Towards Presidential Elections in Iran – Evaluating Rouhani’s chances

 

Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Iran on May 19. Although most of the power is centralized in the hands of the Supreme Leader Khamenei, the presidential elections do have meaning, mainly as an outlet for the people to express their will and wishful direction.

In the previous elections held in 2013, President Rouhani was elected in a landslide victory on a wave of hope for change and reform. At the time of his election, many adopted the slogan “victory of moderation over extremism” and termed him the “reformist backed cleric”. Others described him as the “moderate candidate“. But everyone overlooked the fact that all candidates went through pre-screening, which meant that he was endorsed and approved by the Supreme Leader in advance, which cannot distance him too far from the extreme views of the Supreme Leader. The so-called gap between moderates and extremists, embodied by Rouhani and Khamenei, was clearly exaggerated and over-credited.

And now, speculations are on the rise regarding Rouhani’s chances for re-election.

Some points go in his favor. He did succeed, as promised, to ink the nuclear deal with the powers and, in the process, he managed to prevent an economic catastrophe. Although he has the image of a moderate, he is tolerated by Khamenei, and thus has brought internal stability. There is also a lack of any charismatic alternative since the threat of an Ahmadinejad comeback is enough to unite all Khamenei, reformists and clerics around Rouhani.

But, there are many reasons for Rouhani to go down as the first Iranian incumbent president not to be re-elected. Contrary to his promises, the economy has not picked up. The nuclear deal has not brought benefits to the people, but more to the IRGC and hardliners. Dissatisfaction is prominent throughout Iran and in many ways his pledges to bring about improvement in freedom and liberty of the individual are left in ashes. Whether it be a result of inability or ill-will, it does not matter to the average Iranian who’s hopes have been dashed. The leaders of the opposition Mousavi and Karroubi still remain under house arrest, concerts cancelled, sports-contesters barred from participating due to headscarf issues, people arbitrarily arrested and human rights in general in a dreary situation. All broken promises.

The two sides of the speculation regarding Rouhani’s chances are presented well in two al-monitor articles: al-monitor-Iran President and al-monitor-five reasons five more years.

At least this time the Iranians go to the presidential elections with less deception and more realism. Taking into account that Rouhani is not such a moderate and a reformer as perceived, noting the narrowing gap between “moderates” and “extremists” in Iran, and bearing an awakening skepticism regarding the archaic terminology and misconceptions in relation to Iran.  The article termed “who really won Iran’s elections” in the Atlantic, states it well quoting Karim Sadjadpour “The nomenclature we use to describe Iranian politicians—such as reformists, moderates, and hardliners—is sometimes misleading and must be understood in the context of Iranian politics”.  At least this time the Iranians can go to elections with less deception and with a more realistic awareness of the options.

IRGC is gowing stronger under Rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani is toeing a very fine line: On one hand, he has openly called for the privatization of the Iranian economy which is dominated by the IRGC’s formidable network while on the other hand, he is weary of confronting the IRGC head on since that will essentially pit him against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The IRGC’s business empire reaches far beyond the military fields which once embodied the organizations main scope. Over the years, and especially under Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and during the years of global sanctions in Iran, the IRGC expanded its empire to include the fields of construction, telecommunication, oil and gas, finance, infrastructure etc…Huge governmental and private projects are regularly awarded to the IRGC conglomerate of affiliated companies in which, incidentally, Khamenei is sometimes named as a shareholder. Furthermore, the IRGC affiliates such as “Khatam-al Anbiya” also enjoy the special privilege of tax exemptions and there are strict orders by the regime which forbid the monitoring of IRGC affiliates by external agencies. As such, the nature of the ties between the IRGC and the regime is problematic to say the least since the IRGC was born as a military organization dedicated to the preservation of the regime.

The ties between the IRGC and innumerable cases of human rights abuses and links with terroristic activities have led to sanctions which remain in effect following the signing of the nuclear deal. Since the IRGC is so well connected to Iran’s economy, these sanctions are especially worrisome to foreign investors who want to capitalize on Iran’s economic potential but do not want to find themselves in contravention of these sanctions after partnering with the IRGC.

Furthermore, the IRGC has not sat idly by during Rouhani’s presidency: although the IRGC has tacitly supported Rouhani in his efforts to sign the long-awaited nuclear deal which freed Iran of sanctions, IRGC leaders have continuously criticized Rouhani over the years on numerous subjects including the nuclear deal itself. Since the IRGC answers directly to Khamenei himself, it’s obvious that such criticism could not be levelled at Rouhani without Khamenei’s approval or request.

Khamenei is not averse to intervening in all of the aspects of the governing of Iran including the economy. He has maintained, for the last two years, the ideal of the “Resistance Economy” which places a huge emphasis on keeping the Iranian economy free of foreign intervention or influence. The “Resistance Economy” is a part of Khamenei’s strategy to allay his paranoia of a “soft war” in which foreign states would weaken the regime through cultural and economic “infiltration”. The IRGC, of course, fully supports the “Resistance Economy” since it is exactly such an economy that made the IRGC the economic behemoth it has turned out to be. Rouhani, on the other hand, continues to support the ideal of the “Resistance Economy” but he seems to be doing so not out of a real belief in this strategy but because he understands too well that were he to oppose such a strategy, he would find himself, once again, fighting a losing battle against Khamenei.

Rouhani fully understands that clashing directly with the IRGC could easily result in being banned from the upcoming presidential elections since the body which authorizes or disqualifies presidential candidates, the Guardian Council, is an unelected body dominated by the IRGC and Khamenei. Just to make it clear, a spokesman of the Guardian Council has released a statement claiming that Rouhani has still not been officially allowed to run for president next year.

In a strange development, Rouhani has agreed to award plans for “rural development” to the IRGC. Handing over the billion-dollar projects was meant as a means to allow Rouhani to continue with the privatization of the economy while giving the IRGC enough economic clout back. Unfortunately for Rouhani, the IRGC took over these plans, establishing its Progress and Development Headquarters but has not lifted any pressure from expanding in other commercial projects. In fact, Hossein Dehghan, Rouhani’s minister of defense who just happens to be an ex-IRGC commander and the godfather of Hezbollah, has announced that the IRGC will be awarded 50 more huge construction contracts to build highways, dams, gas-fields etc…

The strength and fate of the IRGC is directly correlated to the strength and fate of the regime itself and both are dependent on Islamic Revolutionary ideals and money, lots of money. Rouhani and any other elected president doesn’t have the power to weaken the IRGC nor the regime as long as Tehran is governed at the end of the day by an theocratic dictator whose sole interest is to preserve the status quo of the regime.

Rouhani under heavy fire from all sides

Since he was elected, President Hassan Rouhani has been the target of repeated attacks from hardline elements in the regime but lately, the pressure against him is building up dramatically, culminating in a harsh criticism by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The attacks are based on two main themes:

  • The nuclear deal: Hardliners are bashing Rouhani for signing the deal which although has brought Iran in from its isolation, the economic benefits of the deal are still far from being fulfilled.
  • Internal politics: Rouhani’s open criticism of hardline elements in regards to freedom of speech, regime corruption, women’s rights and political opposition is exasperating hardliners who want to maintain the status quo at all costs.

Let’s start with Khamenei since his criticism holds more weight than all the other critics together. Although Khamenei allowed Rouhani to lead Tehran into the JCPoA, he always did so reluctantly. The nuclear deal’s weaknesses from Khamenei’s perspective is twofold: 1) the nuclear deal opens Iran to the influence/”infiltration” of all countries who want to trade with Tehran and 2) the JCPoA has forced Tehran to deal with the Great Satan, the US, which is contrary to Khamenei’s revolutionary ideals. The issue of foreign infiltration, or as Khamenei calls it “the soft war”, is not a clear cut issue since Khamenei has no real qualms in dealing with non-Western countries such as Russia, China, India, Azerbaijan etc…What he is really worried about is specifically Western infiltration from the EU and, of course, from the US. His fear from the EU is also not too well defined since it depends on just how much EU countries support the US and Israel. But Khamenei’s harshest criticism of Rouhani is based on relations with the US. During the negotiations, Khamenei issued several “red lines” to Rouhani and his negotiators and one of them was to not deal with the US on any subject apart from the JCPoA. At the same time, he banned 227 American brands from entering the Iranian market and has never stopped from aiming his fiery rhetoric at the US on issues of human rights, the use of sanctions, supporting terrorism, the presidential elections etc…

The US congress’s vote to extend non-nuclear sanctions against Iran have triggered Khamenei’s latest attack on the US and on Rouhani as well: “The West side is not committed to this agreement, while some Iranian officials rushed to sign it“. Of course, Rouhani spearheads the list of “some Iranian officials” but in a way, this attack is definitely petty on Khamenei’s part since the nuclear deal would not have been signed without his express approval. Khamenei then goes on to criticize the sanctions themselves: “There is no difference between imposing a new ban or resuming one that has lapsed, the second is an explicit negation of what has been agreed upon previously by the Americans”. Here, it seems that Khamenei hasn’t read the JCPoA since the nuclear deal specifies the removal of nuclear-related sanctions but not any other sanctions that are related to different aspects of the regime such as human rights and supporting terror and therefore the renewed sanctions do not breach the nuclear agreement in any way. Khamenei only has himself to blame for this since during negotiations, the US tried to include issues such as human rights and terrorism within the deal only to be told that the JCPoA is to be focused on Iran’s nuclear program and nothing more.

But Khamenei is not alone in trying to attack Rouhani’s strategy of “constructive engagement” with the West.

Hossein Shariatmadari, Khamenei’s representative at the powerful Kayhan institute openly challenged Rouhani to “name one of the 100 sanctions (that) have been lifted” following Rouhani’s call to focus on the “100” sanctions that had been lifted instead of focusing on the sanctions that weren’t. He also pointed to the contradiction of sanctions being lifted while major international banks continue to stay at arm’s length form Iran despite the fact that they are doing so not out of fear from US sanctions but because of FATF rules which continued to place Iran within the category of a country which supports terrorism and because of the uncertainty of the Iranian economy. Shariatmadari opposition to Rouhani comes as no surprise since he has been adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal from day one. In fact, he openly endorsed Trump: “The wisest plan of the crazy Trump is tearing up the JCPOA…The JCPOA is a golden document for the US but is considered nothing except humiliation and a loss for Iran”. On both counts, Shariatmadari is way off target: the JCPoA is definitely not a “golden document” for the US since the US has not gained in any way from the nuclear deal and it is hard to see how Tehran is humiliated by the hundreds of diplomats and trade delegations which have landed in Tehran since the signing of the nuclear deal.

Shariatmadari’s criticism of Rouhani is echoed by the IRGC as well: Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative at the IRGC attacked Rouhani with a more religious overtones: He accuses Rouhani of “making (too many) concessions to America but then adds that Rouhani is “Godless”, is “unfamiliar” with prayer and lacks an understanding of the Quran. Such attacks are very dangerous in Tehran since the religious overtones are bound to attract the hot-headed hardliners who act from a purely religious view. The fact that Shirazi is an IRGC man is also a key factor here since the IRGC was against the nuclear deal from day one.

Rouhani’s efforts at eradicating corruption and the promotion of the freedom of speech has earned him yet another powerful political enemy: The chief of the Judiciary, Sadeq Larijani. Before we get into the nature of this clash, it is noteworthy that Larijani has two brothers who are also a part of the regime: Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) and Javad Larijani, the chief of human rights. Larijani, a hardliner who is one of the candidates to become a Supreme Leader after Khamenei passes away has always been critical of any efforts by Rouhani to bring about changes in the sphere of internal affairs and the two have had some minor clashes in the past. But now, Larijani has raised his criticism to a much higher level based on two separate issues: Rouhani has called for an investigation into 63 bank accounts under Larijani’s name which are suspected to have been used to funnel corrupted money to Larijani and others. Larijani denies any wrong doing, claiming that the bank accounts are “by no means personal and belonged to the Judiciary as a government branch” but the allegations have hit a raw nerve. In fact, the situation has been aggravated by the fact that Khamenei has refused to even talk to Larijani since these allegations were exposed.

The second issue in the latest war between Rouhani and Larijani concerns Ali Motahari, a relatively liberal MP who is also the deputy-speaker of the Majlis. Motahari was all set to deliver a speech in Mashhad in the province of Khorasan Razavi but his speech was cancelled the night before by the local prosecutor general without explanation. The cancelled speech sparked a massive social media campaign and Motahari quickly penned an open letter to Rouhani demanding to know how the prosecutor was empowered to cancel his speech: “Please clarify who rules Khorasan Razavi province: the governor, or the prosecutor-general and the Friday prayer leader?“. The governor of Mashhad was then dismissed and Motahari proceeded to file a lawsuit against the prosecutor general claiming that the judiciary had “blocked the execution of the constitution and individual freedoms”. Enter Rouhani who instructs his interior and justice ministers to investigate the issue and lamented that “some people want to shut the mouths (of their critics) and lay the ground for radicalism and discord within society”. Larijani took this as a personal attack on the judiciary and on himself and was quick to respond: “The President’s conduct who had responded to Mashhad event by calling the situation ‘source of shame,’ is violation of his duties as president…unfair remarks using the Parliament as the media would reserve strong decision to investigate why such unfounded allegations are voiced in the Parliament”.

Within one week, Rouhani has been attacked by the Supreme Leader and two of his representatives at the Kayhan institute and the IRGC as well as by the judiciary. And some believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg and such attacks on Rouhani will only increase as the elections approach. With so much pressure around him, Rouhani needs to make the Iranian people believe that his presidency, which brought on the nuclear deal, should be awarded four more years to continue to steer Tehran towards diplomatic and economic engagement with the world instead of the isolation that his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad created.

 

Related articles:

 

 

Human rights in Iran: The thin line between Islamic laws and the regime’s zero-tolerance

thin-line

Following on the heels of the EU strategy report on Iran which included a harsh criticism of the state of human rights in Iran, the UN issued a new resolution which echoes the exact same sentiment: Iran is a serial abuser of human rights on many levels and in order to normalize relations, Tehran will have to change.

The UN resolution includes severe criticism on many levels in regards to the abuse of human rights in Iran: “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, “alarmingly high frequency of the death penalty” and “human rights violations against women and girls”.

The EU’s report was similar including the fact that the EU “remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty”, calls on Tehran to respect “the rights to freedom of expression…without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, demands that Tehran “eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women”, is worried that Tehran doesn’t “fully guarantee international due process safeguards (and) ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees”, “considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms”, “calls for the release of all political prisoners” and  “calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law”.

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of the criticism by both the UN and the EU, it is necessary to define two distinct categories:

  • Islamic laws: Abuses of human rights due to Islamic laws which include the oppression of women and religious minorities as well as the use of the death penalty.
  • The regime: Abuses of human rights due to the intolerance of the regime to accept criticism and calls for change by activists, political oppositionists.

These two categories of the West’s view on human rights in Iran is mirrored in Tehran’s categorical rejections of the EU/UN critique:

  • Islamic laws: There is a basic difference between Western ideals of human rights and “Islamic human rights” which must be acknowledged and accepted by the West.
  • The regime: All criticism by the West against Iran on the issue of human rights is politicized, hypocritical, arrogant and based on double standards and the regime is not susceptible to pressure from any source, least of all from the West…in fact, Tehran views such resolutions as an “abuse” of human rights in itself.

Of course, the regime doesn’t differentiate between both categories but from a Western perspective, the distinction between these two categories should be critical. It really is arrogant of the West to expect an Islamic country to give up its Islamic values in order to kowtow to the norms of the West and the issue of Shariah laws has put the West into a Catch 22 situation: if the West places such high import on religious beliefs and religious freedoms, it must accept that Shariah laws are legitimate in an Islamic country even if they seem outrageous from a Western perspective. Qisas, usually understood through the “eye for an eye” form of punishment, is brutal and barbaric from a Western perspective but it is deemed as “beautiful and important“. Tehran accepted to hold talks on human rights with the EU based on “mutual respect”, devoid of “double standards” and understanding that there is a fundamental difference between Western human rights and “Islamic human rights”, a difference which may not necessarily bridged. The West can try to “tone down” the harshness of some of these laws and to allow for more personal freedoms by pointing out that many Islamic countries have done just that but at the end of the day, as long as the Islamic regime exists, Islamic laws will prevail.

The issue of the death penalty in Iran is exemplary of this issue: according to the regime, 75%-80% of all executions are drug-related. Up until now, Tehran has vehemently defended these executions based on the fact that Shariah laws endorse the execution of drug-dealers and that it’s war on drugs benefits the West since most of the drugs are destined to Western users. Unfortunately, this defense is weakened by two simple facts: 1) the death penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for drug dealers even according to Iranian leaders and 2) not all Westerners agree that limiting the inflow of drugs is worth the 700+ drug-related executions a year. Since Iran holds the dubious title for the largest number of executions per capita, and since the regime is intent on normalizing relations with Western countries (apart from the US, of course), the mullahs in the regime have understood that it might be worth it to be more lenient on most drug-related offenders, convicting only the largest repeat offenders to be executed. But then again, change cannot be immediate as the Iranian deputy foreign minister made it clear that negotiations over human rights with the EU could take 3-4 years and that Tehran will not give up capital punishment under any circumstances.

So what about the second category? The regime’s inability to allow for dissent, opposition and change? This is much firmer ground from a Western perspective because the issue isn’t related in any way to Islam, only to the ideals of democracy which allow for pluralistic views and for the respect of minorities of any kind. It’s important to remember that Iran has repeatedly and proudly claimed that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East even though is not a true democracy (more like a “democtatorship”) due to the huge powers of unelected bodies of the regime. In fact, the bases of power in Iran emanate from democratic vote (the election of the president, government, the Assembly of Experts etc…through popular vote) and from the regime’s dictatorial resolve to choose its own leaders (such as the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the IRGC etc…). Tehran’s pride at being democratic coupled with its inherent fear of accepting democracy 100% is an inherent weakness of the regime. Slamming the regime for “enforced disappearances”, “arbitrary detention”, “severe limitations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief”, the lack of “freedom of expression”, “the discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status”, “political prisoners”, the lack of “fair trial”, the oppression of “religious and ethnic minorities” etc…” all emanate from the regime’s fears of losing its power.

These issues should spearhead the West’s efforts to help the cause of human rights in Iran. If these issues are dealt with, if Iranians have a say in the way they are being governed, the Islamic religious issues will take care of themselves. Let’s take the issue of compulsory hijabs for women. To be sure, not every Iranian woman and definitely not every Iranian man is in favor of women wearing hijabs. The problem is that with the current regime, no one really knows if the majority of Iranians want compulsory hijabs or not. But if the whole of the regime was elected by the people and if enough people would decide that women should not have to wear hijabs, laws will be changed to accommodate such a sentiment. If the majority of the Iranian people would vote for more freedom of the press, for the release of political prisoners, for a fairer judicial system etc…, these changes would come about as well.

That’s why the West should place more weight on abuses of human rights in Iran which aren’t directly related to Islamic laws. . The systematic oppression of women and even the use death penalty, as such, must be accepted since they both stem from religious beliefs. Such a strategy echoes the statement of the liberal Iranian MP, Ali Motahari who wants Western criticism to be split into “two dimensions”: “one is related to Islam’s laws that is unnegotiable and not understandable for them (the West), and the second is related to affairs common to all human beings that has nothing to do with a certain ideology”.

 

Related articles:

15 reasons why Tehran hates the EU strategy report

The EU parliament finally voted and released its report on its strategy towards Iran following the implementation of the JCPoA. Most of the report is filled with good diplomatic and economic intentions and the overall strategy is based on developing a much better relationship with Tehran. The motives are clearly economical which will appeal to Hassan Rouhani’s government which is intent on increasing foreign investment into Iran but there are quite a few points in the report which the hardliners in Tehran are bound to object to.

The first to voice his objection was Javad Zarif, the chief of human rights in Iran who just happens to be the brother of Sadeq Larijani, the chief of the judiciary, and Ali Larijani, the head of parliament.

Human rights:

  1. The death penalty: “Reiterates the European Union’s strong, principled and long-standing opposition to the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances, and emphasises once again that the abolition of the death penalty is a key objective of EU human rights and foreign policy; remains highly critical of Iran’s frequent use of the death penalty” and “notes with concern that Iran has the highest level of death-penalty executions per capita in the world” – The death penalty is an integral part of the Shariah law which is the basis for Iranian law and is, in the words of Iran’s human rights chief, Sadeq Larijani, the head of the judiciary, “opposing the death penalty, is in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran” while his brother, Javad Larijani added that “Qisas is very beautiful and important“. Since 70%-80% of the executions are drug-related, Javad is now pushing for a bill to curtail the death penalty on all drug traffickers but the death penalty will definitely survive as long as the regime is in power.
  2. Executions of juvenile offenders: “Calls on Iran to ensure that this prohibition (of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is fully implemented and that all relevant offenders are made aware of this right; calls on Iran to declare a moratorium on the death penalty” – Apart from the general support of the entire regime for the death penalty, Tehran has executed numerous juvenile offenders, waiting until they reached the age of 18 to carry out their sentences. Zainab Sokian, a child-bride who was married at the age of 15, was convicted of murdering her husband at the age of 17, who she claims beat her repeatedly and would not allow her to divorce him, is awaiting execution after she delivered a still-born baby in jail (pregnant women cannot be executed under Iranian law.
  3. Human rights: “Respecting the rights to freedom of expression both online and offline, of opinion, of association and peaceful assembly, of thought, conscience, religion or belief and by guaranteeing in law and in practice the enjoyment by its citizens of individual, social and political rights without discrimination or persecution on grounds of sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, gender, sexual orientation or other status, as provided for in these instruments; points out that this includes a basic right to equality before the law, as well as the right of equal access to education, health care and professional opportunities” – Where to start? Anyone that is not in tune with the Revolutionary and Islamic ideals of Iran is persecuted and oppressed. Anyone and everyone. That includes critics of the regime (activists, politicians, reporters, bloggers etc…), religious and ethnic minorities, women, gays etc…There is no “freedom of expression” and anyone who criticizes the regime in any manner is swiftly arrested, interrogated, imprisoned and/or executed. No pressure from the EU or the entire world can change this situation or as Javad Larijani aptly put it, the EU “lacks the competence” to tell Tehran what to do about human rights and that the EU “should know that the (Iranian) Judiciary will definitely not allow the establishment of such a den of corruption in Iran”.
  4. Gender equality: “Calls for full gender equality through measures to eliminate the existing legal and practical discrimination against women and to ensure women’s equal participation in the labour market and in all aspects of economic, cultural, social and political life” – Gender equality doesn’t exist in Iran. Workplaces are segregated, as are sports stadiums, concert halls, cafes. Women are not even allowed to ride bikes or even sing in public. The day that women will gain full equality will be the day that the regime falls apart.
  5. Fair trials: “Expresses serious concerns that the Code does not fully guarantee international due process safeguards; calls on Iran to undertake a review of the 2014 Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure the inclusion of fair trial guarantees; calls on Iran to review and amend the law in order to ensure that statements elicited as a result of torture, ill‑treatment or other forms of coercion are excluded as evidence in criminal proceedings, and that all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment brought to the authorities’ attention are automatically investigated” and “calls on the judiciary to respect fair trial and due process and to grant suspects access to a lawyer” – Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution has strict guidelines to conduct fair trials, in reality, the judicial system is inherently flawed because of the relationship that it has with the Iranian authorities and most importantly, the IRGC. There are too many cases in which suspects were imprisoned for months without going to trial, were denied access to lawyers, family members and even doctors, were not even given access to the evidence presented against them. How? All these travesties of justice can usually be found when the charges against the suspects includes charges such as “working against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the state”, “spying for a hostile government”, “enemies of the state”, “terrorists”, “corrupting the earth”, “insulting the Supreme Leader/the regime/the Prophet etc…”. All of these charges allow the judicial system to bypass any efforts at offering the accused a fair trial, working on the assumption that they are guilty until proven innocent.
  6. Freedom of speech and access to information: “Considers the lack of freedom of expression online, the systemic surveillance and monitoring of internet traffic and the lack of digital freedoms to be an obstacle to trade with Iran, as well as a violation of people’s rights and freedoms” – The EU is a bit late on this track. Iran just launched its own “national internet” which will allow it to do what it has done in the past but more efficiently: monitor and block content that isn’t in tune with the regime’s Islamic or Revolutionary ideals and arrest the Iranians who are sharing such content. Sharing such content has landed many in jail including bloggers and models.
  7. Arrests of dual nationals: “Expresses grave concern over the arrest of EU-Iranian dual-nationals upon their entering Iran, and stresses that these arrests hinder the possibilities for people-to-people contacts; calls on the Iranian authorities to allow the Iranian diaspora in Europe to safely travel to their country of birth” – It is ironic that while this report was being written three American-Iranians (Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi and Reza Shahini) were sent to extended periods in jail (10, 10 and 18 respectively) and Nazanin Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian was sent to jail for 5 years. On what charges? The Americans were charged with “collaborating with a hostile government (the US) and the charges against Nazanin are “secret”. Over the past year, there have been more and more cases of dual nationals returning to Iran to visit family or to do business who were imprisoned. Some believe that they are pawns used by hardliners to bash Rouhani while others believe that they are pawns to be freed for exorbitant ransoms.
  8. Political prisoners: “Calls for the release of all political prisoners; calls on Iran to free imprisoned EU citizens who have been detained or convicted under a judicial process that did not meet international standards, including: 58-year-old Nazak Afshar, held since March 2016, 76-year-old Kamal Foroughi, held since May 2011, 65-year-old Homa Hoodfar, held since June 2016, and 37-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held since April 2016” – According to Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, there are no political prisoners in Iran, since “Iran does not jail citizens for their opinions“. They are simply prisoners who didn’t respect the law. These include foreign nationals as well as reporters and political opponents including the leaders of the failed Green Movement of 2009 who are under house arrest since 2011. Tehran even feels uncomfortable to call the 30,000 prisoners in 1988 as political prisoners, preferring to claim that they were “terrorists”.
  9. Religious minorities: “Concerned that the number of individuals imprisoned from religious minority communities or because of their beliefs has increased; calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are fully respected and protected in law and that religious freedom is extended” – “Fully respected”? Ask the persecuted Sunnis and Christians who have watched their places of worship destroyed and are often raided and imprisoned. Ask the Baha’is who are denied further education, have had their business closed and lands robbed and have been imprisoned for simply being Baha’is. The only religion that is protected in Iran is Shiite Islam. All of the other religions are legally, socially and morally persecuted.
  10. Afghan refugees: “(EU) stresses the need to take concrete measures that safeguard the human rights of Afghan migrants and Afghan refugees in Iran, including their right to due process and equality before the law” – The case of the Afghan refugees is a delicate one. Iran has accepted to date approximately 3 million Afghan refugees. On the whole, their status is not on par to Iranians and many Iranian hardliners often denigrate them publicly. But, and this is a big “but”, Afghan refugees are often recruited to fight for Iran in Syria and in Iraq. The recruitment is sometimes voluntary although Afghans have complained that many of the recruits were forced to join or face prison or extradition.

Economy:

  1. Economic transparency: “(EU) stresses that for Iran to realise its economic potential, it will have to take steps to create a transparent economic environment conducive to international investment and take anti-corruption measures at all levels, particularly regarding compliance with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) addressing questions such as the cessation of financial flows to terrorist organisations” and “calls, in this regard, on Iran to ensure transparency of its financial sector and to fight corruption and money laundering, in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)” – In a country in which approximately 70% of the economy is run directly or indirectly by the state (specially through the IRGC) and is a proud state sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, such a call for transparency is simply ludicrous. The IRGC itself, including many of its generals are on Interpol lists as terrorists and since the IRGC is one of the strongest bases of the regime, there is no comprehensible way to adhere to FATF rules.

War and terror:

  1. Regional conflict and promotion of terrorism: “Calls on all the states of the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Iran, to refrain from hostile rhetoric fuelling conflicts, action and support for hostile armed groups in the region, including the military wing of Hezbollah and Al-Nusra; expresses concern about growing militarisation in the wider region and supports efforts towards greater arms control, non-proliferation and countering terrorism” and “expresses concern at the development of Iran’s ballistic missile tests, which, despite not constituting a breach of the JCPOA, are inconsistent with the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015)” – This will be one of the main problems of Tehran in regards to the EU report since a) Tehran doesn’t consider the Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization (although it is designated as one by the West and most of the Arab world), b) the leaders in Tehran all the way up to Khamenei have consistently threatened Saudi Arabia (the Saudis are just as guilty) and c) Tehran believes that testing long-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload is a natural right. Tehran likes to call itself a champion against terrorism and an “island of stability” in the region but at the same time, it promotes terrorism, subversion and military conflicts in in the region. Just as in the story of the scorpion and the frog who drowned because of the scorpion’s nature while crossing the river, Tehran is duty-bound constitutionally to “Export the Revolution” and Hezbollah plays an important part in this ambition: it has successfully done this in Lebanon, is currently doing so in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and is trying to do so in Bahrain, Nigeria and other countries.
  2. Iran’s influence in Syria: “Regrets the fact, however, that Iranian input has to date not led to a marked improvement in the situation, and calls for it to contribute at least to further facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to increase protection of the civilian population from attacks and to continuously seeking a long‑term solution to the conflict; notes in this context that the Assad regime in Syria has become increasingly dependent on Iran for its own survival and therefore calls on the Iranian authorities to use their leverage to bring the Syrian conflict to a peaceful conclusion” – The Assad regime, which has never held truly open elections since he inherited the post from his father in 2000, is totally dependent on Tehran. Without Tehran, Assad would have fallen years ago and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Syrians would still be alive today. Tehran has adamantly stuck with Assad and has blocked any efforts to force Assad to step down or even to call for a general election which might clear up the question of his legitimacy as the President of the Syrian people. Last week, for the first time, Zarif proposed to hold a general referendum on the issue and hopefully Assad and the Syrian rebels will agree to this.
  3. Ensuring safety in the region: “Calls for a model of EU diplomacy based on political priorities rather than religious identities and on the principle of ensuring respect, safety and security for peoples in all countries in the Middle East, including Israel and the Palestinian people” – Tehran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state and will never do so for fear of losing its ground as the Islamic Revolutionary state which has continuously stood up for the Palestinians.
  4. Israel and the Holocaust: “Strongly condemns the Iranian regime’s repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and the regime’s policy of denying the Holocaust” – Tehran has continuously called for the destruction of Israel and has denied the Holocaust. This rhetoric has inflamed and justified the leaders of Israel over the years and has increased the threat of a regional or even a global war.

 

And there you have it…The EP might have thought that it has created a strategy that will help it to carve a bigger slice of the Iranian economy but it doesn’t realize three simple facts:

  • The regime is focused on maintaining the status quo and is averse to change that would negate its revolutionary ideals.
  • The regime is much more powerful than Rouhani who has claimed to be a moderate who wants to initiate change.
  • The regime would rather deal with the East (Russia, China, India etc…) than with the West (EU/US).

It’s a lose-lose situation that can only be rectified if the EU accepts the regime in Tehran “as is”, without trying to change it one iota.

Ten Rouhani quotes that will test your gag reflex

Let’s be honest – Hassan Rouhani is to date Iran’s best bet to lead the changes that he promised when he was elected. While there are serious doubts to whether he is really a “moderate” or not, it’s quite clear that relative to the regime’s leaders, he is definitely “more” moderate. To his credit, Rouhani, unlike the leader of a “normal” democratic country, has to lead his country under the “guidance” and the “red lines” of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and de facto dictator of Iran who is a definite hardliner intent on maintaining the status quo from the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But just because he is the West’s Best Bet for now, doesn’t mean that we should accept whatever he says for granted. The world is quick to pick up on any discrepancies and lies by donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and that’s the way it should be. Politicians who lie should be forced to be scrutinized and trashed. And much like other Iranian leaders, Rouhani is prone to statements which are can be categorized as wishful thinking, naïve, misleading, hypocritical, outright lies…or simply, puke-worthy.

Here are 10 statements which might sound OK until you understand the contexts in which they were said:

  1. Asked if he prefers Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Rouhani mockingly quipped “Should I prefer bad over worse or worse over bad?“. Now, although there are any who might agree with Rouhani, he, as the president of Iran, is the last to laugh at the situation in the US elections since Iranian elections are notorious for being dictated by Khamenei and by the vetting process of the Guardian Council which can disqualify candidates based on their affinity to the revolutionary ideals of the regime. Once the Iranian people have a chance to choose their Supreme Leader (he is chosen by the Assembly of Experts), then he can mock the US elections.
  2. Rouhani, who understands that his re-election depends on whether the nuclear deal will translate into billions of dollars in foreign investments, called on Iranians (and the regime) to be hospitable to foreign investors: “The businessman and investor who wants to come, we must be hospitable. They must come and leave Iran easily“. OK, sounds like good advice. Except that Rouhani’s statement came only two days after and American-Iranian businessman, Siamak Namazi, and his 80 year old father, Baquer Namazi, were both convicted 10 years in jail for “collaborating with a hostile government”. The “hostile government” is obviously the US although according to Iranian law, only one country is considered “hostile” and that’s Israel. Three days later, aother American Iranian, Reza Shahini, was convicted to 18 years in jail on similar charges. “Hospitable”? “Come and leave Iran easily”? Who’s he kidding?
  3. Today, we are glad that Iran is a great defensive wall in the region against Daesh and al-Qaeda and is fighting off terrorism“. Rouhani’s rebranding of Iran as a champion against terrorism will be learned about in history and communication classes around the world in the future. Rouhani, nearly single handedly (with the aid of ISIS/Daesh), managed to turn Iran, a proven state-sponsor of terrorism and terroristic organizations such as Hezbollah into a “great defensive wall” against terrorism. Sure, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter but Hezbollah has been designated as terrorist organization by most of the West and most of the Arab world…is that not enough to warrant a puke over Rouhani’s statement? And what about Iran’s cooperation with al-Qaeda and the Taliban? And what about Tehran’s support for Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Houthis etc…? No…Tehran is not a defense against terrorism…in fact, it has taken to the offensive by pitting its own terrorist organization against ISIS in the hope that everyone who hates ISIS will support Iran.

In a speech in Markazi, Ruhollah Khomeini’s birthplace, Rouhani eulogized Khomeini up to a point where Khomeini became hardly recognizable. Here a few choice quotes which will probably make you gag:

  1. Under the Islamic Sharia, he (Khomeini) revived the dignity of women”: Sharia law” and women’s “dignity“? Really? Iranian women are oppressed legally and socially. Women are legally worth half of what men are, are forced to wear clothes that will not arouse men’s desire for them, are easily divorced and discarded by their husbands under Iranian law, are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission, can be forbidden to work if their husbands object, are not allowed to run for the presidency nor for the Assembly of Experts, are banned from learning certain subjects in universities, are forced to observe gender segregation in all public places, are not allowed to ride bicycles in public etc… “Dignity”? Ask the thousands of women who have been imprisoned, tortured and oppressed or ask the loved one of those who were killed or executed.
  2. (Khomeini) clearly shown us the true Islam and democracy“. Well, Khomeini might have shown the Iranian people the “true Islam” but “democracy”? Iran is governed by a “democtatorship” in which the government and the parliament is chosen by the people through public elections but other aspects of the regime are chosen by the regime members. The most important unelected position is obviously the “Supreme Leader” which Khomeini justified under his ideal of “velayat-e faqih”, the Guardianship of the Islamist Jurist in the place of the Prophet Mohammad…Khomeini himself and then Khamenei. Both Khomeini and Khamenei are not “passive” Supreme Leaders and are actively involved in all aspects of government, dictating “red lines”, ousting leaders, “guiding” voters etc…”Democracy”? Not yet…
  3. Khomeini promoted Islamic brand of the arts including music and singing“. Yes he did. And Khamenei is a poet. But you have to give Rouhani credit for controlling his gagging reflex since he knows more than anyone that arts that aren’t “Islamic” enough are oppressed. Classical, pop, rock and metal concerts are repeatedly cancelled, women cannot appear on stage to a mixed audience and are not allowed to sing in public etc…and any art that criticizes the regime is a “go to jail” card for the artist. Sometimes, the situation is so strange that it borders on being humorous just as in the case of a metal concert in which the audience was forced to sit down and were banned from headbanging or displaying a “horn” sign. It’s too convenient that Rouhani actually forgot about all of the oppressed artists when he said this.
  4. Thanks to the ideas and thoughts of Imam Khomeini (RA) the Islamic Republic is known as a role model around the world“. Yep. A role model. But for what? For standing up to the West? For exporting the Islamic Revolution? For what? And to whom? The list of states who do view Iran as a role model is definitely much shorter than the “around the world” phrase suggests: Mostly anti-Western/American states such as Cuba and Venezuela, some Latin American and African countries who look to Iran for trade and, of course, countries with strong Shiite bases such Iraq and Syria.

And here are a few of his older and most gag-worthy quotes:

  1. All the people in our country, no matter which ethnicity or tribe they’re from, should feel they’re the citizens of one country and enjoy equal rights“. Wow. Does this include women who legally have less rights then men and are heavily oppressed? Does this include Sunnis, Kurds, Baha’is and Christians who are systematically oppressed as well? Does this include people who are critical of the regime and are usually found either in jail or in graves? Does this include gays who are executed in Iran? Face it, there are no “equal rights” in Iran because the Shariah law simply cannot allow for “equality”.
  2. “Iran is a modern Islamic society, with a modern polity and advanced institutions of civil society, leaving no room for extremism and radicalism to survive for any length of time“. Well, Iran has been “extremist” since 1979 so 37 years is actually quite a “length of time”. The whole regime is extremist and it is so heavily entrenched in all aspects of Iranians’ lives that there is a lot of “room” to maintain hardline extremism for a while longer. Who is Rouhani kidding? And what makes Iran’s Islamic society “modern” as long as ancient Shariah laws and beliefs prevail at every corner. And what about Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah or is Hezbollah not “extremist” enough for Rouhani?
  3. The viewpoint of the government is that the people must have full access to all information worldwide“. While this may have been the “viewpoint” of his government, “access” to information has actually dwindled under his presidency. Iran just launched its “Iran-Wide-Web”, a closed internet which will allow authorities to block and monitor content which they might feel is critical of the regime and worthy enough to send the sharers of this content to jail. This is just one more promise which Rouhani failed to deliver on.

Sure, Rouhani is not the only politican to “bend the truth” or to even lie, and he certainly won’t be the last. But sometimes, whether you support a leader or not, you should face the truth head on and accept the leader for who he is and what he stands for. Rouhani might might sound right but remember Rouhani’s own words: Ahmadinijad was stupid enbough to be a wolf in wolf’s clothing, to expose his teeth and nails and alert the west. I can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have all the diplomatic and rhetoric skills to do so. Exactly.

Brave Iranian women biking against the ban

On the 10th of September, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a “fatwa” (a religious decree which is law) forbidding women to ride bikes in public places for fear that they would attract “the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption”. Bicycles, he continued, “contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned”. His fatwa followed a declaration one week earlier in which he defined the “role and mission” of Iranian women as “motherhood and housekeeping”. In the process, once again, the regime in Tehran is finding new ways of turning its citizens into criminals.

The need to issue such a fatwa rose since women riding bike in public was considered a “sin” but there isn’t a law in the Iranian penal code regarding women on bikes. The issue of women on bicycles has been buzzing in Iran since around May when authorities began placing signs in parks which stated that “bicycle riding for women is prohibited in this place, women are set to ride at the women’s park”. Nobody really took notice until, July 26th, when security agents detained a group of women who had organized a cycling event, the Lake Bike Riders, to increase awareness to the ravages on the environment and to encourage citizens to forego the use of cars at least one day a week (Carless Tuesday). The women cyclists were taken to the police station to sign a “pledge” to never ride bicycles in public before they were released.

The absurdity of the fatwa and its oppressing effect on women, their health and the environment began attracting a lot of attention in Iran and the world but some (very) brave Iranian women have decided to take their protest to the next level. In cooperation with My Stealthy Freedom, a community on Facebook for women who try to enjoy their “stealthy freedom” by sharing pictures of themselves defying the oppressive regime by not wearing hijabs, Iranian women began uploading pictures and videos of themselves biking despite the ban – #IranianWomenLoveCycling. Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist and administrator of My Stealthy Freedom is sure that women who are willing to share their moments of stealthy freedom are the key for change in Iran: “Women in Iran want to be active in society but for the clerics that’s the big threat because in their (the regime’s) eyes, women should not be seen nor heard, stuck in the kitchen…women are the main agents of change”.

It’s hard for some people to understand just how brave these women who are sharing their pictures and videos on bikes really are. Men and women are sent to jail and even executed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and protesting Khamenei’s fatwa is a huge risk. But that’s exactly the point: these women are willing to risk their freedom and their lives to be a part of the change even if it means doing something which might seem insignificant to some such as not wearing a hijab or riding a bike. Listening to these women is inspiring: “We immediately rented 2 bicycles to say we’re not giving up cycling…It’s our absolute right and we’re not going to give up”, “am I a criminal because I love life and I love cycling?”, “on that day (when the ban will be lifted), I will be proud that I did resist the oppression”, “we will do what we think and feel is right”. Listen to this woman expressing her feelings while riding with her mother.

It’s obvious that Khamenei will never overturn his fatwa since he cares less for the freedoms of women than for the support of the hardline men who make up his regime. Hassan Rouhani hasn’t voiced his opinion on this issue but judging from the past, he is powerless to fight the regime on social issues. In the past, he has called on the authorities to relax the implementation of hijab laws, to allow women to support the Iranian teams in sports stadiums etc…but he knows what everyone knows in Tehran: going against the Supreme Leader on any issue is the quickest way to disappear physically or politically. It makes no difference that he encouraged Iranian women to enjoy health lifestyles nor that he has expressed support for solutions to save the environment because as Barbara Slavin put it so simply “probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country”. Or as one Iranian politician who preferred to remain unnamed said “the leader (Khamenei) is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot”.

But Rouhani will have to step out of his comfort zone if he intends to drum up votes in the upcoming presidential elections: it was the votes of women, liberals and secular Iranians which brought him to power – without their support, he is bound to lose. His loss will be the hardliners’ gain and the oppression of the civil rights and the personal and social freedoms of the Iranian people is bound to grow which will leave his disillusioned voters with a simple choice: bow down to the regime or rise up against it. The only hope is that if enough Iranian women decide to take the issue of their oppression to the streets, the regime will find itself in a no-win situation: accept the gradual liberation of women’s rights or crack down on the protesting women and face a huge backlash by Iranian women and their male supporters who would rather live a “normal” life than a “revolutionary” one.

 

Related articles:

 

Tehran beating on the drums of war

Tehran is becoming more aggressive by the day. This heightened level of aggression is manifested in incessant taunts which are meant to elicit some form of aggressive response from Tehran’s enemies which can generally be categorized as Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, the PMOI (Iranian resistance in exile) and anyone who supports them. It’s not that any of this is totally new to Tehran but the levels of aggression have risen sharply over the past few weeks. Examples of Tehran’s increased aggressive behavior can be found on many levels:

  • Increased anti-Saudi rhetoric
  • Increased anti PMOI rhetoric and military maneuvers
  • Increased military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
  • Increased military presence in Syria and in Iraq
  • Increased talk of Russian-Iranian military alliances
  • Increased hardline speeches by Iranian “moderates”

Tehran will probably not be the first to take these aggressions to military level against any of its enemies since it prides itself on not starting wars but the increase in aggressive behavior from Tehran points to one direction: Tehran is willing to taunt enough people in order to be attacked and it feels safe enough by Moscow’s side to say and do whatever it wants.

 

More anti-Saudi rhetoric

Last week, Khamenei relaunched his tirade against Saudi Arabia with a vengeance as it became clear that neither Riyadh nor Tehran were ready to get over their differences in regards to the agreements needed to allow Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia. Khamenei’s rant represented a distinct escalation and was vicious even by his standards: The Saudis, he ranted, are “oppressive”, “arrogant”, “faithless”, “blaspheming” “murderers” who are in collusion with the US and Israel and have made Saudi Arabia “unsafe” for pilgrims and for that reason, he called on Muslim countries to “fundamentally reconsider” Saudi Arabia’s management of the holy sites, although he didn’t offer any advice on how such a “reconsideration” is to take place.

Rouhani echoed Khamenei’s rant and called for Muslim unity (“the “Hajj period should be regarded as a chance to safeguard the interests of the Muslim Ummah and foster unity within the Islamic community”) against Saudi Arabia by calling on Muslim countries to “take coordinated actions to resolve problems and punish the Saudi government”. But he didn’t stop only at the issue of the Hajj: “If the existing problems with the Saudi government were merely the issue of the hajj… maybe it would have been possible to find a way to resolve it…Unfortunately, this government by committing crimes in the region and supporting terrorism in fact shed the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Yemen”. Finally, he added his own thoughts on his favorite subject, terrorism: “Regional stability depends on ending support for terrorism…everyone knows which countries are assisting them from inside and outside the region and which countries are supplying terrorists with weapons and armaments”. Of course, Rouhani doesn’t mention how Iran and its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, are shedding Muslim blood in “Iraq, Syria and Yemen” nor does he mention how Iran is supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, an organization designated by the western world and the Arab League as terrorist but designated as “shining freedom fighters” in Tehran.

And what about Javad Zarif, Tehran’s star diplomat? He joined the attack and sounded more like Khamenei than Khamenei himself: “Saudi rulers are brazen enough to openly express alliance to the Zionist regime; they have abused and taken hostage sacred Islamic shrines in line with their petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist policies in serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons; ‘stupidity,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘intransigence,’ and ‘unlimited wealth’ have rendered the Saudi family callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands, with a penchant for ‘beget, foster, and spread terrorism’ to plague the world and larger parts of the Middle East including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen with the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred spewed by its unexperienced rulers”. This is the same Zarif who had told an Omani minister only one week before to “abandon the illusion of rivalry” in the region. “Illusion of rivalry”? Mr. Zarif, this is no “illusion”, this is a reality in which a “cold war” developed into a series of “proxy wars” and is now in danger of developing into an all-out frontal war which is bound to engulf the whole region in flames.

The recalling theme of Riyadh’s ties to the “Zionist” cause is partly true: the main reason that Israel is warming up to diplomatic and other ties with the Gulf States is the mutual fear of Tehran. Of course, the Saudis and the Arab League will not openly endorse a firm relationship with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue isn’t dealt with but the Arab States are also cooling a bit on the Palestinian issue specifically because Tehran’s influence on Hezbollah and even Hamas continues to grow. If the gulf States are more open to dealing with Israel, Tehran can only blame itself…or perhaps, that’s exactly what Tehran wanted from day one – to place Saudi Arabia with Israel against the Palestinians.

In any case, the guys in Tehran didn’t get the support they needed from the Muslim countries, specifically, the members of the Arab League who joined Saudi Arabia’s call to Tehran to stop politicizing the Hajj. Tehran reacted in the expected manner and called again on the Arab League to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop funding terror and to stop killing civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, without mentioning, once again, its own supports for terrorist organizations and its own responsibility for the deaths of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenites.

But Tehran didn’t give up yet: Both Khamenei and Ali Larijani, the head of the Iranian parliament, called for an international “fact-finding” commission to investigate last year’s disaster in Mina. But then again, no one in his right mind in Tehran would support an international fact-finding commission in regards to the 1988 systematic massacre of 30,000 political prisoners by the regime.

 

More military actions and rhetoric

But Tehran’s aggressive mood isn’t aimed only at Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies and the chances of the Tehran-Riyadh conflict evolving into an open war seem slim despite the constant taunts from both sides. Tehran’s enemy of preference remains the US and it has backed its fiery rhetoric against the “Great Satan” with some military taunts as well.

Tehran seems to have made a strategic decision to harass the US Navy which sends out regular patrols to the Persian Gulf. Unlike the case last year in which the Iranian navy boarded a US Navy vessel which mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters, the Iranians are now harassing US navy ships and planes in international waters and air-space: It sent some of its boats to harass US cruisers until the Americans fired some warning shots and it warned Navy pilots that they would be shot down even though they were flying in international air-space.

This may sound like a storm in a tea-cup since no harm was done, but the rhetoric from Tehran is just as taunting: the Iranians denied overstepping international laws and claimed that “the (American) claims are not only untrue, but stem from their fear of the power of the Islamic Republic’s soldiers”.

But it’s not only about military actions. Javad Larijani, Iran’s chief of human rights, advised Tehran to begin developing a nuclear bomb within 48 hours and not be worried about sanctions: “we must know that we do not fear and that we are ready”. Ready for what? For more sanctions? For a war? A world war?

Up until now, Tehran has always placed great emphasis on the fact that its army was for defensive purposes and as such, strengthening the army’s capabilities was a natural right since it’s meant to defend itself. This frame of thought is in tune with Tehran’s pride in not initiating a war or invading a country in centuries but this logic comes apart in regards to the numerous long-range missile tests and the numerous countries in which Iranian armies or its proxies are actively fighting – specifically in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Tehran’s military activities in all these countries is growing, not diminishing as can be viewed from the growing number of Iranian troops fighting in Syria and in Iraq and from the continuous presence of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s star chief of its elite Qods unit, in the battlefields.

And then, But Khamenei issued a statement in which he stressed that Iran’s “defensive and offensive capabilities” is an “inalienable and clear right”. The addition of the “offensive” to the “defensive” was a first for Khamenei. Why did he choose to stress the offensive capabilities of Iran’s army now?

 

Why now?

Timing is everything and now seems to be an ideal time for Tehran to become more aggressive.

On the one hand, Tehran is frustrated with the ongoing wars in Syria and in Yemen which do not seem close to a victorious end for Iran but on the other hand, Tehran enjoys an unparalleled support of Russia in many levels – both of which explain the rise in aggressive behavior.

Furthermore, Tehran’s growing conflict with Riyadh is creating a situation in which all countries with any connection to the region have to take sides and on the whole, the Arab countries chose to ally themselves with Saudi Arabia.

And then there’s the issue of the West’s support of the PMOI, the growing exiled Iranian resistance which is creating a lot of tension within the regime.

Finally, Tehran is gearing up for the next presidential elections and Khamenei’s hardline tone is being echoed by hardliners like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling for a redefine “revolutionary ideals” and is forcing Rouhani to become more hardline if he wants to win a second term.

But perhaps the single element which is most instrumental in increasing Tehran’s aggression is Khamenei himself, or more specifically, the legacy that Khamenei wants to leave after his death. The nuclear deal that Rouhani brokered together with Zarif might have achieved its initial purpose in lifting nuclear-related sanctions and allowing Tehran to openly ally itslef with other countries.

But the nuclear deal did not sit easily with Khamenei who kept on stressing his “red lines” only to watch some of his “red lines” crossed. The further complications with non-nuclear sanctions only increased Khamenei’s distaste for signing a deal with the “Great Satan”.

And then, there is his cherished vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” and a “New Islamic Civilization” which is slipping away from him at a time when his health is deteriorating and his death is approaching. For Khamenei, now is the time to instill in Iran the pride of his Revolutionary Ideals and take on the world because the last thing that he will want to be remembered for is that Tehran capitulated to the Western powers under him..

Will Iran finally unleash its aggression? Will it attack Saudi Arabia or make a run for a nuclear bomb? Will Russia continue to support Tehran in these cases? No one really knows but one fact is certain: Tehran has had enough of being aggressive under cover and too many people in Tehran are itching for a war…specially its Supreme Leader, Khamenei.

 

Related Articles:

 

 

The DEMOCTATORSHIP of Iran

Yes, for all intents and purposes, Iran is a democracy in that there are “free” elections for the presidency, the parliament and the Assembly of Experts. But there are four outstanding problems in this so-called “democracy”:

  • Unelected power: There are two institutions with enormous power which aren’t elected by the people – the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. These two centers of power are backed by the IRGC, a huge military and economic force in Iran and they have the dictatorial power to overrule the government, the elections, the parliament, the law and the constitution turning what should have been a democracy into a democtatorship.
  • No real opposition: Since opposing the regime is a sin, it’s hard to find politicians and leaders who are willing to put their lives on the line by speaking their minds and since the regime is hardline in nature, it stifles any opposition which calls for a more moderate and more secular government. Politicians who do oppose the regime have to tread a very fine line in which they profess their opposition enough but not too much.
  • The vetting process: The elections are not really free since the candidates are vetted before the elections by the (unelected) Guardian Council which has the right to disqualify candidates based on their beliefs, their level of religion etc…The vetting process is political in nature and during the last parliamentary election, the Guardian council disqualified 90% of the moderate candidates and only 30% of the hardline candidates.
  • The regime cheats: During the 2009 presidential elections, it seemed that the Green movement which was moderate and secular in nature had won the hearts and votes of the majority of the Iranian population. But the results of the election pointed to a landslide victory by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As protesters hit the streets, so did the authorities and thousands of Iranians were arrested (and still are arrested today) for questioning the decision of the regime.

These four problems are actually one big problem: the power of the unelected institutions of the regime. As long as the regime maintains its power, it will strive to maintain the status quo of the Revolutionary Ideals that defined it – Religious/Islamic/Shiite and anti-West/Democracy/US.

Since the next Supreme Leader will be chosen from within the regime, it will continue to maintain power indefinitely until it is toppled from within with the support of the masses. Remember, those politicians that did try to implement change within the regime found themselves either ousted (Montazeri for objecting to the 1988 massacre), under house arrest (Moussavi and Karroubi for contesting the 2009 elections), under media ban (Khatami for criticizing the regime) or sidelined (Rouhani for the nuclear deal).

Some might say that the civil wars, anarchy and frequent elections in countries that underwent an Arab Spring are a result of a misguided notion that Arab countries should be democratic and that such countries can only be ruled through dictatorships. These same people will claim that the rigid laws of Shaariah are more than enough to rule huge populations of Islamic believers. They will tell you that freedom and equal rights are no match for the blind obedience to Islam, to a regime, to a Supreme Leader, or to a dictator. They may be right on a general level but the price that those people who don’t want to obey blindly is immeasurably harsh. Such a rule doesn’t not allow for different voices and therefore doesn’t allow for any process of change and those that fell suffocated and oppressed by the regime cannot hope for change.

The only way to ensure that change will come to Iran is by a popular uprising by the people demanding to turn this democtatorship into a true democracy. Until then, the regime will prosper, as will the hardliners who support it. Those who don’t will either suffer for voicing their opinions or will be careful to enjoy their freedoms only in private.

The Brothers in Lies on Human Rights in Iran

In general, despite tens of thousands of cases which prove otherwise, Iranian leaders speak glowingly about the positive nature of their records on human rights in Iran: in Iran, “the government follows the people, not the other way around”, “the will of the people shall be the basis of authority of the government”, Tehran “genuinely and meaningfully” involves its citizens “without any discrimination of any kind”, Iran creates and maintains the “necessary measures for the protection of the rights of the vulnerable groups” (especially women and children), all Iranian nationals are “equal before the law”, “have the right to choose their own lawyers” and can count on “the presumption of innocence”, Tehran has “continuously worked for the promotion of human rights” (with the UN), Tehran continues to “fully participate” for the “promotion and protection of human rights”, Tehran adheres to a full separation of powers (executive, legislature, judiciary), the Iranian police has a “most immaculate record” and is “free of racial discrimination and ethnic impartiality”, Tehran prohibits the use of torture and arbitrary arrest, “Iran doesn’t jail people for their opinions”, Tehran never “targets Baha’is just because they are followers of this faith”, “if an individual commits a violation, it has nothing to do with Shiites, Sunnis, or others in Iranian society”, there are no forced legal marriages of children in Iran, “that they say we execute homosexuals is not more than a lie” blah, blah, blah…

What makes Iran more unique on the issue of human rights is that the chief of human rights, Javad Larijani, happens to be the brother of Iran’s judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani (both are also the brothers of the chief of parliament Ali Larijani but that is not yet relevant to this post). This is very convenient for both since they both hold similar views regarding the state of human rights in Iran and both are extremely well coordinated in their denials and counter accusations on this issue.

In fact both brothers continue to state that not only are there no problems of human rights in Iran but that Iran can actually lead the world in developing an Islamic form of human rights which would be far superior than the existing “Western” one.

Listening to these two brothers talk on human rights is borderline comical and exasperating: One can only assume that they are both very loyal to the regime in Tehran, are both hypocritical liars and/or are both arrogant or delusional enough to believe their own statement. Here are a few new soundbites which will give you a glimpse of the madness which symbolizes the state of human rights in Iran and how it is managed by the regime.

 

Denials and counter accusation are their answer to criticism

Whenever accusations arise in regards to the state of human, the automatic response from Javad and Sadeq is denial followed by counter-accusations aimed at the people or the organizations issuing the criticism.

According to Javad, Iran’s record in human rights is “one of the best whether in terms of democracy or in terms of the judicial system” and is “honorable“. And what about the critics and the criticism of problems with human rights in Iran? They do not reflect the “realities on the ground” and are “politically motivated tactics” aimed at achieving political objectives. The highest profile critic of human rights in Iran is the UN Special Rapporteur on Human right in Iran, Shaheed Ahmed who has issued a series of damning reports. Javad’s reaction to these reports never entails actually dealing with their contents but in delegitimizing the author of the report and his motives: “Assigning a special rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran where we have the biggest democracy in the region, and judicial rules and regulations are very advanced and rigorous has been very illogical and unfair…it is tyrannical and irrational for Iran to come under a massive assault and be subject to special reporting…Iran believes that the issue of human rights is not being followed in a just and unbiased manner on the international level, and it has been sacrificed at the expense of political motivations of the big powers”. Furthermore, he states that the designation of a special rapporteur on Iran is simply “illegal“. And what is his answer to Iran’s being the country with the highest rate of execution per capita in the world? Since 70%-90% (he changes the percentage all the time) of the executions are drug-related, the World should “be thankful” and the executions should be viewed as a “positive marker of Iranian achievement” and a “great service to humanity”. But Javad doesn’t ever comment on questions regarding 1) the effectiveness of executing drug dealers as a deterrent and 2) the covert roles of the IRGC and Hezbollah in drug trafficking around the world.

If someone read to you Javad’s speech at the UNPR on the state of human rights in Iran, you might think he represents a country such as New Zealand and not Iran.

Javad’s brother, Sadeq, echoes these sentiments nearly word for word: while blaming the West for “manipulative use of human rights”, he adds, “the West acts on the basis of double standards on human rights and makes manipulative use of the issue…Regarding the human rights, we believe the West’s stance is self-serving, and hypocritical”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And it sounds totally irrational in view of the systematic oppression of women, juveniles, reporters, artists, activists, politicians, gays, minorities etc…and the hundreds of thousands of cases in which these people were harassed, arrested, interrogated, tortured, jailed and/or executed. In February, Amnesty issued a damning report on Iran’s judiciary claiming that it is flawed and inadequate on numerous levels and reduces the chances to a fair trial and a fair sentencing to nil.

Here’s a video which more or less summarizes the Larijani brothers’, and the regime’s as well, take on human rights:

It seems that a large majority of Iranians would like to change the state of human rights in Iran. These are the same people who voted for President Hassan Rouhani and the same people who voted for the “List of Hope” in the last parliamentary elections. Unfotunately for them, the Judiciary, as well as the Supreme Leader, the IRGC, the Guardian Council, the Basij and the hundreds of organizations which make up the regime are not voted into office by the people for their good but are placed into office by the regime in order to maintain the regime’s power. Just like in south Africa, where the regime of a minority of whites kept the majority of native Africans under the inhumane laws of apartheid through brutal laws and brutal authorities, the Iranian people who do want change fear that, just as in 2009, any such demands will be met by crackdowns, imprisonment, torture and death.

 

Islam and Shari’a are their answer to human rights

What makes the Javad-Sadeq Larijani’s take on human rights more intriguing is their belief that a better approach to human rights can be found in Islamic laws and traditions. This is Sadeq’s take on the future of human rights in the world: “The Judiciary will not take notice of irrational words and lies and will resolutely continue its work, because we believe that the highest human rights values are recognized in Islam…many of the issues raised on the pretext of human rights, including opposing the death penalty, are in fact in opposition to Islam, because Qisas (retribution) is clearly stipulated in the Quran”. Furthermore, he states that Islam “enjoys very rich and productive resources in the field of human rights” which can “counter” Western thoughts on human rights” and that  “Islamic human rights seeks to redeem the human dignity“.

Javad not only echoes his brother’s emphasis on “Qisas” (“Qisas is very beautiful and important“) he also has a lot to say about Islam’s, and Iran’s, role in redefining human rights in the future: “Islamic human rights” should be the “true face” of human rights since Islam is a “comprehensive” and “universal” religion. Furthermore he stated earlier this year that “a new model for public sphere is emerging: representative democracy based on Islamic rationality (and that Iran’s political establishment is) a democratic polity based on Islamic rationality rather than secular-liberal rationality”.

The problem is the judiciary in Iran works hand-in-hand with the IRGC, the Basij, the ministry of Intelligence and the police authorities in defining charges for “crimes” which, based from an Islamic perspective, Qisas is a legitimate response. Charges such as “enmity against God”, “foreign influence/interference”, “insulting the prophet/the Supreme Leader/the president/the regime”, “corruption on Earth” and “acting against national security” are levelled against anyone who criticizes the regime in any way by actions, words or art. So if someone draws a satirical drawing of Khamenei, he or she can legally be executed or at least sent to jail for a few years. How exactly do these laws “redeem human dignity”? How do these laws represent the “highest human rights values”?

And what about Islam’s ability to become the “true face” of human rights? Such a boast depends precisely on just how “comprehensive” and how “universal” Islam really is as a religion. The regime, with Ali Khamenei, its Supreme Leader at its head, have a glorious vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening” in which Islam will replace Western/European/US/Chritian values and ideals with those of Islam, and specifically, those of Shi’ite/Iranian Islam. If as Khamenei claimed, “now, it’s our turn” and this “New Islamic Civilization” will take over the world creating a “century of Islam”, the words of the Larijani brothers may turn out to be prophetically true. But how realistic is such a vision when infighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis are more prevalent than conflicts between Muslims and the West? And what about Asian religions and culture? Will a billion Chinese and a billion Hindus also become Muslims? Will all the Christian in the world become Muslims as well? And what about atheists? No, Khamenei is placing the proverbial cart before the horse here and the chances of such a global movement ever coming to fruition are minimal.

For now, Sadeq has offered to hold international talks on human rights: “I suggest that the (Judiciary’s) Human Rights Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council pave the way for talks with European countries (on human rights)” but that the US must be excluded from any such discussions because “Americans are only after deception” and that “We also have things to say about human rights in Europe. We have questions and views about Europe’s approach toward humans, Islamophobia in Europe, and France’s ban on hijab”.

Yes, there is a possibility that the Larijani brothers really believe, deep in their hearts, that Islam is the best source of a new global human rights charter. And if they are, one must admire them for such a belief. But the chances are that the motive to present Islam as the “true face” of human rights has a huge political agenda for them – it is the perfect solution to 1) continue to abuse human rights an disregarding any criticism or pressure and to 2) call on other countries who are abusing human rights to do the same.