Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Debate on Iran’s birth policy heats up again
Weight loss challenge
Highlights of the week
Between Iran and Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan coup through Iranian eyes
The coup in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, in which masses of demonstrators managed to topple the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and force him out of his country, drew considerable interest in Iran as well. While supporters of the reformist opposition emphasized the success of the popular protest and even compared the protest movement in Kyrgyzstan to that in Iran, government supporters focused on the negative impact of the developments on the world status of the US.
Following the developments in Kyrgyzstan, several Iranian bloggers associated with the reformist opposition expressed envy over the success of the protest movement in that country and frustration over the failure of the Green Movement to bring about a political change in Iran as well.
The following was published in a blog associated with the reformist opposition, under the title of "The story of Kyrgyzstan and the Green Movement”: "It is said that a group of people came to the river bank and stood there. One of them said that the current was too fast, and backed down. Another said, ‘We must wait patiently until the water is calmer’. A third man suggested building a bridge, and another spoke of unity and said that if everybody held hands, there was nothing the river could do to harm them. Yet another said that the water was cold, which could cause illness, and another called to stand up bravely to the current. By then the current grew even stronger. Suddenly, someone came from the road, rolled up his pants, and crossed the river. He did not even look at the surprised faces of those who still stood on the other bank of the river”
(http://greenmanifesto.wordpress.com/2010/04/08 /حکايت-قرقيزستان-و-جنبش-سبز/ ).
A commentary published on the Akhbar-e Rooz website under the title "They did it; so can we” addressed the developments in Kyrgyzstan and the lessons that the Iranian opposition had to learn from them. If the people of Kyrgyzstan had embraced the view of the reformist opposition in Iran, which called to avoid using violence, extremism, and taking revolutionary measures, according to the article, the president of Kyrgyzstan would still be sitting in his chair, the situation was the same, and the government would still be oppressing the opposition leaders. However, in Kyrgyzstan there was a leadership determined to put an end to tyranny and was even willing to use violence for several hours. The author of the article pointed out that he did not intend to encourage the use of violence or taking up an armed struggle; however, the avoidance of various means, which are necessary in any political struggle, was serving the oppressive government. The illusion of reform in a regime incapable of change, a passive outlook erroneously referred to as "peaceful struggle”, and denying the people’s right to defend themselves from violent oppression by the government all constitute a mistake which led Iran’s Green Movement to a dead end and impeded it. The events in Kyrgyzstan are important for the people of Iran, and they must follow them closely since they indicate that, contrary to what reformists say, write, or do, there are other ways to fight tyranny. Those events should also be a lesson for the government of Iran, which must realize that the people of Iran will not follow the reformist policy forever or continue to be afraid of the government’s fire power. The government will not be able to fight the people’s desire to establish a democracy, but it can decide whether the change will be brought about in peaceful means or through the use of violence (Akhbar-e Rooz, April 8).
Another Iranian blogger also addressed the lessons which the Iranian opposition must learn from the events in Kyrgyzstan. The blogger wrote that after he watched the developments in Kyrgyzstan, he came to the conclusion that one of the mistakes made by the Green Movement in Iran was that no attempt was made to take over the IRIB (Iran’s Broadcasting Authority) building during the riots which had broken out in the country following the presidential elections. If just ten thousand people had headed to the building, they could have taken control of it, broadcast an announcement by opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and topple the government. One of the major problems of the Iranian opposition, according to the author of the article, is that citizens in smaller cities across Iran were unaware of the situation in Tehran in the first days after the outbreak of the riots, since they were only following the reports published in official media (http://tunel-sabz.blogsky.com/1389/01/19/post-5, April 8).
Government supporters, on the other hand, focused on how the developments in Kyrgyzstan could affect the status of the US and the American foreign policy. The conservative daily Keyhan reported on the developments in Kyrgyzstan and defined the ousting of Bakiyev’s pro-Western government as another blow to the US. According to the daily, Kyrgyzstan played a major part in the American foreign policy as it was home to Manas, the large American military airbase used by US troops on their way to nearby Afghanistan. The daily noted that the ousting of the government in Kyrgyzstan was another blow to the US and to the West, only two months after the defeat of the pro-Western government in the general elections held in the Ukraine last January. The daily argues that the developments in those two countries thwarted the US plans to stage additional velvet coups in Central Asia. While the US was able to deceive public opinion in the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and lead two velvet coups in those countries through its proxies, the people of those countries shortly realized that they had been deceived by the West and toppled their governments. Keyhan says that the US attempted to stage a "green coup” in Iran as well; however, the American plot was thwarted thanks to the wisdom of the Supreme Leader and the people of Iran (Keyhan, April 10). The daily also addressed the reports on "anti-revolutionary” media on the events in Kyrgyzstan and attempts to draw parallels between them and the situation in Iran, saying that even opposition supporters who discussed the issue said that there was no room for comparison between the two countries (Keyhan, April 10).
An interesting point of view appeared in reports published in news websites associated with government critics from the conservative bloc on the developments in Kyrgyzstan. Alef and Asr-e Iran, two websites associated with the conservative pragmatic bloc, reported the developments in the former Soviet republic under the title: "Kyrgyzstan government overthrown as a result of electricity price increase”. The websites noted that, according to commentators, the main reason for the public protest which eventually toppled the government was the dramatic increase in gas and electricity prices in the country (Asr-e Iran, April 8; Alef, April 9). It appears that the websites sought to issue a warning over the possible political repercussions of a dramatic increase in the prices of gas and electricity in Iran as well, owing to the imprudent implementation of the coming reform in the government subsidy policy. It should be noted that the political conflict between the government and the Majles over the implementation of the reform has escalated in recent weeks.
"Children are a blessing”? Debate on Iran’s birth policy heats up again
The debate on Iran’s current birth policy has reemerged this week after President Ahmadinejad said that he did not agree that two children per family were enough. In an interview granted by Ahmadinejad last week to Iranian TV, the president said that the birth planning policy based on the principle of two children per family was a mistaken policy which originated in the West, and that even the West now regretted that policy and invests considerable resources to preserve Western identity and culture faced with the sharp decrease in population as a result of the implementation of that policy (various news agencies, April 13).
The president’s statement was echoed by Welfare Minister Sadeq Mahsouli, who said that Iran could accommodate a population larger than that allowed for under the policy of two children per family. He noted that the birth planning program had to be reevaluated in light of the threats and opportunities facing the country, and that the current family planning programs no longer had to be maintained (ISNA, April 15).
The president’s statement was strongly criticized by his political opponents. Anoushirvan Mohseni-Bandpey, a member of the Majles health committee, said that the committee opposed the proposal to increase the population of Iran. He noted that the World Health Organization, UNESCO, and the World Bank all encouraged world countries to follow a birth policy which would make it possible to provide a reasonable level of welfare to the population. He noted that due to a shortage of means, Iran was already having problems providing the education, welfare, and infrastructure needs to a population of about 70 million; accordingly, any population increase under the current conditions was not a good idea and did not reflect expert opinion.
Mohammad Gharavi, a member of the lecturers’ union in the religious seminary in the city of Qom, also had reservations about the president’s announcement. He said that in light of the unsatisfactory state of the economy, education, and health in the country, there was no choice but to continue controlling population growth. He noted that, contrary to the president’s statement, following a birth planning policy did not mean embracing a Western concept but simply considering the current conditions in Iran.
Mohammad Taqi-Rahbar, the head of the clerics’ faction in the Majles, also expressed his opposition to the idea of increasing the population, saying that the country first had to make sure that it was capable of providing employment to its young people. Under current conditions and in light of the challenges and problems facing Iran in the sphere of employment for the younger generation, population increase was dangerous (Mardom Salari, April 17). Gholam-Reza Mesbahi-Moqaddam, a member of the Majles economy committee, said that setting birth planning strategies was not part of the president’s authorities but rather the authority of the Supreme Leader. He noted that many of Iran’s youngsters could not get married due to economic problems, many other youngsters were unemployed and families with many children were not able to cover their expenses, and that it was therefore improper to offer a plan for population increase at such a time (Mehr, April 17).
It is not the first time that President Ahmadinejad expresses his reservations over the current birth policy of Iran. Already in October 2006, Ahmadinejad declared that he was opposed to the idea that two children were enough, saying that Iran was a country with tremendous potential, making it possible to increase the population to 120 million. At that time, the president’s statement also heated up the public debate on birth policy. In response to his statements, the president’s critics claimed that encouraging birth would harm national economic and social interests, and that even under current circumstances Iran was unable to provide proper services to its citizens, let alone to an even greater population.
Following the Islamic revolution (1979) the family planning program was suspended. The program was officially instated in Iran in the summer of 1967 to reduce the population’s natural growth. Shortly after the revolution, its leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, did rule that there was no religious prohibition against using contraceptives; however, the executive council of family planning was disbanded, many of the family planning clinics were shut down or reduced, and the supply of contraceptives remained limited. After the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war (September 1980), Iran’s authorities started to portray population size as a main source of military power and national security. The regime’s policy of strengthening the status of the family by encouraging marriage and encouraging women to return to their homes led to a sharp increase in birth rate in the first half of the 1980s, to 3.9 percent a year.
The second half of the 1980s saw a growing recognition of the economic and social implications of uncontrolled population growth, which was perceived as a hindrance to economic growth and development. The increasing difficulty of the government to provide for the needs of the society and the economy in major cities led senior Iranian officials to realize the need for a clear-cut birth control policy. When the then prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi issued an instruction to examine the effects of high population growth, in September 1988 a national seminar was held in the city of Mashhad discussing, among other things, population growth. At the conclusion of the seminar, it was decided that a large population was a threat to economy and jeopardized the future of the country. It was also stressed that the family planning program had to be reinstated in order to limit the birth rate. In December 1989 a birth planning program was adopted, which was designed to limit the number of pregnancies and the number of children per family. The family planning law, which included revoking the financial incentives for families with many children while encouraging small families, was approved by the Majles in 1993. As part of the program, a public awareness campaign was launched on the media, and clinics and medical centers were created to provide family planning services. The authorities also encouraged the use of birth control methods, including castration and sterilization. Young couples were even required to undergo training in using contraceptives before receiving a marriage license. The reestablishment of the birth planning policy was a considerable success, and in 2001 the birth rate dropped to 1.2 percent. The regime’s efforts to limit birth since the late ’80s also included clerics, who emphasized that Islam did not prohibit the use of contraceptives, and that according to the traditions of the Prophet and some Quran verses the economic well-being of the Muslims was the top priority, and that it was therefore permissible to limit population growth under certain conditions.
Preparing for an earthquake: government offers benefits
to Iranians to relocate from Tehran
The government of Iran has approved this week a series of dispensations and benefits for government employees willing to relocate from the capital of Tehran. Those employees will be given a one-salary worth grant and their moving expenses will be paid for. In addition, the employees will receive convenient loans for purchasing an apartment and a car, and considerable discounts on health and sports services (Fars, April 18).
Meanwhile, a senior official in the president’s office said this week that the government intended to encourage 200 public service employees to relocate from Tehran with their families by increasing their salaries by 25 to 50 percent. The first deputy of the Iranian president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, also addressed the government’s plans to reduce the number of citizens in Tehran, saying that the government intended to move several government offices and government companies from Tehran to other places in Iran (Press TV, April 18).
The measures which the government intends to take to encourage Iranians to migrate from the capital of Tehran are part of comprehensive preparations for the possibility of a strong earthquake hitting the city. Last week President Ahmadinejad warned about the possibility of an earthquake taking place in Tehran, saying that at least five million residents of the capital had to leave in order to minimize the devastating effects of such an earthquake. He added that citizens willing to leave would receive considerable benefits from the government (various news agencies, April 11).
Several ministers in Ahmadinejad’s government also addressed the government’s plan to reduce the number of citizens residing in Tehran. Health Minister Marziyeh Vahid-Dastjerdi said this week at a convention of heads of medical universities that the government intended to prepare for taking students and study centers outside of the capital. She noted that it was very dangerous for students to stay in the dormitories of Tehran’s universities in case of an earthquake. The minister further added that according to the president’s plan, hospitals should be built in areas not prone to earthquakes and ambulances should be deployed in order to provide swift assistance to civilians in case of an earthquake (Fars, April 16). Science Minister Kamran Daneshjou also addressed that issue, noting that his ministry had drawn up a plan to reduce the population of Tehran, including incentives for university lecturers to teach in cities other than Tehran (Mehr, April 10).
Government critics have expressed reservations about the preparations for a possible earthquake in Tehran. Majles member Hashmatollah Falahat-Pisheh claimed that the president’s statements on moving population outside of Tehran were just slogans and did not reflect a strategy for solving the problem. In an interview to the Aftab News Agency, Falahat-Pisheh said that the government had to look into plans for relocating population from Tehran in a professional manner and only then to give its view on the issue (Aftab, April 19).
The reformist daily Bahar, which was shut down this week on orders of the Press Monitoring Committee in the Islamic Guidance Ministry, also criticized Ahmadinejad’s statements on the possibility of an earthquake in Tehran, noting that instead of causing panic among the citizens, the president had to establish an emergency headquarters and prevent construction in earthquake-prone areas. An expert interviewed by the newspaper said that the government had better invest in improving the infrastructure in Tehran instead of promising various benefits to citizens who are willing to leave the city (Bahar, April 17).
Reformist circles have even brought up the claim that the government plans to relocate universities and students from Tehran was actually designed to move students away from the capital seeing as they are a major source of power for the reformist opposition.
The Iranian media has also extensively discussed this week the government’s preparations for an earthquake, and also the question why the president deemed it appropriate to talk about the possibility of an earthquake right now. Several news websites reported that the president’s warning was given after he was warned by one of the senior clerics in Tehran that a powerful earthquake would soon hit the city (Jahan News, April 17). Hojjatoleslam Kazem Sediqi, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, also addressed that issue in the sermon he gave last weekend, saying that the increase of moral corruption in the society, which was also reflected in women not wearing veils, was one of the major reasons which could cause an earthquake. He called on civilians to pray and to follow the Islamic code in order to prevent an earthquake (various news agencies, April 16).
In recent years, a proposal to relocate the capital from Tehran to an alternative location has come up several times owing to the severe problems plaguing Tehran and its vulnerability to earthquakes due to its problematic geological situation. Last November, the Expediency Discernment Council even approved an in-principle plan to relocate the capital by 2025. After the December 2003 earthquake which hit the city of Bam and claimed more than 30,000 lives, more and more voices have been calling to relocate the capital from Tehran, claiming that a strong earthquake hitting the city could lead to the death of hundreds of thousands and the collapse of about 80 percent of the buildings in the capital.
"Weight loss challenge”: Iran’s most overweight teenager
Iranian media have published this week photographs of Mohsen Pour-Mohammadi. At 4’9” and 388 pounds, the 18-year old is currently considered the most overweight teenager in Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran’s health minister addressed this week the growing phenomenon of obesity in Iran, saying that 43 of Iranians are overweight. Dr. Marziyeh Vahid-Dastjerdi warned that obesity has become a severe problem in Iranian society, leading to an increase in cases of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. The minister called on the Iranian people—specifically those living in the cities—to change their lifestyle and to regularly devote at least 30 minutes a day to physical exercise (Daneshjou News Agency, April 9).