Obama Offers “Hope”, Khamenei Offers “Death”

obama khamenei 2In these last few days, Iranians celebrated Nowruz (New Year) and President Obama released a video dedicated to all the “Iranian leaders and Iranian people”. In the message, Obama sounds optimistic, and explains to the people of Iran that this is a time to have “hope” for a better future after a nuclear deal is clinched. Four days later, Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei, responded to that message, with vitriolic rhetoric about how the US was not to be trusted and, “Death to America, of course”.

This is the part where I urge you, the reader, to watch both videos – both just over 4 minutes long. The overwhelming differences between them, once you watch, will make this post redundant.

 

A Different Perspective

obamaObama and Khamenei are as different as the US and Iran: In less than 2 years, Obama, whose mandate of control was given to him by the voters in America, will step down from his office and be replaced by someone else. Khamenei, who was appointed by the Assembly of Experts for an indefinite term, will probably be replaced after his demise.

Obama wants a deal so bad, he is ready to fight congress for it, fight against his main ally in the Middle East (Israel) and veto any new sanctions. Sure, that doesn’t mean that he will sign a deal “no matter what”, but it is obvious to all that he is trying.

Khamenei is at best partial about the deal: During the last year, he changed his mind on the nuclear talks – in November he said that the lack of a deal shows Iranian strength, 3 months after that he claimed that no deal is better than a bad one, and in March he warned the US from spoiling the nuclear deal.

So while the Obama is busy trying to make a change in his limited time in office, Khamenei seems to be doing everything in his power to limit change.

 

“Death to America, of course”

khamenei deathIt’s chilling to see that not only does Khamenei’s crowd automatically go into “Death to America” chants, but that Khamenei, whose President and Foreign Minister are working hard to close a deal with the US, simply adds ” Death to America, of course”. “Of course”? Is calling for the death of a state and its people so trivial that he answers “of course”?

What is his message to the Americans and to the Iranians who look on in hope that a peaceful solution be attained? It certainly isn’t one of rapprochement and of change – it is simply reverting to the dogmatic cries that have kept Iran isolated and under sanctions for so long.

As we outlined in an earlier post, the nuclear deal is not really about centrifuges and degrees of Uranium enrichment: it is about the state of mind and the goals of Iran’s leaders. If you think that the call of “Death to America” sounds horrifying now, imagine hearing the same chant knowing that Iran has a nuclear bomb.

 

If Khamenei hates the Americans so much and he keeps on changing his mind, they why is he allowing his government to conduct negotiations? In short: regime survival, “Money”.

Khamenei’s power as a Supreme Leader is severely tested in times of economic hardships. These economic hardships are a result from his policies. If the Iranians get too hungry, they might hit the streets in an effort to change his policies or change him. The ONLY reason Khamenei is willing to negotiate a deal is to immediately relieve Iran of the crippling sanctions while keeping the nuclear program intact. What happens after that is irrelevant to him since he will be dead.

Why Does Tehran Deny That Sanctions Were Effective?

sanctions iran

Listening to Iranian leaders on sanctions gives an uncomfortable feeling of schizophrenia:

  • On the one hand, they state that sanctions are illegal, inhumane, politicized and paralyzing and that all sanctions should be lifted in the upcoming nuclear deal.
  • On the other hand, they continue to maintain that sanctions are useless, have been beneficial to Iran’s economy and that negotiations are not a result of sanctions.

Some would say that there is no contradiction between these two conflicting views.

Others would wisely say that all the rhetoric surrounding the sanctions is simply part of the 101 of negotiations in Tehran.

 

No Rouhani Without Sanctions

Hasan RowhaniOn Rouhani’s presidential campaign, he was acutely aware of the weight of the sanctions resulting from Tehran’s suspicious nuclear program: “Our centrifuges are good to spin when our people’s economy is also spinning in the right direction” – ie: a nuclear program is good only if the economy is good as well. As a result, his campaign was based primarily on a rapprochement with the West in order to relieve Iran from the crippling effect of sanctions. Without it, he would not have won.

Following the interim deal and the relief of some sanctions, Rouhani triumphantly told a crowd that “sanctions are unraveling” and will “shatter in the coming months”. At the time he also stated that “due to the brutal sanctions and unwise administration, our country has faced myriad problems in the past years”.

And yet, he makes a point of saying that “significant accomplishment was achieved under sanctions, which goes to show sanctions aren’t the reason we’re at negotiation table” and that the Iranian economy is “untrammeled by sanctions“. Furthermore, he went on to add that sanctions had “boosted” Iran’s military power. What?

 

Why Can’t They Admit It?

Rohani-with-Salehi-and-ZarifEven before Rouhani took office, Iranian leaders tried to play down the effects of sanctions: Previous Foreign Minister Salehi spoke about sanctions causing only “minor problems” and then later calling them “irrational and fruitless“.  Judiciary Chief Larijani echoed Salehi’s by calling  the sanctions “futile” and “totally ineffective” while his brother and Chief of Parliament Larijani maintained that the problem with Iran’s economy was unemployment that was not a result of sanctions ,implying that the blame should be placed on Ahmadinejad‘s government, adding that sanctions were more costly to the US.

His own Foreign Minister Zarif kept on singing the same tune that “sanctions had no effect on Iran’s approach in the talks” and that “sanctions have utterly failed” and yet, this same person states that any added sanctions would “kill a nuclear deal” and his main condition to a nuclear deal remains the complete removal of all sanctions from day one.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the sanctions hurt Iranians. They might not have hurt directly the leaders in the regime and Zarif even mentioned that “some in Iran don’t want the sanctions to end“, implying that sanctions were good for business for people in power (specially the IRGC).

 

Khamenei Knows the Answer

angryBut sanctions hurt the average Iranian and it is the average Iranian who voted Rouhani to office and Tehran to the negotiation table. It is the pain and the anger of the average Iranian that scared Khamenei into allowing his government to kowtow to “The Great Satan” because he knows full well that enough angry and hungry Iranians could mean his downfall.

So when Khamenei launched his “Economy of Resistance” and called for Iranians to “resist sanctions and keep the enemy from achieving its objectives” and that “if Iran does not resist sanctions, the enemy will set conditions for Tehran’s nuclear program”, it becomes obvious why Iranian leaders love to deny that sanctions are effective. But that is not enough for Khamenei: he envisions the day that Iran will one day be the one to impose sanctions on the West.

It is also noteworthy to note that Khamenei personal empire was one of the chief beneficiaries of the first round of sanctions relief from the interim agreement.

Khamenei wants the sanctions gone and that is why he approves of the nuclear negotiations despite his hatred of the West.

 

Make no mistake, sanctions were effective in bringing Rouhani to the presidency and Tehran/Khamenei to the negotiating table.

But admitting that sanctions were effective could lead the P5+1 negotiators to continue to inflict sanctions in order to get a better deal (for the West) with Iran and at the same time reflect the regime’s weakness to the Iranian people who might decide to pressure the regime into a worst deal (for Tehran) or even topple the regime itself. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Younesi is Scapegoat for “Persian Empire” Statement

younesi2

Rouhani’s chief adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities (and former Intelligence Minister) Ali Younesi’s visions of a “Greater Iranian Empire” struck a nerve in the hearts of Iran’s Arab neighbors. Their fierce reaction to his statement caught the Iranian leaders off-guard and sent them scrambling to control the damage. Younesi, as well as Iranian parliament chief Ali Larijani, chose the “lost in translation” excuse while 104 members of the Iranian parliament requested Younesi’s dismissal.

Whether Younesi’s aspirations were exaggerated in translation or not is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that his was not a lone voice in the dark and that his timing reflects once again the split personality of Tehran since Rouhani took office.

 

Nuclear Deal Based on Regional Peace

PeaceBombsFor over a year and half, Tehran has been trying to broker a nuclear deal and subsequently a rapprochement with the West based on repeated statements that Iran is a peaceful country with peaceful aspirations.

Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa”, Rouhani’s “WAVE” initiative and efforts to mend fences with Iran’s Gulf neighbors all exemplify Iran’s efforts to be seen as a promoter of peace.

Younesi’s aspirations for a greater Iran may not impede a nuclear deal per se but his reasons for such an empire should light up a series of red lights at the nuclear negotiations table. According to Younesi, a greater Iran will “protect all of the nationalities in the area…against Islamic extremism, takfirism, atheism, neo-Ottomans, the Wahhabis, the West and Zionism“.

The Iranian army and its terrorist proxy groups are already fighting all these “enemies” de facto in different areas of the world – adding nuclear capability to its military arsenal could prove devastating to all these “enemies” in the future.

 

Regional Subversion and Meddling

crescent dominationsAs we showed in our earlier post, Iran’s “Crescent of Control” is growing: What began in Lebanon, spread to Syria, Iraq and lately Yemen. In all of these countries, Iranian politics, religious outlooks and military forces are at center stage.

Tehran continues to state that its presence in all of these countries was welcomed which can remind us of Roman expansion and world conquest in the name of defending smaller entities. Lebanon has been taken over, militarily and politically, by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah; Assad invited Iran to fight on his side in the civil war; Iraq requested Iran’s help to fight ISIS and Yemenite Houthi rebels took power with Iranian military support.

But Tehran’s modus operandi is the same in all cases: identify pro-Shiite leaders/factions and offer them political and military support (including terrorist infrastructure) while making sure that these leaders continue to thank Iran for its “welcomed interference”.

As such, countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are within Tehran’s sights as the next countries to join its Crescent of Control.

 

Global Islamic Awakening

islamic awakeningYounesi’s statement might be dismissed but Supreme Leader Khamenei’s own visions for a Global Islamic Awakening can’t:

  • The Enemy: “For two hundred years, Westerners ruled the Islamic Ummah…They occupied Islamic countries: some of them directly, some of them indirectly with the help of local dictatorships. England, France and finally America – which is the Great Satan”.
  • The Inspiration: “A new era is starting throughout the world…Today neither Marxism, nor western liberal democracy, nor secular nationalism has any appeal…the greatest appeal belongs to Islam, the Holy Quran and the school of thought that is based on divine revelation.”
  • The Opportunity: “Today the arrogant powers of the world feel helpless in the face of Islamic Awakening. You are dominant. You will win. The future belongs to you”.
  • The Goal: “This century is the century of Islam…The kind of Islam that is based on rationality, Islam that is based on thinking, Islam that is based on spirituality, Islam that is based on attention to God and reliance on Him, Islam that is based on jihad.”
  • The Brotherhood: “Today the Islamic movement throughout the world of Islam is independent of Shia and Sunni…It is independent of Arabs, Persians and other ethnicities. There must be a sense of brotherhood among us…The goal is Quranic and Islamic rule…all of us are opposed to the arrogant powers, all of us are opposed to the evil hegemony of the west, all of us are opposed to the cancerous tumor, Israel.”
  • The Promise: “By Allah’s favor, there will be a day when the Islamic Ummah will reach the peak of power and independence…Muslim nations should come together under the banner of the call to God and the call to Islam. Then the Islamic Ummah will regain its dignity”.

Makes Younesi’s statement sound childish, doesn’t it?

 

Global Uprising of the “Underdogs”

non-aligned-movementAdd to all of this Iran’s repeated call to all NAM states to overthrow the “oppressive” forces of the West.

Here’s how previous Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi opened the 16th NAM summit in Tehran in 2012: “We believe that adopting worn-out policies based on intimidation and humiliation (by Western powers) is not only unjust and unjustifiable but also weakens international cooperation for the materialisation of the goals and objectives of the UN charter…No doubt, those who plan such policies will soon find out that they are doomed to failure.” He also attacked the UN Security Council as “illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic” and called for “fundamental changes in global governance”.

The state-run PRESSTV site made things clearer with an article headed “Iran’s NAM summit will isolate the West“.

Many NAM states tended to agree with Iran – especially states who were colonies in the past or who feel that their third-world status was implemented by the Western powers. For them, Iran is a champion to overturn their status as “global underdogs”.

 

So, all in all, Younesi’s “Greater Iran” vision does seem to reflect a general call for overturning the current status quo: whether it be through regional subversion, Islamic Awakenings, mutual aid to “underdogs” or a nuclear arms race, Iran is striving to expand its influence dramatically. Maybe we should thank Younesi for voicing what the Mullahs in Tehran really believe but feared to say.

Human Rights in Iran from Bad to Worst

human rights 2As Rouhani took office, his image of a moderate leader with aspirations for rapprochement with the West ignited sparks of hope that Iran would find itself out of isolation.

In regards to Tehran’s nuclear program, the sparks of hope turned into a bonfire with the preliminary agreement in Geneva. Since then, the bonfire grew and simmered but the fire of hope kept on burning, warming relations between Tehran and the rest of the world.

But as far as human rights in Iran are concerned, the sparks landed hopelessly on the hard and unwavering laws of the Islamic regime and Rouhani’s promises of reform never had a chance.

Now, over a year and a half into his presidency, the latest reports from the UN, one issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and another by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed, the state of human rights in Iran has gone from bad to worst on nearly all fronts.

 

From Freedom of Speech to Jail

ankabootFreedom of speech is a rare commodity in Iran: anyone contradicting the regime’s guide lines is liable to find himself in jail, or worst.

Take social media, for example: Iranian leaders such as Khamenei, Rouhani, Zarif, Larijani etc… are heavy users of social media as part of their propaganda but the use of social media is not available to the majority of Iranians. In fact, the IRGC has launched a surveillance operation code-named “Ankaboot” (spider) which gathers data of over 8 million Iranian “likes” on facebook in an effort to root out “corrupters” and “insulters of Islam”. This program has led to at least 60-70 arrests and this is just the beginning.

More than 13 bloggers and journalists were arrested over the past year bringing the tally of imprisoned journalists to 30 including some, such as Soheil Arabi, who are facing death sentences for “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Websites, newspapers and TV stations are shut down if they are found to be critical of the regime and it’s going to get worst as a “Media Council” bill is being drafted in parliament which will give the government more punitive powers over the media.

Shutting down media is supplemented with the systematic destruction of satellite dishes in order to make sure that content that is deemed unfit to the regime should not be seen or heard by the Iranian people.

 

Persecution of Religious Minorities

Education-Is-Not-A-Crime-846x454Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution allows for the freedom of religious minorities to exist, in reality, they are being persecuted.

Baha’is are singled out for persecution on a regular basis on many fronts. i.e.:

  • Burials: Tehran issues strict laws contrary to Baha’I traditions concerning burials and have repeatedly delayed Baha’I burials.
  • Education: Baha’i students are systematically discriminated in higher education and are regularly barred from registering in universities – this has sparked the worldwide “Education Is Not A Crime” campaign.

Christians are also persecuted and at least 92 Christians are in jail for their religious beliefs. On Christmas day, mass arrests were conducted in churches across the nation and several pastors remain in jail to this date.

Even Sunnis are persecuted and are not given permits to build new mosques while being told that they should pray in Shiite mosques instead.

 

Segregation and Persecution of Women

acid attackA set of new laws are being drafted to increase the persecution of women in Iran:

Together with women’s hair being hidden, women’s voices are being shut: Women are not allowed to sing in public. Some musicians were brave enough to defy these laws only to find their concerts shut down. Other prominent Iranian singers simply left the country to sing elsewhere.

 

Executions Rise

jabbariDespite all the pressure against Iran to tone down its policy of the death penalty, the numbers of executions is at a 12 year peak and is the highest per capita in the world. The human rights chief Javad Larijani made a big issue about  the fact that “80%”  of the executions were for drug-related offenses, as if that made it OK, but in fact, that number is closer to 50%. Out of 753 documented executions, 362 were drug-related. The rest of the executions include 13 juveniles and 25 women.

High profile executions  include the hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, whose crime was killing an employee at the Ministry of Intelligence who attempted to rape her and the Kurdish Saman Naseem, 22, for the crime of “enmity against God” while being a juvenile.

In order to understand fully just how bad the situation is, one should read the list of executions and identify the charges of those executed which include “Moharebeh” (enmity against God” and many suspicious “N/A” charges which could be anything from freedom of speech to human rights activism.

 

Rouhani promised radical changes in the state of human rights in Iran and to his credit, he continues to speak out on these issues.

Unfortunately, he seems powerless to “walk the talk” and Rouhani has not introduced one single bill which eases the desecration of human rights in Iran. Oh, and Tehran’s response to the UN reports? Tehran, as in the past, shows neither acceptance nor remorse and instead simply deemed “unrealistic” and “biased”.

 

Women of Iran Unite!

women2

As the International women’s Day came and went, the plight of Iranian women remains a blight on gender equality and women’s rights. Women in Iran continue to be suppressed and persecuted by a patriarchal regime in the name of Islam as if they were a miniscule minority not worth considering.

At times, it seems that the road to gender equality is an impossible one. There are too many people in power who want to keep Iranian women “in their place” and women in Iran in fearful of raising their voices to much which might lead them to a dingy cell.

But within the darkness of inequality, there are a few rays of light: the brave women who celebrate their “stealthy freedom” by uploading pictures of themselves without Hijabs is a one of these rays of light. Let’s hope this small ray of light will become a sun once all Iranian women will wear Hijab only by choice.

Another ray of light was Rouhani’s tweet on gender equality.

 

Rouhani Calls for Gender Equality

women_tweetRouhani’s tweet that “women must enjoy equal opportunity, equal protection & equal social rights” is unprecedented and shone through the dark laws of gender inequality enforced by the regime of patriarchs in Tehran.

Whether his tweet is simply a PR ploy to fit in to his efforts to sign a nuclear deal with the West or is Rouhani courageous enough to take on the regime in this issue is yet to be seen. But the fact that an Iranian president placed women’s equality as part of his agenda is unprecedented.

Alongside Rouhani’s tweet were some photographs of happy women enjoying some form of gender equality: Women voting for Rouhani, women studying and women in a volleyball match but only the first (voting) ensures gender equality. Women suffer from inequality in education, sports, the workplace and the law.

 

Sports as a Microcosm of Inequality

ghoncheh ghavamiWomen and sports don’t mix well from the point of view of the regime – not as athletes and not as fans.

This week Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA pleaded with Iran to let women into its sports stadiums. Blatter wrote: “I raised the topic at my meeting with President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, and came away with the impression that this intolerable situation could change over the medium term. However, nothing has happened.”

It’s not only football of course. Volleyball is the perfect manifestation of the problems with Iranian sports and women: while they are allowed to play the game, they cannot cheer in the stands. It is quite perplexing to choose, on international Women’s day tweet, a photo of such a known stronghold of gender inequality in Iran.

 

The Hijab as a Symbol of “Protection”

6103572Rouhani’s call for equal protection is not shared by the parliament in Iran: The acid attacks on women were triggered by the call to allow Basij forces to help enforce hijab laws. What began in the comfort of the male-dominated Majlis ended in brutal attacks by men who felt empowered to throw acid at women’s faces.

The hijab has turned into a symbol of gender equality because it implies that women must hide themselves from men for fear that they might arouse men who would then enjoy the legitimacy of trying to fulfill their passions. As such, apart from being the victims of sexual assault, they would become accomplices to their own assault.

The Hijab which is a means the protection of women is a symbol of the lack of protection women have since without it, they become fair game for the sexual impulses of men.

 

stealhty freedom 1The list of examples of gender inequality seems endless but every journey begins with a few steps. Two of these steps are ridding Iran of stringent hijab laws and allowing women equality in sports. If even one of these blights are removed, others will surely follow.

Passing the Buck with the Sunset Clause

sunset

As we wrote in our earlier post, the fear of the West is not really about the number of centrifuges nor on the amount of enriched uranium in the Iranian nuclear program: those are only means to an end. The real fear is not about the means themselves but about the “end” that the regime leaders envision.

Khamenei denies wanting a bomb but continues to glorify martyrdom while threatening to annihilate Israel. If so, a nuclear bomb would be a perfect solution since it would wipe Israel off the map as well as create hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of martyrs in the name of Islam.

The whole idea of sanctions and a nuclear deal with Iran is to ensure that Iran doesn’t militarize its nuclear program.

The infamous ten-year “Sunset Clause” in the looming deal only ensures that Obama will pass the buck on to whoever will be around by then. No more, no less.

 

What is the Sunset Clause?

expired red square stampThe Sunset Clause is not a precedent: most deals have an expiry date. Quite simply, once the nuclear deal is signed and the sanctions are lifted, a ten-year countdown begins and at the end of those ten years, Iran is free to legally do what it wants with its nuclear program.

At first, the US wanted 20 years but after much haggling, the 10 year mark seems to be sinking in on both side: After many denials from Tehran, Zarif finally hinted that Tehran would agree to a ten-year freeze as long as all sanctions were lifted from day one.

The Sunset Clause is touted as one of the major concessions by the West to Khamenei since it would relieve Iran of sanctions while leaving the nuclear program intact.

Khamenei might not be around by then but his successor will – why should we believe that his successor won’t share Khamenei’s goals in another 10 years?

 

Sunset Clause not When but If…

carrot-on-stickA better nuclear deal would not only focus on a ten-year freeze but act as a permanent deterrent for Iran to militarize its program.

That does not mean that there should not be time limits but they must be subject to the actions and the rhetoric of the regime leaders and not automatically expire on a certain date.

It seems only logical that if sanctions were slapped on to Iran because of its nuclear transgressions vis-à-vis the IAEA since 2002 and the fiery rhetoric of Tehran’s leaders, sanctions should be reinstated the minute Tehran transgresses again on nuclear guide-lines or in its apocalyptic rhetoric.

It can’t just be about “when”…it has to include a big “if”.

 

head_in_the_sand_mask

At the end of the day, nobody really knows what will happen during those ten years and what will happen after ten years.

Introducing an expiry date on a nuclear deal without regards to Iran’s actions and goals is simply hiding our heads in the sand while hoping that the regime in Tehran will change its tune.

If it doesn’t, the Sunset Clause may lead to the rise and explosions of nuclear suns.

Women in Iran Strive for “Un-Stealthy” Freedom

stealthy freedom

Sunday, March 8th, marks the international women’s day, and so it is a very good time to take a look on the status of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Last month, the 7th Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an event sponsored by a coalition of 20 NGOs chose Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist as the recipient of the women’s rights award.

Ms. Alinejad received this award because of her online movement and community, called my stealthy freedom. It all really is a very simple matter to the Western onlooker – the freedom in question is for women to choose whether they want to wear the Hijab, the traditional headscarf, or not – so it gather and publishes photos of Iranian women brave enough to break the Hijab laws in Iran.

It might seem trivial to some, but it is not. In a profile made on her, Alinejad explains that “Starting from age 7, women in Iran who choose not to wear the traditional Hijab face punishment like beatings, as well as ostracization. Posting the stories of those women presenting themselves uncovered in moments of quiet independence — thus the page’s reference to “stealthy freedom” — also serves the dual purpose of striking back against the broader unevenness of the playing field for Iran’s women, of which the Hijab represents but one piece.”

 

Women, Hijabs, Song and Sex

stealhty freedom 3It depends of course on who you ask – because the Iranian regime often states that there aren’t any abuses of human rights in Iran, and since women’s rights are human rights, that answer is highly unacceptable.

It is possible to try to understand the woman experience of living in Iran. Sure, women can rise to high positions in the government, and can be found in universities and hospitals, but what about their basic freedoms?

Take for example the right to express themselves freely. If Iranian men are subject to limitations on their expression, the women have it harder – for example, they are currently in the middle of a debate between hardliners and moderates, on whether they can sing or not.

Other forms of expression include physical ones. Yes, Iran is a conservative country to say the least, but in that aspect, one that cherishes family life, for example. But a recent study done by universities in both Iran and the US, found that Iranian women cannot talk about their sexual life, even with their husbands: in fact, the study suggests – “overarching strategies women shared for managing their sex lives: complete silence, negotiation, asking for help, and sexual sacrifice”.

 

Still Not “Free At Last”

stealhty freedom 2It is believed usually, that there is a great difference between attitudes in big cities such as Tehran, and small, more traditional places. But the acid attacks against women only 4 months ago, were carried at Isfahan, Iran’s 3rd largest city. If you remember, the Iranian regime declared that those attacks had nothing to do with the stricter Hijab enforcement laws that were being voted on in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

Let’s face it, Iranian women are being suppressed and persecuted in Iran. This is not a question or an opinion – it is a fact. Legally, women are not equal to men in an Iranian court nor are they equal in the eyes of such a patriarchal society led by a regime of male clerics. Perhaps that’s why Alinejad’s fan-page is so attractive to so many Iranian women. Uploading a picture without a Hijab is a “safe” way of protesting the oppressive nature of fundamental Islam.

But Ms. Alinejad is not against Islam, nor even against the Hijab itself – far from it. “My stealthy freedom” is about expressing frustration at the lack of freedom of choice, a freedom that is so easy to uphold in the West but that is nearly non-existent in Iran. Perhaps, one day, Iranian women will be able to achieve such a freedom: not a “stealthy” one but a freedom that will allow them to proudly choose how they want to live their lives in an Islamic country.

Nukes and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary

martyrdom and nukes

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are focused on Iran’s nuclear program which makes sense up to a point: Gun possession laws are not only focused on the type of rifles and ammunition but on the people who own guns or want to own guns.  A gun in the hands of a hunter or someone who hopes to never use it is less dangerous than in the hands of someone who is itching to use it to kill someone he/she hate.

In this case, the problem with Iran is not whether it does have a nuclear bomb or even wants to build one – Iran can build a bomb if it wants to. The problem is not even whether Iran will have the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb to its target: whether it is through long range missiles, jet fighters, submarines or in a suitcase, a nuclear payload is deliverable.

The only question should be whether Tehran intends to use a bomb if it had one. Khamenei has touted his “nuclear fatwa” repeatedly as proof of not wanting the bomb but his rhetoric is far from peaceful. In order to guesstimate the answer, one has to listen to Khamenei himself.

 

Khamenei Idealizes Martyrdom

Iran KhameneiIn a key speech in 2009, Khamenei shared his views on martyrdom glowingly. Two key learning are that 1) martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and that 2) “this is what frightens the enemy“.

Most people would tend to agree with his first point during times of war but not during times of peace but this is the insight one needs to understand Khamenei: he believes that his vision of an Islamic Awakening pits Islam, with Tehran and himself at its epicenter, in a state of Jihad/war against the “arrogant”, racist”, “oppressive” and “imperialistic” powers of the West. In his mind, Tehran is at war with the West even if a shot has not yet been fired.

His second point though is unarguable: his praise of martyrdom scares the West. It is this very idealization of martyrdom that has led to the rise in global terrorism by and Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations whose modus operandi is underlined by the pursuit of martyrdom is proof to the West that Khamenei is ready to “Walk his Talk”.

Khamenei Trades (temporarily) Martyrdom for “Heroic Flexibility”

khamenei rouhani 3An article in the Guardian from September 2013 heralded hope for a nuclear deal with Iran under the headline “Iran: ‘Hello diplomacy, so long martyrdom'” based on Khamenei’s flag of “heroic flexibility” (“flexibility is necessary on certain occasions. It is very beneficial “.

And for a while, it seemed that Khamenei had accepted Rouhani’s vision of rapprochement with the West as a necessary next step forward.

But within months, he had laid down his own red lines for a nuclear deal which were far from flexible.  Furthermore, he laced his support for nuclear negotiations with the same rhetoric of war and hate deeming the US the “great Satan” and repeating that Israel was to be “annihilated”.

 

Khamenei Returns Back to Praising Martyrdom

khamenei khomeiniBut then, last week Khamenei returned to his rhetoric of martyrdom and “the culture of sacrifice…for long term goals, common people and all mankind” as opposed to “the culture of Western individualism”. Once again, out of context of war, his words may seem admirable, especially the part of the good of the “common people and all mankind”.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric of war is never far away and he continues: “Although hegemonic powers, benefiting from their massive tools, have currently found more dominance over the oppressed, the Islamic Revolution is now standing against the oppressors“.

Make no mistake, Khamenei’s version of martyrdom is not meant to benefit “all mankind” and certainly not the West – martyrdom is meant to help the Islamic Revolution to prosper at the expense of the West.

 

Mixing Martyrdom with Nukes in 10 Years

to sign or not to signIn an article in the Washington Post, headlined “The Strategic genius of Iran’s Supreme Leader“, Khamenei, who is sometimes looked down upon by Westerners as an uncivilized Mullah “is also a first-rate strategic genius who is patiently negotiating his way to a bomb”.

By biding his time and despite a hand as weak as the Iranian economy, he managed to scare the West into pursuing a nuclear agreement that would guarantee Tehran the possibility to build a bomb after the ten-year deal expires.

Khamenei may not be around but by then, another Supreme Leader will be in charge and he will have to choose between two Khamenei legacies: The legacy of his “nuclear fatwa” (which can be overturned by the next Supreme Leader) and the legacy of “martyrdom” which might convince him to dash for the bomb and the ultimate martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.

Only Khamenei Knows

to sign or not to sign

Headlines on the nuclear deal with Iran look schizophrenic: for every optimistic headline about the benefits of a nuclear deal with Iran and the progress made towards reaching it, there is an equal and opposite headline about the pitfalls of such a deal and the problems of reaching it.

As the clock ticks towards the deadline, both sides are making great shows about turning away from a deal if need be: Obama is “ready to walk away from them” and “has no inclination to extend the talks beyond the deadline” and Rouhani “will not accept imposition, humiliation and the continuation of sanctions“.

Although Kerry stated that “there is no deal yet” The general feeling is that the outlines of a nuclear deal are a fait-accompli with one single gap: Tehran wants all sanctions removed at once while Washington wants a phased removal of sanctions.

But the deal doesn’t depend on Kerry, Zarif, Obama or Rouhani: their ideas and thoughts are meaningless compared to those of one man in Tehran – Supreme Leader Khamenei. And unfortunately, Khamenei is not easy to interpret because he is playing both sides of the fence and nobody really knows how Khamenei will act when a final nuclear deal is presented to him.

 

Khamenei supports a deal

IRAN-US-IRAQ-KHAMENEIMuch is interpreted into Khamenei’s continued support for Rouhani’s efforts to sign a nuclear deal but the question remains why would Khamenei want a nuclear deal at all?

The simple answer is that a nuclear deal seems to be the will of the people: Rouhani was elected by the Iranian people on a promise for change in an effort to de-isolate Iran and lift sanctions. Rouhani has repeatedly played the “people’s will” card and recently boasted that a nuclear deal is supported by “over 80%” of the Iranians.

So, blocking a nuclear deal would put Khamenei up against the “will of the people” and although Khamenei’s authority does not emanate from the people since he was elected by a committee for life, Khamenei doesn’t want to lose the acceptance and support of his people at this stage of his life.

Khamenei is fully aware of his age and his mortality and the last thing he can want is to be an instigator for riots and a counter revolution in the winter of his life.

Bottom line, if the nuclear deal allows Khamenei to feel that his nuclear program and his pride are left unharmed he will probably support it.

 

Khamenei doesn’t support a deal

angryUnlike Iranians who want to free themselves from the yoke of sanctions, Khamenei views resistance against Western pressure not only as a necessary strategy but as a source of pride for the Iranian people.

Because for Khamenei, pride is much more important than the details of the nuclear deal. In fact, pride is a key word into Khamenei’s psyche: just as his vision of an Islamic Awakening is based on regaining pride lost to the “Imperialists/Colonialists”, his view on Iran’s nuclear program is based on the pride it offers the Iranian people internally and from their neighbors and supporters abroad.

For Khamenei, there are no “shades of grey” but only “black or white” as far as pride is concerned. Either he, and through him, the Iranian nation, is proud of Iran’s nuclear program or not. Bottom line, Iran’s nuclear program is an achievement that is not to be bargained away and any efforts to do so are seen by Khamenei as an attack against Iranian pride.

And once again, there is Khamenei’s age. Khamenei is fearful to sign a deal which might lead Iran to lose its pride in the future and taint his legacy to Iranians in the future. He does not want to be remembered as the Supreme Leader who weakened Iran in the face of the “arrogant” Westerners during his lifetime or after his death.

 

No one knows whether Khamenei will allow a deal to be signed and perhaps Khamenei himself doesn’t yet know. What is certain is that a deal which will tarnish his pride or his legacy will never be accepted.

In order for a deal to be inked, the nuclear negotiators on both sides should focus more on maintaining Khamenei’s sense of pride and less on the number of have to focus less on centrifuges.

Which makes sense for Khamenei but not for those who are worried about Tehran building a nuclear bomb.

Rezaian’s Future Looks Bleak

rezaian

WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian has been in an Iranian prison for the last seven months, isolated from his family and lawyers for a crime that is still unknown. The buzz from Tehran is that Rezaian has finally signed a “confession” to being a “spy” although the content and the veracity of this “confession” are murky and Rezaian is still not formally accused of anything.

Unfortunately for Rezaian, there is no good news: there is only bad news and worst news.

 

Bad News for Rezaian – Politics

rasaeiThe bad news is that the motives for jailing Rezaian seem to be getting clearer: Rezaian is a pawn in a political fight between hardliners and President Rouhani.

Hardliner MP Hamid Rasaei is not only accusing Rezaian of being a “spy”, he is accusing Rouhani, or someone in Rouhani’s administration, of “supporting” Rezaian in his spying activities. The details of Rezaian’s “spying” activities are undetailed but his motive for “spying”, according to Rasaei, is to “bring about more pressure on various Iranian industries“.

Rouhani or someone close to him are supposed to have helped Rezaian to get access to classified and vital information although right up to his imprisonment none of Rezaian’s articles contain any sensitive information of any kind. Most of his articles “focused on the lives of ordinary Iranians“.

It doesn’t really matter whether the spying accusations are true or false since Rasaei is a staunch opponent of Rouhani’s moderate foreign policy and is fighting hard to stop any form of nuclear deal. Following Zarif’s mid-day walk with Kerry in Geneva, Rasaei wrote in his weekly newspaper: “every one of Zarif’s steps destroyed 100 kilograms of enriched uranium.” The response from Tehran to his article was surprisingly swift: Rasaei’s weekly was banned for going “against the regime’s nuclear policy” but Rasaei’s loud objections are still to be heard in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.

 

Worst News for Rezaian – Human Rights

SalavatiThe worst news is that the judge assigned to Rezaian’s case is also a staunch hardliner who might be sympathetic to Rasaei’s cause. Abolghassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” or “the judge of death”, has earned a reputation of favoring executions in cases concerning journalists and political activists. Salavati presided over hundreds of cases following the 2009 Green uprising, ruling in most cases against the defendants.

With Salavati as judge, if Rezaian does go to trial for spying, his chances of getting out of Iran soon (or at all) are slim. In an earlier case, he sent two doctors working on a HIV campaign to jail with no evidence except the indictment by the intelligence ministry and the doctors’ participation in a seminar by an NGO in Washington.

Salavati sentenced a Canadian-Iranian blogger to 20 years in jail based mostly on a letter of recommendation by a Columbian University faculty member which “demonstrated problematic connections with a hostile state.”

Furthermore, following some of his more dubious sentences, the EU has placed Salavati under sanctions since 2011 – he is not allowed to enter a European country – for “gross human rights violations“.

 

So, whether Rezaian did or did not spy, his cause seems helpless. Not only is he a pawn in a political game between a hardliner and Rouhani, his judge is a trigger-happy hardliner who will be only too happy to either send him to rot in jail for a long time or, more likely, to the gallows.