Spotlight on Iran (Week of December 9-16, 2010)

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

After years of tensions and disagreements, Ahmadinejad dismisses Foreign Minister Mottaki

After years of tensions and disagreements, Ahmadinejad dismisses Foreign Minister Mottaki

Students demonstrate in Hamedan

Students demonstrate in Hamedan

A cartoon by

A cartoon by

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran


Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • After years of tensions and disagreements, Ahmadinejad dismisses Foreign Minister Mottaki

  • Guardian Council chairman voices unusual criticism of Iran’s president

  • Delay in implementation of subsidy policy reform continues as drop in inflation grinds to a halt

  • Students in city of Hamedan threaten to destroy Esther and Mordecai tomb if Israel damages Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • New wave of arrests against reformist journalists

  • Pictures of the week: Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

After years of tensions and disagreements, Ahmadinejad
dismisses Foreign Minister Mottaki

President Ahmadinejad announced this week that he was dismissing Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and appointing Ali-Akbar Salehi as acting foreign minister in his stead. Salehi has been the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization since July 2009. He formerly served as the Iranian representative to the IAEA and the president of Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology. Mottaki was on a visit to Senegal when the announcement was released.

After years of tensions and disagreements, Ahmadinejad dismisses Foreign Minister Mottaki

In recent years, Iranian media have occasionally reported strong disagreements between the president and the foreign minister. Already during the previous office term of Ahmadinejad’s government (2005-2009), there were several reports on the president’s intention to remove Mottaki from duty.

Tensions between the two peaked several months ago following Ahmadinejad’s decision to appoint some of his close associates as special envoys on Asian, Middle Eastern, Caspian Sea, and Afghanistan affairs. The decision was thought to express the president’s mistrust of the Mottaki-led Foreign Ministry and perceived as an attempt to limit his powers. Shortly after the appointments, Mottaki strongly criticized Hamid Baqa’i, one of the special envoys appointed by the president, for his remarks on the massacre of the Armenian people in World War I, which resulted in a crisis in Iranian-Turkish relations.

Mottaki’s removal from duty provoked strong reactions in Iran’s political system, with several Majles members criticizing the fact that the president had deemed it appropriate to dismiss the foreign minister at the time of the latter’s official trip to Africa. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, expressed astonishment over the president’s announcement, saying he had found out about Mottaki’s dismissal from the media. Another committee member Mohammad Karami-Rad criticized the manner in which the minister had been fired, saying it would have been more fitting if the president had consulted with his advisors prior to making a decision. He also had reservations over the president’s decision to dismiss the foreign minister in the middle of negotiations between Iran and the West on the Iranian nuclear program. Karami-Rad noted that even though Mottaki was not directly involved in the negotiations himself, the president should have chosen a different course of action (Khabar Online, December 13). Majles member Heshmatollah Falahatpishe also criticized the manner in which the minister had been dismissed, saying that the president’s decision to fire Mottaki during an official visit to Senegal was diplomatically unacceptable. He noted, however, that the minister’s removal from duty would have no effect on the negotiations with the West, since the Supreme National Security Council is the body responsible for conducting the talks (Fararu, December 13).

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the conservative daily Keyhan, also criticized the president over Mottaki’s dismissal. While the president does have the legal authority to fire the minister, said Shariatmadari in his editorial, there can be no justification for the president to dismiss a minister while on an official state visit in a foreign country. The manner in which Mottaki was fired is offensive and unjustifiable, particularly when one considers the recent achievements of Iran’s foreign policy on the regional and international scenes and in last week’s negotiations in Geneva. The editor-in-chief of Keyhan wondered what had happened in the last several days that made the president unable to wait patiently for several days or even several hours to dismiss the foreign minister (Keyhan, December 14).

Meanwhile, Iranian media began publishing various opinions on the possible candidates to replace Mottaki. The daily Tehran Emrouz reported that the top candidates to take over the Foreign Ministry were Sa’id Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council; Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, the president’s special advisor and one of his closest associates; Hassan Qashqavi, the former Foreign Ministry spokesman and current deputy foreign minister; and Ali-Akbar Salehi (Tehran Emrouz, December 14). Some media reported that if Salehi was permanently appointed as foreign minister, Mohammad Qanadi, the current deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization, could become its new leader. The appointment of a new foreign minister in Mottaki’s stead requires the approval of the Majles.

Guardian Council chairman voices unusual criticism of Iran’s president

Guardian Council chairman Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati voiced unusual criticism of the government last weekend over what he referred to as its incorrect policy in the appointment of top officials in Iran’s provinces.

During a Friday sermon given in Tehran, Jannati, a senior cleric who is considered one of the president’s staunchest supporters, said that several appointments recently made by the government were inappropriate. Jannati began his criticism by saying that he was not considered one of the government’s or the president’s opponents; that he was rather a supporter of the president and his policy. Nevertheless, he could not help pointing out several problem areas with the government’s functioning.

Speaking about the need to improve Iran’s public culture, Jannati said that an inexperienced young man had recently been appointed as governor of a major province (referring to the south Iranian province of Fars). "How can you appoint someone without any executive experience as governor of such an important region?” Jannati wondered. He claimed that the new governor had made some appointments that sparked strong criticism and that he had laid off dedicated, pious people who were unwilling to bow to his whim. According to Jannati, another inappropriate individual had received an important appointment in the free trade zone on the Persian Gulf coast and signed a real estate deal that ended up costing 400 million tomans (some 400 thousand dollars) of taxpayer money.

Addressing the president, the Guardian Council chairman said that while he appreciated the good work performed by Ahmadinejad, he expected the president’s actions to be appropriate and irreproachable (Mehr, December 11).

A commentary article published this week on Farda, a website affiliated with the pragmatic conservative bloc, said that Jannati was forced to make his criticism in public once he became exasperated with the president and realized that he could not influence his policy in any other way. It never occurred to President Ahmadinejad that one day, one of his greatest supporters would criticize the functioning of his government from the Friday prayer podium, the article said. According to Farda, Jannati preferred to use the occasion of the Friday sermon to criticize the government having exhausted all other available options to influence the functioning of the government.

The website reported that Jannati had already addressed his criticism of the government’s functioning not so long ago. In a speech given on the anniversary of the establishment of the Guardian Council, Jannati noted that he supported the government since the president had the support of the Supreme Leader and due to the president’s positions. He admitted, however, to having a lot of criticism, saying he preferred to voice it in private settings. According to Farda, the government’s functioning in recent months prompted even Jannati to voice his criticism in public, and his remarks reflect increasing criticism of the president from other top clerics who supported him in the past, including ultra-conservative cleric Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.

The website noted that the government must take note of the criticism made during the Friday prayers, which reflects the top clerics’ increasing concern over the government’s functioning. Yesterday’s government supporters have become today’s government critics, the article stated, and unless the government corrects its course, its critics may become its opponents and it could find itself in a severe crisis (Farda, December 12). 

Delay in implementation of subsidy policy reform
continues as drop in inflation grinds to a halt

Despite statements made by top Iranian officials about the coming implementation of the subsidy policy reform, uncertainty continues over the exact date of its implementation and the price increase that will likely follow. The deposition of cash benefits in private individuals’ bank accounts under the reform was completed last month; however, the government has yet to announce the realization of the reform’s major stage: cutting the subsidies on energy products.

Majles speaker Ali Larijani said at a press conference this week that the major part of the reform, which is expected to last several years, will take place during the next Iranian year (which starts on March 21, 2011). When asked by a journalist about the delays in the implementation of the reform, Larijani said that the Majles always believed that the reform should be implemented in a gradual fashion over five years. What the government did so far was to lay the groundwork for the reform’s implementation; however, in light of the fact that there are only three months left until the end of the year, the major part of the reform would only be implemented next year. Larijani, who stressed the support of the Majles of the reform’s implementation, also questioned the ability to achieve the objective set by the government for the implementation of the reform: increasing state revenues by 20 billion dollars already during the current year (Donya-ye Eqtesad, December 12).

Meanwhile, Mohammad Bahmani, the governor of Iran’s Central Bank, announced last week that the "psychological consequences” of the public’s anticipation for a price increase following the implementation of the subsidy policy reform was the root cause of the increase in the inflation rate, which started rising again recently. The Central Bank announced last week that the inflation rate had increased to 9.7 percent last month (October 23 – November 22). The inflation rate increase is a trend that has been continuing for the past several months: it rose from 8.8 percent in the month of Mordad (July 23 – August 22) to 8.9 percent in Shahrivar (August 23 – September 22) and 9.2 percent in Mehr (September 23 – October 22). The figures indicate that the decrease in inflation rate that took place in the first five months of the current Iranian year (March 21 – August 22) has come to a stop. The governor of the Central Bank noted that the government and the bank did everything they could to keep the inflation rate in the single digits, at least until the start of the subsidy reform implementation, which is expected to trigger yet another increase in inflation (Donya-ye Eqtesad, December 6).

The economic daily Donya-ye Eqtesad ("World of Economy”) rejected this week the reasons given by the Central Bank governor and the minister of economy for the resumed increase in inflation rate in recent months. While the governor of the Central Bank attributed the price increase, as already mentioned, to the psychological effects of the coming subsidy policy reform, the economy minister said it had to do with the increase of oil prices and the beginning of Iran’s school year. In an editorial published by the daily, its author, Mehran Dabir Sepehri, claimed that it was the policy of the Central Bank, which resulted in a dramatic increase in liquidity over the past two years, that is to blame for the resumed increase in inflation. According to Dabir Sepehri, the capital value in Iran’s economy increased from 170 billion dollars two years ago to 235 billion dollars last year (March 2009 – March 2010), and will likely increase further in the current year. The effects of the Central Bank’s policy, which led to the dramatic increase, are widely felt even now, and will continue to drive price increases in the coming months, in his assessment (Donya-ye Eqtesad, December 11).

The reformist daily Mardom Salari also addressed the resumed increase in inflation rate. An editorial published by the daily says that the authorities must pay particular attention to the inflation issue in light of the subsidy cuts, which, as experts believe, may lead to a 30 to 50 percent inflation. Despite the measures taken by the reform planners to maintain price stability, it cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy how the reform will affect the market situation. The authorities must make sure that the overall price increase of various products will not exceed the increase in the price of energy products once they are no longer subsidized (Mardom Salari, December 13).

Students in city of Hamedan threaten to destroy Esther and
Mordecai tomb if Israel damages Al-Aqsa Mosque

This week, Basij students from Bu Ali Sina University held a protest rally against Israel’s alleged intention to damage the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

A memorandum of opinion published by the students last weekend said that after years during which the "Zionist regime” had been occupying Muslim land and slaughtering the Muslim people, the Zionists intend to damage the holy sites of Islam and destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. And even as Israel intends to destroy the mosque, the memorandum says, no Muslim Iranian damages the tomb of Esther and Mordecai, who, according to the students, were responsible for slaughtering 77 thousand Iranians in a single day. The students warned that if the Al-Aqsa Mosque was damaged in any way, they would destroy "the tomb of the two murderers [i.e., Esther and Mordecai]” (Fars, December 11).

During the demonstration, held Sunday in front of the Esther and Mordecai tomb in Hamedan, the students demanded its status as pilgrimage site be revoked and that it be taken off the list of Iran’s national heritage sites. The demonstrating students warned that if the authorities did not address their demands within a week, they would hold a larger demonstration next week, attended by students, religion students, clerics, and other civilians. It should be noted that Iran declared the tomb as a national heritage site. The students carried religious posters and chanted anti-Israeli slogans, such as "Destruction of Al-Aqsa=Destruction of Esther and Mordecai”, "Israel must be wiped from the map”, "77 thousand Iranians slaughtered—for what?” and so forth.

Students demonstrate in Hamedan
Students demonstrate in Hamedan. The text on the Israeli flag

reads: "The holocaust of 77,000 Iranians”.

Some students wore shrouds and expressed their willingness to destroy the Jewish holy site in response to "the Zionists’ threat to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque”. One of the demonstrators even attempted to spray paint over the "Pilgrimage Site” sign at the tomb’s entrance, but was prevented from doing so by the police. Another demonstrator demanded that instead of being managed by Jews, the site should be transferred to the control of the Islamic Endowments Department (awqaf) of the Cultural Heritage Organization. At the end of the demonstration, the demonstrators burned the Israeli flag (Fars, December 12).

New wave of arrests against reformist journalists

Seven reformist journalists were arrested in Iran over the past week. Earlier this week, internal security forces raided the residence of Reyhaneh Tabataba’i, a journalist working for the reformist daily Sharq, and arrested her.

Last week, security forces raided the Sharq headquarters and arrested editor-in-chief Ahmad Gholami; international news editor Farzaneh Rousta’i; political affairs editor Keyvan Mehregan; and Ali Khodabakhsh, one of the owners of the daily. Amir Hadi Anvari, the editor of the daily’s economy supplement, was arrested shortly afterwards. Also arrested last week was Mehran Faraji, a journalist writing on social affairs, who previously worked for the reformist newspapers Hamshahri, E’temad-e Melli, and Kargozaran. Faraji was a member of E’temad-e Melli, the party of Mehdi Karoubi, one of the reformist opposition leaders (Jaras, December 12).

Also this week, a Tehran court sentenced prominent journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin to 16 months of imprisonment on charges of offending the president. Shamsolvaezin, spokesman of the Committee for the Defense of Freedom of the Press and vice president of the Association of Iranian Journalists, was accused, among other things, of calling President Ahmadinejad a "megalomaniac” in an interview given to the Al-Arabiyya network.

A cartoon by
"Who says we don’t have complete freedom?” A cartoon by
Nikahang Kowsar, Rooz Online, September 16, 2010

Tehran’s Prosecutor General Abbas Ja’fari Dowlatabadi said that the Sharq journalists had been arrested for security-related crimes. The daily Sharq resumed its activity in March 2010, having been shut down by the authorities in February 2004, September 2006, and August 2007.

Following the wave of arrests, the international organization Reporters Without Borders released a statement last week condemning the journalists’ arrests. The statement said that Iran was taking advantage of the resumption of the nuclear talks with the West and the silence of the international community to step up the oppression of its journalists and media. The organization also condemned last week’s re-arrest of journalist and human rights activist Emadeddin Baqi.

This past year, over one hundred journalists have been arrested and imprisoned and some 20 newspapers were shut down in Iran. There are currently about 35 journalists serving time in Iranian prisons. They are charged with such offenses as sedition, incitement, contacting hostile elements, violating public order, compromising national security, propaganda against the Islamic republic, giving false information, and offending the Supreme Leader or the president. Reporters Without Borders currently ranks Iran 175th globally in the freedom of press index, ahead of only three countries: Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

This week, Reporters Without Borders gave the 2010 Freedom of Press award to reformist journalist Abdolreza Tajik, held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since June 2010, having been arrested for the third time in a year. Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi received the award on his behalf. In her speech, Ebadi said that Tajik was a symbol of resistance in Iran and that his only crime was writing the truth.

Pictures of the week: Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran

Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan given a warm welcome in Iran