Iran Hopes

A Weblog on Iranian Affairs (Formerly Iran Votes 2005)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Weekly Review (April 7- 14)

General Ghalibaf stands up to defend justice and freedom

Perhaps the most important news on election this was General Ghalibaf's interview with the media.
Who is Ghalibaf? Born in 1961 in the town of Torghabeh in Khorasan province of Iran, Ghalibaf was one of the Revolutionary Guards (Sepah Pasdaran) commanders during the war with Iraq. He was trained to become a pilot at Sepah's Aviation school. He soon climbed up the ranks to become the Commander in Chief of Sepah's Airforce a few years later. In 2000, Ghalibaf replaced Lotfiyan, the former Iranian Police chief who during and after the students uprisings in the Summer of 1999 was accused of failing to act to properly to prevent the brutal acts committed by the members of Tehran's police and militias against the students. Ghalibaf resigned from his office a week ago, allegedly, to prepare for his candidacy for the elections.
What makes Ghalibaf confident to win the elections? It seems that he is heavily relying on what he considers as achievements during his time in office as the commander in chief of Iranian police force. During this time, Ghalibaf tried to change the public perception of the police. Arguably, the most significant of his initiatives in this respect was the establishment of Police 110 (an equivalent of 911 in the US or OOO in Australia): an easily accessible emergency police station. Also, during this time, Iranian police underwent some remarkable reforms in terms of its technical capabilities. Perhaps the most noticeable of all to Tehranis were the new Elegance Mercedes Benz police vehicles made especially for Iranian police force by the German automobile company. However, immediately after their appearance on streets people became suspicious of the financial source which made this huge buy possible. There were rumours that the money that was received from European countries, especially Britain, to empower Iranian police against drug traffickers in Eastern Iran was spent on the new vehicles. Almost at the same time, the black Land Cruiser Toyotas were used by the police. These vehicles became incredibly notorious among the public. They were used by Tehran's Special Force (Yegan Vijeh) who were, among other things, authorized to arrest unmarried boys and girls. Moreover, there would be judge among the police so that when an unmarried couple were caught, the judge would issue the judgment on their crime on the scene which then would follow by an order to the couple to marry. There were also a number of cases reported in which the police officers had abused women. The acts committed by this force were so brutal that had convinced some in Tehran to believe that those police officers were not Iranian. There was a common rumour that they had come from Arab countries such as Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq. A rumour that was later denied by the police authorities. The most recent notorious acts committed by the police under Ghalibaf's command include the serial arrest of journalists, thinkers, and webloggers, and the incident at Azadi Stadium in which 7 people died after a match between Iran and Japan football teams. In the latter incident, the police are accused of blocking the some of the exits of the stadium.

Now Ghalibaf is claiming that he defends religion, justice and freedom. There are a number of interesting points in his interview but I just touch upon one of them: his constant laying of stress on that he does not belong to the hardliners camp and more importantly the repeating instances in which he referred to rights of people and justice. Regardless of the possibility of his winning the elections, it is interesting to hear how men like Ghalibaf who come from a background of working with or being in charge of institutions who had the least interest in rights.

Finally, the language used by the hardliner Tehran newspaper is also noteworthy. He referred to Ghalibaf as "Doctor Ghalibaf" - instead of using the usual title "Sardar" (General). (Ghalibaf apparently has a B.S in Geography (but he never attended any class at the Uni, nor any exams. A friend of mine was one of his lecturers and he told me that we would simply give him a pass mark without requiring him to sit exams). His PhD in Political Geography has the same story behind it too). Obviously "Doctor" has less, or no, violence or imposing authority tone it than Sardar!

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