Spotlight on Iran
President Ahmadinejad’s trip to Africa and Latin America
Cartoon drawn by Firoozeh Mozaffari
The advertisement published in Hamshahri
From: Khabar Online, November 21
Iran launched an air defense exercise to protect its nuclear plants
Highlights of the week
President Ahmadinejad’s trip to Africa and Latin America:
a political achievement or a waste of government funds?
President Ahmadinejad’s official trip to Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Senegal, and Gambia drew mixed reactions from the Iranian press last week. While pro-government conservative newspapers expressed their support of the president’s trip, the government’s critics had some reservations about the visits as well as the size of the president’s entourage.
In an editorial published last week, the conservative daily Resalat stressed the importance of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil given that country’s global economic significance, indicating the considerable potential in fostering economic and trade relations between Iran and Brazil due to the impressive economic growth in both countries. Ahmadinejad’s trip to Brazil, the article says, is a reflection of Iran’s offensive foreign policy and its struggle against Western hegemony. The diplomacy of resistance and the offensive foreign policy are some of the most important achievements of the current government, and one of the best ways to secure Iran’s national interests. The history of Latin America is replete with struggles against imperialism, and Iran must make the most of the potential which exists in Latin American countries in order to put an end to the current unipolar world order, based on Western hegemony (Resalat, November 24).
The conservative daily Qods was also in favor of Ahmadinejad’s trip to Latin America, defining the strengthening of Iranian-Latin American relations as one of Iran’s positive achievements in recent years. Those relations are cause for concern in the US, Israel, and Western countries, which fear Iran’s growing influence in that region, but that concern is not enough to hinder the relations nurtured by Iran with Latin American countries in recent years (Qods, November 23).
Those media affiliated with the president’s critics took a different approach to his trip to Africa and Latin America. According to an article published last week in the reformist daily E’temad (November 24), the president’s intention to bring about a change in the existing world order by increasing Iran’s cooperation with Africa and Latin America was impractical. Out of the countries visited by the president, the only one with economic significance is Brazil. The other countries on the president’s trip are too poor and weak to bring about a change in the world order, while the president’s unrealistic and impossible views cause nothing but heavy expenses for Iranians.
Hashmatollah Falahat-Pisha, a member of the Majles Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, also addressed the president’s trip. In an interview granted to Farda, a website affiliated with the pragmatic conservative bloc, he said that Iran’s relations with small, poor countries did not make up for its lack of relations with big, powerful countries. He noted that while the president’s trip to African and Latin American countries was politically and economically worthwhile, Iranian officials must remember that Iran’s national interests would be secured mostly through establishing relations with big countries. He said that establishing relations with smaller, poor countries could be problematic since those countries could change their policy towards Iran if they estimated that they would be better served by their relations with the West (Farda, November 24).
The Farda website also criticized the size of the delegation which accompanied the president on his visit to Brazil—over 300 people. While the significance of the president’s visit to Africa and Latin America cannot be ignored, said an article published on the website, the question that needs to be asked is whether such a large delegation is truly necessary. The website noted that during the presidential campaign and throughout his presidency, President Ahmadinejad had stressed the need for modesty and the difference in spending practices between his and previous governments. The website wondered whether sending such a large delegation in a year that was declared the year of reform in consumption culture would prove beneficial to the realization of the goals of the president’s visit (Farda, November 23).
The debate on gender segregation in Iran’s universities heats up once again
Last week’s announcements of two senior Iranian officials in favor of gender segregation in universities reignited the internal debate about that issue. Habib Mohammadnejad, deputy on research affairs in the office of the Supreme Leader’s representation in the universities, suggested conducting a pilot study in one of Iran’s leading universities to test the impact of gender segregation on academic achievements in higher education institutions. According to Mohammadnejad, many studies indicated that co-education in universities was not beneficial to the students’ success, arguing that the students’ grades would improve as a result of gender segregation in universities. He suggested conducting a pilot in a large university of a high scientific level, such as Tehran University, Sharif University of Technology, or Shahid Beheshti University in order to test the impact of gender segregation on academic success rate (ILNA, November 20).
The Supreme Leader’s representative in Tehran’s Khaje Nasir Toosi University of Technology also expressed support last week for gender segregation in universities. He said that co-education resulted in the formation of dangerous connections between male and female students. Mixing young men and women is like mixing cotton and fire, the cleric said. He noted that young people were passionate and therefore could not sustain normal relations between themselves. University experience shows that even students from religious families are exposed to inappropriate relations with the opposite sex during their studies (Javan Farda, November 20).
Cartoon drawn by Firoozeh Mozaffari, from
Those statements were strongly criticized by reformist last week. Former reformist Majles member Fatemeh Rake’i responded to the suggestion to separate men and women in universities by saying she did not understand why young people aged 18 and up could not decide for themselves whether they wanted to study in mixed-sex classes. In an interview granted to ILNA news agency, Rake’i said that even Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, was opposed to gender segregation in universities and did not approve of it. She said that even Prophet Muhammad did not support the idea and that men and women worked together in all spheres of life in Prophet Muhammad’s time: society, politics, economy, and culture. Those in favor of gender segregation, Rake’i said, actually opposed the presence of women in public, and were interested in having women live in their own separate world. Such segregation is an insult to Iran’s Muslim men and women alike.
The reformist cleric Ayatollah Mohsen Mousavi Tabrizi also criticized the proposal to impose gender segregation in universities, saying that it is impossible and undesirable to separate men and women everywhere. Islamic religious law does not prohibit interaction between men and women, the senior cleric said, and such interaction does not disrupt the Islamic society in any way (ILNA, November 22).
In an editorial published early last week, the reformist daily Mardom Salari complained that instead of discussing the level of higher education in Iran, the debate about gender segregation in universities surfaced once again. Those who believe that relations between men and women are the main problem in the universities forget that universities are the place where knowledge is produced and acquired. Instead of debating gender segregation, the daily writes, those in charge of the universities had better discuss the quality of education, the level of the lecturers, the level of publications and textbooks, and the scientific level in the universities. Instead of dealing with gender segregation, what needs to be discussed is the improvement of higher education in Iran, which may also alleviate some of the moral concerns of those in charge of the higher education system. In a proper scientific, critical environment, the students will not see their classmates only from a gender-based point of view, but will instead consider them partners in knowledge with a shared responsibility for achieving scientific progress (Mardom Salari, November 22).
It should be noted that gender segregation is the rule in Iran’s schools; in recent years, however, Iran’s conservative circles have time and again called to institute complete gender segregation in higher education institutions and in other public places such as hospitals, parks, and public transportation.
A daily newspaper was temporarily shut down for publishing
photographs of a Baha’i temple in India
Last week, the Press Monitoring Council decided to temporarily shut down Hamshahri, a daily published on behalf of the Tehran municipality. The decision, which was revoked one day later, was made after the daily published on its first page an advertisement for encouraging tourism to India which featured a photograph of the Baha’i Lotus Temple in the city of New Delhi (ILNA, November 23). Prior to the authorities’ decision to temporarily shut down the daily, conservative websites strongly condemned the publication of the ad. Fars news agency and the Raja News website accused Hamshahri of encouraging the Baha’is’ religious propaganda efforts (Raja News; Fars, November 22).
The advertisement published in Hamshahri
Several Iranian conservative websites have recently claimed that the Baha’is have stepped up their religious propaganda through satellite TV broadcasts. According to those websites, the Baha’is use such broadcasts to promote their religion and their way of life and, supported by Zionist circles, incite world public opinion against Iran by accusing it of violating the rights of Iran’s religious minorities (Farda, November 15).
In the past two years, the Baha’is have become increasingly oppressed in Iran. A number of Baha’is have been arrested by the Iranian security forces, including some Baha’i community leaders who have been accused of acting in concert with "Western and Zionist” elements against state security. The security forces have raided the houses of several Baha’i residents and confiscated books on the Baha’i faith, photographs, and computers; several dozen Baha’i students have even been expelled from various universities across Iran. The country’s conservative media have also stepped up incitement against the Baha’is and their faith, which, according to Islam, is an expression of religious infidelity punishable by death.
So You Think You Can Dance-Iran style: dancing lessons grow in popularity in Tehran
Conservative news websites in Iran reported last week about the growing popularity of dancing lessons in Tehran. Those websites complain about the significant increase in dancing classes which they claim operate without licenses in the city’s gyms and sports clubs.
According to the conservative websites, the phenomenon reflects the weakness of the government’s enforcement, as well as the cultural weakness of Iranian society which results in an increasing demand for participation in dancing lessons.
Ad for dancing lessons (officially: dance therapy under the supervision of an international
instructor and psychology experts). From: Khabar Online, November 21.
According to reports published last week, the lessons are taught by instructors trained abroad and are accompanied by loud music from different styles, such as Iranian, Arab, and Spanish music, as well as hip-hop and techno. The websites that reported the phenomenon criticized the authorities, mainly the physical education organization, for not taking measures against it and not shutting down the public places that allow such illegal dancing lessons to be held.
The lessons are advertised via the Internet. The cost for participating in dancing lessons which take place in public places ranges from 15 to 40 thousand tomans per month (about 15-40 dollars) while private dancing lessons may cost up to 150 thousand tomans per month (Fars, November 21).
Iran’s art of dancing took a severe blow after the Islamic revolution in 1979. The national ballet company, which had been formed in the 1950s, was dissolved, and most of the ballet dancers were forced to emigrate. Dancing was considered by the clerics to be perverse and immoral and was banned in accordance with the principles of the "cultural revolution”. Dancing continued, however, to be popular in various private establishments across Iran. Some of the restrictions on dancing were lifted during the wave of reforms which took place in the 1990s. Teaching of dance has been allowed to women by women, and discussions of the art of dancing have appeared in cultural periodicals published in the last decade.
The presence of men in dance shows with women is obviously prohibited; in recent years that issue was highlighted by several political scandals involving President Ahmadinejad and his close associates. Released in late 2006 was a video tape showing the president at the opening ceremony of the Asia Cup in Doha, the capital of Qatar. His presence was strongly condemned by Iran’s senior clerics since the opening ceremony featured dancing routines performed by women. Shortly afterwards, another tape released in Iran showed one of Ahmadinejad’s vice-presidents taking part in a show held in Turkey in which immodestly dressed female dancers took part. That video tape was also criticized by senior clerics, who even called on the vice-president to resign.
Pictures of the week: Iran launched an air defense exercise to protect its nuclear plants