Spotlight on Iran (Week of December 3-10, 2009)

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Spotlight on Iran

Students protest in Tehran

Students protest in Tehran

Raja News, December 7

Raja News, December 7

Rafsanjani breaks his silence

Rafsanjani breaks his silence

Tighter Islamic enforcement on Iran Broadcasting

Tighter Islamic enforcement on Iran Broadcasting

Pictures of the week

Pictures of the week

ski season opens in Tochal, northern Tehran

ski season opens in Tochal, northern Tehran


Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran

Highlights of the week

  • Iran marks Student Day as political crisis continues

  • Rafsanjani breaks his silence; complains about the lack of tolerance for criticism, calls for unity

  • Iran outraged over Swiss ban on minarets

  • Tighter Islamic enforcement on Iran Broadcasting: less music, women without make-up

  • Pictures of the week: ski season opens in Tochal, northern Tehran

Iran marks Student Day as political crisis continues

On December 7, Iran marked the annual Student Day amid heavy security presence around the universities. On that day in 1953, three students from Tehran University were killed in a protest rally held during the visit of then US Vice President Richard Nixon against the cooperation between the Shah’s regime and the US administration. In recent years, the Student Day events have become the scene of violent confrontations between protesting students and security forces.

Prior to Student Day, government supporters called upon the students to take advantage of the demonstrations to express anti-American and anti-imperialist views. In contrast, the reformist opposition called to use Student Day (similarly to Qods Day, marked in September, and the anniversary of the US embassy takeover, marked last month) to show the strength of the opposition, which has been continuously protesting since the presidential election.

Students protest in Tehran 
Students protest in Tehran (www.rahesabz.net, a website
of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s supporters, December 7)

In the weeks leading up to Student Day, dozens of student activists were either detained or summoned to questioning by the security forces. In addition, senior security forces officials warned that force would be used against those who would disturb public order during the day’s events. According to various reports, on the eve of and during Student Day the authorities imposed restrictions on the Internet and on cellular phones, as well as on foreign journalists working in Iran.

Despite the increased deployment of the security forces, several violent confrontations between protesting students and internal security forces broke out in several universities. News websites affiliated with the reformist opposition reported clashes between hundreds of students and security forces in the cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Esfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, and Kermanshah. In some universities the confrontations lasted through December 8. According to information released by the security forces, over 200 people were arrested during the confrontations. On the other hand, pro-government media reported that the Student Day rallies were attended by thousands of regime-supporting students, who chanted slogans in favor of the regime and the Supreme Leader and against the West and the leaders of the reformist opposition.

Raja News, December 7 
Regime-supporting students on Student Day demonstrations
(Raja News, December 7)

On the eve of Student Day, Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the leaders of the reformist opposition, published a special memorandum of opinion calling to continue the political struggle. The students are not a minority, writes Mousavi, but rather an active social group which has spearheaded the people’s struggle throughout the modern history of Iran. The desire for change will not be suppressed by threatening students or expelling them from universities. If the authorities paid attention to the students’ role as the symbol of tomorrow, they would not be facing such a major crisis.

Iranian society is now undergoing massive changes which cannot be denied in light of last months’ incidents, Mousavi added. Iran’s citizens have courageously demonstrated their desire to realize their rights and demands. Every window of opportunity opened by the people in recent months has been closed, but Iranians have continued finding new, non-violent solutions, without compromising their ideas. The Iranian people have patience to continue expressing their demands. The great nation of Iran will not tolerate election forgery, and it expects the Council of Guardians to convince it of the legitimacy of the elections. The authorities would like the people to forget the last election crisis, but the people’s problem does not lie with any one president but rather with the attempt to rob them of their greatness. If the Iranians’ demands regarding the election results are not met, Mousavi warned, the problem will no longer be confined to the issue of the elections. Even if the authorities are successful in silencing all the students, the reality of the entire Iranian society cannot be ignored (www.rahesabz.com, December 6).

Rafsanjani breaks his silence; complains about the lack
of tolerance for criticism, calls for unity

In a meeting with students held during his visit to the city of Mashhad, Rafsanjani complained that, under the prevailing circumstances in Iran, there is no tolerance for voicing different opinions and making constructive criticism. Referring to his long silence over the events in Iran, Rafsanjani said that he had, in fact, voiced his opinion on several occasions. He stressed, however, that he was against extremism from both sides and preferred the path of moderation. Rafsanjani noted that all parties must comply with the law, calling for the release of political prisoners and for the increase of the freedom of press. He said that Iranian media should allow free debate and the expression of different opinions. He claimed that Iranians now received reports on happenings inside Iran faster from foreign media than from Iranian media. Censorship is not effective in Iranian society, Rafsanjani said. If there existed free media and Iranians could be persuaded by the various views expressed on it, they will not have to take to the streets.

Rafsanjani breaks his silence 

Rafsanjani expressed his concern over the deepening differences of opinion in Iranian society, saying that the severe internal disagreements could not be concealed. He noted that the emergence of differences of opinion among the people must not be allowed, particularly between the educated segments of society, which shape public opinion, and the clerics, who have always served as a refuge for the civilians. Rafsanjani further said that the government had no right to make use of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij to act against students, lecturers, and workers.

Rafsanjani also addressed the allegations recently made by his political critics against his son, Mehdi, about his supposed involvement in economic corruption affairs. He said that Mehdi was currently abroad working on his Ph.D, and that he had no concerns about returning to Iran (referring to the demands to put him to trial). Rafsanjani stressed that no Iranian court had so far summoned his son for interrogation.

Later on, Rafsanjani also addressed Iran’s position on the international scene, saying that all the world powers on the Security Council collaborated against Iran in order to rob it of its natural right for peaceful nuclear energy. Under such circumstances, Rafsanjani said, the first priority is to safeguard Iran’s internal unity, because if Iran’s enemies sense that such unity is lacking, they would step up their activity against it. He noted that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was the only one capable of creating such a unity, and that he must be supported in creating an atmosphere of solidarity that would satisfy the needs of the people (ILNA; Emrouz, December 6; E’temad, December 7).

In recent months Rafsanjani has not attended the Friday prayers in Tehran University, which he used to lead until Iran’s last presidential elections. This year, for the first time, Rafsanjani did not lead the Qods Day Friday prayer in last September. At the same time, in recent months government-supporting conservative circles have stepped up their offensive against Rafsanjani, blaming him for the current political crisis and accusing him of cooperating with the reformist opposition against the regime.

Last September the Assembly of Experts, headed by Rafsanjani, convened for the first time since the presidential elections, after which it issued an announcement expressing its unreserved support for the Supreme Leader and his leadership in light of the political crisis in Iran. However, the announcement was published amid reports about strong internal disagreements between most assembly members and Rafsanjani (who did not even attend the assembly’s closing session) about the required strategy in light of the continuing political crisis. At the assembly’s beginning session, Rafsanjani addressed the crisis and stressed the need for maintaining the unity of the Iranian people, compliance with the law, and strengthening the connection between the various groups of the people. Rafsanjani also addressed the plan for solving the political crisis, saying that such a plan was under development, but it was not mentioned in the closing remarks of the assembly convention and, according to some assembly members, was not even discussed.

Iran outraged over Swiss ban on minarets

The Swiss referendum the week before last banning the construction of mosque minarets  in Switzerland provoked predictably outraged reactions in Iran. Last weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey to protest against the outcome of the referendum, warning Western countries about the consequences of their anti-Islamic actions. Mottaki told Calmy-Rey that the decision ran counter to Switzerland’s status as a country supposedly promoting democracy and human rights, and that it would compromise the image of Switzerland in Muslim public opinion as the pioneer of the struggle for human rights. He added that values such as tolerance, dialogue, and respect for religion must not be put to a referendum. Mottaki expressed his hope that the government of Switzerland would take the necessary measures and find the constitutional way to reverse the ban (various news agencies, December 5). 

Senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani also published a special memorandum of opinion strongly condemning the Swiss decision. The cleric writes that the Swiss decision reflects "the project of anti-Islamism and Islamophobia" and that it is offensive to religious sentiments. Not only does Switzerland’s decision violate the rights of hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in that country, it also hurts the religious feelings of over one billion Muslims worldwide. The senior cleric noted that the minaret ban did not serve the interests of the Swiss government, and called upon it to reconsider the decision (Rasa News, December 5).

Meanwhile, the Swiss ambassador in Tehran was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to hear of the Iranian government’s official protest. The chief of the Foreign Ministry’s West Europe department conveyed his strong criticism to the ambassador over the Swiss decision, saying he was concerned about the ongoing harm done to Islamic symbols in European countries. He noted that it would escalate the conflict between Islam and Christianity and serve the purpose of Europe’s far right. A similar protest was conveyed by Iran’s ambassador in Switzerland to senior Swiss Foreign Ministry officials (various news agencies, December 5).

Since the Islamic revolution, Iran has time and again expressed its deep commitment to Islamic solidarity and to its wall-to-wall support for Muslims worldwide. In many cases, however, that commitment did not stand the test of reality, especially when it posed a threat to Iranian official interests. For example, Iran avoided expressing support of or providing assistance to Chechen Muslims in their struggle against the Russian authorities in order not to jeopardize its strategic relations with Moscow. Several months ago, the silence of the Iranian authorities over the suppression of the riots of the Muslim minority in west China provoked strong internal criticism in Iran. At the time, conservative circles and senior clerics claimed that the authorities’ silence over the violent events in China was contrary to Iran’s obligation to protect the rights of Muslims worldwide, and was driven by political considerations having to do with Iranian-Chinese relations. Those elements claimed that Iran could not sit on its hands while Chinese Muslims were brutally suppressed, despite the close political and economic relations between the two countries.

Tighter Islamic enforcement on Iran Broadcasting: less music, women without make-up

Iran Broadcasting chief Ezatollah Zarghami made an announcement last week about new restrictions imposed on its programs: there will be less on-air music and women will not be permitted to wear make-up. In a speech given by Zarghami at a media convention, he said that the media was a major vehicle for dealing with the "soft war" waged by the West against Iran. He then proceeded to outline Iran Broadcasting’s strategy for the next five years, which includes changes in the policy of playing music on various shows, safeguarding women’s dignity, creating a "revolutionary atmosphere" on Iran Broadcasting, increasing public awareness of services provided by the regime, and strengthening family values.

According to Zarghami, Iran Broadcasting has to be sensitive with regard to playing music in its programs, carefully choose the music that is played, and make sure that the music does not contradict Islamic law and the values of the revolution. He also added that there was currently too much music on Iran Broadcasting, and that there should be less of it.

On another issue, the Iran Broadcasting chief said that women wearing make-up on TV was against the secular and religious law, and must be avoided. Preserving women’s dignity is a highly important issue, Zarghami said, and should be emphasized in TV programs. He added that separating men and women on Iran Broadcasting had to be upheld as strictly as possible and that it would be better for women to appear only on shows hosted by women (Fars, December 1). It should be noted that the Iranian authorities imposed severe restrictions on playing music following the Islamic revolution. Music in general and Western music in particular was considered to be morally corrupt, and showing musical instruments on the media was banned altogether. Over the years, senior clerics, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, ruled that showing musical instruments on the media was contradictory to the spirit of Islam and therefore forbidden. In April 1995, Khamenei ruled that music was incompatible with Islamic ideals, and that the study of music corrupted the youth. In May 2007, a Friday prayer leader in the city of Mashhad ruled that all institutions for teaching music in that city had to be closed down, saying he would not participate in any ceremony that would include music. Another cleric ruled that live music and dancing were forbidden in Islam, and that any place where live music is played on musical instruments was "the place of the devil" and must be avoided.

Thanks to the increasing cultural openness policy in the 1990s, some of the restrictions on music were lifted. Traditional and even classical Western music performances could be held in the big cities, and the Islamic Guidance Ministry even lifted the ban, dating back to the revolution, on importing Western musical instruments. In addition, for the first time concerts of classical Iranian music performed on traditional Iranian musical instruments were allowed to be played on the media.

In recent years, Iran’s authorities have once again reverted to their former, stricter policy on music. Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, the Islamic Guidance minister in Ahmadinejad’s first government, announced upon entering office that one of the first issues he intended to address was music styles contradicting the values of the Islamic republic, including rock and rap. He called on Iran’s musicians to create "meaningful music". At the same time, President Ahmadinejad called on Iran Broadcasting to avoid playing Western music, while restrictions on concerts were tightened up. Despite the restrictions, playing music on the media has not been banned, yet the ban on showing musical instruments is being enforced once again. Iranian TV, however, found a creative solution for the ban: players performing on TV shows are put behind screens, making it possible to play music without showing the musical instruments.

Tighter Islamic enforcement on Iran Broadcasting 

Pictures of the week: ski season opens in Tochal, northern Tehran

Pictures of the week

ski season opens in Tochal, northern Tehran