Rouhani and Khamenei Clash on Women

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Khamenei Wants Women At Home

The perception of women’s role in society in Iran seems to be yet another battleground between elected President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei. Following the international “Women’s Day”, Khamenei shared his thoughts on women which leave no room for doubt as to Khamenei’s roots in the Islamic Revolution.

In order for the “issue of women to be healthy, logical and precise,” Khamenei advised that it is necessary to “empty our minds of this talk that Westerners say about women, [such as] about employment, about management, about gender equality”. Deeming gender equality “One of the biggest intellectual mistakes of the West” he questioned the validity of giving a “masculine job” to women adding his disappointment that women would actually want a “masculine” job.

Women, according to Khamenei, should remain home-makers and suffice themselves to being “the source of peace for the man and…for the children”. Women should stay at home because “a woman who is humiliated, who is insulted, who has pressure of work, cannot be a housewife, cannot be the manager of the house.”

 

Rouhani Wants Equality for Women

Only one day after Khamenei’s speech, Rouhani offered his own vision of women in Iran which differs starkly from that of his Supreme Leader: “We will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination…Women must enjoy equal opportunity, equal protection and equal social rights”.

Without mentioning Khamenei, Rouhani made it a point to speak about women’s rights to employment: “We have a long road ahead to reach our goal. Valuable steps have been taken for women to have a presence in the fields of science, schooling, work, employment”. He later took a less veiled stab at Khamenei ‘s views: “This talk is true that the home is the foundation for society, and reform begins in the home, but if we ignore half of the population of the country, we will not see real development and growth in that country… Is it even possible to marginalize 50% of the members of society?”.

Finally, Rouhani took away Khamenei’s basis by undermining the religious basis for discrimination against women: “Those who are scared of women’s presence and excellence, or have other views, are asked to please not attribute these wrong views toward religion, Islam, and the Quran”.

Unfortunately, in the short-run, Rouhani needs Khamenei more than Khamenei needs Rouhani. Rouhani can find himself under house arrest with Tehran’s opposition leaders at Khamenei’s whim and was curtly reminded of exactly this by the head of Parliament himself, Ali Larijani.

Rouhani under Pressure from Economy

rouhani_money_2 Iran’s economy is going schizophrenic: on the one hand, sanctions are loosened and energy deals are booming and on the other hand the average Iranians are suffering. Where’s all the money going? The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the winds of over Tehran.

 

 

Business is Booming

As sanctions loosen up, Iran is riding a tidal wave of new business ventures with its neighbors to capitalize on its vast energy resources: While China is planning to reach a $200 billion a year trade with Iran within 10 year, Russia is ready to ink a$20 billion oil-for-goods deal. Other countries in the region and in Europe are following suit and have sent trade money-laden delegations to Tehran. In order to accommodate for the boom in business, Iran has launched a huge floating gas export terminal and is getting ready to lay pipelines to its regional neighbors. The $7 billion sanction relief under the nuclear agreement and approximately $100 billion relief once all sanctions are lifted should place Iran’s economy in great shape. The IMF has gone as far as to state that a final  nuclear deal would cause Iran’s economy to “soar“. In fact, Tehran’s stock market has risen steadily since Rouhani’s presidency up until about a month ago when the reality of the economic situation finally sank in.

 

But Money is Scarce

As the Norouz festivities came and went, dark clouds of pessimism remained over most Iranian families: sharp price hikes in commodities (24% electricity, 20% gas, 20% water, 50% petrol…), increased taxes, cuts in subsidies and skyrocketing interest rates have contributed to an alarming decrease in the purchasing power. At a rate of 40% inflation and 12.6% unemployment, salaries are being increased by less than 20% – in fact the real wages are less than 65% of what they were 2 decades ago. Iran’s vice president reported that 43% of 850,000 industrial units remain closed due to “the weakness of the economy” while in a recent poll, only 20% of the companies actually planned to increase wages meaning that the situation is going from bad to worse. As fishmonger Shahin Anbarani’s in Tehran simply put it – “People don’t have any money“. Rouhani’s big middle class support might be disillusioned by the fact that the economic turnaround he promised did not materialize but, to be honest, Rouhani’s promises might be hard to keep after decades of mismanagement. The massive surge in privatization in Ahmadinejad’s presidency was funneled  to key regime players in the IRGC whose extent in the Iranian economy is conservatively estimated at 1/3 of the GDP. Khamenei who acknowledged that the earlier privatization efforts were not beneficial and is betting on the “Year of Economy and Culture with National Determination and Jihadi Management” will have to find the golden path between his hardliner stronghold in the IRGC and Rouhani’s popular promises for change. And politics are not the only problem – warnings of a looming drought have led to water shutdowns which seem to be on the increase.

 

Some (Not Enough) Shifts in Priorities

Rouhani’s greatest challenge is prioritizing and those left out are losing heavily: Hezbollah, long supported by Tehran, is spiraling into an economic crisis of its own due to cutbacks from Tehran, the raging war in Syria and an increase in sanctions on other contributors.

Having said that, money is still being channeled out of Iran: Tehran has invested too much in Assad to back down now and is still supporting him financially and militarily adding 30,000 tons in aid to a $3.6 billion line of credit.

And although Iran should be saving quite a bit of money by downsizing its nuclear program under the nuclear deal, the fact is that contrary to the Western negotiators’ beliefs, there have not been any serious cut backs in the program. And if it is up to Khamenei, which it is, there won’t be any cutbacks in the future either.

If Rouhani wants to bring about the economic turnaround he envisioned, he will have to fight Khamenei and the IRGC chiefs to really change priorities. Unfortunately, his support outside of Iran as a moderate has placed him at odds with the IRGC hardliners so that leaves him with only one valid option: convince the Supreme Leader to change priorities.

Iran Against EU Office in Tehran

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On April 3ed, the EU issued a press release which called to “exploit the current window of opportunity” in the nuclear talks with Iran to “be more active in addressing the human rights situation” in Iran beginning by opening a EU delegation in Tehran.

This resolution, which sounds legitimate in the eyes of Europeans, was met with wall-to-wall resentment in Tehran.

Here are a few examples of their responses which simply reinforce the suspicions that the regime in Tehran is not ready for change in human rights in Iran.

 

EU delegation is another “Spy Den”

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahhedi Kermani didn’t mince words: “They (the EU) must learn a lesson from the closure of the US spy den because this people will not let another spy den be set up in Iran.” Kermani was referring, of course, to the US embassy which was taken over in 1979 leading to the hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Not a very inviting thought for the EU delegates who are supposed to run the outpost in Tehran…

In fact, Kermani dismissed all suspicions against Iran on the subject of human rights: “They (EU) are showing maximum shamefulness and immodesty…(and) are expressing strange expectations and accusations and claim that human rights are not respected in Iran.” What is “shameful” is that Kermani actually believes that human rights are respected in Iran and that capital punishment for accusations as vague as “insulting Islam“, “insulting the Prophet” or “enmity against God” is legitimate. He obviously didn’t read the latest UN report which showed an alarming rise in hangings and in discrimination to women and minorities – that’s probably because internet is illegal in Iran meaning that Foreign Minister Zarif and possibly up to 45 million Iranians are breaking the law daily. So much for basic freedoms…

 

EU delegation is a “Cheap Act”

But it isn’t only mullahs, clerics and “hardliners” who are stonewalling the EU’s request for opening a delegation in Tehran.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani belittled the EU’s resolution by simply calling it a “cheap act” that was a result of the EU being “deceived” by “seditionists in the international arena” who support “disharmony in the society”. To paraphrase Kermani, Larijani’s response seems to show “maximum shamefulness and immodesty”.

But then again, perhaps Ali Larijani is simply falling in line with his brother Dr. Javad Larijani, the secretary of Human Rights Council in Iran. Javad who deems homosexuality a disease, expects the West to be “grateful” for rising execution rates, believes that “stoning (is) not in contrast with human rights” and views Iran as a “pioneer in human rights in the world” added more insight last month by stating that human rights is an “illusory ideology” that “is very unrealistic”. If the chief of human rights in Iran believes that human rights are basically an “illusory utopia”, how can anyone inside or outside of Iran expect any change?

Both Larijani brothers have repeatedly criticized any critics of human rights in Iran and have led the attack on Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur by pointing out that his report is inaccurate because his information is not first hand while at the same time repeatedly denying hi entry into Iran. “Maximum shamefulness and immodesty” indeed…

And how about “moderate” politicians such as Zarif? Quite simply, Iran “will not allow any parliamentary delegation from Europe to travel to Iran on the conditions included in this European Parliament’s resolution” and the EU isn’t in a “moral position” to “express views on the situation of human rights in other countries”. As far as Zarif is concerned, the EU should accept what Iranian citizens understand – there can be no criticism against the regime in Tehran on human rights abuses or on any issue. Period.

 

EU Delegation a Fantasy or a Reality?

So while Tehran continues to block any criticism on the states of human rights in Iran, the P5+1 continue to try to reach a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue and many EU countries are rushing to Tehran to rekindle relations and business. In the meantime, Iranian human rights are abused daily and Iran’s aspirations for a militarized nuclear program is simply put on hold, ready to be re-activated at any time Tehran feels it profitable to do so.

The EU should understand this message loud and clear: Although the manner and style of Tehran has changed significantly under President Hassan Rouhani, any expectations of real change are “illusory and very unrealistic”.

Linking Human Rights To The Nuclear Deal

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Should human rights be linked to the nuclear discussions between the West and Iran? Here are three different perspectives…

 

“Human Rights are Internal (period)”.

In general, the “old boys” in Tehran don’t want linkage just as they don’t want any external interference on anything. Since the regime is responsible for isolating Iran and upholding strict Sha’aria laws which are the backbone for the horrid state of human rights in Iran, all “problems” are deemed internal and are not open to criticism.

The “regime” is a very general description for the Iranian leaders who want to uphold the status quo of ruling the Iranian people in a manner that seems incompatible to democracy. These include Supreme Leader Khamenei himself, as well as his minions of mullahs and IRGC generals.

These leaders are uncomfortable with any discussions that might lead to compromise and loss of face and are the first to negate bundling any of these together, eagerly looking for excuses to pull the hand breaks at the smallest sign of weakness.

 

“Human Rights are Internal, but…”

President Rouhani foreign policy is a testament of his efforts to change Iran’s relationship with the world. He and Foreign Minister Zarif are definitely a part of the regime in that they do not feel comfortable with any concessions to Iran’s power but they are Westernized enough to understand that without concessions, a deal with the West will be impossible.

Every agreement with the P5+1 on the nuclear issue that could be construed as a concession was followed immediately with idealized descriptions of loopholes in order to soothe the ruffled feathers of the suspicious regime leaders.

Both Rouhani and Zarif might be willing to concede that the state of human rights in Iran could be improved but are not ready to confront the regime in order to do so. They too definitely do not want linkage with human rights on any level because they know too well that their chances of changing the regime’s stance on Sha’aria laws are next to impossible.

 

Human Rights Linkage is Key to Success

We believe that in order for Tehran to truly stand behind a nuclear deal, it must let go of all the laws, norms and aspirations that lead to Iran’s isolation in the first place. As long as Iran is isolated in any of its paths, its path to militarizing its nuclear program will always remain and any nuclear deal is simply a temporary testament of goodwill and a far cry from the guarantee it is meant to be.

As such, any linkage between the nuclear issue and other symptoms of the regime’s hardline strategy is not an option but a necessity.

 

 

Ashton, the Regime IS the Message (part 2)

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Khamenei Was Right

Back in February, Supreme Leader Khamenei stated that the US wants to change the regime in Iran. Although most Western diplomats would outwardly shake their heads in denial, in their hearts they would probably agree with Khamenei.

In our last post we pointed out that Tehran’s stance on Human Rights and on its Nuclear Program are similar symptoms to the real problem – the regime of Ayatollahs. In both cases, the regime is striving to avoid any external interference in an agenda that is deemed to be internal. The difference is that, at least for now, President Rouhani seems ready to talk about reaching a nuclear deal while any talk of human rights abuse is nearly non-existent.

Ashton and Zarif Learn the Hard Way

EU Chief Catherine Ashton probably believed that by seemingly making headway on the nuclear track, she could do the same on the human rights track as well. She was proven wrong not only by the rants of hardliners but by a diplomatic snub by none other than the smiling Foreign Minister Zarif himself who subsequently cancelled a dinner meeting with Ashton.

Whether Zarif knew about Ashton’s meeting beforehand or not is still in question but Zarif’s reaction symbolizes the large and sensitive political gulf between Iran and the West.

Zarif did not exit cleanly: following Ashton’s meeting, Zarif shot out a warning to the Austrian ambassador for abuse of diplomatic rights. Within a week, the Austrian response came back loud and clear in a meeting between Zarif and members of the Austrian parliament who grilled him on the human rights issue in Iran. Zarif objected on the politicization of the human rights issue in discussions with Iran but found himself admitting that “there was room for improvement” on the state of Human rights in Iran.

Sarah Shourd Learned the Harder Way

Unlike Ashton and Zarif who used diplomatic maneuvers, Sarah Shourd, an American was arrested in July 2009 with two fellow Americans, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, while hiking in the Zagros Mountains on the border of Iraq and Iran. The three were charged with spying and thrown in jail. Sarah spent 410 days in solitary confinement until her release which was expedited up by her insistence of a growing tumor in her breast.

Once out, she campaigned successfully for the release of her friends who followed her to freedom after approx. 800 days in prison…the happy ending became happier as Shourd and Bauer married soon after his release.

Shourd, Bauer and Fattal might have been unlucky to be thrown in jail but getting out alive makes them extremely lucky.

Khamenei Remains the Key

Khamenei is Supreme Leader and as such, abhors any form of pressure, especially pressure from outside of Iran.

On the eve of the Iranian new year, Khamenei communicated the need for Iran to be self-reliant in the face of the West, emphasizing “economy, culture and knowledge” as the means to achieve self-reliance. Economy is key here since economic sanctions were and remain the best forms of pressuring the regime.

Khamenei himself acknowledged that in the past year, “The Year of Political and Economic Valor”, political valor was achieved but as to economic valor, “what should have been done and what was expected to be done was not done”. In any case, he named this year “The Year of Economy and Culture with National Determination and Jihadi Management” – whatever that means.

A few days later, he expanded on the need for internal freedom by emphasizing the lack of freedom shown to people who questioned the Holocaust: “#Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened. They treat their redlines in such manner. How can they expect us to neglect our faith’s redlines #freedom #holocaust“. Khamenei wants to raise Iran’s red lines to the level of the Holocaust in order that no one will criticize or pressure him again.

Ashton, the Regime IS the Message

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Human Rights and the Nuclear Program

The issue of human rights surrounding Catherine Ashton’s visit in Tehran might seem to some a meaningless sidetrack on the highway to negotiate a permanent deal with Tehran on its nuclear program. It isn’t.

The problem with Tehran’s nuclear program, has been its lack of transparency and its unwillingness to set the infamous Iranian pride aside long enough to focus on peaceful relations with the rest of the world. Its unwillingness to accept UN resolutions and wall-to-wall criticism on the nature of its nuclear program were coupled with an arrogant defiance and macho bravado that fuelled accusations and threats that seemed condescending and border-line paranoid to the West. And although President Rouhani’s smile spearheaded the rapprochement with the West, it is the never ending rants of the hardliners that remind us that Tehran might not yet have the humility needed to accept that if everyone says that there is a problem in the contested nuclear program, there simply is one.

Now, substitute the words “nuclear program” in this paragraph to “human rights problem” and notice that it rings true in the same manner. They are both symptoms of the main problem…the bigoted regime that places Islamic Revolutionary values above all else.

Rants and Rebuttals

Ashton’s primary objective in Tehran was obviously the nuclear deal and her meetings with Rouhani and Zarif retained the essence of Rouhani’s hash tag #Constructive_Engagement.

But her two hour meeting in the Austrian embassy with 7 Iranian women’s rights activists brought the realities of the regime back into the spotlight. The next day, posters of Ashton morphed with Saddam Hussein over pictures of dead babies hit the streets and the angry rants followed:

Meanwhile…

And just as the rants from Tehran faded into background echoes, Dr. Shaheed Ahmed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights, opened a press conference regarding his latest report on Iran with this statement: “Today, I report with deep regret that despite overtures and announcements emanating from the newly elected Iranian government, and perhaps even in spite of modest attempts to take steps towards reform, the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran remains of serious concern.” Un Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon joined Ahmed and “sharply rebuked the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, for failing to improve human rights since taking office in August“.

Yes, Rouhani would prefer to separate the negotiations with the West on the nuclear program from the issue of human rights but, unfortunately, both are intrinsically connected to the same regime.

West Too Desperate To Trust Iran

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Should the West Trust Iran?

The discussions between the West and Iran concerning the nuclear deal are boiling down to one word – “TRUST“.

For years, Tehran, and specifically, Supreme Leader Khamenei, reiterated time and again that militarizing its nuclear program is not an option…but nobody really believed it because at the same time, he was spewing anti-Western rants (he still does) and the nuclear program had literally gone underground (it still is).

And then, President Rouhani took office in a whirlwind of promises for change and moderation. Suddenly, the faces representing Tehran showed up with smiles paving the way to the nuclear deal. For a while, it seemed that Tehran could be trusted. IAEA inspectors flew in, nuclear plants were open for inspections and uranium enrichment beyond 5% diminished. Sanctions were lifted and hardliners on all sides had to sit back and simmer for a while.

3 Reasons Not To Trust Iran

Unfortunately, the smiling diplomats from Tehran headed by Rouhani and Foreign  Minister Zarif worked hard to find loopholes in the deal and they were joined by the hardliners to state the obvious – There would be no “freezing”, “dismantling”, “reigned in”, “rolled back” etc… as the West believed. At most, Tehran was ready to press the “pause” button. And yet, the West kept on hammering at a deal in the hope of winning the day through diplomacy as a worthy alternative to a military option.

But then, there’s the issue of Iran’s support of Syria (Assad). Although Tehran continues to support Assad politically, financially and militarily as we have shown in earlier posts, the same smiling diplomats set up a wall of denials in an effort to distance themselves from the atrocities and from Hezbollah itself. In the face of all the evidence to prove otherwise, each denial represents another crack in the wall of trust Rouhani had worked hard to create. Efforts to link Iran’s involvement in Syria to the nuclear talks were immediately shot down by Tehran and so, the West plods on.

Finally, the interception by the Israelis of a ship loaded with weapons originating in Syria, travelling through Iran and headed for Gaza poked another big hole in Tehran’s veil of trustw. While the Israelis touted the “smoking gun” they were seeking, Zarif immediately set up a wall of circumstancial denials. First, he ridiculed the munitions seizure by spinning it into an attempted PR stunt by Israel coinciding with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presence at the annual AIPAC meeting in Washington – “Amazing Coincidence! Or same failed lies.” He then stated that it would be “inconsecutive” for Assad to send missiles to Gaza when he needs them badly himself.  And although he may be right about the great timing vis-à-vis the AIPAC convention and that Assad needs the weapons, the fact remains that containers of missiles and ammunition emanating from Syria and shipped through Iran are now in Israeli custody in Eilat. And the fact remains that, despite yet another reason to mistrust Iran, the West continues to bet on diplomacy.

So, Can Iran Be Trusted?

Rouhani and Zarif have proven themselves to lack trustworthiness in their denials on the nuclear program, on their involvement in Syria and on their involvement in attempted terrorism against the civilian population in Israel. If this were a baseball game, the umpire would shout out “strike three, you’re out” and Tehran would be sent off the field.

Unfortunately, it seems that after so many denials by Rouhani and company, it is the West’s turn to be in denial, preferring to ignore all the warning signs in an effort to let diplomacy save the day. And although it is admirable to do everything possible to avert a war, if Iran can’t be trusted, what’s the use in a deal?