Spotlight on Iran (Week of April 22-29, 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

IRNA, April 26

IRNA, April 26

Stricter enforcement of Islamic dress code ahead of summer season

Stricter enforcement of Islamic dress code ahead of summer season

The press conference of the chairman of the Iranian privatization

The press conference of the chairman of the Iranian privatization

Pictures of the week

Pictures of the week

President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe and Uganda

President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe and Uganda


Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • Tensions escalate once again between UAE and Iran after UAE foreign minister compared "Iranian occupation” to "Israeli occupation”

  • Stricter enforcement of Islamic dress code ahead of summer season

  • Privatization difficulties: delays in initial public offerings of Iran’s two automobile giants

  • Speak Persian, you’re in Persia: use of foreign words banned in Iranian movie names

  • Pictures of the week: President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe and Uganda

Tensions escalate once again between UAE and Iran after UAE foreign minister compared "Iranian occupation” to "Israeli occupation”

Political tensions between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reached new levels this week following a statement made last week by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE foreign minister, comparing the Iranian occupation of the three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb) to the Israeli occupation in the PA-administered territories. Unsurprisingly, the foreign minister’s announcement provoked strong reactions in Iran, and the UAE d’affaires was called to a disciplinary meeting in the Tehran Foreign Ministry (various news agencies, April 27).

Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the UAE foreign minister’s announcement was unfortunate and baseless. He noted that the three islands have always belonged and will always belong to Iran, and that such statements were not conducive to a peaceful resolution of the misunderstandings between the two countries, saying they could only be sorted out through dialogue. According to Mehmanparast, the rulers of the UAE must avoid making statements that may distract world and Muslim public opinion from the crimes committed by the "Zionist regime” in the occupied territories, and such statements work to Israel’s advantage (IRNA, April 21).

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in response to the UAE foreign minister’s statements that the latter spoke with the voice of Britain. He noted that Britain and the US always sought to sow conflict in the region, and that it was the pressure they exerted on Arab countries that caused some of those countries to make similar statements. Ever since the Islamic revolution, said Boroujerdi, the US and Britain tried to create fear of Iran among Arab countries in order to compromise their relations and persuade them to purchase Western weapons (Mehr, April 26).

Majles member Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh also strongly criticized the statement made by the UAE foreign minister. In an interview to IRNA news agency, the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member said that the three islands were an inseparable part of Iran’s territory, and that no force would ever be able to separate them from it. He noted that according to all historical documents the islands belonged to Iran, and that the statements of the UAE foreign minister were detrimental to the security of the Persian Gulf, serving the interests of Israel and the US. He also accused the UAE authorities of turning their country into a military base for foreign forces in the Persian Gulf (IRNA, April 26).

IRNA, April 26

Iran’s press also reacted strongly to the statements made by Foreign Minister Al Nahyan. Two editorials published on Asr-e Iran, a website affiliated with the pragmatic conservative camp, claimed that while Gaza Strip residents endured Israeli air strikes during Operation Cast Lead, Arab sheikhs held secret meetings to look for ways to prevent assistance to the Palestinians. The website warned the rulers of the UAE that Iran might use military strength against anyone threatening its territorial integrity. Iran is not interested in war, the website says, and is not interested in conflict with its neighbors; however, it will defend itself against anyone seeking to appropriate its territory. The website says that UAE rulers better pay attention to the stability, economy, and territorial integrity of their own country instead of entertaining notions of territorial expansion. The UAE foreign minister was referred to by the website as a "crude youth” who does not understand how international relations work. According to the website, the foreign minister should remember that he must not have too much faith in the US and Britain, which only support his country out of oil-related interests. UAE senior officials are incorrect in assuming that their relationship with the US is a "catholic marriage”, forgetting how the US had abandoned its allies in the region, including Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. They are delusional, their actions therefore contradicting the geographical and political limitations of their country. The foreign minister must remember that one day, America and Britain will abandon his country and he will be helpless against Iran, which will never forget the considerable economic assistance extended by the UAE to Iraq during its war against Iran. He must therefore promptly apologize to the Iranian people (Asr-e Iran, April 26).

The conservative daily Keyhan reacted just as strongly to the statements of the UAE foreign minister. In an editorial published by the daily last weekend (April 22), Keyhan extensively covered the historical evidence allegedly proving that the three disputed islands belonged to Iran. According to the daily, the statement made by the foreign minister is proof that the Arab sheikhs of the Persian Gulf are unable to tell friend from enemy. Instead of condemning the new schemes of Israel, which plans to deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, the UAE foreign minister once again brings up unfounded claims regarding Iran’s sovereignty in the three Persian Gulf islands. In recent months, according to the daily, countries in the region have become increasingly concerned over Iran’s impressive achievements in various spheres, including intelligence (such as the arrest of Jondollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi), military (such as the long-range missile test), diplomacy (the failure of the US and its allies to secure the support of the international community for sanctions against Iran and the meeting of the nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran), and politics (the successful handling of the riots which broke out after the presidential elections and the strengthening of Iran’s regional and international status). However, Iran poses no threat to any Arab country, going as far as to announce its willingness to put its technological capabilities at the disposal of the Muslim world. The statements made by the UAE foreign minister therefore do not reflect a concern over Iran’s power, but rather a concern over the possibility of his countrymen rising up against their rulers.

It should be mentioned that the tension between Iran and the UAE over the latter’s territorial demands on the three disputed Persian Gulf islands goes back many years. Situated in the Strait of Hormuz, the islands were occupied by Iran in 1971 and have been a bone of contention between the two countries ever since.

Stricter enforcement of Islamic dress code ahead of summer season

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar has said this week that, this summer, the authorities intended to implement the Islamic dress code enforcement program in the country. This year, he said, the program will apply to men as well. Speaking at a convention of department directors of women’s affairs in Iran’s provinces, Najjar related that the Interior Ministry had created six teams to monitor the implementation, and that the program would first be put in effect in government organizations and ministries. Najjar noted that there were many ways to enforce the "veil culture”, including encouragement and instruction of young couples, a social and cultural campaign, and a war with the assistance of internal security forces on "gangs” which spread corruption in Iranian society. He further added that young clerics would also take part in the implementation of the program (various news agencies, April 25).

The "head cover and veil program” was approved as early as in 2005 by the High Council of the Cultural Revolution; however, it has yet to be fully implemented. The program assigned areas of responsibility to the various official institutions, including Iran Broadcasting, schools, and universities, to spread the "culture of the veil” in Iranian society.

Interior Minister Najjar’s statement was made on the backdrop of increasing criticism made in recent weeks by senior clerics and politicians of women’s failure to comply with the Islamic dress code of Iran, requiring them to wear veils. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, has voiced criticism over that issue this week, saying that women’s non-compliance with the Islamic dress code was one of the main reasons why corruption spread in Iranian society. He noted that the veil issue was no less important than the subsidy policy reform. The lack of adherence to the Islamic dress code reflected the "soft war” waged by Iran’s enemies, and it is the religious duty of the state authorities to implement a policy that would curb the spread of the phenomenon (ISNA, April 24). Science Minister Kamran Daneshjou has also claimed this week that compliance with Islamic dress code among university students was unsatisfactory, saying that his ministry had drawn up a plan to improve the situation (Tabnak, April 24).

Meanwhile, the ultra-conservative group Ansar Hezbollah has released an announcement this week calling on all state authorities to take strong action to impose the Islamic dress code. The announcement says that the enemies of Islam and the revolution take advantage of any opportunity to attack Islam and the Islamic regime, to compromise the principles of faith, and to spread corruption in Iranian society. According to the group, even after Ahmadinejad’s government came to power, no steps were taken to implement the national Islamic dress code enforcement program approved by the Supreme Leader, while the phenomenon of not wearing veils has increased in recent years and led to such negative consequences as an increase in divorce rate (Jahan News, April 25).

Stricter enforcement of Islamic dress code ahead of summer season

The issue of Islamic dress code enforcement comes up every year when summer season begins. In previous years, the authorities also announced their intention to step up enforcement activities in public places during the summer months. The enforcement of Islamic dress code has increased considerably since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first entered office in 2004.

Privatization difficulties: delays in initial public offerings of Iran’s two automobile giants

Dr. Gholam-Reza Heidari Kord Zangeneh, the chairman of Iran’s Privatization Organization, has confirmed this week a delay in the public offerings of the two Iranian automobile giants, Iran Khodro and Saipa. Eighteen percent of the two companies’ shares were supposed to be offered to the public on the Tehran stock exchange this coming June as part of their privatization by the government. Zangeneh noted that the main reason for the delay in the public offering had to do with uncertainty over their international commitments. The senior official did not announce a new date for the stock offering, only saying that it will be completed by the end of the current Iranian year (March 2011). He rejected claims that the delay had to do with the industry minister’s objection to the privatization of the companies, or with the need to obtain security guarantees for potential buyers of the two companies.

At a press conference called by Zangeneh this week, the chairman of the privatization organization said that last year the shares of 107 government companies, the total worth of which amounted to about 18 million dollars, were offered to the public. He added that in the coming year, the shares of another 524 companies would be offered to the public, and that Iran was one of the world’s three leading nations in the number of companies privatized per year. During the press conference, Zangeneh also addressed the criticism made in recent months about the acquisition of shares of privatized companies by semi-government organizations, such as the Revolutionary Guards, saying that he also had reservations on that issue and that legislation must be changed to curb the phenomenon. He stressed, however, that last year 66 percent of the shares of private companies offered on the Tehran stock exchange were sold to the private sector (ISNA, April 26; Donya-ye Eqtesad, April 27).

The press conference of the chairman of the Iranian privatization
The press conference of the chairman of the Iranian privatization
organization, from the organization’s website

Meanwhile, criticism was heard once again this week about the delays in the implementation of the privatization policy set forth by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in 2006. An editorial published in Siyasat-e Rouz said that the privatization of many companies was delayed due to the resistance of some of their directors. The daily mentioned the national industry development company, the Mobarakeh Steel Company, ISESCO – the Persian Gulf shipbuilding company, the steel company in Khozestan, and the copper company in Karman as companies whose privatization was delayed due to that reason (Siyasat-e Rouz, April 26).

Mohammad Nabi Habibi, the chairman of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, also criticized the rate of the privatization policy implementation by the government, saying that the government had yet to make any achievement in the implementation of the process. According to Habibi, in recent years several measures were taken to promote the privatization of government companies and strengthen the private sector, but those measures failed to produce meaningful results so far. He noted that strengthening the private sector was one of the best ways to solve Iran’s economic problems (Mehr, April 26).

The issue was also criticized by Asgar Jalalian, a member of the Majles Energy Committee. Jalalian, a representative of Bushehr Province in the Majles, said that the privatization of the healthcare system serving petroleum workers in southern Iran was not progressing as quickly as it should (IRNA, April 26). The privatization of Iran’s government companies in recent years takes place in accordance with an amendment in clause 44 of the constitution, aiming to allow the privatization of state-owned property under a decree issued by the Supreme Leader in July 2006 regarding the privatization of 80 percent of government companies.

Speak Persian, you’re in Persia: use of foreign words banned in Iranian movie names

Iran’s government has recently decided to ban the use of foreign words in commercials and on billboards. A letter sent this week by the Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance on Cinema to the ministry’s official in charge of monitoring and enforcement said that the use of foreign words in the names of Iranian movies would be banned as well as a result of the decision. The deputy minister stressed in his letter that the instruction also applied to movies currently in production (IRNA, April 24).

This joins a series of decisions made by the Iranian government in recent years to strengthen the Persian language in light of increasing concerns over its status. Iranian senior officials and intellectuals have expressed concern in recent years about the ongoing deterioration in the status of the Persian language as a result of accelerated Western penetration and the influence of IT.

In May 2007, Abdolhamid Riazi, the Deputy Telecommunications Minister on Information Technologies, said that the Internet and cellular telephones were the leading instruments of a "cultural oppression” by the West. He noted that the Persian language must be preserved and its usage had to be encouraged also in cellular telephones and on the Internet by adapting the information technologies on cellular telephone networks and in computers to the needs of the Persian language.

In June 2007, a group of intellectuals published a memorandum of opinion warning against the deteriorating status of the Persian alphabet in light of the increasing use of foreign languages in mobile telecommunications and in computers. They noted that for many years, the Persian alphabet was central for maintaining Iran’s national unity and identity, warning that the continuing deterioration in the status of the language was a threat to Persian culture and the Iranian nation. Shortly thereafter, Iran’s vice president issued a decree requiring all official bodies to stop using Persian in Latin letters ("Pinglish”) and use the Persian alphabet for text messaging. The decree ruled that sending text messages by various government bodies, including the broadcasting authority, to private users using the Latin alphabet "hurt Iranian culture and the Persian language”. Accordingly, organizations and government companies were required to send text messages only in Persian.

In September 2007, the Islamic Guidance Ministry announced its intention to ban the use of Latin letters on billboards in the city of Tehran. Ali Reza Karimi, the director of the Public Relations Division in the Islamic Guidance Ministry, announced that the ministry intended to establish a headquarters to monitor the use of Latin letters and "incorrect, meaningless names” on advertisements placed on businesses. Karimi noted that advertisement signs had to adhere to proper grammar corresponding with the Iranian Islamic culture. In addition, Karimi noted that his ministry also intended to ban the use of Latin letters on bags, shoes, and writing utensils for students.

The fight to encourage the use of Persian was also reflected in the Telecommunications Ministry’s early 2008 decision to increase the cost of text messages sent in Latin letters while reducing the cost of text messages sent in Persian letters.

Pictures of the week: President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe and Uganda

Pictures of the week

President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Zimbabwe and Uganda