.يولد جميع الناس أحرارا متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلا وضميرا وعليهم أن يعامل بعضهم بعضا بروح الإخاء‎
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

No Refuge

writing No Refuge

Written by a University of Tehran graduate, from first-hand accounts

[TEHRAN BUREAU] We all have our memories of late-night cramming. The lights are low everywhere; the world is eerily quiet. At such times, the sound of my own fingers stroking the keyboard seems as loud as a thunderous volcano. Sometimes, after finishing a paragraph or coming to an end of an assigned chapter, I like to stop… and just listen, whether it’s the sound of footsteps or a stranger’s laugh, or a cat or dog whimpering in the distance.

It was on one such night. A 19-year-old boy was sitting in a dormitory room, quietly poring over those same books, the way he did most nights away from home, the way he did every night during exam season. Earlier, at around 10:30 p.m., an officer had come knocking on their doors. The police would only protect them if they kept quiet, he had said. If the students said as much as a word, he warned, they would do nothing to help them.

Unknown to the boy, in the dormitory a block away, at around 11:30 p.m., a group of hard-headed students head up to the rooftop and start chanting anti-government slogans.

Maybe he was too deeply submerged in Ohm’s Law equation to notice; maybe those hard-headed students hadn’t really been all that loud.

But a few hours later, he hears students screaming from the floor below and the shattering noise of breaking glass. He’s heard the story of that fateful night, that particular summer day, almost exactly 11 years ago, when they attacked the dormitories. It had always sounded like an epic tale, or maybe a television drama. And now there he was, suddenly living it.

He runs to hide in the bathroom. Shaking, scared, alone he waits. He waits, and waits, and waits.

And then there is no more waiting. The men are at his door.

He’s dragged out into the hallway. The last thing he remembers before the world goes black is that loud thud — the sound of his friend’s head hitting the ground, his unconscious body laying in blood, blood that is splattered everywhere.

A week later, he is released from prison, after agreeing to sign “a confession.” He is now a fully-certified criminal in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

That friend he remembers last has not been heard from. Many others remain in prison. But more frightening yet, there are many others who have gone missing.

Hundreds of miles away, a 17-year-old high school student in a small town in the province of Khuzestan is also released, along with his uncle. They were taking part in a demonstration in the city’s main square when a large group of them (perhaps along with many more) were arrested. The uncle emerges from the ordeal unscathed, physically. But the boy has been repeatedly and severely beaten. He is released one day before his University Entrance Exam.

All week now I have not been able to shake the image of that shy, timid boy out of my head. The typical class nerd, the one who gets A’s even when the entire class fails. I wonder how these kids are going to grow up. My generation was always told that no matter how cruel or merciless the world may be, the school is our refuge. Where will we go now that our schools too have been violated?

And once again, it is the shahrestani (small-town) kids who are paying the price. The ones who’ve had to work the hardest to get where they are. The ones whose parents couldn’t afford a loft in North Tehran. The ones this newly “elected” president claims to represent.

A friend of mine emailed me these lines from the University of Tehran a day before the attacks on the dormitories, which I have translated:

We are on campus, my friend. Tear gas is descending upon us like heavy snowfall. The entire building I am in right now is filled with gas. Two of my friends were wounded 30 minutes ago. There is fire everywhere. I thought I came here to study but there is nothing here but war. I have to tell you this quickly so you’ll share it on Facebook. I tried using a proxy to access Facebook earlier, but it didn’t work. Thanks so much. And by the way, please don’t mention my name because there have been mass arrests everywhere.

It seems ironic that 30 years after the revolution, at a time when many of us, among the exploding youth of Iran, were tired and indifferent to its fruition, are now in the streets fighting for the things this revolution promised. We were born into a war, and lived through a war. Now there is a new war raging. Who thought it would last so long. My friends are on their rooftops again shouting Allah o Akbar – God is Great — like their fathers did 30 years ago. I’ve always believed history repeats itself. But I’ve never felt it quite like the way I do today.

The Widening Divide

6a00d83451c45669e20115703a8e68970c 500wi The Widening Divide

The rift in the clerical establishment

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 30 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] As the Iranian government crisis enters its 19th day, fissures among the clerics are gradually becoming deeper and more visible. These differences between hard-liners and leftists go back to 1988, but what has been surprising is the reaction of moderate clerics and the silence of clerical hard-liners.

The importance of the emerging fissures in the ranks of the clerics is not that the leftist clerics are supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi in his confrontation with the hard-liners, but that the fissures are developing even among the ranks of the conservative ayatollahs and influential clerics who were usually supportive of Ayatollah Khamenei — or at least silent in order to present a seemingly united front against the leftist faction, as well as the reformist and democratic groups.

The clerics in Qom and Mashhad recognize that there is much more at stake than a disputed election. They see an existential threat to the entire Islamic Republic as they mull their decision whether to support the official result, protest it or continue to remain silent.

The clerics who support the unification of church and state — those who support the concept of Velaayat-e Faghih [the governance of the Islamic jurist, the Supreme Leader or the Faghih], the backbone of Iran’s power structure — see that by coming down most definitively on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s side, Ayatollah Khamenei may no longer be considered to be above the fray, or even feign impartiality. He has now become just another politician subject to criticism. This is damaging, not only to the concept of Velaayat-e Faghih, but also to the whole concept of Mahdi, the hidden 12th Imam, who is supposed to come back some day to save the world from injustice, corruption and chaos. How can the “deputy” of the hidden Imam be as fallible as the next politician?

In the view of many in the clerical class, Ayatollah Khamenei’s actions have been problematic, especially his response to the huge demonstrations that took place to protest the rigged election:

1) He did not wait for the Guardian Council to officially certify the election results; he very quickly declared them valid.

2) He said the 85% turnout indicated how politically mature the population was and showed how satisfied they were with the political system. (He failed to note that the same politically mature and “satisfied” population staged huge demonstrations protesting the votes and the government that he supports). This hard-line position of his effectively quashed the most famous quote by Ayatollah Khomeini, Mizaan ra’ye mardom ast [the true measure of (acceptance) is people’s vote].

3) He emphasized the rule of law, while neglecting all the violations of the same law by Ahmadinejad’s government and supporters. (All of these have been eloquently described and enumerated by Mousavi in his statements.)

4) He “recommended” that Mousavi pursue his complaints through the Guardian Council [the Constitutional body that vets the candidates and certifies the validity of the elections], while declaring at the same time that the election was valid, hence leaving little room for the Council to change the election results, even if it wanted to by finding enough evidence of fraud to declare the election invalid.

5) He threatened that if people were to demonstrate, any bloodshed and violence would be their own fault — the fault of unarmed demonstrators pitted against heavily armed security forces — and their leaders, Mousavi and Karroubi.

Since the incompetence of the Ahmadinejad administration, at least when it comes to managing the economy and certain aspects of foreign policy, is beyond dispute, by supporting the current president, Ayatollah Khamenei essentially declared his belief in Ahmadinejad-ism. Indeed, in his sermon on July 19, he declared that Ahmadinejad’s views are closer to his own than those of others, and that certain people [meaning Ahmadinejad], in his opinion, are more suited to serve the country.

And, of course, those clerics who are opposed to the concept of Valaayat-e Faghih and believe that the ayatollahs must not intervene in politics (other than being spiritual guides), such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq and his large following in Iran, or those who believe that the Supreme Leader has been granted too much power and must be brought under control, such as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, have found Ayatollah Khamenei’s actions to be solid reasons for the validity of their arguments.

Clerical reformers against Ayatollah Khamenei:

Tehran Bureau has already reported on the protests of several senior ayatollahs against the rigged election and its aftermath (read: “Grand Ayatollah Declares Three Days of National Mourning”). Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of two most important marja’ taghlids [source of emulation] in Shiite Islam, strongly attacked the government, rejected the results of the rigged election, and called on people to continue their protests peacefully. This was not the first time Montazeri has criticized Iran’s government.

In 1997, shortly after President Khatami’s landslide victory, Montazeri made a famous speech on Velaayat-e Faghih, in which he courageously criticized Ayatollah Khamenei by saying that the Supreme Leader should not intervene in the affairs of the state and leave them to the president. Likening many of the Friday prayer imams in the Islamic Republic to Aakhoond Darbaari [a pre-Revolution phrase referring to clerics on the Shah’s payroll], he warned people not to confuse them with genuine religious leaders. [Watch the speech on YouTube.]

Ayatollah Sayyed Jalaloddin Taheri, an important reformist cleric who had been appointed the leader of the Friday prayers in the city of Isfahan by Ayatollah Khomeini right after the 1979 Revolution, has declared the election fraudulent, and the next Ahmadinejad term as illegitimate and tantamount to thievery. Taheri resigned as the leader of Friday prayers in Isfahan in 2002, protesting, in a highly publicized letter, what he called the terrible state of the nation. His letter provoked a direct rebuttal from Ayatollah Khamenei himself. Ayatollah Taheri strongly supported Mousavi in the presidential election.

In his statement, Taheri said he was witnessing “how the old enemies of Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] who opposed the establishment of the Islamic Republic are now presenting themselves as the ideologues of the Revolution.”

“Did Imam believe that those who must be neutral in the election publicly support a particular candidate [Ahmadinejad]?” Taheri asked. “Did Imam allow the use of public resources for a particular candidate? Has religion given [the hard-liners] the permission [to do what they have done]? Why is it that the law is only supportive of you [referring to Ayatollah Khamenei's contention that the law must be implemented, and that the public protests are illegal]?”

Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, a senior member of the Association of Militant Clerics (AMC), has urged Mousavi to resist the official election result, so “insulting people and disrespecting the laws would not become the norm in the country.”

The AMC backed Mousavi in the recent election. Ayatollah Zanjani warned the Judiciary that if it cannot address the rightful complaints of the people, they will seek out alternative ways to recover their rights.“God forbid, the final destination of which will be chaos, insecurity and insulting religion,” he said. He went on to declare that, “peaceful gathering and demonstrations are people’s rights, which have been recognized by [article 27 of] the Constitution.” He also accused the government of deviating from Ayatollah Khomeini’s “path and thoughts.”

Ayatollah Sayyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, who was Chief Prosecutor under Ayatollah Khomeini, strongly attacked the government for its mishandling of the election. In an interview with a pro-Ahmadinejad Web site, he declared that the Guardian Council was biased and that people have a right to demonstrate.

“Ask me about the law,” Tabrizi said when he was reminded that Ayatollah Khamenei had forbidden further demonstrations. “I have nothing to do with them [the Supreme Leader and his supporters]. The Leader has expressed his own opinion, but I am talking about the law.

“The [1979] Revolution also occurred due to such talks [by the government]. The Shah also called the [demonstrating] people rioters. It was due to such reasons that the Shah’s regime was illegitimate. If it had not talked that way [calling people rioters] and had given the people their rights, it would not have become illegitimate. It does not make any difference who denies the people their rights. Whoever does that is illegitimate.”

He then mocked the fact that the number of votes cast in Ray (a town in the southern part of Tehran) was twice the number of eligible voters there.

Grand Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardabili, another close and senior aid to Ayatollah Khomeini, declared, “force should not be used to quell people’s protests. You [the government] must listen to people and their protests against the election. Let the people express their opinions. The response to [the protests by] the people must be convincing to them.”

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, a progressive cleric and a confidante of Ayatollah Khomeini, declared that Ahmadinejad was not the legitimate president and cooperation with him, as well as working for him, were haraam (against Islam and a great sin). He also declared that any changes in the votes by unlawful means were also haraam.

Hadi Ghaffari, a mid-rank cleric, strongly criticized Ayatollah Khamenei in a recent speech. His father was also an ayatollah killed by the Shah’s government, and he himself was jailed for many years before the 1979 Revolution. In the early years of the Revolution he was a hard-liner, but gradually changed his position; he has been strongly supportive of the reformists for many years. He was incredibly brazen in his criticisms of Ayatollah Khamenei. An audiotape of his speech was leaked and posted on YouTube, but has apparently been removed.

Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, who was the first Secretary-General of the Guardian Council after the Revolution, met with some members of the Council and expressed regrets for what had happened.

“I have some important things to say, but cannot for now,” he told the Council’s members. Part of the meeting was in secret, but he said in the public part of the meeting that, “We should have acted in a way that these issues would not have come up. We should have moderated our positions and opinions.”

Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani also held a secret meeting with Grand Ayatollah Mousa Shobeiri Zanjani, and reviewed the latest developments; little about their meeting has been publicized.

Clerical supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei:

To be sure, Ayatollah Khamenei still has many supporters among the conservative clergy. When he was appointed the Supreme Leader in June 1989, Ayatollah Khamenei was neither an ayatollah nor a marja’ taghlid [source of emulation]; under the Constitution, the Supreme Leader had to be both. So, not only was the Constitution revised in order to allow Ayatollah Khamenei to become the Supreme Leader, but he also needed the support of the senior clerics to be elevated to those ranks.

Those who supported Ayatollah Khamenei were mostly the conservative and ultra-conservative clerics. Their support of him was instrumental in his transformation from a progressive with an appreciation for the arts and literature, and even playing the taar — a fretted lute with six strings — into the conservative cleric he has become.

The senior clerics who support Ayatollah Khamenei today are those who have held, or currently hold, key positions in the government. They include Ahmad Jannati, Secretary-General of the Guardian Council; Mohammad Yazdi, former Judiciary chief; Khazali, former member of the Guardian Council; Mohammad Mohammadi Gilani, head of the Supreme Court, who ordered the execution of two of his own children in 1981; Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the Judiciary chief; Mohammad Mohammadi Rayshahri, former Minister of Intelligence whose real last name is Mohammadi-Nik; Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, head of the ACC and former Prime Minister; Ebrahimi Amini, leader of Friday prayers of Qom; Mohammad Emami Kashani, Tehran’s temporary leader of Friday prayers; Hossein Nouri Hamadani, a hard-line instructor in Qom’s seminary; and Masih Mohajeri, editor-in-chief of the Islamic Republic, a daily that was founded by Ayatollah Khamenei himself. These are mostly senior figures among the clerics, many of them over 60 years old, with Jannati and Mahdavi Kani being the most influential among them.

There are also mid-rank, middle age clerics, such as Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, the Attorney General and former Intelligence Minister; Mostafa Pourmohammadi, former Interior and Intelligence Minister, who has been implicated in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988; Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, Intelligence Minister; Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, former Speaker of the Majles and head of the Supreme Leader’s Office of Inspection; Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts (no relation to former president Mohammad Khatami); Ali Razini, senior figure in the Judiciary, also implicated in the executions of the summer of 1988; Ebrahim Raeisi, implicated in the summer 1988 executions, and chief deputy to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the Judiciary chief; Ruhollah Hosseinian, a Majles deputy and head of Center for Islamic Revolution Documents; Ali Fallahian, a Majles deputy and former Intelligence Minister; and others.

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makaaren Shirazi, who has often supported the conservatives in the past, emphasized that the difficulties should be overcome wisely, rationally, and with attention to the future of the political system.

“The action to be taken must not leave any fire under the surface ash, and must transform pessimism to optimism and competition to friendship and cooperation between all the [political] groups,” Shirazi said.

It is interesting to note that Ayatollah Makaarem Shirazi was one of the earliest opponents of the Velaayat-e Faghih concept. He changed his mind, however, after reportedly being offered significant aid for his seminary. But, given the events in the country and Ahmadinejad’s track record, he has also felt the danger and has been increasingly speaking of the “independence of Qom’s theological schools” from the government.

“The basis for everything is the law,” declared Grand Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi Amoli — uncle of Ali Larijani, the Majles Speaker — in a speech during the Friday prayers in Qom on June 26. “But, the person who is supposed to execute the law declares that, ‘what I do is exactly according to the law,’ and it is him who decides what is lawful. This is problematic,” he said, hence seemingly referring to Ayatollah Khamenei and/or Ahmadinejad. He continued his thinly disguised criticism of the hard-liners by saying, “We must preserve religion, the howzah [the seminaries], and the maja’eeyat [the concept of emulation]. If any difference arises, these must be protected,” he said, warning that the hard-liners risk destroying the entire basis of Iran’s government by cracking down on protesters.

Even Ayatollah Mohyyodin Haeri-Shirazi, an ultra-conservative who is a member of the Assembly of Experts, wrote a highly cryptic and complex letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, as if he was trying to tell him something with coded words.

Perhaps the most important clerical supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei are Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah Khoshvaght, and Ayatollah Khamenei’s own son, Mojtaba, a mid-ranking cleric.

The mysterious figure not known to most Iranians is Ayatollah Khoshvaght. Ayatollah Khamenei’s third son, Mostafa, is married to his daughter. He is a member of the Assembly of Experts, and in July 2007 ran for its presidency, which he lost to Rafsanjani. He is the prayer leader of a large mosque in northern Tehran, and is a radical hard-liner. It is believed, but never proven, that Saeed Emami, the notorious figure who was responsible for the infamous Chain Murders in 1998-1999, which resulted in the murder of six Iranian dissidents (and most likely many more murders from 1988-1998), was a follower of Ayatollah Khoshvaght. He is also said to be close to Ansaar-e Hezbollah, a radical group often unleashed to quell demonstrations.

Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of Ahmadinejad, is an ultra-conservative cleric who runs the Haghani Seminary and Imam Khomeini Educational Institute in Qom, which received $7 million in aid from the government in 2008. Ayatollah Khamenei has referred to Yazdi as “our era’s Motahhari” — a reference to Ayatollah Sayyed Morteza Motahhari, a disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini and a distinguished Islamic scholar who was assassinated a few months after the February 1979 Revolution — a great compliment, even though Motahhari’s and Yazdi’s thinking are the opposite of each other! Ahmadinejad’s first Vice President (Iran has eight vice presidents), Parviz Davoodi, is a disciple of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, as are the Intelligence Minister, Mohseni Ejehei, and the Cabinet’s “morality teacher,” Agha-Tehrani.

However, even these conservative ayatollahs who are closest to the government have been suspiciously silent since the election. Almost none of them have congratulated Ahmadinejad. Even Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has been unusually silent. (Read more on Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi in “Leaders of Iran’s election coup” and “Assembly of Experts”).

Meanwhile the nation waited to see what Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and powerful politician, would do as many believe that the current crisis is partly a manifestation of the long-time rivalry between him and the Supreme Leader. He appeared to be defending the political establishment and performing a perfunctory bow to the Supreme Leader on June 28, the 28th anniversary of the bombing of the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party that killed many leaders and important figures of the Revolution; but he also criticized those who supervised the election. But, it is widely known that he has visited Qom to warn the clerics that the crisis is much deeper than the disputed election. So, it is perhaps more accurate to say that he is sitting on the fence to see what happens next. (Read more on Rafsanjani: “Rafsanjani’s Next Move” and “Who Will Lead?”)

Given all the developments listed above, one thing is for sure: Iranian politics will never be the same. Since the run up to the election, many lines have been crossed, many taboos broken, and the position of the Supreme Leader has fallen to earth. It is no longer a Godly position, as the hard-liners have always claimed. That, in the long run, can only be a positive development for Iran. Most importantly, the inherent contradiction between the concept of Velaayat-e Faghih and republicanism in Iran’s Constitution (electing the president, the parliament, and the city councils), which has always existed, has finally come to the fore.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Troops arrest Honduran president

Troops detain Honduran president


Troops arrest Honduran president

Troops in Honduras have detained the president ahead of a referendum on plans to change the constitution.

President Manuel Zelaya's secretary said he had been taken to an airbase outside the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Mr Zelaya, elected for a non-renewable four-year term in January 2006, wanted a vote to extend his time in office.

The referendum, due on Sunday, had been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and was also opposed by Congress and members of Mr Zelaya's own party.

Reuters news agency reports that soldiers fired teargas at about 500 supporters of Mr Zelaya who had gathered outside the presidential palace, as air force jets flew over the capital.

'Coup plot'

Early on Sunday, a reporter for the Associated Press news agency said he had seen dozens of troops surround Mr Zelaya's residence.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in the capital Tegucigapla on 27 June 2009
Won the Honduran presidential election for the Liberal Party in November 2005, beating the ruling National Party's candidate
Has moved Honduras away from its traditional ally the US
Enjoys the support of Venezuela's leftist President, Hugo Chavez
A civil engineer and rancher by profession

The arrest comes after President Zelaya defied a court order that he should re-instate the chief of the army, Gen Romeo Vasquez.

The president sacked Gen Vasquez late on Wednesday for refusing to help him organise a referendum.

Mr Zelaya, who under current regulations leaves office next January, also accepted the resignation of the defence minister.

The referendum was to ask the population if they approved of a formal vote next November on whether to rewrite the Honduran constitution.

In an interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper published on Sunday, Mr Zelaya said a planned coup against him had been thwarted after the US refused to back it.

"Everything was in place for the coup and if the US embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not," Mr Zeleya said.

"I'm only still here in office thanks to the United States."

The arrest of Mr Zelaya took place an hour before polls were due to open.

Chavez condemnation

Ballot boxes and other voting materials had been distributed by Mr Zelaya's supporters and government employees throughout the Central American country.

Mr Zelaya's ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, reportedly denounced the arrest as a "coup d'etat", urging US President Barack Obama to speak out.

Mr Chavez said "the Yankee empire has a lot to do" with developments in Honduras, according to AFP news agency.

The European Union called on the Honduran military to release the president and restore constitutional order, AFP also reported.

Rumours swirled in the Honduran media about the president's fate.


Rafael Alegria, a union leader and Zelaya ally, told Honduran radio Cadena de Noticias, shots had been fired during the president's arrest.

Meanwhile, Honduran radio station HRN said Mr Zelaya had been sent into exile, and possibly flown on the presidential plane to Venezuela.

On Thursday, the Honduran Congress approved plans to investigate whether the president should be declared unfit to rule.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged Honduras' leaders to "act with full respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions".

The president had vowed to transform democracy in Honduras, saying the system currently favours the wealthy elite.

But his opponents accused him of seeking to rule indefinitely.

The political crisis has stoked tensions in Honduras, an impoverished coffee and banana-exporting nation of more than 7 million people.

Are you in Honduras? Have you seen evidence of military movement in your area? Let us know what is happening near you.

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If you have a large file you can upload here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who's behind Tehran's violence?

There is no English equivalent for the Farsi words Efraat and Tafrit. They refer to the possibility of extremism on both sides of an issue, and they were much in use during the third day of peaceful marches in Tehran on Wednesday.

Despite official warnings against gathering, at least half a million people marched along a street in central Tehran Wednesday afternoon to protest the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote that many believe was blatantly rigged. After three days of ignoring the demonstrators, who believe opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was the true victor, state-run Iranian television showed some images of Wednesday's activities. But its reporters chose to talk only to the ordinary citizens on the sidelines, who complained about the Mousavi supporters as a nuisance who were creating traffic in the city and bringing businesses to a halt. The crowd was peaceful and quiet, as they have been in previous days. But a chant against the director of Iranian television, Ezatollah Zarghami, was one of the few slogans heard today. "Shame, Shame, Zarghami!" people intoned.

What incensed people about the television coverage of recent days was its focus on the violence and vandalism that has broken out in sporadic incidents at night, and not the peaceful marches in the afternoons. "It's shameful that the state-run media show all of us as a group of hooligans who break shop windows and burn cars," said Mina, a doctor who has taken part in all of the pro-Mousavi demonstrations since Monday. Mina was a political prisoner before and after the revolution. She fought against both the shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime as a member of an armed communist group. She now believes that violence is passé and counterproductive, and that it is only through peaceful means that Iranians can establish their rights. What worried Mina and other marchers was the violence that has broken out at night, which officials have blamed on Mousavi supporters.

That's possible, but many Mousavi supporters suspect that pro-Ahmadinejad thugs have been staging incidents in order to justify an official backlash. Another worry are scattered antiregime militant groups, who in recent years have committed bombings and assassinations in various parts of the country. On Wednesday morning, Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who was with her husband throughout the presidential campaign, felt the need to remind a group of students that she and her husband still believe in the ideals of the revolution and don't regard anti-Islamic Revolution elements as their allies.

"I think some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation," says Mina, the doctor. "Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn't allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution."

The largest one of these groups, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), killed dozens of Islamic Republic officials as well as thousands of innocent Iranians in the early days of the revolution before relocating to Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War in the mid-'80s. Since then, the MEK has been regarded by most Iranians as traitors against the country. After the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, they claimed to have put down their guns and offered full cooperation to the Coalition Forces. That initially gained them support from some American and European politicians who saw them as a viable alternative to the ayatollahs in Iran. They enjoy very little popular support inside Iran, yet in their propaganda they have been claiming that the protestors are out in the streets in support of their cause.

Other extremist groups like Jundallah are allies of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, while some are communist in their outlook. The supposed reelection of Ahmadinejad was a gift to such groups. On their Web sites they claim that the alleged rigging of the vote has revealed the true face of the regime. (Like some Israeli commentators, they argue that the victory of a moderate like Mousavi would actually extend the life of the regime.) It is true that in the past, whenever hardliners have intensified their grip, these groups have gained more support. They reacted angrily when pro-reform Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997.

On Wednesday afternoon, while the marchers tried to keep their calm and express their anger against what they regard as "stealing their votes" and "an electoral coup d'état," they were also wary of hijacking of their movement by the more violent elements in the opposition. Mousavi has asked his supporters to mourn for the victims of the violence in the past few days. He will then join the people in yet another peaceful march in central Tehran. No one knows what will be the likely outcome of the people's protests. But one thing is clear: violence on both sides will dim any prospect of reform in Iran.

Read Original Article (Via Newsweek International |

Friday, June 26, 2009

The War of the Ayatollahs

6a00d8341c630a53ef011570ee0737970b 320wi The War of the AyatollahsBy HANA H. in Tehran | 25 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] The fact that there is a war going on between "two senior revolutionary clerics" is not a big secret. The cat was out of the bag when right after one of the election debates one of the two bunched up his robes and headed to Qom to lobby the ayatollahs there.

While no one really knows what happened in Qom, there has been speculation that cleric #2 has tried to unseat cleric #1 and for this, he desperately needs the support of the god squad.

Rumor has it that #2 has approached one of the top sources of emulation in the Shia world to allegedly garner support for his cause, which does not seem all that clear as he has not officially taken a stance on it.

One privilege of being in the same profession is that one usually knows all there is to know about others moving in the same circles and when at war, this information can be used as leverage as this is what appeared to have happened last Friday.

Cleric #1 addressed the nation, issued threats and offered incentives. Mysteriously hinted at the things he knew and would tell all if things did not quiet down. Dangled the good old carrot and brought down the stick. His words however appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

This Friday cleric #2, who has so far kept silent in appearance and not flinched even after his family members were arrested to perhaps get a reaction out of him, was the person who was supposed to take the pulpit.

Every one anticipated his speech as it could have been detrimental, he could have chosen to raise the white flag or declared war and even made counter threats. However it does not seem like he will be given the chance as the one addressing the nation this week will be another cleric who is in cleric #1's team.

The god squad in Qom which had waited out the turmoil to see who was more likely to come out of the ring a winner before deciding which side to support has slowly begun to realize #1 has more pull and now one by one they are coming forth calling for an end to the dispute.

The crisis in Tehran is beyond the defeated candidate and the winner of the race as both are puppets in the game.

The defeated candidate keeps blowing 'hot and cold.' One day he urges people to calm and the next he tells them to protest and says that he is ready for martyrdom; one day he urgently tweets that he wants people to join him in front of Parliament and the next he issues a denial saying he never tweeted this.

He asked people to join him in Tehran's cemetery on Thursday for mourning. Gathering in Tehran cemetery is of great importance, as it is what happened when the founder of the Islamic Republic returned to the country. It was the speech he delivered at the cemetery where the martyrs of the revolution had been laid to rest that changed the future of Iran.

The puppeteers of this show knew that such a gathering taking place would mean giving legitimacy to the cause of the defeated candidates. What could have turned into a bloody confrontation was called off by organizers.

The winner of the race appears to be assured of where he stands as there have been no statements coming from his direction. The streets of Tehran look more like the streets of Baghdad with checkpoints set up throughout the capital and IRGC uniformed men patrolling the streets and stopping people at whim.

Fewer and fewer people seem to be coming out and protests seem to have lost their momentum. After dark, the sound of Allah o Akbar still resonates through the night followed by gunshots to frighten people.

They even say that certain people go around and spray paint the doors of homes where the sound of Allah o Akbar comes from so that they can arrest people the next day. Maybe even to scare them into thinking that someone is on to them and they could be arrested at any moment.

People seem to have lost their hope and to have realized that the change they were looking for will never come. They seem to have accepted that they have no power to assert their rights and justice is deaf, dumb and blind.

The winner of the Ayatollah wars has proven his point and taught everyone a lesson.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

A View from the Frontline

4796 101377767889 18297877889 2574961 6775723 n A View from the Frontline[TEHRAN BUREAU] Last week, a group of friends and I organized a medical team to help the wounded and injured in the streets. As we sewed up gashes and patched up wounds on the beautiful battered faces of our dear Iranians, we kept asking ourselves, “What have they become? Have they no regard for the life for a fellow human being? For the life of a fellow countryman? For the life of a neighbor? For the life of a cousin? For the life of a brother? For the life of a sister?”

It wasn’t long before Basij militiamen took away our identity cards. After reporting us to the university, I was called in by a disciplinary committee and reprimanded. I was told I had put my future career and even my life in jeopardy. I was told to think about the consequences of my actions.

As I left the committee members, the events of the past two weeks fell into place:

The government had a plan. They thought their plan was perfect. They had devised a perfect fraud in which regardless of how people voted, only one name would emerge as the winner: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was to be the start of an era of unopposed rule.

By creating the appearance of a free and open atmosphere, by creating hope of change, people would turnout in high numbers. A high turnout at the ballot boxes would give them an aura of legitimacy in the eyes of the world. It would give Ahmadinejad a mandate.

But they made a fatal miscalculation; they underestimated the people.

When the results were announced, nobody in their right mind believed them. Even the most optimistic of Ahmadinejad supporters didn’t believe he could win by such a margin.

This prompted widespread unrest. For the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic the ruling establishment had to contend with masses in the streets. These masses had not been dragged there by intimidation or by promise of a reward. For the first time the masses were not chanting pro-government slogans.

This was something entirely new; it was a nation rising up in defiance of all the tricks the government has been pulling over the years.

Despite their miscalculation, the supreme leader and the revolutionary guard elites were not ready to make any concessions; they knew too well. Even a single step back would have been a starting point from where things would cascade down to the eventual breakdown of their perfect autocracy.

So they took a firm stand against the very people who had brought them to power 30 years ago. History will be the judge but I believe that this was their second and most fatal miscalculation. You can never put out a fire by beating it, the flames may wane but underneath the ashes will go on burning. Wheels have been set in motion. A vast movement has started to take place. In time, the tide will turn.

In February 1979, during the time of the revolution, the army chiefs decided to prevent bloodshed and a civil war, so they refused to crack down on the demonstrators. They were thanked for this by swift executions that took place as soon as the revolutionaries came to power.

Sepah, or the Revolutionary Guard, is apparently determined not to go down the same path.

The decision of the current government to brutally crack down on the protesters and demonstrators led to the massacre of June 20, 2009, a day that will go down in history as the Black Saturday of the Islamic Republic. Thirty years ago, 17 Shahrivar 1357 [September 8, 1978], the Pahlavi Regime made the same fatal mistake. That Black Friday was the turning point from which the Pahlavi Regime never recovered.

We had hoped for a swift and decisive victory, first in the election and then through our defiance, but our high hopes were crushed with bullets, batons and tear gas. Now the mood is that of defeat, anguish and despair.

Fear has crept in and taken hold. Everybody now speaks in whispers. We are depressed and hopeless. Perhaps the main reason everyone feels so down is that before the election we had such high hopes. We flew too high and then fell down or rather were brought down by Basij and anti-riot police.

This struggle has had its toll on us all. I have never seen so many people grieving. This is a social malaise. At the personal level, each of us still feels robbed of our vote, our freedom, our friends, our brothers and our sisters.

We are disillusioned, battered and betrayed. Many are talking about leaving the country. Many young souls are looking for the first exit. Emigration perhaps. A mass exodus may be under way.

In the past few days, I have been feeling down and depressed. I had a sense that all was lost, and the frequent rains, which are extremely unusual for this time of year, added to the sense of melancholy overcoming me. My uncle, who experienced the revolution, told me however, “Evolution takes time. This was just a start; in time things will change.”

I hope so.

Politics and power are dirty things, much more so than depicted by Romain Gary in “L’Homme a la colombe.” Even so, the protagonist, also a young soul, emerges victorious. We are sacrificing ourselves to make a statement, which the corrupt politicians ignore and the mass media manipulates. But people, generation after generation, pass this on from heart to heart as a slogan for integrity, bravery and freedom.

Maybe this will be our legacy. Maybe years from now, we will recount the stories of these days to the generation after us as the turning point that made all the difference, if not in our lives, perhaps at least in theirs.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

Ahmadinejad and the Press

ahmadinejad+green Ahmadinejad and the PressBy JASON REZAIAN in Dubai | 25 June 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Two days after the June 12 election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a press conference for the foreign media in Iran. As usual, Ahmadinejad opened by re-stating his desire for the hasty return of the Mahdi, the Shiite Messiah figure whose return is expected at the end of days, and then moved quickly into a condescending and passive aggressive tirade against the foreign media, who he said had been fighting a propaganda war against his holy administration since it took office four years prior. Some of those responsible for that war, he added, could be seen there in the audience that day.

Ain’t that rich? I thought, as it had long been my opinion that, without the foreign media hanging on his every hateful word, Ahmadinejad would be a global nobody. Instead, he’s become a very divisive figure in what is an unofficial war of civilizations. In every Muslim country I’ve visited, most of them Sunni, Ahmadinejad gets a resounding thumbs up, resulting from the perception that he is one of the few world leaders with enough backbone to stand up against the US. I’ve even met Americans on the left who admire him for that same reason.

Watching American television interviews with him over the years I sometimes got the sense that the interviewers, specifically Mike Wallace and Larry King, actually liked the guy in a perverse way. He has a knack for not answering their questions, turning interviews into debates, and denying statements he had previously made on record, all of which the interviewers must find thrilling.

A couple hours after that press conference, I stood on a wobbly balcony overlooking Valiasr Square, where tens of thousands of individuals had been bused in from all corners of Iran to cheer the president, resulting in yet another photo op intended to help solidify Western perceptions of an Iran defined by Islamism.

Clearly I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I looked the part of Iranian security forces enough that no one seemed to care. As Ahmadinejad’s diminutive figure approached, I thought about all the terrible things I could do to him, and found myself wishing I had a pie handy.

There’s not a single global figure I can think of right now who is as self-righteous and as content with being out of touch with reality as Mr. Ahmadinejad; subsequently, the thought of white cream covering his face gave me Goosebumps.

On that day very few Western journalists in Tehran were questioning this man’s legitimacy, or if they were, they were more than happy to be his mouthpiece, and his handlers knew it. “Every major newspaper and television network is here,” one of the organizers told the crowd. “Let’s show the world how much we love Dr. Ahmadinejad!”

This statement encapsulates this regime’s mastery of using traditional media to get their message to as many people in as many places as is humanly possible. They understand that television and print media, for most people around the world, are about images and not words.

Meanwhile on the Internet, opposition forces were slowly losing access to their main tools of dissemination: Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube were blocked, and the speed of the Internet had been reduced to a trickle.

Almost two weeks later, it appears that the regime is winning the war of information flow, and yet the opposition is still not defeated. It’s a pivotal time however, and now that no one from the Western media is on the ground in Iran to vet the stories coming out, whatever remaining individuals do manage to get reports out need to be incredibly careful. Credibility is now very much an issue for anyone speaking with journalists from major networks and newspapers, while claiming to know what’s really happening in Iran.

No one is calling the tragedy of Neda, the young woman gunned down in a protest last week, a hoax; but the story of yesterday’s “Baharestan Massacre,” in which people were reportedly “shot like animals,” and axed to death in the street, seems questionable.

Although few will admit it, it’s well known among Iranians that we are prone to hyperbole and rumor, and those who want to have their say from Tehran must consider this carefully moving forward. The future of their struggle, as it is perceived in the eyes of the rest of the world, depends on it.

At the first whiff that a developing story might be fabricated, traditional media outlets covering Iran will put the story on the shelf. There is already a sense of fatigue and frustration, as it’s become such a difficult story to report, and yet Iran has also become somewhat of a juggernaut, recapturing the world’s imagination in much the way it did thirty years ago.

Iran is in the process being re-branded globally, with most media outlets showing younger, more Western friendly faces, as opposed to the tired, stereotyped religious fanatics we’ve seen for the past three decades. At the moment, the power and responsibility is in the hands of the younger generations, but if the Western media feels burned this time around, I doubt they will come running the next time Iranians cry “foul.”

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau