Tag Archives: Rafsanjani

Questions about the crisis in Iran, pt. 2

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Will the establishment seek to appease the reformists?
While the state apparatus has admitted that there were ‘irregularities’ – which could in itself be seen as a gesture to the protest movement – I still don’t believe that there will any major concessions: Khamene‘i has stated several times that Ahmadinejad is the clear winner, that his victory was divinely inspired and that there can be no discussion about the results. In its attempt to control the chaos and justify its actions, it will be very hard for the regime to admit to any major wrongdoing.

However, there are still rumors that Khamene‘i together with oppositional forces and high-ranking clerics will try to work out some kind of compromise: that there might be a new run-off between Ahmadinejad and Musavi; that the issue will be referred to the (Rafsanjani-controlled) Expediency Council rather than the (pro-Ahmadinejad) Guardian Council; and that, since the deadline for investigating fraud in the Guardian Council has been extended for five days, there can still be some kind of face-saving gesture on its way. However, I personally do not believe that the state (that is, Khamene‘i) will allow any of these measures – which leads me to the next question:

Will Rafsanjani try to oust Khamene‘i through the Experts Assembly?
There has been a steady stream of rumors alleging that Rafsanjani is seeking to gather clerical support for ousting Khamene‘i, and in particular, that a majority of the Experts Assembly have agreed to Rafsanjani’s call for convening an extraordinary session. There have even been rumors that Rafsanjani wants to replace the position of the Leader with a ‘college’ of clerics.

However, none of the reports have been verified. If they are true, it seems that Rafsanjani has failed (at least in his early attempts); and if they are untrue, the rumors must be dismissed as nothing more than the anti-Ahmadinejad coalition’s information warfare against the government.

Khamene‘i praised Rafsanjani as a comrade in last week’s sermon. He would probably not have done so if a Rafsanjani-led coup attempt were under way in Qom (something the Leader would clearly be aware of). Furthermore, even though the Experts Assembly is mandated to oversee the performance of the Leader, it is not easy for it to dismiss the Leader. I think it would demand a near-consensus – and, some observers claim, a re-write of the constitution. On top of this, the latest news is that Rafsanjani is apparently composing a communiqué in which he will praise the Leader.

Thus, even though rumors of Rafsanjani’s maneuvers persist, I do not see them as credible. Rafsanjani is certainly struggling to maintain his power and his allies in the clerical world – something the shrewd cleric is known to be good at. However, this does not mean that he is preparing to remove Khamene‘i. The Economist mentions speculations of Rafsanjani’s impending capitulation:

“So complete is Mr Rafsanjani’s eclipse, at any rate for the time being, that information on his movements and intentions now consists of hearsay. According to one account, he has been busy in the seminary town of Qom, canvassing senior clerics to back a move to sack Mr Khamenei. Another suggests he may signal his surrender to the inevitable by attending Friday’s prayers, whereas he was conspicuously absent when Mr Khamenei gave his sermon on June 19th. “

Nonetheless, intra-clergy politics is probably the least transparent and predictable of all sectors of Iranian politics. This is surely not the last we hear from Rafsanjani. It is, however, important to remember that Rafsanjani is notorious for defending his own interests, even if it demands an about-face. As I have written earlier, the protest movement should not have any hopes or expectations from Rafsanjani.

Just before I was going to post this piece, I saw that the Expediency Council – the Rafsanjani-led assembly set up to resolve conflicts between Parliament and the Guardian Council and to advise the Leader – has met today and released a statement. It praises the Leader – as always in this kind of communiqués – and hails the Iranian system of ‘religious popular rule’ (mardom-sâlâri-ye dini) as having prevailed in a glorious election that has chocked the ‘world that claims to be democratic’. The Assembly then sums up three points:
1) That both sides of the struggle adhere to the law to solve their differences
2) That the Guardian Council review all claims of fraud, which includes using ‘experts’ and creating confidence in the public
3) That all candidates cooperate closely with the Guardian Council

I think that this communiqué further supports my points above.

Where is Rafsanjani in all this?

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Yesterday, a communiqué from the Assembly of Experts appeared on the state-associated news agency Mehr’s website. In it, the Assembly praised Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene‘i’s Friday sermon. In other words, the Assembly expressed its full support for Khamene‘i’s assertion that Ahmadinejad won the election legally and without fraud, and that Musavi and Karubi should rein in the protesters.

Or did it?

The problem with the communiqué is that it is not signed by the head of the assembly but by its secretary, Ayatollah Yazdi – not to be confused with Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, but like Mesbah, also a staunch supporter of Ahmadinejad. The same Yazdi also expressed his opposition to Musavi in another statement today, this time speaking as a member of the Guardian Council.

Yazdi stated that ‘the political system is not required to satisfy Musavi’ and that Musavi is ‘showing his true self, little by little’. He repeated the Leader’s assertions about ‘foreigners’ abusing the current crisis and utilizing ‘certain people’ to their benefit; and that ‘the people’ would ‘neutralize’ these ‘conspiracies’ against the Islamic Republic. He also stated that several politicians, including Musavi’s representatives had ‘confessed’ that the elections had been ‘healthy’.

The actual leader of the Experts Assembly is of course none other than Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former president and among the founders of the Islamic Republic. The current crisis is tied up with the severe intra-elite rivalries and the struggle for power between Rafsanjani and Khamene‘i. Accusations of Rafsanjani being behind the current unrest is no longer limited to pro-Ahmadinejad weblogs, but has also spread to Western media.

But there is also reason to believe that Rafsanjani – at least for the moment – is losing this battle.

There have been constant rumors, for a week now, of Rafsanjani trying to muster clerical support against Ahmadinejad – and even that Rafsanjani was trying to call for an emergency meeting in the Experts Assembly, which has the power to oversee and even dismiss the Supreme Leader. However, Khamene‘i’s statement on Friday about Rafsanjani – that Rafsanjani was a comrade and that he was not accused of financial corruption (but that his relatives were) – makes such an action seem out of question.

In other words: since Khamene‘i has more or less ‘acquitted’ Rafsanjani, there is no longer good reason to believe that Rafsanjani is in an active process of ousting Khamene‘i. This is not to say that all is good between the two grand old men of the revolution. Indeed, Rafsanjani was not even present at Khamene‘i’s historic speech on Friday, and the war on Rafsanjani continues unabated in clerical and military circles – even with calls for Rafsanjani’s executions in some Basiji circles.

Khamene‘i is well aware of Rafsanjani’s actions. Indeed, there have been constant reports of Rafsanjani being under house arrest. While I doubt that he is or will be placed under a formal house arrest, he is of course being monitored, ‘protected’ and ‘advised’ by Khamene‘i’s men.

Furthermore, Iranian media today confirmed that five members of Rafsanjani’s family – including his daughter Faezeh Hashemi, who has been present during some of the protests – have been arrested. Shahab News claimed that the rather incredible reason for the authorities to arrest them was to protect them from being assassinated by ‘rioters’ and ‘terrorists’!

There can be no doubt that Rafsanjani is under severe pressure. The protest movement should not have high expectations from Rafsanjani in the near future.

Boroujerdi, Rafsanjani, executions, counterterrorism

A selective glance at Iran and Iranian media, November 30.

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

The dissident Ayatollah Seyyed Hosein Kazemeyni-Borujerdi has allegedly been beaten up and brought to an unknown location. Borujerdi has advocated the separation of religion and government. Here is some interesting footage from two years ago of Borujerdi, his followers and his opponents; here is an older article and here a more recent piece.

Mohammad Hashemi-Rafsanjani, younger brother of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has aired the possibility he might be a presidential candidate for the reformists. He has also stated that he do not know whether his older brother will be a candidate himself. Khatami’s former first vice-president, Mohammad-Reza ‘Aref, has also declared that he will run for presidency – if he receives support from the reformists.

Several media outlets have stated that Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf’s presidential campaign has started. Qalibaf is the mayor of Tehran and former chief of police. He is considered a ‘moderate conservative’ and he is known for his somewhat ‘modern image’ aimed at appealing to the young and affluent. At least Admiral Shamkhani, former Defense Minister, is ‘wise enough not to become a candidate!’.

The centrist / ‘moderate conservative’ Hasan Rowhani – a top advisor to Khamene‘i, former nuclear negotiator and currently the head of the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research – has warned against paramilitary powers taking over the process of privatization in Iran. “Up until now, it was the government that hampered privatization, now it is being hampered by supra-governmental and paramilitary sectors”.

While one man was executed on November 18 for being an ‘Israeli spy’, authorities have now announced that they have unraveled a network of Israeli spies inside Iran. The network allegedly spied on Iran’s nuclear facilities (in English). Furthermore, three men have been sentenced to death for the April bombing of a mosque in Shiraz. Allegedly, the three are members of ‘a terrorist group’. They will be hanged in public.

Meanwhile, Iran has opened a Center for Advanced Studies in Counterterrorism. It is the purpose of this center to study the history of terrorism, ‘scientific strategies of counterterrorism’ and the ‘real face of the US’ as the culprit behind international terror today.

Stir in weblogistan, new Interior Minister, Rafsanjani’s feminism

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

A selective glance at Iran and Iranian media, November 21.

The (in)famous Iranian weblog writer Hossein Derakhshan – who has caused a stir in ‘weblogistan’ ever since he (allegedly) started the first weblog in Persian – has apparently been arrested in Iran (more here). His critics – and they are many – tend to see the irony in this: first of all, Derakhshan himself moved to Toronto (and later London) to escape censorship and control; secondly, in the past few years, Derakhshan was seen as a supporter of the Islamic Republic and President Ahmadinejad. One of the things that really upset pundits was when Derakhshan, also known by his online name Hoder, implicitly defended the Iranian state’s arrest and interrogation of the secularist intellectual Ramin Jahanbeglu.  Among his many other controversial ideas and actions was his denouncement of the ‘Zionist conspiracy’ – however, not before after he actually went to Israel himself, which is probably the reason why he is in jail in Iran now (i.e. being an Israeli spy). Derakhshan apparently had planned to go back and live in Iran when he was arrested a month ago. The state-run Iranian news agency IRNA has brought what seems as the first part of his ‘confessions’, in which Derakhshan tells how Iranian writers and journalists were “encouraged to leave the country and write against” the political system in Iran “in exchange for financial guarantees” and how the US blackmailed others to criticize Iran. In the ‘statement’, Derakhshan is alleged to have said that these anti-Iran activists now “used tranquilizing drugs” and “attempted suicide” to cope with the pressure put on them. More on this issue later.

Hosein Mar‘ashi, member of the ‘centrist’ Kârgozârân party has stated that Khatami will run for president while a key member of the pro-reformist Participation Front (Jebhe-ye moshârekat) stated that Karrubi’s participation in next year’s presidential elections doesn’t mean Khatami cannot participate too. It now seems certain Khatami will let us wait until last second before announcing his candidature.

Ayatollah Ha‘eri-Shirazi has argued that “the election of a black man in the US is the result of Ahmadinejad’s letters”. According to ILNA (Iranian Labour News Agency), the Ayatollah referred to the letters Ahmadinejad  sent to Bush and lately also to Obama: “Some criticize this letter [to Obama], however the election of a black man to Presidency of the US is itself a result of these same letters”. He also added that ‘Imperialist powers’ had stolen the medieval poet Sa‘di from Iran when they took one of Sa‘di’s quotes and placed it on the UN headquarters building in NY.

Iran’s new Interior Minister is the not-so-experienced politician (but millionaire and ex-Revolutionary Guards member), Sadeq Mahsuli. Even though it seemed he might not receive the Parliament’s endorsement (which was necessary), he was finally approved November 18. It seems he was helped by a campaign of propaganda-by-SMS. I have wondered for some years now about the use of SMS for the purpose of political propaganda in Iran. I do not have any info on the affiliation of telecommunication companies to the state apparatus, but there is no doubt that the authorities can use this medium at their discretion. I received an SMS from none other than Khamene‘i when I was in Iran earlier this year, reminding me to vote in the Parliamentary elections and thereby ‘support the people-serving government’. However, the related question is: how does ‘the state apparatus’ – being so fragmented and run by competing factions – divide the access to SMS distribution channels? Or is it just Khamene‘i who can use this service? In that case, there can be no doubt that the Supreme Leader supports Ahmadinejad and his team – including the new Interior Minister.

It has been known for years that the Iranian authorities are blocking access to many websites. However, now it’s official (wow!). According to Shahab, the official statistics show that 5 million websites are currently ‘filtered’ by Iranian judicial authorities.

Former President and Head of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Rafsanjani has stated that “with the victory of the Islamic Revolution, women found their real place [in society]”. He appeared together with his wife at the 6th Int’l Convention for Female Koran Researchers and said: “For a long period … Muslim women were not active and stayed at home. However, with the Islamic Revolution, the way has been opened [for their participation in society], in the shade of the Koranic blessing’s light; and now we see: 40,000 student dissertations on the subject of the Koran written by women and that shows in which direction women are moving”. He also added that the issue of women should not be treated with radicalism and extremism: “Some interpret women freedom to mean unrestrained behavior; however, one must certainly stay away from such radical and extremist [interpretations]”.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Turkish TV- and radio-giant TRT has launched its Persian services.

Endorsement, mixed reactions to Obama, security measures

by Rasmus Christian Elling

A selective glance at Iranian media, November 13 / 2008.

Yesterday, the newspaper Vatan-e emruz reported a 3-hour meeting between former presidents (and former rivals) Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Allegedly – and I stress this as it must still be considered within the realm of rumors – Rafsanjani called on Khatami to run for president in next years elections. Khatami – according to this report – will wait until last minute to announce his candidature. Furthermore, in his endorsement, Rafsanjani even stated that another ‘reformist’ candidate, Mehdi Karubi (who seems to run for presidency every time but never succeeds despite a loyal constituency in specific areas), could be persuaded to step down. If this is the case, then Khatami could be the sole ‘reformist’ candidate – a development with profound consequences that demands a thorough analysis.

UPDATE: A spokesman from The Expediency Council, Rafsanjani’s stronghold, has denied the report…

One thing is certain: the conservative forces, despite all their internal differences, would probably have to unite around Ahmadinejad if Khatami enters the race. Other conservatives such as Hojjatoleslam Pur-Mohammadi (who also has announced his candidature) will certainly not be able to unite the different wings; and, personally, I have never thought that ‘Ali Larijani could muster enough support even though he is periodically hyped as a pragmatist with clout and support from the Supreme Leader Khamene‘i.

As the first president of the Islamic Republic to do so, Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory by writing a letter. Since then, Ahmadinejad has received a mixed review for this. Not surprisingly, his own Ministry of Foreign Affairs has supported him; Larijani and another key conservative, Tavakolli, have criticized him; and Student Basij, the university division of the hard line Islamist paramilitary force sufficed to claim that Obama had learned his ‘Yes We Can!’ slogan from Ahmadinejad!

Meanwhile, skepticism about Obama’s intention in the Middle East seemed to spread in conservative Iranian media: Fars reported how Zionists rejoiced at Obama’s choice for Head of Staff; the state-run Kayhan daily announced that a ‘Son of an Israeli terrorist is Obama’s first selection’; and Raja News showed a picture of Obama with a skullcap, thus portraying him as “The Zionist Foe”.

Indeed, with the Iranians testing a new long-range surface-to-surface missile yesterday, some Western media expressed skepticism about the much-anticipated rapprochement between the US and Iran while others speculated a pre-Obama Israeli attack on Iran.

Middle East Times, quoting UPI (and Iran’s PressTV) stated that the Kurdish guerilla organization, PJAK (Party for a Free Life of Kurdistan, a PKK-affiliate) has suspended operations against Iran. This would be a surprising turn as the organization has gradually increased its attacks on Iranian border guards since 2005.

At the same time, Iranian security forces were launching unprecedented major exercises throughout Tehran. Over six days, 30,000 officers trained urban scenarios under the banner of ‘Public Security and Tranquility’, reported Shahab News. ‘Quarantine of sensitive and important areas such as the bazaar and banks, 2.5 kilometer long parades in Tehran’s main streets and squares, enhancing security at strategic centers, the swift transfer of forces from other provinces to the capital and the rendering of services to the people in cases of emergency, such as earthquake, were among the goals of this maneuver’, the news agency stated. However, Shahab News rejected claims by ‘some political circles and media’ that the maneuver should be seen in the light of ‘recent changes’ in the command structure of the Security Forces (niru-ye entezâmi); Shahab News also ridiculed reports such as that in Al-Jazeera, which claimed Iran was ‘getting ready for unrest’.

Meanwhile, a debate is raging in Iran over the proposed installment of CCTV in certain areas of Tehran. Ahmadinejad has rejected this idea, floated by high-ranking security officers; later, a commander stated that the Security Forces did not intend to ‘control the personal lives of citizens’ and that only limited surveillance was in the planning.

BBC Persian also reported that the much-dreaded Operative Basij Patrols (gasht-e ‘amaliyâti-ye basij) have returned to Tehran after police replaced them in the years after the revolution. The basij, a paramilitary force known for its hard line Islamist ideology, is going to support the police in Tehran. Even though Tehranis have experienced many different kinds of gasht patrols, this is probably going to be one of the toughest when it comes to moral policing. Last but not least, BBC also reported that Tehran’s governor announced the opening of a new Council for Social Security in Tehran to combat crime and unrest.

In the view of Ahmad Zeidabadi – an experienced Iranian journalist now working for the BBC – there can be a positive and a negative interpretation of all these measures: the positive being that ‘social insecurity’ (that is, crime) has reached a point in Tehran, where such measures are indeed necessary; the negative of course being that the state apparatus seeks to frighten and harass the population, and prevent riots and uprisings – such as those one might expect to occur on the background of constantly rising food prices, inflation and unemployment.

Zeidabadi also pointed out Ahmadinejad’s opposition to the installment of CCTV in Tehran, which seems, to Zeidabadi, ‘mysterious’. Indeed, how come Ahmadinejad has blamed the security forces for creating a bad atmosphere of policing in the capital? Here, Zeidabadi states two possible interpretations: either Ahmadinejad was unaware of the security measures and now feels sidelined (thus maybe showing that the President will not be supported by the security apparatus in the upcoming elections); or that Ahmadinejad pretends he was unaware of the measures in order to paint a portrait of himself as a ‘moderate’ in the public mind (and thus attracting voters). Finally, Zeidabadi also mentioned that some analysts see these measures as part of a preparation for US attacks during the last months of Bush’s presidency.