Two Voices From Tehran

Before Rouhani was elected, Tehran spoke with one voice through Khamenei and Ahmadinejad: neither are really politicians in the polished sense of the word and both used explosive rhetoric which led Iran further into isolation.

And then, Rouhani came along and the tone and content of the rhetoric changed: Rouhani is a polished politician and his agenda is to get Iran out of isolation and Iranians out of sanctions while Khamenei’s song remains the same.

In an earlier post, “What’s (Not) Changed Since 1979“, Rouhani was described as the driving force in changing Iran’s brand image while Khamenei maintains the status quo of the “product” that is Iran. Rouhani and Khamenei are definitely pulling in different directions and it seems inevitable that they will clash in the not too distant future.

The main question that remains is will Rouhani have, by then, enough power to stand up to the Supreme Leader or not.


Khamenei’s Voice of Revolution

Although Khamenei is quoted as saying that “holding absolute power is heresy in Islam”, he is very comfortable in his role of Supreme Leader who isn’t voted in by the Iranian people but chosen by a council of elders and holds supreme powers.

As far as Khamenei is concerned, criticizing the regime or the Islamic revolution is tantamount to sin and all criticizers, whether in Iran or outside of Iran, should be extinguished. He is much more focused on saving the “oppressed” in “Yemen, Palestine and Bahrain” (or wherever they may be) instead of dealing with his own regime’s oppression of Iranians.

In his mind, the US, along with all other “arrogant” powers, will remain the enemy, with or without any deal, since hating the US is a cornerstone of the revolutionary ideals. He is stuck in the past and wants to maintain the status quo without regard to the changes the Iranian people clamored for during the last presidential election. For him, it’s imperative to “take a revolutionary position in front of the enemy without fear“.

Khamenei’s fear of the West borders on paranoia but is also justified: He fears that the US wants to usurp the regime either through supporting Iranian opposition groups within and outside of Iran and through “cultural exchanges which could erode religious beliefs in Iranian society and ultimately undermine the influence of the Islamic system“. He is fearful of the West’s ability to “infiltrate into the country“, which is Tehran’s favorite method for “Exporting the Revolution” into neighboring countries.

As to the nuclear deal, Khamenei was upset that his red lies had been crossed (long-term limitations, unconventional inspections, limitations on enrichment, gradual lifting of sanctions, IAEA conditionality and limits of nuclear research) and he made it very clear that “whether this text (JCPOA) is approved or disapproved, no one will be allowed to harm the main principles of the (ruling) Islamic system“. In this stance, he is not surprisingly backed by IRGC chief Jafari who claimed that there is no validity to “any resolution that contradicts our country’s red line“.

In short, for Khamenei, everything begins with the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and ends with preserving the revolutionary ideals as long as he lives: His rhetoric is always slanted towards the revolution through slogans such as “heroic flexibility” (to convey the fact that Iran may have to retreat from some of its isolationist stances) and “resistance economy” (to convey the fight against sanctions). The Islamic Revolution remains his true North, the Global Islamic Awakening his true vision and martyrdom in the name of the Islamic Revolution is the true “zenith of courage and bravery“.



Rouhani’s Voice of Reason

Hasan RowhaniRouhani is not only a politician, he is a pragmatic one. Rouhani understands that once Iran is brought out of isolation, the wheels that will open the doors of Iranian homes and hearts to Western capitalism and brands will turn.

He knows all too well, that the nuclear deal that Zarif orchestrated crossed Khamenei’s red lines even if Zarif maintains that he did the best he could to “preserve most of the red lines, if not all“. For Rouhani, the nuclear deal is the fruit of his presidency as is evident in his speech following the signing of the deal: ” This is a new page in history…it didn’t happen when we reached the deal in Vienna on July 14, it happened on 4th of August 2013 when the Iranians elected me as their president.”

Rouhani is no fool either and he understands that he has to maintain a posture that will appease hardliners and lessen the gaps between Khamenei and himself. In order to do so, he issues defiant “militarized” statements but usually presents them from a defensive point of view (“defend our country“) and less from an offensive point of view (“eliminate Israel”).

But Rouhani is playing a dangerous game that goes beyond rhetoric: It was Rouhani who pressed to create a special committee that will decide on whether to accept or reject the nuclear deal. His reason? Were the Majlis, Iran’s parliament to do the job, it would turn into a legality which might “place an unnecessary legal restriction on the Iranian people“. What he doesn’t mention is that he is to be the head of the council, and Zarif is also a member, which gives him more leeway than if the deal was put to a vote in the Majlis.

And even in regards to choosing candidates for the upcoming elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts (in charge of choosing a successor for Khamenei) in February 2016, Rouhani went head-to-head against the IRGC in deeming the Guardian Council as a “supervisor, not an administrator” and placing his administration in charge of “carrying out the elections”. Jafari, the head of the IRGC deemed Rouhani’s comments as questioning “the beliefs and values of the revolution” in an effort to “appease the dominant powers of the Great Satan (US)“.


Experts on Iran are beginning to believe that if the nuclear deal comes to fruition, it will be a defeat for Khamenei’s status quo. This may sound premature at the present when Khamenei’s word remains law, but the foreign policy and economic boom that followed Rouhani’s insistence on negotiating for a nuclear deal are bound to strengthen Rouhani’s hands in parliament and in public opinion. Will it be enough or will Rouhani join other political oppositionists under house arrest or worst? Time, will tell.


Activist Support/Oppose Nuclear Deal

The nuclear deal with Iran has turned into a polarized discussion in which one is either for or against it without much leeway in the middle. In some cases, the split between both sides seems obvious: Iranian hardliners and American Republicans are against the deal while Iranian moderates and American Democrats support it with only a few crossing the rigid lines.

But the nuclear deal with Iran isn’t only polarizing existing rifts, it is creating new ones among what looked to be homogeneous groups such as Iranian dissidents and activists, human rights groups. These groups who were usually either against the regime in Tehran, found themselves on opposite sides in regards to the deal.

With so many voices clamoring about the benefits and dangers of the deal, it seems frustratingly impossible to decide whether the nuclear deal will make the world a better place or not.


Activists Choose Sides

Iranians celebrate on the streets following a nuclear deal with major powers, in Tehran July 14, 2015.  REUTERS/TIMA

Iranians celebrate on the streets following a nuclear deal with major powers, in Tehran July 14, 2015. REUTERS/TIMA

The nuclear deal has placed a wedge between human rights activists and groups, who had, in the past, been in consensus in regards to Iran.

On one hand, prominent Iranian activists joined forces to head the “We Support Iran Deal” campaign. The activists include politicians, actors, activists, artists etc… who all believe that the nuclear deal will be beneficial to the Iranian people. The fact that many of these supporters have been oppressed by the regime in the past only adds impact to their support. These include human rights activists Ghoncheh Ghavami (the British Iranian imprisoned for a year for watching a volleyball game), Shirin Ebadi (Nobel Peace Prize winner critical of the regime), Nasrin Sotoudeh (a human rights lawyer who has spent years, on and off, in Iranian prisons) and Taghi Karroubi (the son of  Iranian reformist, Mehdi Karroubi, who is under house arrest since 2011).

On the other hand, a group of Iranian dissidents are opposing the deal. These Iranians who were jailed and tortured or suffered the executions of loved ones are unforgiving and claiming that the deal should not be signed until the regime in Tehran allows its citizens more freedom. Other human rights activists around the world have lent their voices against the deal as in the case of LGBT activist who believes that no deal can be signed as long as Iranians are executed for being gay.


Is the Deal Good for Human Rights?

Obviously, nobody can be 100% sure if this deal is good for human rights in Iran or not. The activists who do support the deal feel that easing tensions with Tehran will help the Iranian public opinion as well as the moderates and the reformers to create an atmosphere in which the regime will have to tone down its harsh Islamic Revolutionary laws, which could lead to more individual freedoms. Signing the deal would be a triumph for Rouhani’s moderate approach and could convince hardliners to back out of isolationist ideals.

The activists who oppose the deal feel that it should have been tied to improving the state of human rights in Iran and not only focus on the nuclear program. For them, the deal is meaningless if it doesn’t help Iranians whose lives have been and will continue to be traumatized or extinguished simply because they do not agree with the regime.

Khamenei has placed himself in support for the nuclear deal but dead against its moderating effects: He is weary that a nuclear deal will open the doors for Western influence into “cultural, economic and political” spheres. Khamenei is probably right about this since once Iranian citizens are exposed to Western brands, some may be less adamant in sustaining harsh Islamic/Shariah laws. God only knows how the regime will react to millions of Iranians who are clamoring for the rights to buy an iPad or to join facebook.


Will the nuclear deal help the state of human rights in Iran or should it have been used to obtain more substantial gains for the freedom of Iranians? The nuclear deal focuses on Tehran’s nuclear program and as such, has no impact on human rights. But once Iran is open to Western business and influence, it may very well tone down abuses of human rights in Iran.
Nobody knows and only time will tell.

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Iran Selectively Obsessed with the Oppressed

The rhetoric from Tehran is filled with the Marxist dichotomy of the “oppressed” (mustad’afun ) and the “oppressors” (mustakbirun) in which Tehran frees the “poor oppressed” from the “arrogant oppressors”. This theme is central to Tehran’s revolutionary ideals which were born in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and remain the driving force of Tehran’s foreign policy to this date through the goal of “Exporting the Revolution”.

Unfortunately, this ideal is not evident in the lives of Iranian women and Iranian minorities (religious, political, ideological, racial and sexual) who are oppressed by the regime’s strict Revolutionary and Shari’a laws. For some reason, although the regime is finely tuned to the cries of the “oppressed” all over the world, it is deaf to the cries of the oppressed Iranians and doesn’t equate itself with being the oppressor.

Tehran’s selective definition of who are the “oppressed” and who are the “oppressors”, as well as its total disregard for borders in this issue, is central to Iran’s internal and external conflicts: It fuels the accusations by its neighbors for meddling and subversion, accusations by the West of abuses of human rights in Iran, accusations by the West and some of its neighbors of Tehran’s continuous support of terrorism as well as Tehran’s suspicious nuclear program.


Oppressing the Oppressed in Iran

Article 2 of the Iranian constitution defines the Islamic Republic’s basic beliefs in religion (“There is only one God“, “Understanding God’s divine nature is fundamental in setting laws”, “Human beings return to God after death”, “God is just” and “Leadership shall continue the revolution of Islam”) and then defines the basic rights of humans (“dignity, value and freedom with responsibility to God”) before finally stating that “Oppression in any form is not acceptable“.

While each statement may seem legitimate in its own right, together they form a glaring contradiction: Those Iranian people who do not adhere to the regime’s religious beliefs are constitutionally stripped  of their rights of “dignity, value and freedom” and legitimately “oppressed” since they failed to commit in their “responsibility to God”.

Despite the statement “oppression in any form is not acceptable”, any Iranians opposing the regime or the laws of Shiite Islam is fair game to the regime’s oppressive laws and is liable to be arrested, sent to jail, tortured and or executed. This is true for journalists and bloggers, political opponents and dissidents, human rights activists and lawyers, artists and authors, religious and racial minorities…all of whom are guilty of simply not being 100% in tune with the regime’s agenda. This is also true for Iranians who are not equal under Islamic law, specifically women and gays. As far as Islam is concerned, both these groups are inferior to the leading traditional male heterosexual stereotype and therefore are eligible for legitimate oppression.

In short, Tehran is very selective in defining which Iranians are liable to be “oppressed” and who aren’t despite its constitution’s clear cut denial of “any form of oppression” and will continue to oppress all Iranians who do not wholeheartedly support the regime.


Saving the Oppressed in the World

In article 152, Tehran rejects “all forms of domination” and places itself firmly in “non-alignment with respect to the hegemonist superpowers”. Article 154 clarifies that Tehran “considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world” and therefore, while Iran will “scrupulously refrain” from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the mustad’afun (oppressed) against the mustakbirun (oppressors) in every corner of the globe”. Both these articles are the foundations for the regime’s ideal of “Exporting the Revolution” as well as Khamenei’s own vision of a Global Islamic Awakening.

These two articles hold within them another glaring contradiction since they call for saving the “oppressed” from the “oppressors” in any country while refraining from interfering in internal affairs. When Khamenei reaffirms his support for the oppressed people of Yemen, Palestine and Bahrain, is he not interfering with the governments in these countries (the supposed “oppressors”)? When Khamenei stated his support for the “oppressed” African Americans in the US, is he not interfering with the US government? Is Tehran’s support of Shiite “oppressed” terrorists in Bahrain and Kuwait not direct interferences in the internal affairs of these countries?

Add to this the very tricky part of defining who are the “oppressors” and who are the “oppressed” and Tehran’s ability to redefine these to its advantage. Is Tehran’s support for Alawi-Shiite Assad in tune with supporting the “oppressed”? The predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels as well as all of Assad’s enemies would answer loudly and clearly “NO”. So, not only is Tehran interfering in the internal affairs, it is redefining the identities of the “oppressed”/”oppressors” to be in tune with its agenda of “exporting the revolution”.

Tehran may vehemently deny meddling in its neighbors affairs but it is constitutionally driven to do so in order to support the “oppressed” and will continue to do so as long as the regime is in power.


Tehran’s obsession the “oppressed” has lead it into two glaring contradictions: Its continued oppression of Iranians who stray from the ideals and laws of the Islamic regime and its continued meddling in its neighbors affairs in is effort to save the “oppressed” there. So much for Rouhani’s pride in Iranian “logic”.




Gaps Between Rouhani’s Rhetoric and Reality

growing gapsLast week, Rouhani sent out three clear but distorted messages from the Ahlul Bayat World Assembly in Tehran:

These three statements are supposed to foster good will among the world’s Islamic communities and countries but unfortunately, they portray an illusion that is far removed from the realities of Tehran. Once again, it seems that Rouhani is a master at rebranding Tehran from the outside while keeping Tehran’s regional and global aspirations alive.


Muslim Unity: “We should not allow enemies to use terrorist groups to portray the religion of Islam… as the religion of killing, violence and destruction“.

Who are the “terrorist groups”? ISIS. Other terrorist organizations such as Mujahedeen, el Qaeda, Houthis, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc…are not included.

Who are “the enemies”? The West/US. The fact that Tehran’s enemies include the Syrian rebels, Saudi Arabia, the current Yemenite government etc…is astutely off the Rouhani’s agenda.

Rouhani’s efforts to pin the blame of Islamic Radicalism on the West is far-fetched since Islam has systematically been abused by Radical Fundamentalist Organizations and Islamic governments, including Tehran, for decades. What Rouhani conveniently forgets to mention is Tehran’s continued financial and military support for some of these terrorist organizations and even its political support for others such as in the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

And what about Khamenei’s call to “harshly, severely and humiliatingly punish(ed) and kill(ed)” anyone who opposes the regime without restrictions to “any time or place…even if they have escaped the country“? And how about Ayatollah Amoli’s  call to “emancipate Islam’s holy sites from Saudi control” which has “turned it to a house of idols and indulged themselves in drunken revelry“? Islamic unity? Definitely not.


The Source of Power: “We do not see our power in weapons. We see our power in logic, reasoning and hoisting the flag of peace“.

Only one week later, Rouhani issued a contradictory statement: “We should strengthen our defense capability, so that the agreement and stability will remain sustainable in this country and our cordial ties with the region and the world will remain amicable and lasting” – “Logic”?

In the meantime, Tehran is actively pursuing the closure of the purchase of Russia’s S-300 missiles as well as trying to purchase 150 jet fighters from China…”Logic”??

The Iranian army and/or its proxies are currently fighting in three wars in four neighboring countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza. “Logic”???

Rouhani may talk about “logic, reasoning and the flag of peace” but Tehran is and remains heavily invested in many regional military conflicts and does not mean to stop supporting these wars in the near future: “We have announced that our defense capability will continue unharnessed and our arms aids to our allies will continue too“. And how about Tehran’s upcoming “huge ballistic missile exercise” ? Also part of Tehran’s power of “logic”?


Regional Friendship: “Iran is never to use its scientific, political and spiritual power against any regional Muslim country or neighbor“.

The “scientific” part of Iran’s power obviously alludes to Tehran’s nuclear program which many countries, including some of Iran’s neighbors, believe will be militarized by Iran at some point in the future. Can its Muslim neighbors really count on Tehran not dropping a nuclear bomb on them? Saudi Arabia, for one, isn’t ready to take the chance and is ready to purchase its own nuclear weapon if Tehran will rush for the bomb.

But what is more cynical is Rouhani’s promise to not use it “political and spiritual power” against its Muslim neighbors since “Exporting the Revolution” is a critical part of the Iranian constitution and calls for Tehran to support the “oppressed” people wherever they may be. In fact, as Zarif explains it, Tehran has “a viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order.” And how does Tehran plan to achieve this? By constantly meddling in internal politics through supporting Shiite factions in Sunni countries.

Over the last month alone, a terrorist cell with ties to Tehran was busted in Bahrain while a large arms cache emanating from Tehran was discovered in Kuwait.


Rouhani’s speech at the Ahlul Bayat council was meant to allay fears by its neighbors, but it is simply pure propaganda with no base in reality. Rouhani may preach about “Muslim unity”, “logic” and not attacking its neighbors until he is blue in the face – the regime in Tehran remains an aggressive force intent on regional and Islamic domination and its neighbors fear it. Because although Khamenei blames the US for the “disintegration” of Iraq and Syria, it is first and foremost Tehran which is responsible from trying to “disintegrate the region” in order to replace it with the “Islamic Revolution”.




Iran Not Big Enough For Tehran

tehran an diranIranians, 95% Shiites, represent less than 5% of the world’s Muslim population (1.5 billion) and although Shiites represent approximately 15% of the global Muslim population, Tehran wants to lead a Global Islamic Awakening consolidating all Muslims.

Sounds a like a lion cub trying to take over all of the prides of lions in the world – this might sound reasonable in a Disney movie but it is out of sync in the real world. The non-Muslim world and most of the Muslim world look on such aspirations with fear and yet, Tehran continues to stake its claim to export the Islamic Revolution to any part of the globe which will welcome it. The fact that most countries, Muslims and non-Muslim, want nothing to do with an Islamic Revolution nor an Islamic Awakening, is irrelevant to Tehran which continues to seek out factions within these countries, usually Shiites but sometimes Sunnis or even Christians, to help plan the seed of the Revolution in foreign lands. And when governments react fiercely to such attempts, Tehran blames them of being anti-Muslim and Iranophobic.

It’s worth remembering a quote from Zarif’s book: “We claim that we have a viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order. This claim bears no relation to our capabilities or our power. It originates from the very nature of our worldview. Why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order.”

Malaysia may have less Muslims than Iran (18 million compared to 80 million) but countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh have more (180 million, 170 million and 130 million respectively). And yet, Indonesia is content to be Indonesia, Pakistan is content to be Pakistan and Bangladesh is content to be Bangladesh…Why not Iran?


Tehran’s Method of Meddling

As we have outlined in many previous posts, Tehran doesn’t invade countries, it infiltrates them through meddling in local politics by supporting oppressed factions within other countries, usually Shiites, against their governments. Once these factions take over leadership, they make a point of “inviting” Tehran to help them rule.

This has happened successfully in Beirut and in Baghdad. In Damascus, it was Assad’s ruling party which called on Tehran for help, giving over the reins of the government of Syria to Tehran. In other countries such as in Yemen and Bahrain, Tehran has not yet succeeded but is certainly trying.

Of course, Tehran doesn’t openly admit to its meddling nature. As far as Tehran is concerned, it is “helping” Assad in its civil war out of “religious and human duty” although Assad is an Alawite (Shiite) who represent only 12% of all of Syria’s Muslims and the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrian rebels is on Tehran’s hands.

On his visit to Beirut last week, Zarif made a point of stating that Tehran does not meddle in Lebanese politics, a statement hotly contested by the Lebanese opposition leaders: “Nasrallah admitted, without equivocation, that Hezbollah is orchestrating the FPM’s moves and standing behind its attempts to undermine stability in Lebanon through paralyzing state institutions“.

The critics of Tehran continue to shout foul but Tehran is not listening and continues to call for Muslim unity: “Unity of Ummah (Islamic community) is imperative to fight common threats facing the Muslim countries“. And what are the two greatest threats to Muslims according to Tehran? Terrorism and Zionism


Fighting Terrorism Is An Excuse To Meddle

Tehran is using its “fight against terrorism” as a rallying call for all these countries to follow its lead. Within one week alone, Tehran called on Syria, Iraq and Gaza to join together in the fight against terrorism. This call to fight terrorism doesn’t sit well with the fact that Tehran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad to help export its revolution. In fact, it seems that Tehran is amplifying its fight against ISIS as an excuse to rally other Muslim countries to war.

Bahrain, a clear target of Tehran’s meddling has no illusions: “Iran uses ISIS as a pretext to meddle in the region“. And Bahrain is not alone – all the Gulf states are wary of Tehran’s WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative which took on speed as Tehran went to war against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. They are even more worried that Tehran, with its coffers replenished under a nuclear deal, will become more empowered to meddle and manipulate its “fight against terrorism” as a means of empowering local terrorist organizations, such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Shiite factions in Bahrain, to spark revolutions in their countries.

Zionism is, in Tehran’s definition, the most extreme form of terrorism in the world and as such, is fully supporting the destruction of Israel. Although it has had its ups and downs with Hamas over picking different sides in the Syrian civil war, it is intensifying its support to Hamas in its war against Israel and even Fatach’s Abbas is supposed to visit Tehran in the near future.


Meddling Increases With Nuclear Deal

Some believe that the nuke deal will not change Tehran’s “approach to the region” while other believe that a nuclear deal will empower Tehran to meddle more. With or without the US approval, Tehran is set to reap immensely profitable ties with Moscow and Beijing as well as increased trade with its neighbors. Tehran is smart enough to not try to export the revolution to Moscow or Beijing but it will use any open doors to do so in other countries wherever and whenever possible. Furthermore,  the lifting of sanctions which will fill Tehran’s coffers with at least $28 billion of which some will be funneled to export the revolution and fund terrorist organizations. Why? Because, as Zarif explains it so clearly “Without revolutionary goals we do not exist … Our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.” The increase of trade, the freeing of funds and the promise of nuclear program that will reach a “sunset clause” within 10 years will all help Tehran to try to achieve its global aspirations.

This may not be easily understandable to Westerners: Americans and Western Europeans do not have long term aspirational goals. The US may view itself as the world’s moral and political police but ask an American president where the US will or should be in the next ten years and you will probably get a few helpless shrugs and some theoretical goals – Ask Khamenei the same question and he will immediately tell you that Tehran will lead the world to a “century of Islam“, with or without him…that is the main difference.


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Tehran Should Come Clean on Parchin


The case of Parchin military base exemplifies the problems between Tehran and the P5+1:

Whether or not these tests took place can be proved or disproved only by an on-site inspection and even then, there is a chance that the clean-ups were efficient enough to wipe out the evidence.

As to the clean-ups, here are satellite pictures of Parchin which raised suspicions of attempted clean-ups in the past – Tehran called these accusations baseless, did not offer any explanations and denied access to the base.

parchin_2And here is the latest satellite picture which once again raised suspicions of an attempted clean up – this time, Tehran vehemently denied the accusations, accused the accusers of lying, explained that the picture simply shows a road being built next to Parchin and is still not allowing access to the base.

A satellite image released by U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) shows the status of the site at the Parchin military complex that has been linked to high explosive work related to the development of nuclear weapons in Iran in this July 19, 2015 photo released on August 6, 2015. A U.S. think tank said Iran might be cleaning up its Parchin military site, where some countries suspect experiments may have taken place in a possible atomic weapons programme, but Iran denied this on Thursday. REUTERS/Airbus-ISIS/Handout NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO COMMERCIAL USE.

A satellite image released by U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) shows the status of the site at the Parchin military complex that has been linked to high explosive work related to the development of nuclear weapons in Iran in this July 19, 2015 photo released on August 6, 2015. A U.S. think tank said Iran might be cleaning up its Parchin military site, where some countries suspect experiments may have taken place in a possible atomic weapons programme, but Iran denied this on Thursday. REUTERS/Airbus-ISIS/Handout NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO COMMERCIAL USE.

Now let’s think about the two options:

  • If the Iranians did carry out the tests as well as the clean-ups, they are guilty of lying and concealing which puts into question the levels of trust to be expected from them in the future and raises doubts regarding the dealmakers belief that the deal is built on “verifications” and not on “trust”.
  • If they didn’t do either, then why do they not simply allow the IAEA to inspect the site to prove the P5+1 wrong? Why do they believe that their denials and counter-accusations are more trustworthy than satellite pictures (in the case of clean-ups) or a simple verification/inspection?

The Iranians want the P5+1 to trust them while the whole issue of the nuclear deal was instigated due to a lack of trust and the need for verifications by the P5+1. One satellite picture, or better yet, one on-site inspection, is much more convincing than all of Tehran’s denials and counter-accusations. In fact it is precisely the level of Iranians’ “outrage” at the accusations that make them less believable…if they had nothing to hide, and nothing to clean up, an immediate invitation to inspect the base would have put all critics of the nuclear deal to shame and shown that Tehran could be trusted.


Trust is a great beginning

kerry zarifWithout some levels of trust, neither side would have approached the negotiations tables. For decades, no such trust existed among any of the leaders on either side. The trust required to get both sides to sit down and talk may have started back in Ahmadinejad’s presidency as was disclosed by then FM and nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, but in the end the talks were made possible only because Rouhani seemed genuinely open to a nuclear deal. In the same manner, deals with Iran may have been suggested in the White House during Bush’s administration but it was Obama ‘s outreached hand which brought Rouhani to the negotiating tables.

Does Washington really trust Tehran and vice versa? No. Khamenei has repeatedly stated his distrust of the US and Rouhani and Zarif have echoed the Supreme Leader’s sentiments on many occasions. Meanwhile, even Obama and Kerry, who are pushing for the deal, continue to state that the deal is based on “verification” and not “trust” while adding that they understand that Iran is likely to “cheat” on the deal and will not change its ways as far as terrorism and subversion are concerned.

At the end of the day, there is not enough trust on both sides and therefore, trust is not enough to build a deal on. The P5+1 do not trust Tehran enough to believe its denials concerning suspicious activities in the past, the present or the future in Parchin and need to verify Tehran’s denials on-site.


Verifications breed trust

pix1_111314Zarif stated last week that the US would have to learn to trust Iran but the whole idea of a nuclear deal is based on exactly the opposite: “verification” and not “trust” is the key word for the P5+1. It is only through repeated verifications that trust can be built. Every clean bill of inspection tears down one more brick from the wall of distrust separating Iran from the P5+1.

Were trust enough, the P5+1 could have signed a deal based only on Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa in which he declared the building and use of a nuclear bomb “haram” (a sin). But just as Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” was not enough to build trust, neither are Tehran’s denials and counter-accusations concerning Parchin enough.

And yet, Tehran continues to answer accusations with denials and counter accusations instead of simply saying “Hey, don’t believe us? Come and see for yourself!”.

Why doesn’t Tehran simply open Parchin to verifications? The official excuse is that the base at Parchin is not a nuclear one and therefore is not to be included in the list of bases to be inspected by the IAEA. The issue of inspecting non-nuclear bases was a red line for both sides and the final nuclear deal allows for the legitimacy of inspecting non-nuclear sites while giving Tehran 24 days grace before allowing such inspections or sending the decision of access to a non-nuclear base to be discussed and arbitrated…this means that Tehran can drag its heels and/or get Russia or China to back it on blocking access.


So Tehran and the P5+1 are stuck in a vicious circle: Tehran demands trust but is blocking verification while the P5+1 are demanding verification in order to build trust. This circle can only break if Rouhani would make good on his promise for transparency and Khamenei would give up on one of his red lines and his infamous pride. Based on the latest events at Parchin, neither Rouhani nor Khamenei are ready to deliver.


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Human Rights in Iran from Bad to Worst, Again.

human rights 2Iran’s FM, Muhammad Zarif, wasn’t smiling last week when he called the pressure on human rights by the West an “old and worn out method” which is completely “unacceptable”.  It’s understandable that he reacts in such a manner: For two years, he has been wheeling and dealing with the West in an effort to sign a nuclear deal that will free Iran from sanctions while human rights activists and anti-regime organizations continue to hammer Iran for its horrid state of human rights.

For years, Iranian leaders continue to claim that all the pressure on Iran’s human rights is “politically motivated” and is “unfounded” in reality. Unfortunately for them, the evidence of human rights abuses in Iran is piling up daily. Meanwhile, Tehran accused the special UN human right rapporteur on Iran of taking bribes for Saudi Arabia based on a wikileak document which turned out to be a fraud.

What’s making it harder to tone down the pressure is the fact that the regime is issuing increasingly harsher laws that limit the Iranian people’s freedoms: three weeks ago, Khamenei’s chief of staff announced that criticizing or opposing the regime is “the greatest sin” opening the door to arrest and hang anyone for such a sin.

The question of whether human rights should be an issue or not is a real one and there is no easy answer. Some believe that the timing of the nuclear deal and the presidency is ripe for serious changes while others point out that Iran should not be singled out for such pressure while countries like Saudi Arabia continue to get away with murder. Iranian leaders have taken up this call of cynicism to an extreme by accusing Saudi Arabia of crimes of human rights for attacking Yemen while Iran is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war which has taken hundreds of thousands of casualties.

Should human rights be a central issue with Iran or not? You decide.


Capital Punishment and Amputations

B6i2nILCUAAVpvqThe death toll from capital punishment has, counter-intuitively, risen during Rouhani’s presidency – there are on average three hangings a day in Iran which is up 40% from 2014 and nearly 100% from 2013. Iranian Chief of Human Rights, Javad Larijani, pointed out that over 80% of these are hanged on drug-related charges as if that makes it OK, but that will still leave a few hundred people who are hanged for obscure charges called “Moharabeh – Corruption of the Earth” which includes any anti-Islamic charges (criticizing Khamenei, Muhammad, Islam etc…). For example, an Iranian alternative therapist has been found guilty of “Moharabeh” and is destined to be hanged while a member of his group was sentenced to 74 lashes.

Last week, a man accused of robbing a bank had a hand and a foot amputated and another man accused of hurting someone’s eye is to have his eye gouged. Iranians defend these acts by claiming that they are based on Shariah laws which are the mainframe of the Islamic Revolution. The problems of capital punishment and amputations is compounded by the fact that the justice system in Iran is not known for giving criminals the required legal rights to defend themselves which may lead to irreparable mistakes.


Harassment and Oppression

acid 7Hangings and amputations are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to abuses of human rights in Iran. Most abuses take the form of harassment and oppression. In general, women are oppressed and harassed: This can happen because of not adhering to “Good Hijab” laws (dress-codes) or simply for being women in a gender-segregated environment such a volleyball game. Rouhani has clashed repeatedly over the issue of “Bad Hijab” laws which can lead to fines or imprisonment and lashes to no avail.

But it’s not only women – two weeks ago, 50 young Iranians were arrested for attending a “mixed gender party”  and behaving in an “inappropriate” fashion.

Religious minorities are still suffering from legal oppression in Iran: Baha’is are regularly discriminated in universities and workplaces, while even Sunnis have to stand aside and watch their mosques demolished. Rouhani, who promised for equality for religious minorities is being pressured to do something about this but, once again, he seems powerless to do so.


The Nuclear Deal and Human Rights

Some people believe that a nuclear deal with Iran will create the right environment for change. The logic behind this belief is simple: A nuclear deal will bring Iran out of isolation and as business develops, Iran will find it hard to continue to abuse human rights. Maybe so.

In the meantime, as high ranking delegations from the EU, Germany and Italy fly into Tehran, the focus is only on business and not on human rights. These delegations are being criticized for not even bringing up the issues of human rights while their parliaments back home are blasting away at Iran on these issues.

Still, Tehran says it is ready to talk with the EU about a wide range of subjects including human rights and the environment.

Although Rouhani has done what seemed to be impossible by rebranding Iran as a legitimate business, military and political partner, the regime in Tehran wants to keep the status quo on all issues included Shariah laws. As long as the regime maintains its control over the Iranian people, their chances of living freer lives without being abused will remain slim.

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What’s (Not) Changed since 1979

On his election campaign, Rouhani promised to focus on Tehran’s foreign policy in an effort to bring Iran out of isolation. Within two years, culminating in the nuclear deal, he has radically changed what many Westerners thought about Iran.

Suddenly, Iran isn’t only a hotbed for fundamentalist mullahs, a sordid hideaway for abusing human rights and a center for promoting subversion and terrorism in the region: Iran has become a legitimate business partner and a leader for all anti-Americans. As far as these people are concerned, Rouhani delivered on his promise for change, big time.

As for the others, the changes that Rouhani delivered seem irrelevant since the status quo in Tehran remains intact under the iron-hard rule of Khamenei and his symbiotic relationship he has with the IRGC.

So what’s changed and what hasn’t changed in Iran?


What’s changed? Iran’s Brand Identity.

Red_Gift_with_Green_Ribbon_ClipartA brand represents the collective expectations, feelings and thoughts regarding an entity. As such, it is obviously related and dependent on the attributes and actions of the entity but not in a direct 100% way. In the same manner, packaging usually reflects messages that go beyond the description of the product within the package.

At the end of the day, most people buy brands (the container) and not products (content) since this speeds up decision making (no need to go into the fine print). A key point about brands is that they are subjective and not based on facts: one person likes Coke/Apple and another likes Pepsi/Samsung…both are right from their points of view.

Iran’s brand identity has changed drastically in the eyes of many people since Rouhani took office through three key changes:

  • Tone and Style: Rouhani brought with him a smile, a diplomatic language and hopes for a better future which were unprecedented in previous administrations. His use of social media as part of his communication with people outside Iran only served to bring Iran closer to Westerners. The change in tone and style may have been enough for some who wanted to like Iran but were wary of the fiery rhetoric.
  • “Untabooing” Issues: Rouhani “untabooed” and legitimized issues that had once been the essence of the regime such as rapprochement with the West, calls for easing of abuses of human rights, criticizing the IRGC, privatizing the economy etc…Regardless of whether he succeeded in changing these issues, the simple fact that he was willing to talk about it allowed another group of people to rethink about Iran in a more positive way.
  • Redefining Issues: Rouhani managed to rebrand Iran by redefining issues of contention. A key example is his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) proposal to the UN General Assembly two years ago which redefined Iran as a fighter against terrorism and violence as opposed to a country which supports terrorism. His redefinition of terrorism placed countries in the West, especially the US, as supporters of terrorism which convinced many anti-Westerners to view Iran in a much more positive light while allowing Iran to use terrorist organizations to fight for Iran in Yemen.

It’s important to note that all of these “rebranding tactics” targeted people outside of Iran in what Khamenei touted as the “soft war” over the public opinion of the world. Rouhani’s popularity within Iran was a given from the day he was elected and his efforts at rebranding Iran for an Iranian audience are negligible.


What’s not changed? Tehran’s Regime.

maxresdefaultIran’s government is based on three governing bodies: The government headed by Rouhani, the Majlis parliament representing Iranian constituents and the regime headed by Khamenei and supported by the IRGC. The first two are elected by the people while the last are chosen/hired by themselves. Unlike Western democracies, of the three bodies, the unelected regime, with Khamenei at its head, is by far the most influential in nearly every aspect of government.

Rouhani’s government is pushing for changes and the Majlis has opened up slightly to such possibilities but the regime’s goal is to maintain the status quo. Khamenei and his hardliner cronies don’t mind Rouhani rebranding Iran to the world, but they strongly oppose any form of change that weakens the revolutionary goals established in 1979. These goals include keeping all the Shariah laws within Iran, exporting the Islamic Revolution to any country or region where it might take hold and resisting the onslaught of capitalism and the freedoms that are key to older democracies in the West.

So while Rouhani rebrands Iran as a country that is open to change, the regime is not. As such, Tehran continues to abuse human rights, to support terrorist organizations, to meddle in its neighbours politics and wars and to do all it can in order to maintain its revolutionary identity. That’s why so much money is allocated to Iran’s war in Syria, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas’s war against Israel etc…instead of focusing on the benefits of the Iranian people. Rouhani can tweet all he wants against the persecution of women who are accused of “Bad Hijab” but at the end of the day, the regime continues to do so because “Good Hijab” is the status quo…and remember, it is now a “sin” to criticize the regime

As such, Iran remains much the same as it was following the revolution in 1979.

The bottom line is this: Iran has changed on the outside but remains the same on the inside. Such “rebranding” changes without changes in the actual product are not uncommon but they are hard to maintain. Any change achieved under Rouhani can be “undone” by one word from Khamenei. In order for any change to remain permanent, it has to be done from within, by the Iranian people, and by changing the regime itself (or parts of it).  As long as the regime maintains its revolutionary goals, no change can be substantial or permanent.


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