stronger economic cooperation with each other to satisfy their need for raising funds and economic development, they need one telecommunications network in light of the global media developments, and they have a shared democratic-Islamic philosophical foundation, since most of the new rulers to emerge after the revolutions in the Arab world are leaning towards the Muslim Brotherhood. Salimi said that Iran needs to formulate a policy that will take advantage of the new opportunities in the region (ISNA, May 29).

Dr. Mohammad Farazmand, the former Iranian ambassador to Bahrain, discussed the developments in that country and pointed out its economic dependence on Saudi Arabia. He noted that, while Iran enjoyed a great deal of influence in Bahrain, it did not become involved in the happenings that took place there these past two years. The ones responsible for creating the problems in Bahrain are Saudi Arabia and the United States, Farazmand said, and they are also the ones that need to solve them.

Dr. Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, a member of the scientific committee in the Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations, discussed the involvement of foreign powers in the region, motivated by their desire for hegemony. He noted that, in recent years, such involvement has been expressed in non-direct means, since direct involvement has become too expensive. Speaking about Israel, Sajjadpour said that, while the West once sought to use that country for the realization of its policy in the region, Israel has now become a problem for the West.

Ali Jannati, the former Iranian ambassador to Kuwait, spoke about the developments in Syria and stressed that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia would like to see the Bashar Assad regime toppled. Jannati argued that the conditions currently prevailing in Syria are the same conditions that existed in the Arab countries where revolutions took place: a tyrannical regime, poverty, social differences, corruption at the highest echelons of the regime, and lack of respect for human rights. He said that the policy of the regime in Syria has given rise to dissension among the Sunni majority in the country.

He spoke about the involvement of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Western countries in Syria, and their support for the Syrian opposition. He noted that the government of Turkey made a strategic mistake by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, since it failed to understand the differences between Syria and the other regimes in the Arab world. Speaking about the continuing support offered by Iran to the Bashar Assad regime, the former ambassador said that, even though Iran partly disagrees with the way the Syrian regime is conducting itself and is interested in promoting reforms in the country, it has no choice but to support the Assad regime in light of the cooperation between the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia aimed at toppling the Syrian regime, which may lead to a loss of support for the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. Jannati referred to Iran’s decision to support the Syrian regime as choosing the lesser of two evils (www.snn.ir, May 29).

Speech given by Islamic revolution founder’s grandson on anniversary of Khomeini’s death once again interrupted by pro-regime demonstrators

A speech given by Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, was interrupted this week during a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of Khomeini’s death. The speech, given by Hassan Khomeini at a mausoleum dedicated to his grandfather south of Tehran, was interrupted a number of times by supporters of the regime and the Supreme Leader, who shouted condemnations against him and against those who oppose the regime and the concept of “rule of the religious jurisprudent”. The slogans heard at the ceremony included “Death to the opponents of the rule of the religious jurisprudent”, “The blood in our veins is a gift to the Leader [Ali Khamenei]”, and “This entire army is mobilized and ready for the sake of the Leader’s love”. During this year’s main ceremony, supporters of the Supreme Leader also chanted slogans against the “deviant faction”, affiliated with President Ahmadinejad and his office chief Rahim Masha’i. In spite of the slogans chanted against him, Khomeini was able to finish his speech as planned (ISNA, June 3).

In the speech, which reflected Khomeini’s reformist worldview, he praised the path of his grandfather and said that the management of state affairs should only be entrusted to righteous leaders, like his grandfather, since they are the only ones who are able to solve the problems faced by the Iranian society. Khomeini spoke about the concept of the “oppressed” (mostaz’afin), which was emphasized by the founder of the Islamic revolution, and said that oppression does not exist merely in the sphere of economy and that it needs to be considered in the cultural context as well. Society has to help those who are oppressed in any way and uplift them from the oppression, while the righteous leaders need to weed out corruption at the root (Mehr, June 3).

In response to the interruptions of Hassan Khomeini’s speech, the former reformist Majles member Qodratollah Alikhani said that the slogans shouted by a handful of citizens during the speech given by Khomeini’s grandson were intended to drown out the calls heard against President Ahmadinejad at the ceremonies marking the anniversary of Khomeini’s death. Alikhani condemned those who interrupted Khomeini’s speech, stressing that they were a small handful of about 200 people who were unable to disrupt the ceremony. He noted that the calls were meaningless, and that the large crowd that attended the ceremonies marking the anniversary of Khomeini’s death did not join the calls due to the considerable sympathy enjoyed by the family of the founder of the Islamic revolution (Khabar Online, June 3).

Two years ago, Hassan Khomeini, considered to be one of the major supporters of the reformist movement, had his speech interrupted at a ceremony marking the 21st anniversary of Khomeini’s death. In an unprecedented act, pro-regime demonstrators shouted slogans against him and against the reformist opposition and its leaders, preventing Khomeini from completing his speech. The incident sparked a controversy and was widely reported by the Iranian media. Senior figures in the reformist opposition, including a number of top clerics, strongly criticized the offense caused to the grandson of the founder of the Islamic revolution, claiming that the interruption of his speech had been planned in advance by regime supporters as part of the campaign waged against the reformist opposition since the 2009 presidential elections and the riots that broke out in their wake. The regime supporters, on the other hand, justified the slogans chanted against Khomeini, saying that his close relations with the leaders of the opposition and his deviation from the path of his grandfather were the reasons that had fanned the public protest against him.

Hassan Khomeini has recently denied reports according to which he intends to run in the elections for president of Iran, slated for 2013, on behalf of the reformist faction. His speaker has confirmed, on the other hand, a report about a meeting he has recently held with President Ahmadinejad, whose details are still unknown (Mehr, May 21).

Central Bank steps up efforts to combat bounced checks

This week the Central Bank has issued new instructions intended to curtail the ongoing increase in the number of bounced checks in Iran. Figures released by the Central Bank in April show that the combined value of bounced checks in the last Iranian year (2011-2012) reached 31 trillion tomans (about 25 billion dollars). Nearly 13 percent of all cashier checks were defined as “bounced checks”. The daily Donya-ye Eqtesad (“World of Economy”) has recently reported that, in the first 11 months of the year 1390 (March 21, 2011 – February 19, 2012) 6 million checks bounced out of the total 46 million checks traded in the banks. The figure represents an increase of nearly 25 percent in the number of bounced checks compared to the previous year. An opinion held by most economic experts is that the increase in the number of bounced checks is the result of the uneasy atmosphere that has prevailed in Iran’s business system this past year (Donya-ye Eqtesad, April 21).

In light of the increase in the number of bounced checks, a top official at the Central Bank has announced this week that the Central Bank issued new instructions to all the banks in Iran with the intention of imposing restrictions on those writing bounced checks. Amir-Hossein Amin Azad, a Central Bank official in charge of bank instructions and the fight against money laundering, said at a press conference that 12.5 percent of all cashier checks bounce, twice as many as in 2009. The top official noted that the increase in the number of bounced checks is the result of economic factors, the lack of legislation and instructions for monitoring bank accounts, and the incorrect use of checks by the public. He said that, in the absence of clear instructions on the issue, a Central Bank team looked into ways to impede the spread of the phenomenon and suggested imposing various restrictions on those who write bounced checks. Under the new instructions, account owners who bounce a check will be denied access to banking services for seven years. They will also suffer additional restrictions: among other things, they will be denied access to loans and foreign currency, prohibited from opening a new bank account, prevented from receiving bank credit and bank guarantees, and denied access to electronic banking services. The banks have also been instructed to take various measures intended to make sure that the bank accounts of customers who pay by checks have sufficient funds to cover the checks that they write. The new instructions also discuss the prohibition on opening more than one bank account with any bank by a single customer, and require banks to confirm with the Interior Ministry the address given by a person opening a new bank account to make sure that it is their real address. Amin Azad explained that the new instructions do not prevent people who bounce checks from leaving the country (ISNA, May 30; Tejarat Press, June 1; Aftab, June 4).

In response to the new instructions issued by the Central Bank imposing restrictions on those who write bounced checks, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, the chief inspectorate director in the judiciary, said that the instruction denying customers whose checks have bounced access to bank services for seven years is illegal. He noted that he will look into the issue, and that if it turns out that such an instruction has indeed been issued, the organization which he heads will prevent it from being implemented (Fars, June 3).

Neckties are next in campaign for enforcement of Islamic dress code

ISNA News Agency reported last week that the interior security forces began enforcing the ban on selling neckties in clothes stores in Tehran. One of the salesmen told a reporter for the agency that, in recent days, the stores have been asked to take all the neckties off the shelves. The head of the shirt retailers union said that while the authorities had banned the sale of neckties after the victory of the Islamic revolution, the ban had not been seriously enforced most of the time. He reported that the stores were also instructed to change their logo, which featured a picture of a necktie, and that supervisors on behalf of the authorities prohibited the stores from displaying neckties in their store windows (ISNA, May 29).

This week the Tabnak website expressed its reservations over the considerable escalation in the campaign for the enforcement of the Islamic dress code, which is currently seen in the enforcement of the ban on selling neckties. The website wondered why the interior security forces have chosen this particular timing to enforce the law banning the sale of neckties, which has not been enforced for years; whether there are no other laws that should be enforced first; would it not have been better for the internal security forces to engage in more important missions than collecting neckties from stores; and whether the campaign for the enforcement of the Islamic dress code in recent years was so successful that it is now appropriate to expand it to include neckties (Tabnak, June 2).

Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, neckties have been considered in Iran as a symbol of Western culture, and the authorities have taken measures to eliminate their use. Yet even so, in recent years more and more Iranians—particularly young people—wear neckties, being part of the increasing influence of Western culture on dress norms in the country. Top regime officials and government ministry employees still avoid wearing neckties in public.

In May 2008 the chief of the Iranian customs annoucned that the customs authorities  intended to ban the import of neckties, saying they were contradictory to the culture of Iran. In August of that year more than 30 medicine students from the Emirkabir University in Tehran were asked to report to the university’s discipline committee for wearing neckties to their graduation ceremony.

In November 2010 the conservative news website Bultan News released a report on the first “Islamic necktie” made in Iran.

Last week Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed how important it is for women to adhere to the standards of appropriate clothing. Speaking at a meeting with women held on May 12 on the occasion of Mother’s Day, celebrated on the birthday of

The necktie was designed to resemble Zulfiqar, the sword wielded by Ali bin Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite imam, and is decorated with a hadith (a tradition attributed to Prophet Muhammad) pertaining to the sword. Hemat Komeili, the designer of the necktie, noted that he had decided to design a necktie that would be compatible with the values of Islam because many clerics were opposed to the use of Western neckties. According to Komeili, the necktie he designed gained the approval of several top Shi’ite clerics (Bultan News, November 16, 2010).

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