Monday, November 21, 2005
MESA awards Ganji with Academic Freedom Prize.Middle East Scholars Cite Iranian Dissident Writer for Academic Freedom Award
(Washington, November 21, 2005) -- The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) awarded its 2005 academic freedom prize to Akbar Ganji, the Iranian writer imprisoned since April 2000 for writings critical of the government's systematic violations of freedom of _expression and other basic rights.
MESA made the award on Sunday evening, November 20, at an awards ceremony during its 40th annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The group cited Ganji's unrelenting commitment to speaking boldly about the systematic abuses of those in power in Iran today.
Akbar Ganji has proven himself again and again to be a public intellectual and writer of uncommon courage,? said MESA president Ali Banuazizi, co-director of the Middle East and Islamic Studies program at Boston College. ?Even today, from prison, his letters and manifestos inspire people in Iran and around the world who struggle for a future free of arbitrary power.?
Akbar Ganji is the author of Dungeon of Ghosts and "A Republican Manifesto," as well as numerous other works. The Iranian authorities have held him in solitary confinement almost continuously since September 3 in a special ward of Tehran's Evin prison. He was sentenced in July 2001 to six years in prison for "acting against national security" and "spreading propaganda," among other charges stemming from his writings critical of the government.
MESA also gave an academic freedom award this year to the Workshop of Armenian-Turkish Scholarship, for its pioneering and successful efforts to address controversial issues raised by the destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during World War One.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005
The Young Iranians (NewYorker.com)For the original story at New Yorker click here!Issue of 2005-11-21
This week in the magazine, Laura Secor writes about Iran’s new generation of dissidents and the collapse of the nation’s reformist movement. Here, with Matt Dellinger, she discusses the situation and her travels in Iran.
MATT DELLINGER: In your article, you write about how young Iranians are dealing with the collapse of the reformist movement in Iran. What brought it to an end?
LAURA SECOR: President Mohammad Khatami and the reformists accomplished a lot by working to change the system from within. The social codes loosened; the price for political dissidence is still high, but not as high as it used to be; and, perhaps most important, Iranians were emboldened to demand a more transparent and accountable government. But, ultimately, the reformists weren’t able to deliver all they had promised. They were blocked by the upper clerical establishment, which controlled the most important levers of state, and which acted to crush a lot of reformist legislation, to close about a hundred reformist newspapers, and to violently suppress student activism. So a lot of people concluded either that the elected leadership was powerless or that the reformists were weak and unreliable. That’s why very few people who’d voted for Khatami in the past voted for Mustafa Moin, his heir apparent, in June. The question that a lot of activists are now debating is whether they should focus on electoral politics, as they’ve done in the past, or whether they should withdraw from that area and concentrate instead on building networks and civic organizations outside government. The movement for democratic change in Iran is far from dead, but it has undergone a crushing setback, and it is now casting about for new methods and strategies.
You spent a lot of time with a journalist named Roozbeh Mirebrahimi. What did you learn from him?
Mirebrahimi is a young reformist blogger. Because he dared to cross a particularly dangerous and powerful figure in the judiciary, he was recently imprisoned in solitary confinement, tortured, and, after he was released, subjected to threats and harassment by the authorities. His story told me a lot about the complexity of the Iranian system, parts of which have acted to persecute him, and parts of which have acted to protect him. That’s the gritty and complicated backstory of the reform movement: it may not have produced the sweeping changes that many Iranians desired, but it created pressure points within the regime, a sort of variegation that allowed for the possibility that, when things were blackest, there was some responsible person to whom you might turn. Mirebrahimi turned to Khatami. In the short term, this brought him some peace, but Mirebrahimi’s court file is still open and he remains extremely vulnerable. Many times, I saw him defend Khatami to anyone who dared to say that the reformists had accomplished nothing. But in his own musings, both to me and on his blog, he also seemed deeply ambivalent about the outgoing President and his legacy.
How important is the Internet to political life in Iran? And is it an open medium, or is it censored?
It’s really important. There are tens of thousands of blogs in Iran. Most of them aren’t political in the conventional sense; but writing frankly about private life in Iran is necessarily political, and many of the bloggers do that. The regime is scrambling to censor the Internet, but it can’t quite keep up. The authorities do block a lot of Web sites by using filtering technology—they seem to be most successful in blocking pornography, though they filter political sites, too—but many Iranian bloggers have found ways to keep their sites up.
You also spoke with Mirebrahimi’s wife. She is a journalist in her own right and openly defies tradition—she proposed to him, for instance. She certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of draped, suppressed Iranian women that many Americans still have. Did you meet many women like her?
I met a lot of women who defied tradition in Iran, though they didn’t all do it in the same ways. Interestingly, by the way, Iranian universities graduate more women than men, and there are women in nearly all the professions. Iranian laws may be discriminatory, but the country has a large population of educated, sophisticated women who are far from passive or compliant.
The security forces in Iran are controlled by religious authorities rather than by elected officials. Where does the balance of power lie? With the politicians or with the mullahs?
Well, to be fair, some politicians are mullahs and some mullahs are politicians, so that’s not a real distinction. But there are two governments—one elected, the other appointed by a clerical overseer. The elected government, as one reformist cleric put it to me, probably holds about ten per cent of the government’s power. The rest belongs to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the bodies that answer to him.
What do the dissidents want? To overthrow the government? Or are there specific, more modest reforms that they seek?
Iran had a revolution pretty recently, followed by the traumas of war and dictatorship. As badly as many people want change, very few are inclined to put their lives and their country’s fundamental stability on the line for it. That said, there are dissidents who flatly say that the system has to go, and that it should be replaced by a constitution based not on Islamic law but on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A lot of people would probably agree with that as a long-term goal. The question is how to get there, in a country where even taking that position openly is exceedingly dangerous. There is a real distinction to be made between democracy activists and reformists. The reformists are dissidents who reject radical postures. They do not seek to overthrow the government. They are a loyal opposition that uses legal means, and the instruments of the constitution that is already in place, to improve the government bit by bit. They are attempting to move the country incrementally toward a more tolerant vision of Islamic law, more responsive government, and greater respect for rights and freedoms. Most of the country’s activists are proceeding in this way, even though now many are shifting their emphasis from the political sphere to nongovernmental organizations that support human rights and social justice. If the reformist project were eventually to succeed, Iran would become a real pathbreaker in the Islamic world.
When Arash, the young man you met at the Jaam-e Jam food court, in Tehran, heard that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election, he told you, “Everything is finished.” Why was it such a blow to him?
Many Iranians have powerful memories of the era before Khatami’s Presidency. They remember being harassed on the streets by the Basij, the Islamic militia, which would stop cars and search for illegal music or pictures of uncovered women, or just for unrelated men and women fraternizing with one another. People were whipped or beaten for these and other “moral” crimes. Many Iranians, including Arash, really fear that under Ahmadinejad, who has roots in the Basij, these bad old days will return. So far, there has not been much sign of that. But Ahmadinejad’s victory has led many to worry that what little breathing room Iranians had under Khatami could now disappear at any moment. Arash also feared that the new President would further isolate Iran and make it even more uncomfortable for people like him either to travel abroad or to have contact with foreigners within Iran.
Who is more threatening to the government: the apolitical, culturally rebellious young person, like Arash, who rejects the entire political system, or someone like Mirebrahimi, who is more willing to engage it?
The regime has answered that question for us. Mirebrahimi dared to speak the truth when others around him were too intimidated to do so. His deepest commitment is to his country and its future. And the regime has gone to terrible lengths to silence him. The Islamic Republic does not hold that many political prisoners; instead it makes examples of a few people, like Mirebrahimi, in order to convince others that the price of courage is just too high. This is a regime that seems threatened by engagement, not by apathy.
You write that while you were interviewing one student activist in a café, the two of you were watched by men who made little effort to hide their purpose. What was it like to travel and report in Iran? How conscious were you of incidents like that?
I had only one other incident like that one, and that was at a cultural center in the south of Tehran, where I was interviewing conservative young women about the election. Someone tried to confiscate my notes. Iran is a difficult place to work. It’s hard for American journalists to get visas—the one I got expired every few days, and constantly renewing it became a real distraction. To supply the visa, translator, and accreditation, many journalists rely on agencies, and these agencies are required to file reports on our movements with the intelligence ministry. American passport-holders are of particular interest. I decided it was best, under those circumstances, to do everything openly. I met with a lot of former political prisoners and people who were under surveillance. The agency knew I was doing this—I sent them a list of interview subjects before I arrived in Tehran. Nobody stopped me. In Iran you can go for long stretches forgetting that you’re not in a free country. Many people spoke strongly and openly with me, even on the streets. And then every once in a while something unpleasant happens to remind you that people are being controlled and that the stakes are high. As a foreigner, the concern is not for one’s own safety—the terrible story of Zahra Kazemi notwithstanding, foreign journalists are not at particular risk in Iran—but for the privacy and safety of those you work with and speak with. I’m still worried about that.
In Iran today, there are elections, and protesters gather openly—the oppression there is real, but not total. One Iranian told you, “We have freedom of expression. We just don’t have freedom after expression.” Do you think that this contradiction can persist?
It has persisted for a long time already. And, in some respects, that contradiction has provided a sort of uncomfortable but durable equilibrium. The question now is whether Ahmadinejad’s government will upset that equilibrium, and, if so, how the people will react. If the few open spaces now close, the country could be greatly destabilized. That’s why a lot of analysts suspect that one of three things will happen. Perhaps Ahmadinejad won’t roll back the reformists’ gains in social and political freedom—he’ll just freeze the situation as it is. Or maybe he’ll clamp down on political freedoms, which affect activists far more than they do ordinary people, but either leave social freedoms alone or tighten the screws on them very slowly. The final possibility, which isn’t incompatible with the first two, is that even if Ahmadinejad tries to roll back the reforms, Khamenei, who is more pragmatic than he is, will stop him.
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Monday, November 07, 2005
The US and Iran Might Clash While We Remain Complacent (Hooshang Amirahmadi)From AIC web site:
In the last 26 years, the United States and Iran have consistently demonized and vilified each other. Yet, except for a few occasions, including the 1987 “tankers war” in the Persian Gulf, they have been willing and able to maintain a “no war no peace” relationship. However, since September 11, and more recently because of Iran’s nuclear crisis and the radicalization of its domestic politics, as well as the rising level of anti-Iran hysteria, the relations have deteriorated to a dangerous level. These developments are making it increasingly hard for either side to maintain the no war no peace status quo.
While on both sides there are still voices of reason, evidence suggests that egotistical intentions, wrong policies, national pride, and power politics are narrowing the option for diplomacy perilously thin. Meanwhile, countries and political groups opposed to the regime in Tehran are actively propagating the war option. It is only unfortunate that the United Nations is failing to exercise its founding purpose to make peace among nations, and that no world power is involved in a serious mediation effort. Nowadays, most states would side with the higher bidder, a market in which Iran cannot compete with the US! Worse yet, most in the civil society and business communities on both sides, including academics, experts, journalists, civic leaders, business executives, and the general public remain complacent about the growing tension between the US and Iran. Some deny that there can ever be a war between the two, given domestic problems in the US, high oil prices, crisis in Iraq, and Iran’s internal problems and political divisions. They dismiss those warning against a possible war as alarmists. Meanwhile, nationalists, jingoists, opportunists, and hypocrites are wittingly or unwittingly promoting the war option. Under such conditions, warmongers on both sides and beyond will shape events in the coming months. Unless prevented by force of reason, public pressure, an unpredictable event, or a combination thereof, they are intent to impose a war on the two nations. Sadly, the usual anti-war arguments, including colossal death and destruction, immense costs, and regional instability, would not deter the war strategists. While they realize such fallouts, the warriors among military, commercial, and political interest groups on both sides and beyond argue that a war would produce “strategic gains” for the victor.
The dangerous deadlock between Iran and the US was underscored by Iran’s former Foreign Minister, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, in a recent “off the record” discussion with the Rooz Daily in Tehran, which was later published online. Dr. Kharrazi acknowledged that in Iran two views exist on US-Iran relations. One view favors normalization because the conflict is costing Iran dearly and is concerned that the status quo can no longer be maintained. The contrary view, on the other hand, while acknowledging such costs, points out that the status quo can be maintained and serves Iran’s longterm interests. Dr. Kharrazi named the former Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami as pro-normalization. He named no one from the opposite side but implied that the hard-line religious conservatives currently in control of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches did not wish to mend relations. Given that the “ice of the relations between Iran and the US is too thick, no faction alone can melt it,” he claimed. Under the present conditions, he implied, only the Leader Ali Khamanei could authorize a dialogue with the US. However, he said, at present, no such move is possible.
The former Foreign Minister then blamed the hardliners on both sides for the deadlock. In his words, “the hardliners in the US are totally inflexible, and in the same vain no willingness exists in Iran for diplomatic ties.” He then said “the US will never reach an agreement with the present Iran because we are also inflexible and do not like to give the impression that we gave up; and the US does not wish to change its position on Iran. Thus, under this situation, each side sees accepting the condition of the other side as a defeat.” Dr. Kharrazi forgot to mention that President Clinton did change the American position on Iran but that he and President Khatami “missed” the historic opportunity. That opportunity was provided at the historic conference of the American Iranian Council on March 2000, where Secretary Madeline Albright extended an apology to Iran for past US mistaken policies toward Iran and lifted sanctions on carpet and certain food items. While one can be certain that powers above Mr. Khatami and Dr. Kharrazi obstructed the initiative, it must not be forgotten that the former President and Foreign Minister did not embrace the US offer either. Indeed, both gentlemen dismissed the offer as inadequate and demanded that the US change its policy toward Iran before Tehran makes a move!
Dr. Kharrazi’s characterization of factional politics regarding the US tactfully excludes a third faction, which, since the Revolution in 1979, has expected a war with the US. This faction is convinced that the US will never accept to live in peace with the Islamic Republic, and it will one day attempt to destroy the regime in Tehran. This wrong assumption has been a key obstacle, on the Iranian side, to a US-Iran dialogue. Besides, operating on the basis of such an assumption, this faction has advocated military-security preparedness, and as a result has made the probability for the occurrence of a US-Iran war that much higher. While Dr. Kharrazi is silent on the Iranian warmongers, his reading of the mood in Washington is also only partially correct. Here, too, there are the moderates, who prefer dialogue; the conservatives, who favor containment; and the neoconservatives, who favor war. Now that Iran is trapped by the IAEA resolution, the moderates and the conservatives are pursuing a policy that Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has described as “a patient long-term strategy” designed “to isolate Iran … to ratchet up the international pressure on Iran, and to assemble the kind of global coalition against Iran.”
In sharp contrast, the neoconservatives are calling for immediate military action and regime change. They argue that even if Iran were to be isolated, the end result would still leave the Islamic regime and its “nuclear bombs” in place. The power and influence of the neoconservatives cannot be underestimated despite setbacks in Iraq and the fact that a number of them have been reassigned to non-policy positions or have left the Administration. Significantly, the neoconservatives continue to receive support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush has also often sided with them. Israelis are particularly adamant about immediate military action against Iran’s nuclear sites. During a recent visit to the US, members of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Policy Committee promoted the idea of a war with Iran. Al Watan quoted one member, Arie Eldadm, as saying “nothing will restrain Iran aside from the use of force.” His colleague, Yosef Lapid, was more direct: “we don’t see any solution except for acting on our own.” Given that recent intelligent reports have indicated that Iran is years away from building a nuclear device, the call to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities is nothing but a cover for regime change.
In response to Israeli threats, Iran’s Parliament Speaker, Dr. Haddad Adel, during a visit to Damascus said that, “if Israel ventured to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities it would incur severe retaliation.” President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad followed by saying that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” This calculated response to Israeli threats and international pressures was “condemned” by the President of the UN Security Council and refuted by many states. Talks aside, Tehran has taken steps to defend its nuclear sites and borders through troop and equipment movements, administrative changes, and increased control over the ethnic areas. The warmongers are influential in the US, Europe, Israel and Iran as well as in certain countries in Iran’s neighborhood. Worse yet, leaders in some of these countries have openly or discreetly called for the use of force. What concerns me the most is the fact that the Israeli threats cannot be dismissed as mere rhetoric, and American foreign policy does not bluff. Indeed, “threats” by the US presidents have often assumed a life of their own. To be sure, there are evidences pointing toward both war and dialogue, but on the balance, the war option could become inevitable if the current trends were not reversed. True, Iran is no Iraq or Afghanistan for the US! It is a larger challenge, requiring a larger commitment of political will, military action, and economic resources. Ironically, the very challenge that Iran represents is one key reason advocates of the use of force are so adamant to intensely apply force against Iran’s strategic sites and conventional forces. At the minimum, they wish to stir ethnic unrest, and use the political opposition to destabilize Iran and create a civil war. As with Iraq, the warriors are not worried about the immediate fallouts from such actions as they have their eyes on misperceived “strategic gains.”
Significantly, the closer we get to the war option the harder it will become to prevent it. Therefore, those of us who are for peace and dialogue between the US and Iran must take our responsibility very seriously. Remaining complacent in the face of threats from the warmongers, jingoists, nationalists, opportunists, and hypocrites is irresponsible, to say the least. Even if we believed that a US-Iran war was a far-fetched possibility, we would still need to remain vigilant about the slightest probability in that direction. The stakes are too high for us to remain silent or be complacent in the face of the looming war dangers!
In case of a war, colossal death and destruction would occur, billions of dollars would be wasted, and Iran’s historical monuments could become the accidental targets of the US bombings. For Iranian-Americans, the stakes will be especially high. They will experience more racism and hatred, and will lose freedom to promote their heritage. They will also have to hide themselves, as in the case of the hostage crisis, by denying their native identity. They may even have to support the war to prove loyalty. Americans, Iranians, and Iranian-Americans, as well as others, deserve better. We need to act now to reverse the war trend in the direction of peace and partnership! Many deny that there can ever be a war between the two countries. As long as they are in denial, they cannot and will not help. Others agree that the danger exists but believe that nothing can be done to reverse the trend. I disagree! They argue that the US-Iran conflict serves powerful interests in Washington, Tehran and the Middle East. True, but we must also consider the fact that we are not alone in this battle for peace, and that our ideas, reasons, persuasions, and collective power matter.
By working together, we can make a difference, as we have in the past. It will be helpful to consider the moderating impact of organizations like AIC on US-Iran relations. The American moderate leaders acted hypocritically and opportunistically in the case of Iraq. At best, they remained complacent in the face of the jingoists who promoted the war, and allowed the Iraqi militants to use the American power toward their design on Iraq. The American nationalists, too, were deceived by the vague promise of a safer US. Tragically, many of the same leaders are now acting in the same vain regarding the rising US-Iran tension. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are promoting a dangerous confrontation that they will surely end up opposing after it has long happened. This time, they are allowing the Iranian militants to use the American power toward their own ends.
Our peace activism must begin by acknowledging the dangers of a US-Iran war. We must try to understand the real causes of the conflict. Fact must be distinguished from fad. We must also understand and acknowledge the concerns and interests of other key players. We must then offer reasonable and honorable solutions which directly address the roots of the conflict. Noble ideas are as powerful as weapons of mass destruction! They would be even more powerful if applied to the dangerous condition prevailing in US-Iran relations. It is our responsibility to develop and disseminate dignified ideas for peace between the two nations and beyond. We must also educate, organize, mobilize, and pay for the implementation of our just ideas for conflict resolution. Complacency and passivity are no alternatives to vigilance and activism. To be sure, there are those among us who argue against normalization of US-Iran relations. In their view, such diplomatic ties would help regime to stay in power longer, abuse human rights, and forestall democratic change. They must be reminded of two facts: (1) absence of the US from Iran in the last 26 years has not helped their cause; and (2) no country has ever become democratic or developed in the absence of normal diplomatic relations with the US. Iran is no exception!
Hooshang Amirahmadi is a Professor and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, and President of the American Iranian Council.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
A tutor for the president (Haaretz, November 2, 2005)By Zvi Bar'el
Hartford University, as opposed to the University of
Hartford in the United States, is a virtual college that operates on the
Internet and grants academic degrees, from bachelor's to doctorates. It is
the college where Ali Saeedlou, the designated oil minister of Iran,
studied, and where he received his Ph.D. "Designated," because the
conservative Iranian parliament, the body that is supposed to give its
full backing to the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, decided at the
conclusion of a lengthy debate, which lasted more than 30 hours, to reject
The reason was not the doctoral degree he received from
the online university, which of course teaches in English - the language
of the Great Satan - but his lack of experience in oil affairs and the
concern that he could lead Iranian oil policy to the brink of disaster.
This was the official reason, which in itself was enough to prevent the
appointment. The other, non-official but no less powerful reason is the
creaky relationship between the president and the parliament. In the less
than three months since his election as president in June, Ahmadinejad has
managed to get on the nerves of numerous members of parliament,
particularly those who head important committees, such as energy and
For example, these members of parliament claim that the
government, in other words the president (Iran has no prime minister), is
not responding to their requests, and is not initiating legislation to
improve the economic situation. Similarly, they contend, his new
bureaucracy is at odds with their plan to wipe out poverty. Instead, it
prolongs the administrative corruption, as he attempts to appoint
individuals who served with him in his previous posts as the mayor of
Tehran and as an intelligence officer in the Republican Guards.
One of Ahmadinejad's associates, the conservative MP
Ahmed Tawakli, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying that "absolute
support for Ahmadinejad is liable to lead to an administrative breakdown
of the state." But more importantly, Iran is beginning to realize that
Ahmadinejad could cause strategic damage to the state. And this does not
refer to his statements about Israel. They are only the latest example of
the damage, which led to the ensuing "correction speech" by Hashemi
Rafsanjani and the response of the Iranian foreign ministry, in which
spokesmen underscored Iran's commitment to the UN charter, and especially
the positive attitude of Islam toward Judaism and Jews. For Ahmadinejad
this is a no less severe slap in the face than the parliament's decision
not to confirm four of his proposed cabinet appointments, or parliament's
enactment of a law to reduce gasoline imports, which Ahmadinejad's
government should have initiated but did not.
The main criticism of Ahmadinejad stems from the fact
that Iran is now under immense international pressure, from which it seeks
to extricate itself in order to gain some strategic objectives: continued
construction of its nuclear reactors without outside interference, and the
building of an economy - especially an oil economy - that will not bring
it to bankruptcy 20 years from now. Iran's economic data is at first
glance impressive: Approximately 13 percent of global oil reserves lie
under its territory, it earned about $30 billion this year from oil
exports, and in recent years evolved from a state that owes money into a
state that can pay in cash for its projects.
The bad news is that even according to official Iranian
reports, at current production levels, unless Iran invests large amounts
of money to develop its oil fields, within 20 years it will be unable to
export oil, and will consume all its production locally. Since the
Khomeini revolution, Iran has produced about 4.5 million barrels of oil a
day, about 2 million barrels less than production levels prior to the
revolution, due to the sanctions that led to the corrosion of equipment
and the curtailment of investment in development of the oil industry. In
recent years, national oil consumption has increased by some 5.2 percent
annually, and Iran is already forced to import gasoline at a total outlay
of $5.5 billion a year, as its refineries are unable to refine the amount
required for domestic consumption. It is estimated that Iran needs an
investment of about $4 billion a year in order to increase its oil
production and develop its refineries.
Given the situation, a clever Iranian parliament cannot
accept an oil minister who lacks a full understanding of the oil economy
and whose experience amounts to having managed the finances of the Tehran
municipality for Ahmadinejad. Nor can such a parliament agree to a
populist policy in which the president wants to hand out approximately
$1,000 to every couple that marries, and by this means prevent unrest
among the younger generation. This is a generation that is less interested
in revolutionary ideology and wants to hear its government say when they
will be getting decent jobs. Based on the outcome of the last five-year
plan, the previous regime, under Mohammed Khatami, managed to create only
2.9 million jobs, about 700,000 less than planned and about 1.5 million
less than needed even to begin to wipe out unemployment, which affects
mainly young people and university graduates.
With populist planning like Ahmadinejad's, it is hard to
see not only how Iran will break free of its economic difficulties but
also how it will create an opportunity for local and foreign investors to
up their investments in the state. For example, sources in the Iranian
opposition report that since Ahmadinejad's rise to power, private capital
along the lines of $200 billion has fled the country, and has been
invested in real estate and stock exchanges in the Gulf states,
particularly in the United Arab Emirates. And if it is difficult to
receive any conformation of such a report, it is sufficient to observe the
Iranian stock market, which has plummeted by 20 percent since June.
The result of all this is that the spiritual leader, Ali
Khamenei, has decided that Ahmadinejad is still in need of a "tutoring
period," and recently appointed Hashemi Rafsanjani as the tutor. He is the
man that Ahmadinejad beat in the election. Rafsanjani, who is himself a
past president of the state and speaker of parliament, now serves, as
well, as chairman of the State Expediency Council, an appointed body that
has been assigned the job of bridging the gap between government policy
and parliament legislation, and is essentially the supreme arbiter when it
comes to government policy. Rafsanjani, who appointed the outgoing
president Khatami to a senior post on his council, is well aware of Iran's
international dilemmas and its need to enlist investors, as well as the
necessity of not stepping on the toes of Europe and the U.S. This also
explains why it was Khamenei and not Ahmadinejad who has now issued
statements on nuclear development, since Ahmadinejad's pronouncements
caused the countries of Europe to join in the demand to have the Security
Council vote on the Iranian question.
The fruits of pressure
Ahmadinejad is now feeling pressure from the Iranian
power centers, as did his predecessor Khatami. However, this time the
pressure is coming from Ahmadinejad's cohorts, and even from the group
that supported him in the election. He now realizes that as president he
cannot set policy on his own, that he cannot rely on parliament to support
him unconditionally, and he cannot even issue pronouncements against
Israel without someone in the Iranian regime intervening.
Interestingly, the counterresponse to the international
condemnations of Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements was delivered by
Rafsanjani, who in his Friday sermon in Tehran spoke about the great
respect that Islam in general and Iran in particular feel for Jews and for
Judaism, emphasizing, "We have a problem only with Zionist circles in
Israel, which we see as being responsible for the repression of the
Palestinian nation." This is the same Rafsanjani who in 2001 claimed that
Israel could be destroyed with a single nuclear bomb, with minimal damage
to the Muslim world. But now he is in a different position, as someone
opposed to Ahmadinejad and once again close to Khamenei, and especially as
someone who would like to present himself once again as a reformer in the
The pressure on Ahmadinejad is already having an effect.
This week, he dismissed Iran's ambassadors in Britain, Germany and France,
claiming that they were not up to the task of alleviating the global
pressure on Iran. But more importantly, he threatened to tell the public
in Iran how Rafsanjani is thwarting his programs. And when this is the
threat voiced by Ahmadinejad, it can be assumed that he is beginning to
climb the wall of conflict with the conservative but pragmatic
establishment, which is itself astonished to see him as the president of