Iranians Return Home To Jail


Since the Islamic Revolution, many Iranians fled Iran and emigrated to countries where they could continue to enjoy the basic freedoms that were stolen from them by the oppressive regime. For many of them, Iran remains their home and family and they long for the chance to fly back, to visit their families and friends, to relive some of their cherished memories and to be a part of the economic boom that was meant to follow the nuclear deal. Other Iranians left Iran for the purpose of studying abroad but statistics show that 89% of Iranian doctoral students didn’t return after finishing their studies, increasing the growing level of the “brain-drain” raging in Iran.

Up until three years ago, most of these Iranians talked about revisiting their homeland only in theory knowing all too well that once they landed back in Tehran, the nightmares of the past would become painful realities of the present and the future. But then, Hassan Rouhani won the elections and in the spirit of moderateness, he called on all Iranians living abroad as immigrants or as dissidents, to come back to Iran without fears of repercussions form the regime – he called this their “incontrovertible right”. It’s estimated that there are 7 million Iranians living outside of Iran and that they manage assets worth $2 trillion – perhaps that’s why Rouhani called them “assets” and he ordered the embassies to facilitate procedures for them to visit Iran.

Some Iranians must have been overjoyed by Rouhani’s statements because they boarded planes and flew out to Tehran. They didn’t listen to Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, the Spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary who unequivocally stated that “we do not ban people from entering the country or say they do not have the right to enter the country… but when they enter they will be charged and prosecuted“. For most, the decision to visit was rewarded with a nostalgic holiday and more wonderful memories and some even decided to move back to Iran. But for some, listening to Rouhani led them straight to arrests, interrogations and jail time, away from their work, friends and families back home in the West.

Their stories should be heard by the Iranian diaspora as a warning that Iran may be on the path of returning to the global community following the signing of the JCPoA, but the regime there remains antagonistic to anyone who criticizes it in the past, present or near future.

 

Returning Back to Jail

evinHere are a few examples of Iranians who decided to take the risk and return to their “homeland” only to find themselves in jails:

Most of these prisoners underwent bogus trials in which they had limited access to their lawyers and families and most suffered humiliations and didn’t receive proper medical treatment while in jail. There are probably many more examples but these should suffice: Iranians living abroad should be aware that returning to Iran may be a great idea in theory but could lead them to jail.

 

Waiting to Return

Other Iranians are being much more cautious and are waiting for more positive signs from Tehran before they fly out to visit. They are homesick for their country, they miss their families and they want to develop careers in Iran but they don’t want to end up in jail. It’s worth watching this movie which highlights the dilemma of a few prominent Iranian artists (Nikzad Nojoomi and Melody Safavi), and journalists (Masih Alinejad and Roozbeh Mirebrahimi) living abroad:

Furthermore, Western businesses who want to capitalize on the potential of the Iranian economy post-JCPoA are finding it hard to convince Iranians living in the West to return back to Iran to help establish their businesses there. These people can easily earn $15,000 a month working in Iran – local Iranians would earn only $5,000 a month for the same job. These Westernized Iranians understand fully the potential of moving to Iran as far as money is concerned but they are weary of losing their freedom.

 

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Tehran Tried To Have It Both Ways

both ways

Lifting sanctions

During negotiations leading up to the JCPoA, Tehran resisted the US’s efforts to include issues such as terrorism, missiles and human rights to the nuclear issue. The Americans thought that they could use the JCPoA as a bargaining chip to get some more concessions out of Tehran concerning these other issues but were unsuccessful at achieving this goal. The JCPoA was subsequently signed and nuclear-related sanctions were lifted once the JCPoA was implemented and everyone made a big deal about how the Iranians had craftily forced the US into a corner in order to sign the deal.

As the sanctions were lifted, the euphoria in Iran was buoyed by the stream of foreign trade delegations (over 400 in less than three years) and the prospects of cashing in on the deal. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei quickly banned over 400 US brands from Iran and made a point of banning any form of negotiations with the US and justifying the calls of “Death to America” and it looked as if Tehran had won the upper hand.

Unfortunately, the US’s continuing sanctions on missiles, terrorism and human rights in Iran has caused most big international banks to wait wearily on the sidelines of Iran’s economy and without the banks, the lifting of the sanctions seems impotent. Khamenei is now thoroughly frustrated claiming that “we haven’t seen anything tangible from these delegations visiting Iran…we are expecting to see some real improvements. Promises on paper have no value” and is now openly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani for “magnifying the disadvantages and losses caused by sanctions“.

 

Caught in a trap

Khamenei is now pushing for a “Resistance Economy” which will not be dependent on foreign investments and foreign trade and Rouhani is now up against the wall. If the remaining sanctions aren’t lifted soon, the whole promise of the JCPoA will dwindle down to the money freed from the lifted nuclear-related sanctions.

But in the meantime, Tehran continues to carry out more missile tests which are answered with more missile-related sanctions, continues to openly support terrorist organizations thereby receiving more terrorism-related sanctions and is in complete denial over the problems of human rights in Iran. The US, which seemed to have given away the whole store to the Iranians is virtually holding the only key to the locked door and Tehran will have to decide within the very near future whether it is willing to renegotiate some kind of deal which would free up any banking restrictions.

What makes matters worse is the fact that it has become nearly impossible to manage closed economy which is open as well in a world where all economies are globally interconnected.

That may be why Khamenei is looking towards Asia for international trade as he clearly stated thatIran’s “definite policy is based on cooperation with Asian countries“.

 

A dead end

disagreement-1
Of course, it may be in the US’s long-term interests to free up the banking systems in order to give Rouhani and his so-called moderate government some economical and political leeway. The problem is that apart from the White House, no one in Washington actually wants to help Iran or Rouhani because they are still upset over. Perhaps the US would be willing to ease up on some sanctions if Iran would ease up on its missile tests and its support of terrorist organizations and would be open for some real changes in human rights but the chances of that happening now are dwindling fast.

In the same manner, Rouhani’s government has repeatedly stated that Iranian emigrants and exiles would be welcomed in Iran in an effort to project a more open and moderate Iran. But in reality, there are too many cases in which Iranian exiles are arrested on visiting their homeland for exactly the reasons why they ran away in the first place. These nigthmarish stories of Westernized Iranians being sent to jail is creating major problems in wooing Iranians living in the West to move to Iran. Instead, they too, like the banks, would rather wait on the sidelines to see how things turn out.

No, this looks like another dead-end which will leave the extremists telling the moderates on both sides “I told you so”.

Rouhani Must Withdraw From Syria

For over five years, Tehran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, have been steadfastly supporting Syria’s minority government leader and self-proclaimed dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. This support includes financial and military aid estimated at $50 billion and a death toll of several hundred Iranians and several hundred Hezbollah troops.

For over five years, Tehran has warned foreign powers to not take an active part in the Syrian civil war that the only solution for the Syrian civil war would be a political one. This warning is loaded with irony since Tehran is the biggest foreign military power in Syria and this irony only grew as the cheers from Tehran rose when Moscow joined the war.

But now, Tehran is at a crossroads: Moscow has checked out of Syria, leaving the battlefield once again to Assad, Tehran and Hezbollah and peace talks have led to a series of cease-fires. Tehran has to decide whether to keep on supporting Assad militarily or follow Moscow’s lead and remove its troops (Iranian and Hezbollah) from Syrian soil. The pressure for Iran to withdraw its troops is building up from three sides: the peacemakers (UN), the regional arch-enemy (Saudi Arabia) and the Iranian people themselves. On all three levels, it makes sense for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to pull Iranian troops out of Syria.

 

The UN wants Iran out of Syria

syria2The Syrian civil war has claimed a death toll of 250,000 – 470,000 (depending on who is doing the survey) and the displacement of approximately 12 million Syrians. It is noteworthy in this context to know that most of the civilian casualties were hurt or killed by Assad’s government forces and his supporters, namely Iran, Hezbollah and then Russia.

Up until now, the threat of ISIS managed to convince the world that Tehran’s involvement in Syria is based on one issue alone: to defeat terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. This is strange since Tehran’s involvement in Syria began long before ISIS birth in gory rampage in mid-2013 and belies Tehran’s sectarian and geo-military reasons for supporting Assad. On a sectarian level, Assad is an Alawite, a Shiite-like sect of Islam, which is a minority sect in Syria living within a Sunni majority, and Tehran could not bear to lose a Shiite-friendly ally. On a geo-military level, Syria is Tehran is a strategic stepping stone to attack Israel and to arm and train Hezbollah militias. Tehran would love for Syria to become an extension of Lebanon, a country governed by Hezbollah with strings being pulled back in Tehran.

The UN understands that as long as Iranian and Hezbollah forces are in Syria, the chances of a peace process, accepted by the rebels, to develop is nil: the Syrian rebels view Iran and Hezbollah as foreign invaders who are there for one thing only – to save Assad. In order for a peace process to begin, the rebels have to believe that playing field is even which means that Tehran has to leave. Rouhani, who has been courting the UN for the past three years also understands this all too well and should find a way to bring Iranian troops out of Syria.

 

Saudi Arabia wants Iran out of Syria

The animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran has grown steadily as Iran became less of a global pariah and more of a partner for the West. The JCPoA lifted sanctions from Iran which meant that Iran could now compete with Saudi Arabia more adequately while Tehran’s re-branding as a champion against terror meant that more focus was placed on Saudi Arabia’s part in Sunni-based terrorism. Tehran made a big deal out of the fact that ISIS’s roots could be traced back to support from Saudi Arabia and the US and by placing Sunni-based terrorism on a much higher danger level than Shiite-based terrorism.

Saudi Arabia’s frustrations grew as Tehran supported Shiite-like Houthi rebels in Yemen to overthrow the government and as Iranian troops and “advisers” roamed the Syrian battle-fields freely while Saudi Arabia could only watch on the sidelines and send in limited military supplies to the Syrian rebels.

All this changed when Saudi Arabia declared war on the Houthis and then again, when Saudi Arabia threatened to send in its own armed forces into Syria. Riyadh’s claim is quite simple: If Tehran can freely support Assad, then Riyadh can freely support Assad’s rebels.

The only way out of this stand-off is for Tehran to step down. Rouhani who had called for Islamic unity only six months ago must understand that if Saudi Arabia does deploy its troops in Syria, a regional conflict based on proxy wars can suddenly become an all-out frontal war between these regional arch-enemies.

 

Iranians want Iran out of Syria

Although nearly every Iranian leader has spoken in favor of supporting Assad in his war, criticism in Iran is growing. The IRGC leaders understand the political and military importance of Assad in Syria but every burial of an IRGC soldier killed in Syria increased the pressure within the IRGC to distance itself from sending Iranian soldiers to the Syrian front.

But now, the criticism is reaching a grass-roots level: Iranians who are still suffering from a weak economy are finding it hard to swallow the billions of dollars being invested in a war outside of Iran to decrease the suffering of Assad and his troops instead of investing these funds within Iran to decrease the suffering of the Iranian people. At first, the Iranian populace vented its anger at the burials of Iranian soldiers which seemed OK by the regime since the anger seemed to be pointed at the enemies of Assad but protests have begun in Iran in which the protesters are blaming the regime.

For most Iranians, the regime’s support of Assad is deemed as acceptable as long as the body-count and the billions invested remain at a low level but once that level is crossed, they are doing what is extremely dangerous to do in Iran: openly criticize the regime. For now, these protests have not spread nationally but it’s just a matter of time if Iranian money keeps being invested and Iranian blood keeps being shed in Syria. Rouhani gains his power form his popularity and if these protests increase, it will surely add more pressure on him to extricate Iran out of the Syrian blood baths.

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Khamenei And Rouhani Clash Over The Economy

clash economyIt’s no secret that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and president Hassan Rouhani do not see eye to eye on many issues. Khamenei is a “revolutionary” at heart who wants to preserve the ideals of the Islamic Revolution while Rouhani is an adept politician who was elected on a ticket for change (change in foreign relations, in the economy, in human rights, in the political system etc…) and if there is one thing that Khamenei finds abhorrent, it is change that can weaken the regime and its revolutionary ideals.

Over the past three and a half years, Khamenei, despite his claims that he is a revolutionary and not a politician, bided his time in a very diplomatic manner: he didn’t vigorously back Rouhani but he didn’t trip him up either.

Khamenei’s efforts to resist change were weakened by two strong blows: the signing of the JCPoA last year which effectively brought Iran out of its isolated pariah status and the elections in February in which the reformists and moderates experienced a significant growth in power both in the parliament and in the Assembly of Experts.

The key issue now is the economy and for the first time, Khamenei and Rouhani have openly taken two very different sides with diametrically opposed strategies which exemplify the differences between Khamenei, the regime and the older population on the one hand and Rouhani, the reformists and Iran’s younger and secular population: Khamenei’s “resistance economy” which would keep Iran independent but isolated versus Rouhani’s “constructive engagement with the world” which would lead Iran into a global economy.

 

Different bases of power
Khamenei’s base of power is immense: his title “Supreme Leader” is backed by many hardline elements of the regime such as the Assembly of Experts, a body in charge of choosing, supervising and even firing the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, a powerful military and economic force loyal to Khamenei and the regime and the Basij, a hardline voluntary organization in charge of carrying out the regime’s ambitions at a grass-roots level.

In contrast, Rouhani’s base of power can be summed up in one word: popularity. Rouhani’s power emanates from the support of the Iranian voters. The last time a popular president clashed with the Supreme Leader was in the presidential elections in 2009 when Iranians took to the streets to protest what they believed were rigged elections. The results exemplified the power of the regime: Khamenei’s favorite hardline candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became presidents, thousands of protesters were arrested, tortured and imprisoned and the reformist candidates were subsequently placed under house arrest where they remain to this date.

Over the past three and a half years, Khamenei, despite his claims that he is a revolutionary and not a politician, bided his time in a very diplomatic manner: he didn’t vigorously back Rouhani in his efforts to ink a nuclear deal with the P5+1, but he didn’t trip him up either.

 

The JCPoA and the elections

good cop bad copBut the negotiations leading up to the JCPoA, the signing of the deal and its implementation repeatedly placed more pressure on Khamenei to voice his mandate as Supreme Leader: he voiced his pessimism repeatedly, dictated his “red lines” to the negotiations team before the signing of the JCPoA, was visibly upset when some of these red lines were crossed in the final deal and tried to renegotiate the deal after it was signed. Once the deal was signed, Khamenei stepped back to front stage and formally relieved Rouhani from his duties in the implementation of the JCPoA and added some more “red lines” on Rouhani’s foreign policy by forbidding him from negotiating with the “Great Satan”, the US, and banning US brands from Iran. His paranoia, which may be justified, that the influx of Western brands and culture will weaken the regime remains a driving force for Khamenei’s animosity towards the US.

The elections for parliament and for the Assembly of Experts once again pitted Khamenei opposite Rouhani: The Guardian Assembly disqualified 90% of the reformist and moderate candidates and Rouhani looked in vain to Khamenei for help. Once again, Khamenei’s fears of change guided his actions and once again, he became the politician that he claims he isn’t and he didn’t get involved one way or another. Once the results were in, it was clear that although the moderates hadn’t reached the majority they had hoped for, the Iranian voters had given them enough support to create a sizeable shift away from the hardliners that had ruled until then. Khamenei vocally lamented the loss of key hardliners in the Assembly of Experts.

 

The economy is the key

Unlike differences between these two in the past, the economy has the potential to become a major clash because a) the strategies are so different and b) the Iranian public is suffering from a weak economy despite the fact that Rouhani has had some successes in strengthening the economy he inherited from Ahmadinejad.

Overall, Iran was disappointed to not see a visible improvement in the economy following the signing of the JCPoA. Khamenei voiced his disappointment that although the lifting of sanctions had brought on over 140 trade delegations from the world, “we haven’t seen anything tangible from these delegations visiting Iran…we are expecting to see some real improvements. Promises on paper have no value“. Furthermore, Khamenei continues to blame the US influence on the global banking community which hasn’t committed to dealing with Iran for fear of “slap-back” sanctions and the regional conflict surrounding Iran in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf States as a result of Iran’s efforts to “Export the Revolution”.

This disappointment was followed by his yearly Nowruz speech in which he mentioned sanctions 28 times and designated his slogan for the upcoming year: “Resistance Economy: Action and Implementation”.  He published his 10-point plan on his website and it is incredible to note that there is no mention at all of foreign investments – it’s as if the JCPoA was never signed.

Rouhani’s Nowruz speech, by contrast, included only 2 mentions of sanctions and he focused on a positive note: “Conditions for the economic activities of our people have gotten greater and greater“. But in another speech, he shot back a veiled attack at Khamenei by stating that “the resistance economy will materialize with action, planning and without slogans” and then tried to mollify his criticism by claiming that “constructive engagement with the world and the path of our administration…has been economic resistance”.

If the Iranian economy doesn’t get the boost expected from the JCPoA, Rouhani’s popularity is bound to drop and the war of words between the two is sure to escalate. It will then be up to the Iranian people to decide whether Iran should finally become a country instead of a revolutionary ideal or not.

 

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Khamenei Thorn in Iran’s Economy

The signing of the JCPoA was meant to lift sanctions from Iran and to allow Iran to join the global economy. The potential of making money in a market that had been effectively isolated for nearly three decades is enormous. Huge reserves of oil and gas result in low prices, low wages result in cheaper costs of  manufacturing and a growing up-and-coming young market means a strong base to sell products and services.

Theoretically, this is a classic gold rush opportunity and the estimated 140 trade delegations which landed in Tehran over the past 9 months are a testament to the potential of Iran’s economy. But when it comes to putting this theory into practice, it looks like everybody is rushing to check out the gold mine that is the Iranian economy but most are holding back from committing to actually invest their money in Iran.

Last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei complained that “we haven’t seen anything tangible from these delegations visiting Iran…we are expecting to see some real improvements. Promises on paper have no value“. From his statement, one might believe that the fault lies with the trade delegations but it is not: The problem in Iran’s economy, a far as foreign investors are concerned is none other than Khamenei himself and the regime he represents.

 

What does Khamenei mean?

khameneiThe first step in understanding Khamenei’s statement is to understand whether this statement reflects the reality of Iran’s economy or not. There are three options here:

  • Khamenei is only partially right: The Iranian media, supported in most cases by international media, has proudly reported that several billion dollar deals and dozens of MoU’s have been signed by governments such as Russia, Azerbaijan, India etc…and by companies such as Airbus, Peugeot, Bayer etc…Have none of these deals reached fruition or are these deals simply not big enough for Khamenei’s expectations?
  • Khamenei’s statement was politically motivated: It’s no secret that although Khamenei gave the green light to negotiate a nuclear deal, he was never really happy about it since it meant that Iran would have to give up something on the way. Such a statement might have been meant to criticize President Hassan Rouhani’s government in a roundabout way as well as to appease hardliners, like him, who were against the deal in the first place.
  • Khamenei is 100% correct: Trade delegations have landed in Tehran, deals are inked but money isn’t rolling in. This begs for a simple question: What’s wrong with Iran’s economy that’s causing the business people of these 140 trade delegation (approximately 4,000 people) to rush to Tehran but to procrastinate on fulfilling the deals? Obviously, they arrived in Tehran to make money but when it came time to transfer the cash, their fear of losing money kicked in.

The truth is probably a mix of all three possibilities: the number and size of deals falls below the expectations following the signing of the JCPoA, it was important for Khamenei to criticize the “dismal” results of the JCPoA and most of the world may be very interested in becoming rich from Iran’s untapped economy, but, and this is a big but, a sense of instability and insecurity in Iran is creating a hurdle for most potential investors.

Another interesting part of Khamenei’s statement is the last sentence: “promises on paper have no value”. No value? What about the “promises on paper” by Iran in the JCPoA? Khamenei will have to decide whether he stands by written promises or not.

 

The increasing dangers of doing business in Iran

On December 19th, we posted an article on the 7 dangers of doing business with Iran: these included 1) red tape and bureaucracy, 2) partnering with the IRGC, 3) paranoia of “infiltration”, 4) hardliner crackdowns, 5) preferential treatment for Russia, 6) possibility of snap-back sanctions and 7) regional conflict.

As one can see, all of these dangers are political in nature and are dependent on the behavior and the nature of the regime in Tehran. Since then, the issue of regional conflict has escalated from a war of words to rumbles of more proxy wars as Saudi Arabia is leading an anti-Iran coalition targeting Hezbollah, Assad and Tehran.

But since then, there have been some new developments and most of them originated from Khamenei or from hardliners and organizations close to Khamenei.

Take this statement by the Assembly of Experts meant for Rouhani: “We would like to ask the government to painstakingly pursue the implementation of the agreements leading to the removal of sanctions, and also to refrain from developing a customer market for foreigners and to prioritize true needs“. On the one hand, a green light to cash in on the JCPoA’s lifting of sanctions for the purpose of increasing foreign investments but on the other hand, a clear warning that Iran isn’t interested in simply opening up its consumer market to imports. Such a statement is a flashing warning sign for any companies who thought to take advantage of the untapped consumer market in Iran which has been effectively cutoff from global brands due to sanctions.

Then, there is the case of Khamenei banning 227 American brands from the Iranian economy. Obviously, this is totally in tune with Khamenei’s hatred for the “Great Satan” but in a world of global brands, this is another flashing warning sign to all Western brands. If Khamenei could ban 227 American brands in one shot, what will stop him from banning French or British or Swedish brands in the future?

 

Khamenei’s priorities dictate the economy

The one person who truly identifies the behavior and the nature of the regime is none other than Khamenei himself. A self-proclaimed revolutionary (“I’m not a diplomat; I’m a revolutionary“) his priorities have always been to uphold Islamic Revolutionary values over the welfare of the Iranian people. This is in stark contrast with Rouhani who took a swipe at Khamenei’s priorities by asking “what’s the use of saying I am a revolutionary … why don’t we seek people’s comfort and our country’s glory?“.

Back in 2013, we posted an article called “Dictator Khamenei’s priorities stifle Iranian’s election hopes“. Thankfully, we were wrong about the Iranians’ hopes since Rouhani was elected but Khamenei’s priorities resulted directly to an economy which suffered from 40% inflation, 80% devaluation of currency, 25% unemployment and $133 billion deficit by continuing to support Assad and Hezbollah and by increasing Iran’s nuclear program beyond the needs of electricity. Unfortunately, Khamenei’s priorities haven’t change over the past two and half years: The support to Assad is now estimated at $10 billion a year and to Hezbollah at $500 million a year. Rouhani, on the other hand, is placing the welfare of the Iranian economy at the center of his agenda, knowing that if it doesn’t get better in the near future, his chance for re-election are dim.

But Khamenei isn’t ready to let go yet: Although he is smart enough not to throw Rouhani out for fear of instigating a counter-revolution, he is doing all he can to maintain a hardline attitude for his regime and as long as he is in power, the chances of turning Iran into the economic powerhouse everyone wants it to be, are non-existent.

 

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Help Free These Brave Iranian Women

There are literally hundreds of Iranian women in jail today for crimes which are 100% political. In the notorious Evin jail alone, there are over 200 female political prisoners. These women aren’t hardened criminals, murderers, arsonists, thieves etc…They are in jail for one reason and one reason only: they have stood up to the patriarchal theocratic regime in Tehran and have tried to change the state of oppression that they, as women in Iran, are living under. They are prisoners of conscience who might, in most cases, have been living quietly and comfortably at home if they had only accepted their fates. Instead, they hit the streets to protest, posted content critical of the regime on social media, called on Iranians to become a part of the change necessary to free Iran from its hardened Islamic Revolutionary ideals and move to an equalitarian society in which women are not treated like a minority.

These women’s voices have been shut by the regime for crimes such as “propaganda against the state”, “assembly and collusion”, “acting against national security”, “insulting the sacred”, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “blasphemy”, “spreading corruption on earth” etc…. Underneath these labels are hiding other “crimes” such as being Baha’i or Sunni. These crimes have one thing in common: criticism against the regime. In Western countries, these “crimes” would not warrant even an arrest but in Iran, . These charges can lead to many years in prison or even execution. While in jail, many of these women have been flogged, tortured and raped while their families have been harassed.

There is something basically wrong when a state feels so threatened by criticism of any kind that it has to jail or execute the voices of criticism. This pattern is a sign of the basic weakness of the regime itself since a regime which really represented its citizens would be open to criticism and calls for change. Iran makes a big deal about the fact that it is a democracy in that it holds elections to choose its president, its parliament and its Assembly of Experts but experience has shown the Iranian people can only vote for candidates that have been approved by the Guardian Council which can disqualify candidates based on political criteria. Over 90% of the female candidates running in the elections for parliament were disqualified and even those who did get in were taunted by hardline MP’s who likened them to “donkeys”.

President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013 on a ticket for change. He first focused his attention on Iran’s foreign policy and this lead to the signing of the JCPoA which effectively brought Iran out of its isolation. He then focused on increasing the power of moderates and reformists in parliament and in the Assembly of Experts. It’s now time to focus on human rights and to begin, first and foremost, with women who will then be able to vote for him in the next presidential elections.

Pictured here are 24 of these women. They are artists, journalists, activists, unionists, lawyers and lawyers. They are daughters, mothers, wives and sisters. They deserve to be known and released. The first step is to know who they are and to read their names and click on the links.

 reyhaneh  nargess    maryam  atena 1  
Reyhaneh Tabatabaei Narges Mohammadi Bahareh Hedayat Maryam
Akbari-Monfared
Atena Daemi Sima Eshraghi
 parvin  behnaz  noura  zahra  naghneh  nasim
Parvin Mohammadi Behnaz Zakeri-Ansari Noura Nabilzadeh Zahra Mansouri Naghmeh Shahsavandi-Shirazi Nasim Ashrafi
 golrokh  maryam 3  mahvash  zaynab  atena 2  maryam 2
Golrokh Ebrahimi Maryam-Sadat Yahyavi Mahvash Sabet Zaynab Jalalian Atena Farghadani Maryam (Nasim) Zargar
 faran  shokoufeh  neeka and nava  sadigheh  tahereh
Faran Hesami Shokoufeh Azar Masouleh Neeka and Nava Kholousi Sadigheh Moradi Tahereh Jafari

The second step is to sign at least one of these petitions:

Thank you and God bless you.

 

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Tehran’s Actions Contradict Its Words

The ambiguity of the relationship between Tehran and the West continues to create wave after wave of insecurity. For all intents and purposes, the signing of the JCPoA between Iran and the P5+1, was meant to herald a new paradigm which would not only end Tehran’s isolation vis-à-vis the West but actually place Tehran on the same side of its former “enemies”.

The post-JCPoA reality is strikingly different than the positive wording and the smiling handshakes of its co-signers. What followed the inking of the deal is a continuous ping-pong of accusations and counter-accusations from all sides and every step towards the normalization of the relationship between Tehran and the world is followed by a counter-step in the opposite direction.

Tehran has to decide, once and for all, if it wants to be accepted by the world as a country with the potential to become a trusted trading partner and a destination for world tourism and investments, or to continue its efforts to export its revolution and by doing so, continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs. In other words, Tehran has to choose between being a part of the current world order or to continue to strive to create a new world order based on the Islamic Revolution or as Henry Kissinger aptly put it: Iran has to choose “whether it’s a nation or a cause”.

 

Steps and Counter-Steps

Here are a few examples of Tehran’s steps to normalizations followed by counter-steps which increase its isolation:

  • October 7th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of congratulating President Hassan Rouhani on a great job of de-isolating Iran but immediately added a ban on any talks or negotiations with “the Great Satan” USA, a major player in the signing of the JCPoA. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • October 12th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Iran test fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear war heads destined for Israel which, although not in contradiction with the JCPoA but, was in direct contradiction of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). Why? The fear of seeming weakened by the JCPoA in the eyes of Iran’s allies and enemies.
  • November 6th 2015: Following the implementation of the JCPoA, Tehran began a massive crackdown against journalist and artists who seemed too liberal or too critical of the regime – within weeks, dozens of journalists and dozens of artists were rounded up and imprisoned on charges which reflect the nature of the arrests: “propaganda against the state”, “insulting the sacred”, “assembly and collusion against national security”. “infiltration”, “spying” etc… Why? The fear of internal criticism and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • December 14th 2015: Following the signing of the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani officially opened the doors of Iran’s economy to the world but within days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of banning over 227 US brands and businesses from Iran. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • January 4th 2016: Following Tehran’s call for Muslim unity to deal effectively with a world dominated by the superpowers and the West, the regional and sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia based on accusations of meddling and proxy wars threatens to pit Muslims against Muslims in the region and in the world. Why? The fear of weakening the ideal of Exporting the Revolution.
  • March 9th: Following Iran’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which moderates and reformists gained significant power over the ruling hardline/conservative parties, Tehran once again tested long-range missiles, this time with the words “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” written in Hebrew on the missiles. Why? The fear of losing part of its raison d’etre and its Islamic Revolutionary ideals by not threatening Israel.

 

Believing Words or Actions

Last Thursday, Khamenei shared his dissatisfaction regarding the fact that the 120 plus trade delegations landing in Iran over the past two years have not yielded “anything tangible”. Obviously, these trade delegations are torn between the hopes of striking gold in Iran’s economy and between the fears of a regional conflict or a return of sanctions which could wipe out their investments. He then added something which sounded rather prophetic: “Promises on paper have no value”. And therein lies the problem with Tehran.

Tehran, on paper, has huge potential for strong business and political relationships with countries around the world but Tehran in action continues to support Islamic Extremism at a time when Islamic Extremism is causing Westerners to shudder from fear. Tehran’s willingness to sign the JCPoA and the subsequent inking of numerous MoU’s with tens of countries are in stark contrast with its destabilizing actions in the region and the world.

At the same time, Western states, and specially the US, has to decide whether they want to deal with Iran if it continues its flippy-floppy strategy with the world. The missile tests are just such an example: Iran tested its missiles twice since signing the JCPoA and the US/UNSC did absolutely nothing about it for fear of destroying the achievements of the JCPoA itself. What makes matters worse is that Washington is as wishy-washy as Tehran is flippy-floppy: following the last missile tests, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that he had communicated to Iranian FM Javad Zarif about the US’s “concern” and within hours, Tehran published a claim that no such communication had ever taken place.

Tehran’s involvement in the civil war in Syria is a prime example of the contradictions between its words and its actions: Tehran sometimes says that it has troops in Syria and then denies that it has, that its pulling out its troops and then that it isn’t. Tehran continuously calls loudly on the West to not get involved in the Syrian civil war and then applauds Russia’s efforts on Assad’s side. Tehran maintains that only a political solution can solve Syria’s civil war but then manages its own troops as well as Hezbollah’s. It’s confusing and that’s how Tehran likes it.

The key learning from all of this is simple: As long as Tehran talks of peace but walks towards war, there can never be a normalization of relations between Tehran and the West and Rouhani has to choose whether he plans to build a better future for Iranians by maintaining its Islamic Revolutionary past or by joining the global community and distancing itself from revolutionary notions such as Exporting the Revolution.

Drugs and Death in Tehran

drugs

The most positive aspect of Iran’s war on drugs is that it is responsible for 74% of the opium busts and 25% of all morphine/heroin busts in the world. According to Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, “the battle against drug smugglers is a serious issue in Iran that should be heeded at an international level because the whole world will in practice benefit from the fight“…OK, but apart from the statistics and Larijani’s hype, the positivity ends abruptly because the efficiency of this war is doubted on three levels:

  • Strike 1 – War on drugs leads to executions: Drug trafficking in Iran is punishable by death. It’s estimated that 70% of all prisoners and all executions in Iran are drug-related and accounts for approximately 1,000 executions a year. Furthermore, the UNODC, the UN’s organization against the trafficking of drugs, donates at least $20 million dollars a year to Iran’s war on drugs which makes the UN partly responsible for the executions. Other EU countries, which are the main destination for most of the drugs passing through Iran, also chipped in added millions to support this program although some, like the UK and Denmark stopped doing so because of the executions. It would be hard to find any country in the world which doesn’t support the war on drugs but it is much harder to find countries which are willing to take responsibility for the executions of drug traffickers.
  • Strike 2 – War on drugs inefficient in Iran: The number of drug addicts in Iran is soaring alongside the growing number of executions so local determent is obviously not a positive factor. Don’t think of these drug addicts as simply weed or hash smokers – local meth labs and heroin from nearby Afghanistan are the real problems. Unofficial estimates point to over 6 million drug users, 2.2 million overall hard-drug addicts and 1.3 million addicts undergoing treatment in private facilities since the government doesn’t condone rehab programs. Iran is also one of the biggest importers of pseudoephedrine (the key ingredient in crystal meth) in the world.
  • Strike 3 – War on drugs benefits corruption: It is a known “secret” that the drug trade, whether within Iran or through it from Afghanistan, could not succeed as it does without the support of crooked IRGC officials on the take. This fact makes a lot of sense since the IRGC is in control of a large chunk of Iran’s economy and drug smuggling, along with smuggling of any kind was a big money-maker for the IRGC during the sanction years. Drug sales in Iran account for $3 billion and since the IRGC had been running the war on drugs it was in the perfect position to reap commissions. In fact, the IRGC has developed close ties with drug cartels in Latin America.

In a nut-shell, Iran is running a war against drugs, which is leading to the rise in capital punishment, which is ineffective in reducing the number of addicts in Iran and which is benefiting corrupt officials. Oh, and this war on drugs has also resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 drug-enforcement officials.

This might sound like a clear-cut case to instigate a change to this program but change is hard to come by in Tehran. 70 MP’s have actually signed a petition to legalize some drugs and to abolish capital punishment for drug-related crimes but the petition was buried by the regime. In fact, despite the continuing criticism against capital punishment for drug traffickers, word got out last week that Iran was planning to execute another 100 drug traffickers and Iran’s VP for family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, shocked the world by claiming that “we have a village in Sistan-Baluchistan where every single man has been executed” for drug trafficking.

It’s time for Tehran to revamp its war on drugs for three simple reasons:

  • Executions are not acceptable any more: The linkage between drugs and executions: The link between executions and drug seizures, however big they may be, is becoming unbearable for many Westerners who will continue to pressure Iran to abolish the capital punishment laws.
  • The timing is right for change: The nuclear deal, the opening of Iran to international business, the increasing power of moderates in the regime, the growing power of women and youths…all point to an environment which can foster change.
  • Rehabilitation more successful then death: The fact that the number of addicts in Iran is growing is a clear statement that drug addiction is an epidemic which cannot be eradicated and that rehabilitation is sometimes the only option.

In this context, it’s strange that Larijani, in an interview last week, stated that the “system of punishment in Iran is not based on revenge; it is for rehabilitation“. Executed drug-related criminals cannot be rehabilitated. Larijani should take the issue of rehabilitation more seriously and introduce laws that will allow Iranian drug addicts the hope of rehabilitation.

Hezbollah Becomes the Defining Factor

hezbollahLast week, Hezbollah became a defining factor for choosing whose side you are on: the side which thinks that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization or…the other side. And of course, if you happen to think that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, then it’s just a skip and hop away to designate its patron, Iran, as a supporter of terrorism.

But what’s at stake here is much more than the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization or not: it defines who are whose allies in a regional conflict which might embroil the superpowers in the not-too distant future.

Saudi Arabia decided to make Hezbollah a defining factor – now everyone has to choose sides and it could get very ugly.

 

Tehran redefines terrorism

For the past two years, since President Hassan Rouhani launched his War Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative, the identity of a terrorist became a slippery notion. Timing is everything and Rouhani’s timing was perfect: ISIS redefined terrorism by upping the level of atrocities and sharing them with the world through the media and youtube. The terror incited by Qods/IRGC forces of Iran and its proxies such as Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, Hamas etc… and local Shiite militias suddenly looked all too tame.

Add to that the fact that Iran/Hezbollah sided with Bashar al-Assad to fight his civil war against a myriad of legitimate rebels, terrorist militias and…ISIS. Add to this the fact that the US and its regional allies had both played a critical part in the development of al-Qaeda and…once again, ISIS. Washington decided to take a step back/out of the conflicts in Syria and in Yemen and Moscow took a step forward/into the battlefields of Syria.

Qassem Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s elite Qods unit in charge of conflicts outside the borders of Iran, not only seemed in control of Syria/Iraq/Lebanon, he was even supported by Russia and many Westerners as the guy who will destroy ISIS.

Rouhani’s WAVE made sense to a lot of people who held anti-US sentiments: the war on terror moved away from Tehran/Shiite-based terrorism to Wahhabi/Sunni-based terrorism. Rouhani’s second initiative took a long time but it ended in a nuclear agreement which supposedly “solved” the nuclear issue, lifted sanctions, opened Iran for business and, most importantly, strengthened Rouhani’s image of Iran/Syria/Russia/Hezbollah as the “good guys” to the US/Israel/Saudi Arabia “bad guys”. The road from being a terrorist state to a partner/champion seemed complete. But not completely…

 

Tehran’s meddling kindles doubts

tehran an diranThe rebranding of terror obviously was a great success in many parts of the world judging from the number of diplomats who compliment Iran on its efforts to eradicate ISIS. But the rest of the world remained doubtful. Old accusations of Iranian-sponsored terrorism in Argentina, Nigeria, Thailand, Bulgaria etc… still bothered many people and new accusations of subversive efforts to overthrow or control governments in Yemen, the Gulf States and lately even Iraq, Lebanon and Nigeria fanned the flames of suspicion.

Tehran’s Modus Operandi in meddling is actually relatively simple: Identify Shiite fundamentalists, organizations and militias critical of their governments and support them under the guise of Shiite cultural centers and military/political “advisers” to take control or to strengthen their control of the local governments. This happened long ago in Lebanon, as Iran backed Hezbollah into taking over the government. It then happened in Iraq and in Syria as Iran backed the local governments against local opposition. It temporarily succeeded in Yemen as the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels overthrew the Yemenite government. Spy-rings were busted in most Gulf States, Baghdad made a big deal of creating a distance between itself and Tehran and even Beirut suddenly became hostile to its patron. Clashes between the Nigerian army and Shiite militants, backed, of course, by Iran, showed an expansion of Tehran’s meddling ways.

The accusations of Tehran’s meddling were met with obvious denials and counter-accusations of sectarian violence based on Iranophobia and anti-Shiite sentiment as well as “juicy” descriptions of racism, radicalism, genocide, propaganda etc…It became harder to decide who was the real “terrorist”. Who was worst? Tehran or Riyadh? Moscow or Washington?

Back in Syria, a big row erupted when the P5+1 tried to make a list of terrorist organizations vs. legitimate Syrian rebels and the US pushed to include Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Tehran countered that the CIA should also be designated as a terrorist organization and the list got stuck and the world looked still undecided who to believe.

 

Riyadh called Tehran’s bluff

Riyadh watched on as the nuclear negotiations brought Tehran out of the cold into the warmth of the approval of the P5+1, and most of the world. Riyadh watched on as delegations from all over the world landed in Tehran in the rush for the golden opportunity of doing business in Iran right after the lifting of sanctions. Riyadh watched on as Tehran continued to support Shiites in Syria (Hezbollah and Assad who is an Alawite, closely related to Shiism), in Iraq (Shiite government), in Yemen (Houthis) and in Lebanon (Hezbollah).

Riyadh watched on…and then called Tehran’s bluff and declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, effectively neutralizing Tehran’s influence there. Suddenly there were two mirror wars in two countries: Iran was actively helping Assad in Syria to fight Saudi-backed Sunni rebels, but the Saudis weren’t fighting in Syria. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was actively helping the Yemenite government to fight Iranian-backed Houthi/Shiite rebels, but the Iranians weren’t fighting in Yemen.

The busting of Iranian-backed spy rings and terrorist cells in the Gulf states increased and then Riyadh executed 47 “terrorists” including one prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, and all hell broke loose: Tehran denounced the execution, Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Riyadh cut off diplomatic relations with Tehran followed by a coalition of Gulf States and other Islamic states supported by Riyadh who did the same. Tehran went on a campaign to delegitimize Riyadh in any way it could and even tried to call for Muslim Unity in an effort to isolate its regional rival.

Riyadh’s next move pointed to Damascus but although it warned that it would send Saudi troops to fight ISIS (and help legitimate rebels against Assad), Saudi boots have not hit Syrian soil yet. Instead, Riyadh decided to hit Tehran at its weak link: It led its allies to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Westerners might not want to accuse Tehran of terrorism, either because they want to make money or because they hold anti-US sentiments, but Hezbollah remained a terrorist organization with or without Tehran’s support. To drive this point home, Riyadh also withdrew its financial support for Lebanon, effectively under Iranian/Hezbollah rule, which led to a number of Lebanese leaders who openly accused Beirut’s Hezbollah government of serving Tehran before the Lebanese people.

Another blow hit Tehran as Israeli intelligence managed to convince Moscow that the S-300 missiles to be sold to Tehran would make their way to Hezbollah to be used in a war against Israel and the deal was frozen because Moscow may want to be associated with Tehran but not with Hezbollah.

 

For two years, Tehran had successfully mixed up the definition of terrorism for many. Now Saudi Arabia wants the world to choose between Hezbollah being a terrorist organization (and Tehran a supporter of terrorism) and between Hezbollah being a freedom fighter (and Tehran a supporter of freedom). It’s an “either, or” time to choose sides.  Not only you as a reader, but all the heads of states involved either in Iran or in Saudi Arabia or both.

 

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