Highlights of the week
Iran pre-emptively blames West for hypothetical failure of upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow.
Impact of regional and international developments on Iran: a different look from Tehran.
Bread prices sharply increase for the third time since subsidy policy reform.
The power of rumor: hundreds of thousands of Iranians look at the moon in the hopes of seeing a Pepsi commercial.
Iran pre-emptively blames West for hypothetical failure of upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow
Iranhas accused the West of responsibility for the hypothetical failure of the new round of nuclear talks, scheduled to take place in Moscow next week. In recent days Iranian officials and media claimed that the talks will fail as a result of the Western countries’ focus on the demand to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. Iran has also portrayed the European Union’s refusal to hold expert-level talks before the talks in Moscow as evidence that the West is interested in derailing them.
Esma’il Kowsari, the vice chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said this weekend that the Moscow talks are doomed to fail from the very beginning. He noted that, given the threats and statements made by Western countries against Iran, there is no question that the talks will be completely unproductive, seeing as the West wants to speak to Iran in the language of power and pressure, while Iran, on its part, will not yield to pressure (Aftab, June 9).
President Ahmadinejad, speaking at a meeting with the Chinese PM during a visit to Beijing he held last week to take part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, said that, while Iran is willing to continue the nuclear negotiations despite the Western countries’ unwillingness to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue, the conduct of the Western countries after the Baghdad talks is proof that they are only looking for excuses to waste time. Western opposition to Iran’s developing peaceful nuclear technology is intended to impede the country’s nuclear progress, he said, and hold it back in order to safeguard the interests of the West (Fars, June 6). At a meeting he held in Beijing with Afghan PM Hamid Karzai, Ahmadinejad said that the Western countries show no desire to solve the nuclear issue, which they only use as an excuse to put pressure on Iran. He estimated that the Western countries will not let the nuclear issue be solved during the upcoming talks, hosted by the government of Russia. He noted that, if Iran decides to build a nuclear bomb, it will announce it openly and no one will be able to stop it, adding, however, that Iran’s policy prevents any progress in the direction of a nuclear bomb (IRNA, June 7).
Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, also expressed his doubts about the success chances of the coming nuclear talks. Speaking at a meeting with students and lecturers at Tehran’s Azad University, Rafsanjani said that, despite the firm position taken by the Islamic republic in defending its rights, there is no chance of holding negotiations between Iran and the West based on “a game where both sides win” due to the general pressure exerted by the “front of arrogance” (i.e., the West) on Iran. Western countries should know, Rafsanjani said, that the success of the talks depends on their willingness to recognize the legitimate rights of the Iranian people and on their avoidance of using threats, sanctions, and pressure (ILNA, June 6).
Sa’id Jalili, the chairman of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief negotiator for the nuclear talks, also warned about the possibility of the talks failing. In a letter he sent to Catherine Ashton, the E.U. high representative for foreign affairs, Jalili argued that the failure of the E.U. to hold expert-level talks between his deputy, Ali Baqeri, and Ashton’s deputy, Helga Schmid, makes it doubtful whether there is any commitment to the success of the Moscow talks.
Iranian commentators interviewed by the media these past several days also expressed pessimistic attitudes with regard to the talks. In an interview given to the Iranian Diplomacy website, international affairs expert Dr. Ali Bigdeli expressed his doubt about the success of the talks. Statements made by Iranian and Western officials in recent days are evidence that the two sides are unwilling to back down, he said. Bigdeli noted that the upcoming talks in Moscow are highly significant for both Iran and the West, and warned about the impact that the oil embargo, due to come into effect in early July, will have on the Iranian economy should the talks fail (Iranian Diplomacy, June 7).
The daily Keyhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari, who recently called on the authorities of Iran not to take part in the next round of talks in Moscow, once again strongly condemned the G5+1 countries and the IAEA. An editorial published by Shariatmadari last weekend, titled “The Vienna hole and the Moscow pit”, said that the enemies of Iran had drilled a “deep hole” in Vienna so that they could set up a “pit” in Moscow. Shariatmadari argued that the statements made by IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, which are in fact a demand to suspend the enrichment of uranium, are evidence that the Moscow talks are designed as a means to allow the United States and its allies to enforce their extortion. According to the editor-in-chief of Keyhan, the IAEA’s demands are designed to provide inspectors with unlimited access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and military bases. He compared the IAEA’s demands with the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828, in which extensive Iranian-controlled territory was given over to Russia. Such demands lend support to the assessment of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who stated that the West does not fear a nuclear Iran but rather an Islamic Iran, and that the nuclear issue is just an excuse for Western countries to work against it.
Even if Iran does agree to the new demands brought up by the IAEA, the nuclear case will not be closed, Shariatmadari wrote. Amano has already made clear to the Iranian negotiators that, even if no evidence of nuclear activity is found during the inspectors’ visit to Parchin, the IAEA will not agree to close the nuclear case since there is always the possibility that military nuclear activity is conducted at other facilities. Shariatmadari likened it to a driver accused of killing or injuring a pedestrian in a car accident, and once investigation has shown that he is not guilty, the judge decides to keep him under surveillance and deny him his rights under the pretext that there is always a possibility that he will someday kill or injure another pedestrian.
It is obvious that Western countries are not interested in solving the nuclear issue with Iran. Even if the impossible happens and Iran agrees to the IAEA’s demands and opens all of its facilities for complete supervision, the IAEA will not be willing to confirm once and for all that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful until the entire territory of Iran has been searched and inspected, which will take at least 200 years. Even then, the IAEA will be able to say that, during that time, Iran conducted military activity at a particular center already visited by the inspectors in the past.
Irandid not yield to Western extortion even in the first few years after the Islamic revolution, when it was isolated and weak, alone against all the countries and powers of the East and the West. It is therefore obvious that it will not yield now, at the height of its power, when the United States, Israel, and their allies in Europe and in the Middle East are in decline. Iran puts no importance on sanctions, threats, or resolutions passed by the IAEA Board of Governors and the U.N. Security Council, and trusts the wisdom and strength of its team of negotiators. If it turns out that the negotiations do not coincide with Iran’s interests, there is no question that it will bring them to a halt (Keyhan, June 7).
The daily Siyasat-e Rooz also estimated that there is no way for the talks in Moscow to end successfully considering the policy pursued by the Western countries. An editorial published by the daily, titled “Final stop: Moscow”, said that, as the talks in Moscow approach, the West is becoming more militant against the Iranian nuclear program. At the same time, Iran is coming under growing pressure to allow IAEA inspectors to visit a number of sites, including Parchin, which they have already visited in the past and found no evidence of suspected nuclear activity.
The daily defined the Western insistence on the suspension of uranium enrichment to 20 percent as an illegal demand which goes against the NPT. The West brings up unilateral demands without showing any willingness to give something in return, which is why such demands will lead to no positive or reasonable results in the coming talks. Siyasat-e Rooz argued that, if the West seeks to resolve the differences of opinion that it itself created with Iran, it must at the very least provide a written guarantee backed by the U.N. that, if no evidence is found that Iran’s nuclear program is intended for military purposes, it will financially compensate Iran for the damage it endured over the years as a result of the accusations leveled against it, and lift all the sanctions imposed on it. The West will never agree to such a proposal, the article said, because it has no interest whatsoever in reaching an agreement and understanding with Iran with regard to its nuclear program. The daily warned that, if the talks in Moscow do not lead to a positive result due to the conduct of the West, Iran will consider Moscow to be “the final stop of the talks” (Siyasat-e Rooz, June 9).
The Revolutionary Guards’ weekly Sobh-e Sadeq argued that the West’s going back on the agreements reached in the Istanbul and Baghdad talks reflects the intense pressure exerted by Israel. The Western countries are interested in preventing Iran from making an achievement and not letting the Russians to take advantage of the coming round of talks in Moscow to promote Iran’s interests or undermine the regional and international status of the Western countries.
The daily argued, however, that President Obama has a vested interest in the success of the nuclear talks with Iran, since they provide him with an opportunity to improve his political status in the tight race with his Republican rival in the United States presidential election. Obama can either work for his own interests and, by doing so, incur the Zionists’ wrath, or appease the Zionists and lose the election. According to Sobh-e Sadeq, Iran must continue expressing a resolute stance in the negotiations, and make it clear to the Western countries that it is not frightened by the new game played by the West, the possibility of going back to square one, the failure of the talks, or the escalation of the sanctions (Sobh-e Sadeq, June 11).
The Asr-e Iran website reported that there are currently two different assessments in Tehran about the Western conduct towards Iran. One approach is that the Western conduct is intended to make Iran realize the threat posed by a military confrontation, while the second approach is the West is trying to redraw the playing field since it believes that conditions have changed in its favor.
The refusal of the West to hold expert-level talks with Iran, the statement made by Israel’s Chief of Staff Benny Gantz about the IDF being “super ready” for an attack on Iran, the preparations of the Israeli home front for a possible war with Iran, and the delivery of submarines from Germany to Israel are all intended to send a threatening message to Iran. To launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel needs to get the green light from the Western countries, particularly the United States, and according to one approach currently prevailing in Iran, the West is trying to make Iran understand that the light is currently between orange and green. According to this approach, the possibility of a military attack on Iran needs to be taken seriously, despite statements made by former leaders of Israel’s defense establishment according to which Israel is not interested in such an attack, and despite the fact that such an attack would obviously take a heavy toll on Israel.
Another approach prevailing in Tehran suggests that the Western countries are trying to ruin the atmosphere ahead of the talks in Moscow as part of their efforts to redraw the playing field. According to this approach, there is a sentiment in the Western capitals that, in light of the regional developments and Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin, the rules of the game need to be reshaped. Asr-e Iran argued that, if this approach is indeed correct, then Iran has no choice but to bring back its international players into action. There is no need to do so in an overt manner, but it must be made clear to the West that redrawing the playing field does not necessarily coincide with the Western expectations (Asr-e Iran, June 7).
Meanwhile, a meeting held on Friday, June 8, between IAEA and Iranian representatives ended with no results. The goal of the meeting was to formulate a working plan for the solution of the outstanding issues between the two sides. Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s ambassador to the agency, said that the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks, but did not agree about their time and place. He estimated that an agreement could be reached in the next round of Iran-IAEA talks. IAEA officials referred to the results of the discussions as “disappointing”, and said that Iran apparently went back on the promises given during earlier meetings between the two sides.
Impact of regional and international developments on Iran: a different look from Tehran
Last week the reformist daily Shargh conducted an in-depth, extensive interview with Dr. Mahmoud Sariolghalam. Dr. Sariolghalam is a lecturer on international relations at the Economy and Social Science School of Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University. He holds a PhD in international relations from the University of Southern California, and specializes in the international politics of the Middle East, foreign policy, and Iran’s political culture. He is also an advisor for the Strategic Studies Center of the Expediency Discernment Council.
In the interview given to Shargh, Dr. Sariolghalam expressed a particularly critical and interesting approach towards the Iranian decision makers’ views on regional and international developments. According to Dr. Sariolghalam, these views can be characterized as unrealistic and anachronistic, and are detrimental to Iran’s ability to influence the developments in the world in general and in the Arab Middle East in particular.
At the beginning of the interview, Dr. Sariolghalam discussed Iran’s failure to play a major role in the developments that have taken place in the Arab world these past two years, and argued that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the political and economic winners from these developments. Turkey’s importance, he said, stems from its ability to present a unique model which has gained the appreciation not only of Middle Easterners but also of developing countries across the globe. Saudi Arabia, whose policy in the past was completely dependent on that of the United States, has also begun pursuing its own political initiatives in the past two years, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or North Africa. Unlike Turkey, however, it prefers to act behind the scenes rather than out in the open. These two countries are increasingly recognized by the new regimes in the Arab world for their ability to promote their interests while cooperating with the international system and with all of the groups and factions in the region. They work on the basis of economic interests and are taking advantage of all the political opportunities that they are presented with.
Iran, on the other hand, does not operate as it should in the Middle East, and has adopted an unrealistic approach towards its Arab neighbors. It ignores the fact that the Persian Gulf countries are economically, commercially, and technologically part of the world’s developed countries. Even if the citizens of these countries have political reservations about their governments, most of them, socially and politically, are happy with their situation and enjoy a high quality of life.
Sariolghalam said that Iran’s foreign policy is wrong in that it holds the willingness of other countries to agree with all of its views to be a precondition for having relationships with them. Iran cuts off its ties with any group or country unwilling to adopt its official views. This is detrimental to Iran’s ability to influence these countries, since influence is based on power, and power demands presence in the various countries. Iran is engaged in a political struggle instead of political conduct. Political work requires presence, influence, and the creation of coalitions. As an example, Sariolghalam cited Iran’s decision to cut off its ties with Egypt. Iran cut off its ties with this powerful and influential country for one reason (i.e., the Camp David Accords) and, as a result, lost its ability to influence it. Iran views other countries in the region only in the military and defense-related perspective, without taking into consideration scientific, technological, economic, productive, and artistic aspects. The result is that the political power in the region is shifting to Saudi Arabia, while the economic and diplomatic power is shifting to Turkey.
Sariolghalam went on to discuss the concept of self-reliance as it is reflected in the Iranian policy and what he referred to as Iran’s erroneous attitude towards the existing world order. He said that, while the past 25-30 years have seen the entire world, including China, India, Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, and Egypt, march in the direction of increased international cooperation, Iran is marching in the opposite direction of self-reliance. While this trend does encourage independent thought and technology, no person, institution, or commodity can earn their rightful status in the absence of international relations. Iran’s decision makers still think about the world in terms of the fight against imperialism, but the power in the world is already divided, and the GDP of Brazil, for example, is higher than that of Britain.
The Iranian model, based on self-reliance, is unwelcome in the Arab world, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Central Asian countries, since it makes economic management or scientific and technological development impossible. As a result, these countries adopt other models. In Egypt and Tunisia, and even among the Muslim Brotherhood, there are many who participate in international thought, speak foreign languages, have extensive international relationships, and share a similar moral and social outlook. Iran enjoys a historical status in the Muslim world and many among the Islamists consider the Islamic revolution to be a positive event in the context of history, which brought down the tyranny of the Shah. They are not sure, however, how they can learn from what is taking place in Iran. The most important question that they are asking themselves is why Iran is so hated across the globe, and why, in spite of its historical and philosophical power and its natural and human resources, it was unable to follow a course of action similar to that chosen by India. Even after two hundred years of colonialism, India was self-confidently willing to cooperate with all the countries in the world. It did not cut off its ties even with Britain, and has built extensive political, commercial, economic, and scientific relations with that country. The question that needs to be asked is why Iran’s relations with the rest of the world are unlike India’s relations, and whether this is the result of Iran’s weakness.
Dr. Sariolghalam said that even the Islamists in the Arab world no longer express an idealistic approach. The uprising citizens in the Arab world carried three important slogans: “welfare”, “freedom”, and “human dignity”. These slogans are not different from those carried in the past by left-wing movements that called for a struggle against imperialism and for the establishment of a new world order. Their slogans were realistic rather than idealistic. This is what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and most Shi’ite politicians in Iraq hold similar views towards the developments in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.
The time for the idea of fighting the world order has passed. This can be seen in the example of the U.S.S.R., which had resources, capabilities, and military strength, yet still collapsed because it acted on ideas that went against human nature and global reality. The American hegemonic order no longer dominates the world. While the middle class in the United States and Europe is becoming weaker, the middle class in Asia and Latin America is growing stronger. Thirty-five countries and 1,450 companies cooperate in the production of the Airbus aircraft. The world has changed, and it is no longer based on a global struggle. This concept of fighting the existing world order is no longer accepted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, or Latin America. Brazil, which fought for 150 years to achieve a prominent status in the world, has finally reached its objective, and the Brazilians themselves admit that they owe their status to cooperation with the world’s countries. Twenty-two Brazilians became millionaires each day in 2010 thanks to cooperation with the rest of the world, and Brazil’s position is better than that of Italy and Spain.
Sariolghalam argued that the Iranian foreign policy has its source in anachronistic thought that is based on insufficient acquaintance with the world. The ideas expressed by Iranian diplomats abroad are recognized only in the corridors of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, not on the international scene. Most executives in Iran do not speak foreign languages and have no relations with the world. Instead of reading books, most of them read leaflets which, in the best-case scenario, contain a selection of translated excerpts from various books. Sariolghalam believes that an Iranian executive needs to read Samuel Huntington’s book from beginning to end, instead of just two paragraphs he had someone else summarize for him. He noted that the thought of politicians belonging to the first generation of Iran’s Islamic revolution was shaped during the Cold War and influenced by the reality of a bi-polar world and the philosophy of the anti-imperialist left wing. Now the world is different. It would be better for the research centers of the Foreign Ministry to bring together decent people who are far from politics to implement a new understanding of the world, and to allow Iranian diplomats to support new, more up-to-date thought. Today, even those who want to be religious must cooperate with the world.
Speaking about the Iranian approach which stresses the need for the establishment of relations with nations over the establishment of relations with governments, Dr. Sariolghalam argued that this approach is only good for speeches. In political science grounded in reality, significant cooperation requires the establishment of relations with centers of power. One can cooperate with Microsoft, a Chinese bank, or the South Korean maritime industry, but it cannot be argued that the priority is cooperation with “nations”. Who are those “nations”? Are these people who go out to the streets? People invited to conferences held in Tehran? Groups, factions, organizations, or centers?
If Iran wants to become part of the system that runs the world, it has to adopt a realistic approach. Sariolghalam cited the example of China. The leaders of that country also argue that their approach towards Europe and the United States is not positive, and they have also taken severe blows from the West. However, their concern is China’s interests, and they are not willing to settle their problems with the West from a historical perspective. They know that they need to learn from the rest of the world if they are to solve the problems of 1.5 billion Chinese. Iran, too, needs to learn how to cooperate with the world. The number of countries which an Afghan citizen can currently enter without a visa is bigger than the number of countries to which an Iranian citizen is free to travel, and it is hard to find anyone in the government of Afghanistan who has no knowledge of a foreign language.
Sariolghalam discussed the argument voiced in the Arab world about the existence of a “Shi’ite crescent” and Iran’s aspirations to take advantage of the developments in the Arab world to expand that crescent. He rejected that claim and said that the rivalry in the region is fundamentally political, even though at times it may be cloaked in religious garb. He said that the “Shi’ite crescent” argument is not serious. Iraq is not a monolithic Shi’ite country, and neither is Lebanon. For Iraq to be able to firmly establish its internal system, ensure security, and achieve political and economic stability, the Shi’ites in Iraq need to gain power in the Arab world, not in Iran. While the Shi’ites in the Arab world respect Iran as a Shi’ite country with religious centers and major Shi’ite clerics, in the political and economic sense they are looking at the world, and are closer to the Arab world. Certain groups in Lebanon and Iraq do cooperate with Iran; however, it is impossible to say that there is a single political belt stretching from Iran to southern Lebanon, and the argument about the existence of a “Shi’ite crescent” is mostly propaganda employed by Arab and Western countries interested in provoking a conflict between Iran and the Arabs.
According to Sariolghalam, Iran’s political attitude makes any significant improvement in its relationship with the countries of the region impossible. All the attempts made by top Iranian officials to ease the tension with Saudi Arabia over the issue of Bahrain have failed because the Saudis do not believe in the existence of a real possibility to reach an agreement with Iran, which considers many regional issues to be a leverage of deterrence against the United States, intended to prevent it from meddling in Iran’s internal affairs. Iran’s policy is not based on economic considerations, and its economic relations with its Arab neighbors are highly limited. Even Saudi Arabia, whose oil revenues far outweigh those of Iran, has reached the conclusion that it cannot act alone, and works to solidify its relations with Arab countries and with Turkey.
At the end of the interview, Sariolghalam spoke about Iran’s relations with the United States and the nuclear talks. He said that Iran is important for the United States due to the significance of political Islam and due to its proximity to Russia. He further added that in recent months the U.S. administration has changed its views on Iran because of the approach of the presidential election. The Obama administration seeks to portray the Iranian nuclear issue as being under the control and supervision of the United States, and not let its political opponents take advantage of the issue. The U.S. administration doesn’t want to see the nuclear issue escalate into a crisis, and it is Sariolghalam’s assessment that the negotiations atmosphere will last at least until the U.S. presidential election. He estimated, however, that the Moscow talks will lead to no significant developments, since it is in the interests of both Iran and the United States to continue the talks gradually and agree to mutual concessions in stages (Shargh, June 6).
Bread prices sharply increase for the third time since subsidy policy reform
In recent days, the price of bread in some of Iran’s provinces, including Tehran, has shown a sharp increase of nearly 30 percent. The deputy governor of Tehran Province for planning reported that the price increase was approved by the government in accordance with the recommendation of the agriculture and industry ministries and was due to the increase in the prices of imported wheat. He noted that another increase in bread prices will likely take place after the expected implementation of the second phase of the subsidy reform program (www.yjc.ir, June 10). This is the third time since the implementation of the subsidy reform plan began, about one year and a half ago, that there has been a sharp increase in the prices of bread. Economic commentator Mehdi Taqavi said this week that the 30 percent increase in bread prices reduces the buying power of laborer families by 15 percent (Asr-e Iran, June 11).
The sharp increase has drawn strong criticism from government critics in the Majles and the media. A number of Majles members asked the Majles presidency to call an urgent meeting with the participation of the economy minister to discuss the increase in the prices of bread. Nader Qazipour, who represents Orumiyeh in the Majles, accused the government of trying to have the poor and needy laborers pay the price of government ministers’ trips abroad to import wheat. He said that if the government gave local farmers the money it invests in importing wheat, most of the problems would be solved. The Majles member said that the price of local wheat has only increased by 6 percent, which is why there is no justification for a 30 percent increase in bread prices (ILNA, June 10).
Majles member Ali-Reza Mahjoub argued that the government has not met its obligation to increase the cash benefits paid to Iranians due to the increase in bread prices, and that this poses a threat to the nutrition of 15 million citizens. Bread is the main source of food for laborers, farmers, and the weaker sectors of society, Mahjoub said, and it’s not clear what gives top government officials the nerve to stay indifferent over the increase in bread prices. He wondered whether the government ministers know anything about hunger, and whether from now on the poor will need to eat stale bread or food thrown away by the rich (ILNA, June 10).
The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami also strongly criticized the government for the increase in bread prices, and wondered how it is that Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, the president’s first deputy, sees fit to proclaim that the economic situation of Iranians is good at a time when bread prices are rising. An editorial published by the daily said that the fundamental question is whether Rahimi is actually right, or if what is correct is the official data published in recent days by the Central Bank on the sharp price increases of basic commodities. Rahimi’s remarks may have been reasonable if the laborers’ salaries increased by a rate comparable to that of the price increases, but since there has been almost no increase in salaries, how can it be said that the economic situation of Iranians is good? Do top government officials know that many people have been unable to afford buying two pounds of meat for the past two months? Do they know that many economically weak households can’t afford to put chicken on the table? If they are aware of that, how can they claim that the economic situation is good? And if they are not aware of that, how it is that they still have their jobs, given that their main responsibility is to be aware of the economic situation of the citizens?
The daily noted that the prices of bread have gone up by 600 percent since the beginning of the subsidy policy reform. According to the Central Bank, the prices of other consumables have shown a significant increase as well. The government needs to know that the price increases negatively impact the nutrition of not only the weaker sectors of society. The inflation has even more dangerous and significant social and cultural consequences, including increased unemployment, growing divorce rates, spreading corruption, and a moral crisis. These are all the direct result of the price increases, and they pose a threat to the identity of the Islamic republic.
Those who argue that the price increases stem from the implementation of the necessary subsidy policy reform should know that the problem does not have to do with the fact of the reform’s implementation, but rather with its incorrect implementation. Furthermore, if the reform law does not coincide with the interests of the public, it needs to be reviewed and amended so that its negative consequences are removed.
The main problem, Jomhuri-ye Eslami concluded, is that the politicians are unaware of the situation of the weaker sectors of society and the serious gap between those involved in multi-billion-toman embezzlement scandals, bribe, and corruption, and those who go to bed hungry and look for food in the dumpsters to stay alive (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, June 11).
The power of rumor: hundreds of thousands of Iranians look at the moon in the hopes of seeing a Pepsi commercial
Last week hundreds of thousands of Iranians spent a non-trivial amount of time looking at the moon due to a rumor according to which Pepsi Cola would project its official logo on the moon using powerful laser beams. The rumor was spread on social networks and a number of websites at the same time as Iran’s media reported the transit of Venus across the sun, which took place on June 6.
On June 6, journalist and blogger Farvartish Rezvaniyeh wrote on his personal blog that he was amazed by the number of telephone calls and messages he had received in the past several days about the projection of the Pepsi logo on the moon. He said that some of the people who wrote to him believed him to be responsible for spreading the rumor, while others asked him to inform the public that it was just a rumor even if he was not involved in spreading it, because “people need to work”. The blogger stressed that he had nothing to do with spreading the rumor, noted that he didn’t understand how it is possible to see the logo of any particular company on the moon, and called on Iranians to stay home and move on with their lives (http://farvartish.wordpress.com, June 6).
On June 5 the issue was also reported on the ISNA website. The news agency reported that the logo would appear at 11:30 PM Iranian time, and could be seen from Iran and other places in the Middle East for 15 minutes. In addition to the report itself, ISNA cited the reactions of academia experts to the coming event.
Dr. Mohammad Karami, a lecturer on public relations and advertising at the Kermanshah University of Technology, said in an interview given to ISNA that this was an unprecedented event that ushered the world of advertising into a new phase, an advertising stunt intended to help Pepsi Cola in its commercial fight against Coca Cola. He estimated that the projection of the American company’s logo on the moon would have a considerable influence on the sales of its products, and said that, even before the actual event, Photoshop images showing the company logo on the moon had been posted on many websites. However, he had reservations about a commercial company making use of the moon for advertising, saying that in many cultures the moon is considered a symbol of beauty and peace, which is why it is inappropriate to use the moon, which belongs to all the people of Earth, for the needs of commercial companies. He expressed his concern that, in the future, technological advances will make it possible to fill the sky with the commercials of large companies (ISNA, June 5).
On June 6, the Entekhab news website reported with surprise that hundreds of thousands of Iranians believed the unfounded rumor and spent many hours looking at the moon and waiting for the projection of the Pepsi logo. The website reported that many people continued looking at the sky after 11:30 PM, with some even claiming that perhaps the logo would appear later due to the time difference between Iran and Western countries.
The website expressed astonishment at the number of Iranians who believed the rumor, saying that it is not the first time many Iranians have fallen for unfounded rumors. According to Entekhab, this shows how gullible Iranians are, and how likely they are to trust unfounded information, a tendency which has become even more pronounced with the advent of technology. The website called on the authorities to investigate who is responsible for spreading the false rumor (Entekhab, June 6).
On June 6 the initial report on the upcoming event was taken off the ISNA website. The news agency shortly replaced it with a new report about the massive effect produced by the rumor. Only two days after ISNA had interviewed a researcher who gave his commentary on the “event” that was to take place on the moon, the news agency interviewed two other researchers who said that it is a shame that many Iranians tend to believe unfounded rumors. The space science researcher Shahram Yazdanpanah expressed his regret over the fact that many people prefer to believe unscientific rumors and information they obtain through unofficial channels, such as text messages and emails. He noted that even intellectuals are not immune to this phenomenon, which, he said, stems from cultural reasons.
Dr. Mehdi Zare, the deputy chairman of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology in Tehran, said that it’s sad how, 999 years after the ground-breaking astronomical discoveries of the Iranian scientist Ibn Sina (Avicenna), so many Iranians believe such pseudoscientific rumors. He noted that it is scientific ignorance that provides the bedrock for belief in such rumors, and that any person with basic scientific understanding should have understood that it’s impossible to project the logo of any company on the moon (ISNA, June 7).
This is not the first time that moon-related rumors have stirred interest in Iran. In late November 1978, just before Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, came back to Iran after 14 years in exile, there were rumors in Iran that the face of the high-ranking cleric would appear on the moon. Many Iranians excitedly gathered on rooftops to observe the phenomenon. Even though the rumor was denied, many people still reported that they had, in fact, seen the image of the revolution leader on the moon.