The life and [troubled] times of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i called last week on Iranian pilgrimsto hold protests against Israel and the United States during the annualpilgrimage to Mecca. In a speech broadcast by Tehran radio, and translatedby the French Press Agency, Khamene'i stressed the "necessity andimportance of expressing hatred and scorn for an disavowal of enemies ofIslam" during the pilgrimage.
"At a time when the enemy is heavily investing in sowing discordamong Moslems, hajj should be meaningful, loud, and serve to foil the designsof the Great Arrogance [US] and the Zionists," he said.
Saudi Arabia has warned pilgrims not to bring political materials intothe country during the hajj.
Students from Qom's most famous religious school, the Howzeh, have writtena scathing 9-page open letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, accusinghim of collaborating with the Tehran regime. A copy of the letter was faxedto FDI from clerical sources inside Iran who are known for their oppositionto the current Islamic Republic leadership. While FDI cannot vouch forthe accuracy of the letter's claims against Grand Ayatollah Sistani orother persons mentioned in the letter, sections of which we have translatedfrom the Persian-language original, the vehemence of the attack shows theextent of the intrigue currently dividing the traditional Shiite clergy.
Setting the scene for their attack on Grand Ayatollah Sistan, the "students"complained bitterly of the infiltration of the Howzeh by agents of theregime. "Security agents of the Islamic Republic Ministry of Informationand Security have donned clerical robes to spy on us. At least 2,300 agentshave been planted among us," the students wrote. "They are professionally-trainedagents, who have come to spy on us and our studies."
The students claimed that the regime has chosen Grand Ayatollah Sistanito become the next marja taqlid - or source of imitation, the spiritualleader of the world's Shiite Muslim community - hoping to use Sistani "toachieve their devious objectives.". They accused Sistani of conspiringwith the Mohammad Taqi Khoi, the late son of the late Ayatollah, of confiscating528 million pounds sterling from the Khoi Foundation and using one-fifthof that amount for his own purposes, with the encouragement of the MOIS."We want to know what you have done with the money," the studentsasked. "Since you have accepted this money, we believe you will usethis money to promote the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Republic agents."
"Mr. Sistani, you are now 62-years old," the students wrote."You yourself would confess that there are many other ayatollahs morequalified than yourself to become a source of imitation. So don't you thinkthis is a plot by the regime and by the associates of Ayatollah Khoi toachieve the anti-freedom and anti-human objectives of the regime. You havetraveled one hundred years overnight. What is the meaning of this?"
"Before it is too late, let us warn you now: these people willuse you and abuse you, and will use your lack of will power to turn youinto a political tool against the authentic Shiite clergy in Qom and Najaf.[
The students echoed accusations heard among opposition clergy that thecurrent regime has become "anti-Islamic" since the death of AyatollahRuhollah Khomeini. "They are using the MOIS to get rid of young people,freedom fighters, women, and the authentic clergy, torturing them and insome cases killing them." The students accused former MOIS ministerAyatollah Mohammad Reyshari of spearheading the purge of the clergy, andberated Sistani for supporting his candidacy to become the next presidentof the IRI.
"It is a shame that you, Ayatollah Sistani, would give a publicdeclaration supporting Mr. Reyshari." The students also claimed thatSistani gave Reyshari - who now serves as head of the Special Court ofthe Clergy (which has relentlessly pursued followers of Grand AyatollahMohammad Shirazi in Qom), 15 million toumans to help his Presidential campaign.
Dear Ayatollah Sistani, you should have thought twice about the backgroundof Ayatollah Reyshari before giving him such a glowing letter of commendation....This is a disgrace to all Iran-loving people."
Calling it "a political trade," the students warned Sistanithat in the end he would win the permanent curse of the Iranian people"for his support of Reyshari and the IRI. [Open letter signed by the Studentsof Qom Howzeh, dated 2nd Rabi'a 1417]
Former Culture and Islamic Guidance minister Mohammed Khatami, a "liberal"who is close to outgoing president Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has won key endorsementsin recent days from Rafsanjani allies and from key religious figures.
The "G-6" group, also known as the Servants of Reconstruction,met last Friday to formulate their election strategy, and emerged fromthe meeting with a consensus opinion to back Khatami as their best optionfor blocking the election of Majlis speaker Nateq-Nouri, a cultural conservativeand outspoken critic of the U.S. presence in the Middle East.
G6 members are Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh,Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ataollah Mohajerani,Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Reza Amrollahi, Tehran MayorGholam Hussein Karbaschi, Vice President for Executive Affairs MohammadHashemi and the Head of Physical Education Organization Mustafa HashemiTaba.
"Except Mr. Hashemi (brother of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani)all other participants at the Friday meeting agreed that all-out supportshould be given to Khatami who is in the race as an independent candidate,"a source close to the group told Iran News in Tehran. "Hashemi wantsthe G6 to have its own candidate," the source said.
The other five members of the G6 had pinned all their hopes on FirstVice President Hassan Habibi, the paper reported, who had turned down theirrequest. The group did not consult with Rafsanjani prior to making theirdecision to back Khatami, the source said. [Iran News 3/9].
A less candid - but no less important - endorsement of Khatami's candidacywas offered by Hog. Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, following a memorial serviceattended by top leaders of the radical Majma-e Rouhanioun (Combatant ClericsAssociation). Mohtashemi called Khatami's candidacy "fortunate"and "favorable," then added: ""If the economic policiesare based on social and economic justice, those executing them cannot becapitalists and supporters of capitalism and the serfdom." He alsonoted that the future president must appoint a foreign minister who "mustnot be one of the supporters of the policies of the West or U.S. in internationalaffairs," an apparent stab at Majlis deputy and former deputy foreignMinister Mohammad Javad Larijani, who is said to be positioning himselffor the job [Salam 3/8]
Other members of the Majma's central council are Hojj Tavassoli, MehdiKarrubi, Mohammad Mousavi Khoiniha.
In a major speech to students at Sharif University in Tehran, Khatamihoned his liberal image, calling for legalizing political parties and forthe expression of "differences of opinion." He also dangled acarrot to the United States, recalling George Bush's statement during hisinaugural speech in Jan. 1989. "If good will is displayed toward therevolution... the road for talks and understanding on the basis of anytype of belief will be open to all."
But Khatami's most extraordinary admission was made almost parenthetically,when asked about the forthcoming elections. "This is the first timethere will be a major competition in the presidential elections,"he said. "In the past, because of the crises and sensitivities thatexisted, there was a consensus of views on the president." [Ettelaat2/26]
Let's see how he phrases that if he is defeated...
The arrest of hundreds of striking Iranian oil workers last month hasled to quiet but persistent international protests. The Committee for theDefense of the Iranian People's Rights in London, an advocacy group supportedby Labor Party parliamentarians and British trade unions, has accused theregime of torturing and killing two of the oil workers - 52-year old HusseinKamali, and 38-year Gholam Barzegar. As many as 300 oil workers were arrested,the group said, and many others have been tortured in jail and face execution.
In a parallel move, the group claimed the regime secretly hanged fourteenother people on February 21 for participating in an anti-government demonstrationin Islamshahr, an industrial suburb south of Tehran. Among those executedwere Keyvan Shakeri, 32, Mehrdad Moghaddam, 35, Ali Reza Majdi, 36, andFarhad Ghaem, 37. All four were labor movement activists who had previouslybeen jailed from 1983-1989.
"The Islamic government attempts to keep these executions secretand does not permit any press coverage," the CODIR statement said."It is only after the will and belongings of those executed are handedover to their relatives that their fate is known." [CODIR statement3/7]. In a
International protests against the repression of the oil workers strikehave continued, spearheaded Canada's giant Postal Union, Ontario's PublicService Union, and France's Force Ouvrière. Other union organizationsin the Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Japan, the United States, Sweden,Denmark, Finland, Britain and Germany have sent letters to the Islamicauthorities in Iran, protesting the harsh treatment of the Iranian oilworkers who were arrested during a Feb. 16 demonstration that was brokenup by Islamic Guards special anti-riot forces.
In a letter to the outgoing president Hashemi Rafsanjani, Marc Blondel,General Secretary of the Socialist-led Force Ouvrière in France,expressed his "strongest protest" against the "brutality"with which a peaceful demonstration by the oil workers in Tehran had beencrushed and calls on him for the release of the arrested workers and thefreedom of strikes.
Though the right of strike is officially recognized by the Islamic Constitutionof Iran, but the leaders have ruled it out as being against Islam's interests.[IPS 3/6]
No matter who wins the upcoming presidential elections in Iran, Lebanon'sHezbollah movement expects Tehran will continue to fund its social and"ideological" activities.
In an interview with the independent LBC television network in Lebanon,that was rebroadcast by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on March7, Hezbollah secretary-general Seyed Hassan Nasrallah said that the IRI"will not change its policy of supporting the Lebanese people andthe Palestine ideology, no matter who wins the election."
Asked whether the Islamic Republic policy would undergo any change undera Nateq-Nouri or Khatami presidency, Nasrallah said both would "undoubtedlysupport Hezbollah and the resistance movement engaged in defense againstthe Zionist entity [Israel]." [IRNA 3/7]
Former Mujahidin-e Khalq member Ali Farasati left Paris for Tehran onFeb. 21, in a curious bid for the presidency which has been sanctionedby the rulers of the Islamic Republic, who granted him permission not onlyto return to Iran but to maintain highly visible contacts with the foreignpress.
As a former commander of the MEK's Katyusha Unit, Farasati participatedin several bloody attacks against the Iranian army. "What now puzzlesmost Iranians is how a man who should have been arrested on his arrivalin Tehran and executed immediately is treated so nicely by one of the harshestand inhuman of the Governments?" the Paris-based opposition news agency,IPS, wondered.
Since returning to Tehran, Mr. Farasati has met with leading membersof the Iranian Freedom Movement, including Naser Minachi and EzzatollahSahabi, who is also a Presidential candidate. He has also given interviewsto foreign correspondents in Tehran, as well as to the Farsi-language servicesof VOA and others, in he has spoken of "widening the constructivedialogue" and "putting an end to the cycle of violence"inside Iran.
IPS speculates that his apparent immunity may be a ploy by the MOISto attract to him the remaining supporters of the MEK inside Iran as aprelude to crushing the movement once and for all. [IPS 3/6]
Ezatollah Sahabi, the former head of the Budget and Planning Organizing,declared his candidacy for the presidency on March 2. Sahabi, who is closeto Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi and his Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI), is currentlythe editor in chief of Iran-e Farda monthly magazine and is considereda "moderate" opponent of the regime who has kept his criticismwithin the bounds tolerated by the intelligence services.
On March 6, Yazdi joined him and also declared his candidacy. In itsinternational wire, IRNA carried Yazdi's statement which criticized thegovernment for "ignoring the rights of the political groups envisagedin the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Yazdi's statement kept carefully within the bounds of "tolerated"opposition. "The political groups and independent parties who areagainst the performance of the government but [are] loyal to the systemof the Islamic republic of Iran and committed to the constitution are deprivedof the least facilities to run for the elections.'' [IRNA 3/6]
IRNA also mentioned the candidacy of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, who headsthe National Union of the Islamic Student Associations. Tabazadi becamefamous last year for publishing investigative reports into the financesof the Bonyad-e Mostazafan and the Rafsanjan Pistachio collective, runby the family of President Hashemi-Rafsanjani, which angered the authoritiesand got his publication, Payam-e Daneshjou (Voice of the Students) banned.[FDI Newswires 5/26/96, 6/10/96, 7/8/96, etc.)
Since February, an organization calling itself "Honest membersof the Liberation Movement of Iran" has begun contacting Iranian exilenewspapers and foreign news organizations, claiming that it is a spin-offof Ebrahim Yazdi's LMI.
Many of the group's statements, signed "The Separatists/LMI"have criticized Yazdi for "non-democratic behavior" and "authoritarianleadership."
However, FDI sources in Tehran believe that the organization may havebeen created lock stock and barrel by MOIS, to discredit Dr. Yazdi in thecoming Presidential elections.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency and major Tehran dailies aregiving prominent play to a new report from the National Association ofManufacturers to the U.S. Congress, which calls for the administrationto abandon economic sanctions as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.
The NAM report claims that 61 laws and executive orders aimed at changingthe behavior of 35 countries, including Iran, have cost the United Statesup to $790 billion in potential exports. [IRNA 3/8; Tehran dailies 3/9]
The NAM has made similar claims in the past in its efforts to get theadministration to lift export controls on high technology, and has beencriticized by economic forecasters for using dubious techniques to arriveat spectacular figures.
The MOIS claims it has arrested fifty spies in northwest Iran, accordingto Tehran press reports on March 3 quoted by Radio Israel's Farsi service.The newspapers, quoting an MOIS spokesman, said those arrested were "membersof six different opposition groups" but did not name them or provideany allegations of what their "espionage" activities might havebeen. [Kol Israel 3/3]
Swedish Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallen has called on Tehran to allowjailed dissident Faraj Sarkuhi to travel to Stockholm. "I encouragethe Iranian government not to prevent Sarkuhi from accepting an offer tolecture at Stockholm's school of journalism," she said during parliamentaryquestions on Feb. 27. No date has been set for such a lecture.
Western nations have asked Iran to cast light on the fate of Sarkuhi,who was arrested by the Iranian secret service in late January as he triedto illegally leave Iran for Sweden, where he has a brother who lives asa political refugee.
Hjelm-Wallen said that she hoped that the European Union's "collectiveweight" would influence the Iranian regime, noting that "theUnited States' attempt at an isolationist policy has not been positive."We have entered a period where we must examine the situation andnot exclude any method, but we mustn't do something just to ease our conscienceunless it changes something for the Iranian people," she said. [IPS2/27]
President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's wife, Efat Mar'ashi inaugurateda two-day exhibition of women's handicraft in Tehran on March 8, whichis International Women's Day.
"While celebrating this day, the women of the world regardlessof their religion, color, race etc., should also put the achievements ofthe women's movement, initiated by the United Nations in 1975, under scrutiny,"Rafsanjani's advisor on women's affairs, Shahla Habibi said. She was carefulto hedge her remarks with the traditional excoriation of Western "culturalonslaught." Also addressing the meeting was the only female mayorin Tehran, Zahra Saderazam Nouri, who encouraged Iranian women to work"within the framework of women's international establishments,"which have almost universally condemned the treatment of women under theIslamic Republic. [Iran News 3/9]