Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Spotlight on Iran
Last weekend, Iran ‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to give in to the demands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and cancel the controversial appointment of his first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i. In a decree issued by Khamenei, the Supreme Leader noted that the appointment of Masha’i was against the president’s best interest and the government’s interest, that it would cause division and frustration among his supporters, and that it had to be cancelled immediately. Consequently, Masha’i sent the president of Iran a letter saying that he no longer considered himself the first vice president. In his reply, Ahmadinejad said that he accepted the resignation, expressing his deepest respect to Masha’i (Mehr, July 25). Shortly thereafter, Ahmadinejad appointed Masha’i his advisor and office chief. President Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Khamenei telling him that his instructions had been carried out.
Masha’i’s appointment as vice president was cancelled after a week of intense pressure exerted on Iran’s president—even by his close associates—to reconsider the appointment. The pressure seemed to have no effect when the president announced last week that he was not willing to reconsider Masha’i’s appointment as his first vice president. Ahmadinejad defended his own decision to appoint Masha’i, saying that he was one of the most dedicated, loyal, and creative executives in the country, and that therefore there was no reason not to let him serve his country. In a conversation with journalists the president said that if Masha’i’s critics had known him better, they would have changed their minds (Press TV, July 22). It should be noted that Masha’i and Ahmadinejad are in-laws: the president’s daughter is married to Masha’i’s son.
The president would not reconsider even when Iran ‘s media published reports about the Supreme Leader’s objection to the appointment. His insistence only intensified the criticism aimed at him, which was even reflected in the last Friday sermon, when the Friday sermon preacher, conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami, expressed his hope that the president would change his mind about the decision to appoint Masha’i as his vice president.
The strong opposition from the conservative bloc to the appointment of Masha’i, who was the vice president in charge of cultural heritage and tourism affairs in Ahmadinejad’s previous government, stemmed to a great extent from a statement made by Masha’i several months ago about Iran being a friend of all the nations in the world, including the nation of Israel . At the time, that statement caused a considerable uproar in Iran , even though Masha’i explained that he did not recognize the State of Israel and he only referred to the residents of Palestine , not to "Zionists”. Masha’i drew opposition from the conservative bloc also because of other incidents in which he had been involved; for example, several years ago he took part in a tourism convention in Turkey which included a performance of female dancers dressed in revealing clothing.
Masha’i’s promotion to first vice president was therefore met with fierce opposition not only from the president’s supporters but also from top conservative clerics. Senior cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi went as far as to issue a religious ruling saying that Masha’i’s appointment was illegitimate and had to be cancelled as soon as possible. Even Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the daily Keyhan and one of the president’s staunch supporters, published an article criticizing Ahmadinejad’s decision to appoint Masha’i as his vice president (July 19). The article says that the president’s supporters, those who worked for his reelection, expected him to honor the 25 million civilians who had voted for him. Masha’i’s appointment as first vice president was a shock and a cause for concern for all the president’s voters, who rightfully believed that not only was the president making a bad decision, but he was also ignoring the people. In light of Masha’i’s controversial views, it could have been expected that Ahmadinejad would relieve him of his position as the vice president in charge of historical legacy and tourism affairs; unfortunately, however, not only did the president not dismiss Masha’i, he even decided to promote him to first vice president. Even though the president has the authority to appoint his vice president, that position belongs to the people. The president may of course maintain his personal relations with Masha’i, but he must cancel his appointment as vice president, writes Shariatmadari.
Even Iran ‘s Chief of Staff Hassan Firouzabadi addressed the Masha’i affair and said in a meeting with top commanders that the instructions of the Supreme Leader must be followed to the letter. Referring to the decree issued by Khamenei, Firouzabadi appealed to the president saying that the Iranian people expected him to obey the Supreme Leader and act in accordance with his instructions (news agencies, July 25).
It is not the first time differences of opinion arise between President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei. For example, several months ago the media reported tensions between the two leaders over the president’s decision to assign responsibility for the issue of Iranian pilgrims to Iran ‘s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization. The decision triggered harsh criticism from the president’s opponents, claiming he was going against the Supreme Leader’s views. The Supreme Leader also expressed reservations about Ahmadinejad’s April 2006 decision to let women into soccer stadiums. In those two cases, the president was also forced to back down from his original decision and accept the ruling of the Supreme Leader.
One week before the end of the government’s tenure: Ahmadinejad dismissed the ministers of Intelligence and Islamic Guidance
This week, only eight days before the end of his first government’s tenure, President Ahmadinejad dismissed Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad-Hossein Saffar Harandi and Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Eje’i. Mohammad-Ali Khawaja Piri, until now a senior director in the Islamic Guidance Ministry, will become the acting Islamic guidance minister, and Majid Alavi, one of the intelligence minister’s deputies, will become the acting intelligence minister. Iranian media has reported that the president was also going to dismiss Health Minister Kamran Baqeri Lankarani as well as Labor and Social Affairs Minister Mohammad Jahrami.
According to Iranian commentators, the president’s decision to dismiss the ministers such a short time before the end of his government’s tenure has to do with the criticism voiced by those ministers against his decision to appoint Rahim Masha’i as his first vice president. According to various reports, a heated argument between the president and the ministers broke out during the government meeting last week, following which the ministers walked out in protest (Farda, Fararo, July 26).
Ahmadinejad dismissed nine government members during his first tenure. The president’s decision to dismiss the ministers only one week before the end of the government’s tenure drew strong criticism, as could be expected. Ahmad Tavakoli, the head of the Majles Research Center , said that there was no reasonable justification for dismissing the ministers at the present time, and that it was contrary to the interests of the government and the state. Tavakoli mentioned that according to the Iranian constitution, the dismissal of the intelligence and Islamic guidance ministers called for a new trust vote by the Majles, since over half of its members had been dismissed since the government began its tenure. He noted that he could not see the political reasoning behind the president’s decision to dismiss his ministers just before the new government was presented to the Majles, requiring his government to win a new trust vote by the Majles ( Fars , July 26).
The Asr-e Iran website has also criticized the president’s decision to dismiss his ministers, saying that even though it was the president’s prerogative, dismissing the ministers at such close proximity to the end of the government’s tenure only due to their stance regarding the appointment of Rahim Masha’i is completely unreasonable. The website said that the president’s decision was all the more unwarranted given the prevailing mood in Iran in the wake of the presidential elections, requiring the president to calm the situation ( Asr-e Iran , July 27).
Shortly after the information on the dismissal of the two ministers was released, Iran ‘s media reported that the president decided not to carry out his decision to dismiss the Islamic guidance minister in order to avoid having to go through a trust vote in the Majles. However, several hours later, Saffar Harandi sent a letter to the president saying that he was resigning on his own initiative. The news agencies reported that the president refused to accept the letter of resignation.
Muslim solidarity put to the test: Iran ‘s response to the riots in west China
The murder of Marwa al-Sharabini, a young Muslim woman of Egyptian descent, by a Russian-born German man during a court session in the German city of Dresden in early July aroused strong reactions in Iran , among other countries. The German ambassador to Tehran was called by the Iranian Foreign Ministry for a reprimand. The Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the incident, saying that it reflected the deep-running hatred against immigrants and religious minorities in Germany . President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also addressed the incident, blaming the government of Germany for the murder and the West for its double standard on the issue of human rights. Ahmadinejad even demanded the UN Security Council to convene in order to discuss the incident and pass a resolution condemning Germany . However, the Iranian authorities’ strong reaction to the murder of the Muslim woman in Germany made all the more conspicuous their silence over the clashes which broke out in early July between Chinese authorities and the Uyghur Muslim minority in west China. The riots in the province of Xinjiang broke out when members of the Muslim minority claimed they were discriminated against, and led to the deaths of over 150 people.
The riots in China brought the Iranian authorities face to face with a complicated dilemma. Since the Islamic revolution, Iran has time and again reiterated its deep commitment to Islamic solidarity and its wall-to-wall support of Muslims worldwide. In this case, however, that commitment posed a potential threat to Iran ‘s national interests. First, Iran and China have a strategic relationship which covers many spheres, including energy, trade, communications, and transportation. In recent years, China has been one of Iran ‘s key trade partners. Iran also needs political support from China , a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to prevent the tightening of international sanctions against it due to the Iranian nuclear program. Had Iranian officials rallied to the support of the rioting Muslims in China , the close relationship between the two countries could have been compromised, as far as Iran ‘s authorities were concerned.
The timing of the riots in China only worsened the dilemma facing Iran . The riots broke out several weeks after the Iranian authorities themselves suppressed the violent riots that broke out in the country after the presidential election results were published. The parallels between the happenings in China and the happenings in Iran required the Iranian authorities to exercise even greater caution in their response to the riots in China .
In the days following the first international media reports on the suppression of the riots in China , Iran ‘s authorities avoided making any comments regarding the riots and the official media published almost no information about them. It was only about one week after the riots broke out that Iranian media reported on a telephone call held by Iran ‘s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki with his Chinese counterpart about the happenings in west China . According to those reports, in that telephone conversation Mottaki expressed the Muslim countries’ concern over the killing of Muslim civilians in China . However, Mottaki stressed the need for maintaining China ‘s national unity and rejected all foreign attempts to interfere in China ‘s internal affairs, saying such attempts were meant to destabilize that country. Not only did the Iranian authorities not condemn the suppression of the riots in China , the government’s supporters even expressed support of the policy of the Chinese authorities and accused the US of instigating the riots. For example, the official news agency IRNA claimed that the Muslim protestors in China had been incited by the US , which would like to stage a velvet coup in China to deal with the strengthening of China ‘s economic position. Similarly, the ultra-conservative website Raja News claimed that the US was behind the riots in China , following up on the attempts of Western governments last year to incite the citizens of Tibet against the authorities on the eve of the Olympics in Beijing .
A similar claim was made by Hamid Reza Taraqi, a senior member of the conservative Islamic Coalition party and a government supporter. Referring to the events in China , Taraqi said that the US was clearly involved, and that its involvement was driven by China ‘s support of the Iranian nuclear program. He further added that the riots in China had to do with ethnic as opposed to religious issues, and that the protestors who made use of religion had other goals. He said that there was no evidence of the Chinese authorities discriminating against Muslims, and that he saw no sign of any restrictions imposed on Muslims during his visit to China .
Be that as it may, the reaction of the Iranian authorities and the government supporters to the riots in China was not indicative of all of Iran . The government’s relative indifference over the suppression of the riots in China was even strongly criticized by senior clerics and Iranian media. Asr-e Iran, a news website associated with the pragmatic conservative bloc, accused the Chinese government of a continuing discrimination against China’s Muslim minority and a policy of anti-Islamic suppression, while the Tabnak website claimed that the Iranian government’s stance with regard to the events in China reflected a double standard regarding attacks on Muslims in China and in Palestine, wondering whether the relationship with communist China was more important than the murder of Chinese Muslims.
The conservative daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami also strongly criticized the Iranian authorities’ silence on the suppression of the riots in China . According to an editorial published in the daily and titled "The Events of Xinjiang and our Responsibility”, the government’s policy on the events in China and the official media’s disregard of those events contradict Iran’s commitment to defend the rights of Muslims worldwide, as set forth in the Iranian constitution. Even though it is political considerations that prevent the government of Iran from taking a strong stance on the events, the article says, the interests of the Muslim nation and maintaining the position of the Iranian regime are too important to justify that kind of indifference towards the events in China . The criticism voiced by Iran ‘s media was soon joined by senior clerics, headed by the two top conservative clerics: Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi and Ayatollah Safi Golpaygani, as well as the senior cleric Ayatollah Yusuf Sanei, associated with the reformist bloc. In a letter published by Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi, the senior cleric condemned the oppression against the Muslims in China , saying that despite the close, friendly political and economic relations between Iran and China , Iran could not remain indifferent towards the violent suppression of China ‘s Muslims. The Iranian people, the letter says, expect Iran ‘s authorities to take a stronger stance on the events in China and not to leave their Muslim brothers in China to fend for themselves.
The Iranian government’s restraint on the events in China shows once again that Iran’s foreign policy reflects a combination of official political interests on one hand and a revolutionary vision and ideological concepts on the other, and that whenever Iran perceives that the revolutionary vision may compromise its fundamental national interests, its tendency is to act in accordance with pragmatic considerations.
Continuing deterioration in Iran ‘s economic situation
Economic data released this week indicate that Iran ‘s economic situation continues to deteriorate. Recent data published by the economic intelligence team of the British weekly The Economist show that Iran ‘s exports this year are likely to decrease by 38 billion dollars compared to last year. According to the data, quoted by the ISNA news agency, the exports are expected to drop from 95.1 billion dollars last year to only 56.4 billion dollars this year, which would make it Iran ‘s lowest exports level since 2004. However, The Economist forecasts that Iran ‘s exports will increase again next year to 67.5 billion dollars (ISNA, July 28). Also according to The Economist, in light of the decline in Iran ‘s oil revenues, the country’s economic growth rate will drop by about half a percent.
What is more, the reformist daily E’temad-e Melli has reported this week (July 25) that 150 Iranian financial companies are currently on the verge of bankruptcy. According to the report, the severe crisis among Iran ‘s public and private companies stems, among other things, from the global recession, the Western sanctions on Iranian banks, and the crisis in Iran ‘s banking system. The companies affected by the crisis include automobile giant Iran Khodro, major aluminum manufacturer IRALCO, as well as Fars Electronic. The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami has also addressed this week the crisis facing Iran Khodro, saying that the government had to spend billions of dollars in an attempt to rescue the company (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, July 29).
The daily E’temad-e Melli has also reported this week that in the first four months after the outbreak of the global economic crisis, 350 thousand Iranian workers lost their workplaces. In that context, the economic daily Sarmayeh has reported this week that according to the International Monetary Fund Iran’s unemployment rate is expected to reach 23 percent by 2010 (Sarmayeh, July 26). The Statistical Centre of Iran (SCI) has recently reported that the unemployment rate in Iran has dropped to 11.1 percent in the last several months.
In early 2009, top Iranian government officials admitted that the world economic crisis was having an adverse effect on Iran ‘s economy as well. Prior to that, various Iranian officials, including President Ahmadinejad, rejected the claims that the economic crisis could hit Iran ‘s economy.
Flight safety making headlines again after two air disasters in ten days
The issue of civil flight safety has kept Iran ‘s media busy this week following yet another plane accident which took place in Iran last weekend. Sixteen people were killed and over 30 were injured when an Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft en route from Tehran to Mashhad (northeast Iran ) slid off the runway in Mashhad Airport and crashed. 153 people were on board. According to reports, the passenger plane caught fire several minutes before the scheduled landing, making it impossible for the crew to land. The ILNA news agency reported that the accident was likely caused by a human error on the part of the pilot, who attempted to land the plane at excessive speed. The air disaster struck just nine days after the crash of another passenger plane, a Russian-made Tupolev belonging to Iran ‘s Caspian Airways, en route from Tehran to Yerevan , the capital of Armenia . All 168 passengers and crew on board were killed in the crash, which took place near the city of Qazvin , in northwestern Iran . In yet another flight incident which took place this week, a passenger flight from Tehran to Mashhad had to return to the Tehran airport shortly after takeoff due to a technical malfunction.
The Chairman of the Majles Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy said that a parliamentary enquiry committee was established to investigate the reasons behind the recent air disasters (Mehr, July 26). At the same time, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani asked the Transportation Minister to provide a detailed explanation about the air disasters which occurred recently.
It should be noted that in the past decade, a relatively large number of air disasters, in which hundreds of people were killed, took place in Iran . According to various estimates, about one third of all the passenger planes used by Iranian airlines are not safe for use. The average age of the planes used by Iran Air, the national airline, is approximately 25 years. The main reason for the severe safety issues with Iranian planes is the economic embargo imposed by the West on Iran , which forces the airlines to use non-original spare parts either manufactured by Iran or purchased on the black market. Some airlines also use Russian planes, usually considered less safe. Following the two recent air disasters, top Iranian officials blamed the US for the deaths of innocent civilians as a result of the embargo on spare parts for planes. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi has recently claimed that the embargo was a violation of human rights which put at risk the lives of many civilians, including European and American nationals (IRIB, July 19).
In that context, Iran Air CEO Saeed Hessami said this week that the company recently purchased 400 new passenger planes, including Tupolev-154 and Tupolev-204 planes. Hessami noted that the planes would arrive in Iran soon ( Fars , July 24).