Iran Hopes

A Weblog on Iranian Affairs (Formerly Iran Votes 2005)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Rafsanjani drinks the poison hemlock

As anticipated, Rafsanjani has indicated that he will stand in presidential elections. He is reported as saying that he had to "swallow the bitter pill" of contesting elections "for the sake of country".

This grudging tone of Rafsanjani reminds me of that of Khomeini in his historical letter to the nation in 1988, announcing that Iran had accepted the terms of the UN resolution 598 to end the Iran - Iraq war. To describe how difficult it was for him to succumb to pressures to end the war, Khomeini depicted his decision as "drinking a cup of poison". And it was indeed a strong one. Khomeini died in less than a year after accepting the resolution. Immediately after Khomeini's death, Rafsanjani went on with the rest of his plot (see post:will the ghosts go unleashed) by convincing, with minimal effort, Iran's senior clerics assembly (in charge of appointing a new leader) that the only choice for the post was Ali Khamenei. There are different accounts as to why Rafsanjani did not - or perhaps could not - propose himself as a successor to Khomeini. In any event, Rafsanjani's calculation was that Khamenei would never make a threat to his power. His assumption was based on the fact that during his eight years of presidency, Khamenei had hardly become an influential figure in Iranian politics. Besides, Khamenei was hardly supported by clerics in Qom. Moreover, Rafsanjani was confident that the army (Sepah and Artesh) would be loyal to him, relying on the fact that he had been the acting chief-commander during the eight-year war with Iraq, so he would know how to handle the army.

However, Rafsanjani's calculations did not prove to be right. Soon, Khamenei started to consolidate his position as a the 'number one man' of the country. He took control over Sepah (Pasdaran), the Judiciary, the IRIB (radio and tv)as well as vital hardliner foundations (e.g,Bonyad Shahid, Panzdah Khordad, Bonyad Janbazan). Khamenei also found ways to silence opposing voices in Qom, trying to assert himself as a Mujtahed and Grand Ayatollah. The only branch of government in which Khamenei was left with least influence was the Executive. Neither Rafsanjani, nor Khatami were the obedient type of president he wanted. Particularly during Khatami's tenure, lots of trouble were caused to him and his position. During student protests in 1999, slogans were chanted overtly attacking the supreme leader. A blow to his power came in 1998 when MPs close to Khatami formed the majority in Majlis. They would take every opportunity to attack the Supreme Leaders' attempts to exert absolute power over people. Clearly, this was not something that the Leader could tolerate for long, no more than one Majlis session. Thus, when the time arrived for the 7th Majlis elections, he directly intervened by ordering the Guardian Council to disqualify all candidates who had close ties with Khatami. In this way, Khamenei re-conquered the parliament.

He had plans for the executive too. Soon after taking control over the Majlis, he encouraged Ali Larijani, one of his most obedient servants , to run for elections this year. But this move would disappoint some of his closest frinds , like Velayati, who had for long served the supreme leader, hoping to get rewarded by the second most important job in the country. So, to avoid causing such disappointments, Khamenei made another move: setting up a 'council' which would, apparently, elect the 'most suitable' candidate from among a handful of hardliner candidates. So he ordrered that the CCR be established and run by those loyal to him (see below). However, things did not go according to his plan. Much sooner than he had expected, it became evident that the whole council and its plans were no more than a mere 'show'. The outcome was clear from the beginning: Ali Larijani was the favourite. So, all others, i.e. Velayati, Ghalibaf, Rezaee, and Ahmadi Nejad one by one announced that they would no longer go the CCR's meeting although they respect its final decision (that is, Khamenei's decision). Velayati was the most disappointed of all and sent a clear signal to Rafsanjani that he was shifting to his camp (see my previous post) as a result of Khamenei's failing to back him up.

Now the CCR has officially announced Larijani as its candidate for the election. This gives Rafsanjani all the reasons to believe that Khamenei has a well knitted plan for taking full control over the country. He knows that Khamenei has assumed so much power that he has no hesitation as to encroach upon Rafsanjani's territory anytime he wishes to do so. In effect, during the past few years, many of Rafsanjani's closest allies have been jailed or otherwise removed from office by acts of those bodies under Khamenei's direct order -Karbasschi (former Tehran's mayor) and Nouri (former interior minister) being the most prominent ones among them. Above all, Rafsanjani is also well aware that Khamenei and his followers are lying in wait to get rid of him too. All they need is a good excuse, a 'legitimate' reason to end his life (political or?). Voices are already being heard from Khamenei's camp which overtly accuse Rafsanjani as not respecting the principles of being a 'true revolutionist' (see previous post). On the other hand, Rafsanjani knows that if he becomes president, he has to somehow enter into a deal with the US. If he does so, for instance by entering into negotiations with Americans, he will give the fanatics the best excuse to punish him severely for dealing with the "great Satan". What price will he then have to pay? The same price as Khomeini paid by drinking the cup of poison 17 years ago?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Some already shaking as Rafsanjani makes the decision to return

Today, a quote from Velayati dominated the Iranian newspapers’ headlines: “opposing Rafsanjani, a precondition for the CCR”. The Persian term used by newspapers is ‘Taghabol’, which can have various connotations. Among others, it can mean to fight against a threat, and not simply opposing in the sense of fighting in a contest, or disagreeing with, in this case, Rafsanjani’s ideas. But was this what Velayati really meant by ‘Taghabol’? It appears not. Velayati has in fact said: “it was brought up in the ‘Council for Cooperation among Revolutionaries’ (CCR) that someone must be elected to run for the presidential election who would be able to stand against Rafsanjani’ (Iran, 25.04.05). In any elections, where there is more than one candidate running, candidates stand against each other. When a group wants to choose a candidate to back him or her up as its favourite candidate, it evaluates its chances against others, especially against those who seem to be in a potentially better position to win the election in question. Therefore, what the CCR has done in weighing up the chances of its potential candidates does not seem to be unusual.
So, what does make it worthwhile to ponder on Velayati's account of what happened in the CCRs deliberations and the way it has been reported by Iranian so-called non-conservative newspapers, particularly Shargh and Iran?
1. What we witnessed in newspapers today is a very delicate attempt to convince the public mind that it is crucial that Rafsanjani –who still says that he is ‘uncertain’ whether or not he should run – must announce his candidacy, and, more importantly, people must vote for him. This is the only way, at least Rafsanjani’s supporters want people to believe, that the threat of an oppressive, fundamentalist government taking control of the government may be avoided. Rafsanjani is the only man who has the capability to resist the increasing power of the hardliners (a corollary of this claim is that Rafsanjani is not a hardliner himself. See below).
2. Relevant to the first point, the reaction of Tehran newspapers diminishes the significance of other candidates who are hoping to win a considerable number of votes and, at least, make it to the second round. In fact, the message conveyed by newspapers to the public is that the real battle is between Rafsanjani and Larijani. What appears to back up this message is that the CCR, whose members have top positions in the government (e.g. Majlis speaker, and men close to the Supreme Leader), does not see Moein or Karoubi as real opponents. One reason for this maybe that the CCR are certain that Moein will not be able to get through the Guardian Council filter. Besides, the polls in Tehran and other major cities show that Karoubi is not among the top three or four canidates at present.
3. Velayati is also quoted as saying ‘the CCR’s members believe that Rafsanjani – despite his remarkable background in Islamic revolution – is not a ‘man of Islamic principles’ (Ossulgara). The regime well knows that the majority of people will not vote for an Ossulgara. They prefer to stay home and not to turn out to vote, rather than to vote for an Islamic principlist – if I can use this term. So, Rafsanjani, if he wants to win (as he surely does), must wipe off this belief (which is a well-founded one) that he is an Ossulgara. He has to distance himself from ‘them’ and have people and media to approve that he is an open-minded reformist – despite his notorious record that clearly he does not believe in equal human rights, he has used terror for political purposes, he is not interested in political development, he does not believe in equal rights for all Iranian citizens, etc.
4. And finally, the recent move by Velayati signals Velayati’s conviction about a couple of issues: first, he will not win the elections and second, Rafsanjani will be the next president of Iran. Velayati has said that he was not selected by the CCR as the favourite contender because of his intention to quit as potential candidate in Rafsanjani’s favour. In other words, he was dismissed by the CCR for he was backing up the non-principalist Rafsanjani. Thus, the message translates into the following:
“Mr. Rafsanjani, once you become president, as I am sure you will, please remember my big sacrifice for you. All I expect is that you return the favour by appointing me as your cabinet’s foreign minister. I promise that I will be as obedient as I was during the eight years at the office in your previous administration.”

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Larijani: one step closer to the job

Shargh reports that the Council for Co-ordinating revolutionaries (CCR) (Shoraye Hamahangiye Niroo Haye Enghelab) has finally reached an agreement by pronouncing Ali Larijani as its favourite candidate for presidency. This does not come as surprise, however. During the past few months, the CCR had signaled on a number of occasions that it was increasingly leaning towards Larijani as its best choice for the election. But the CCR was simultaneously trying to find a way in which all its members would be in agreement with the decision that Larijani should be the sole candidate of the conservatives' camp. The hope to reach such a consensus faded soon with Velayati, Rezaee, and later Ghalibaf and Ahmadi Nejad keeping distance from the CCR by pronouncing themselves as independent contenders.

Who is Larijani? He was born in 1957 in Najaf, Iraq. He was born to a very religious family: his father was the grand Ayatollah Hashem Amoli. He is son-in-law of Ayatollah Motahari, one of the greatest religious theorists of Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Larijani holds degrees in computer sciences as well as in philosophy.

Larijani is a member of Sepah (Iran's revolutionary guards). He has served in Sepah as advisor, deputy, and acting commander during the Iran-Iraq war. In 1992, he was appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamnei, Iran's supreme leader, as the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting organisation (IRIB). He remained in office until 2004. Now he serves as a member of the expediency Council - again appointed by the leader.

Larijani is a soldier, and like any other soldier, he follows orders. His commander in chief is Ayatollah Khamnei and on a number of occasions Larijani has made it quite explicit how sincere he is in following orders of his commander: one occasion that Iranians have hardly forgotten was when he authorised the broadcast of a footage taken from a conference in Berlin in 2000. There, a number of Iranian political activists were speaking at a conference held by the German Heinrich Boll Foundation. During the speeches, the crowd started to chant anti Islamic regime slogans. A woman got totally naked - obviously in protest to the regime. Airing this footage resulted in a number of arrests. Akbar Ganji, a most prominent political activist who was among speakers in Berlin, was arrested immediately upon his return to Iran. He is still serving his prison and yesterday the Rapporteures Sans Frontiers expressed their concerns over his health condition. Larijani still has "a job to do". He is running for the office, because he has an order to do so. If anyone from among Rezaee, Ghalibaf, and even Ahmadi Nejad, wins the election, given their military background, an era of absolute militarism will dominate Iran. However, if Larijani is elected - a hope which many hardliners are keen to materialise - Iran will face a revival of Islamic fundamentalism. And will that, eventually, lead to the end of Islamic Iran?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Fighting corruption misses out of candidates' agenda

So far, presidential hopefuls have made many promises: improving the social welfare system, economic reforms, improving the human rights record, etc. But none of them seems to be interested in addressing a most serious issue: corruption. How can these candidates speak with such confidence about the efficacy of their agenda, when they give us no sign as to their willingness or even awareness of to combat corruption?
No one can dispute the fact that corruption is increasingly widespread in Iran. It affects the sense of security among people. It sets the ground for violations of human rights. Corruption among Iranian officials has not a limited scope; rather it is omnipresent: it is everywhere, from top to bottom of the system.

There are numerous corrupt businesses that are run by the elements within the Iranian government. Yet, for some reason, the candidates try to distance themselves from these facts. For instance, this week General Ghalibaf said that he ‘does not believe that there are behind-curtain centres of power’ in Iran. In others words, he does not think that there are influential centres of power outside the official government. Thus, Ghalibaf does not believe that, for example, there are people outside the foreign ministry of Iran who control the foreign policy. Nor does he believe that there are powerful elements that control the Iranian police and its judicial system. Does this mean that he is unaware of the links between those centres of power and organised crime inside and outside the country? Does this mean that former head of the Police is unaware of the fact that a number of top-ranking officials are involved in drug trafficking and people smuggling? Or does Ghalibaf’s claim simply demonstrate his lack of courage to deal with those centres? Then how can he promise the nation that he will work to create ‘a just government’ should he become their president?

Other candidates seem to be lacking in the said courage as well. Of course, in the case of Velayati and Larijani, given their background, it is not surprising that they are not at all interested in discussing corruption and hidden centres of power. And it would be too naïve to expect Hashemi Rafsanjani to consider an anti-corruption policy for his future government. But, one what does stop Moein to make a promise as to combating corruption if he wins the election? This week, he pronounced ‘honesty’ as a basic principle in his plan for ‘management and organizational conduct’. So would he consider it as an indication of honesty to talk to people about corruption and his plans to fight against it? Or will Karoubi, who informed us of his firm intention as to 'not negotiate when it comes to people’s rights’, have the courage to disclose those hidden sources of power? Would he be courageous enough to tell us the truth about those who, for the past eight years, have held control over Khatami’s administration, due to which he was unable to deliver its promises of ‘political development’?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The office of presidency in the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran

Chapter 9 The Presidency

Article 113

After the office of Leadership, the President is the highest official in the country. His is the responsibility for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with (the office of) the Leadership.

Article 114

The President is elected for a four-year term by the direct vote of the people. His re-election for a successive term is permissible only once.

Article 115

The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities [Note: the Constitution uses the term "rajol" which in Arabic means men. This has led to controversy as to whether only men can become preseident or the office is open to women as well. As it stands, the GC is of the opinion that women are not eligible] possessing the following qualifications: Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety; belief in and commitment to the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official madhhab [i.e. Shi'ite Islam] of the country.

Article 116

Candidates nominated for the post of President must declare their candidature officially. Law lays down the manner in which the President is to be elected.

Article 117

The President is elected by an absolute majority of votes polled by the voters. But if none of the candidates is able to win such a majority In the first round, voting will take place a second time on Friday of the following week. In the second round only the two candidates who received greatest number of votes in the first round will participate. If, however, some of the candidates securing greatest votes in the first round withdraw from the elections, the final choice will be between the two candidates who won greater number of votes than all the remaining candidates.

Article 118

Responsibility for the supervision of the election, of the President lies with the Guardian Council, as stipulated in Article 99.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Jannati sends a harsh warning against crossing the 'red-lines'

Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of Iran's Guardian Council, says that the country's courts have issued death sentences for some of the Munafeghs (those who betray the regime). But, Jannati says, it is only because executing those "two-faced disloyals" is not in the interest of the country that death penalties are still pending: "as soon as the situation permits (i.e. as soon as the regime feels it is no longer under international pressure or is in the position which allows it to ignore international demands) those death penalties will be implemented.

This is a blunt warning -coming in the lead up to the election - to those would be candidates who are talking about a 'deal' with the West and particularly the US over issues such as Iran's nuclear power, relations with the US and Israel. It is a clear message to those who want to win votes by touching these 'red lines' of the regime. Jannati's speech indicates that in the coming days we should expect some judicial actions against 'undesirable' candidates who do not have criminal record to enable the Guardian Council to disqualify them off hand. Karoubi and Moein are on the top of the list. They both have criticized the State's human rights record and have talked about possible re-establishment of ties with the US. Particularly, Karoubi has been very outspoken in criticising the GC on its decisions that led to a number of disqualification during the last parliamentary elections in 2004 in which almost all nominees from Jebheye Mosharekat and Majma'e Rohanyoon were pronounced ineligible to run for elections.
The GC and the Judiciary will be very busy during the next few weeks.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Lack of popularity: one thing that the would-be- candidates have in common

With less than two months left to the presidential election, regarded by some as the most crucial one, the public mood in Iran fails to suggest enthusiasm for it.
Perhaps, this has to do, at least in part, with the personality of the would-be candidates. A quick look at the list shows that no one of has the type of personality to attract attention as a future president. Take Mohsen Rezai, for example: the former Commander-in-Chief of Sepah Pasdaran (Iran's revolutionary guard), currently serving as the secretary of the Expediency Council. There is absolutely nothing in his record to indicate he possesses the intelligence that a competent politician must have. He might have been a good soldier (many would argue otherwise) but whether that would make a good president or in fact it may be a counterproductive factor is the question he has to answer. In any event, Rezai is having a real hard time gaining support from the people. Particularly, students and youngsters -who are the key to win an election in Iran - do not seem to show a huge interest in supporting him. It's no surprise and I do not think that Rezai should have slightest hope in hearing slogans from students in his favour. "Rezai Rezai, to omide mai!" (Rezai you are our hope!)?! No, it just doesn't sound realistic. The same holds with Karoubi, Larijani, Ghalibaf, Mehr Alizadeh, Velayati, and Moein. They just lack in the necessary factors. None of them has the charismatic personality. Even Rafsanjani, who may have the intelligence and fortune which might eventually assist him in getting the office, does not have the kind of personality that a 'president of nation' must possess. To win the nation's vote, one needs to be for the nation. It is hard, if not impossible, to choose the president of Iranian nation from amongst this list.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Iran-US relations, no longer a taboo for presidential hopefuls

In an interview with Shargh newspaper, Mehdi Karoubi - a potential contender in the upcoming elections - spoke of the possibility and the "necessity to be ready to negotiate with the United States". Former Majlis speaker, Karoubi is a leading figure in the leftist "Majma Rohaniyoon Mobarez" (Assembly of Clercis). He is also a member of the expediency Council whose members are appointed by Iran's supreme leader.
In explaining why he considers Iran's relation with the US as a 'necessity', Karoubi said:"I think the majority of people believe that relation with the US will resolve many of the economic and welfare problems". However, he also expressed his disbelief in this "too optimist perception", by referring to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan whose close ties with the US "have not made their [social and economic] state any better". Despite that, Karoubi says he is of the opinion that people must be listened to, while they must "not expect too much from relation with the US".

Defending the re-establishment of ties with the US by a would-be- contenders for the office of president is unprecedented. Since the first presidential elections in 1980, this issue has always been a soc-called 'red-line' for the candidates. 'No negotiation' was the only policy. On a few occasions, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure in Iranian politics and present head of the Expediency Council, had spoken of the possibility of 'conditional negotiations', demanding the US to show a sign of 'good will'. Still two months away from the elections in June, two of the would-be candidates - Moein and Karoubi - have overtly defended the re-establishment of the full relations with US as beneficial to Iran's interest.

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!