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Ahmadinejad Defiantly Sacks 3 Ministers; Websites Trade Charges

15 May 2011 18:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

SadeghMahsouliMay.jpgMasoudMirKazemiMay.jpgAliAkbarMehrabianMay.jpg
Sadegh Mahsouli. Masoud Mir Kazemi. Ali Akbar Mehrabian.

6:30 p.m., 25 Ordibehesht/May 15 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

In what has been widely interpreted as a reaction to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's intervention in the firing of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad informed three ministers in his cabinet that their work with the government has ended. The three are Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadegh Mahsouli (known as the "billionaire minister"), Minister of Oil Masoud Mir Kazemi, and Minister of Industries and Mines Ali Akbar Mehrabian. According to a presidential directive, their ministries are to be merged with others. Two prominent Majles deputies, Ahmad Tavakoli and Ali Asghar Zarei said that Ahmadinejad's actions are not in the country's national interests, because they convey a message of governmental instability to the world.

Ahmadinejad sacked the three ministers at the same time that Speaker of the Majles Ali Larijani said that he and the president met with Khamenei to resolve the issue of the mergers of eight ministries into four. The Majles had declared the mergers illegal, unless the Administration first attains parliamentary approval, while Ahmadinejad had said that the restructuring is completely legal. As reported previously by Tehran Bureau, the Guardian Council sided definitively with the Majles. Acording to Larijani, the issue has been resolved. Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad went ahead and fired the three ministers.

First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi decried those political figures who "through criticizing and bad-mouthing of the government try to disrupt its work" and called on them to stop. He added, "Those who think only politically should be aware that the country needs a lot of work and, therefore, it needs to be calm." In response to the accusation that the people around Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant, have been involved with exorcism, Rahimi said, "It is impossible to run the country by exorcism and astrology."

Alef, the website published by Tavakoli, published new evidence of Vice President Hamid Baghaei's involvement in financial irregularities. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Alef previously featured the results of an investigation that indicated that a project worth $450 million was granted by Mashaei to a company founded by an Iranian American, Panteha Fivazi Yousefi, with initial capital of $1,000. The contract was awarded without any bidding. In its new article, Alef provides documents that indicate Baghaei's deep involvement for arranging financing for the company to carry out the project in Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, hardline website Asr-e Iran reports that the company has subcontracted the project to a Turkish company, but provides no details.

In a counterattack, Baghaei claimed, "The interests of some has been threatened by my presence in the office of the president." Speaking indirectly to supporters of Khamenei, Baghaei said, "If you are Muslim, be pious, and if you are not, at least be a [decent] human being. Of course, if they are not human beings, there is nothing that can be done about them."

Influential Majles deputy Mohammad Reza Bahonar said that the ninth and tenth administrations, those of Ahmadinejad, have set a "very high record" for the number of times they have broken the laws. He declared, "We will use all of our monitoring and legal powers to prevent the lawbreaking.... Because the sedition of 1388 [the Green Movement in 2009] created a lot of problems for the government, we did not think that it was in the country's interest to pursue it [the law breaking]. But, if they continue, we will pursue legal elimination by questioning, warning, and investigating the administration and ultimately by impeaching it."

In an editorial, Aftab News, the website close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, argued that those who criticize the president now were silent for the past five years. According to the editorial, "Five years ago, when the talk of the government being the government of Imam Mahdi and management of the country by him was first brought up by this group [around Ahmadinejad], many who are concerned for the country and the Revolution thought that such talk was against the tradition and the law. Those who are now criticizing [the group] were either silent or labeled those who criticized it anti-Velaayat-e Faghih, whereas what the critics were saying at that time was precisely in support of Velaayat-e Faghih" -- the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurist, by which Khamenei rules as Supreme Leader.

Attacks and counterattacks by pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-Khamenei websites continue unabated. In the latest round, 7-e Sobh, the website of Mashaei's daily, has asked, "What is the source of funds for the hardline anti-administration websites?" It claimed that the websites cost about $100,000 each month. 1 Shanbeh, another pro-Ahmadinejad website, attacked Hossein Shariatmadari, the hardline managing editor of Kayhan, because he had demanded that the websites of the reformists and Ahmadinejad's supporters be closed and had claimed that the websites set up by supporters of Rafsanjani were "being stolen" by the president's allies. In response, Alborz News, a pro-Khamenei website, wondered who pays for the expenses of the pro-Ahmadinejad websites and proceeded to claim that it is the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates, established last year by Mashaei. Ayandeh News criticized 7-e Sobh for denying that it is the online version of the daily 7-e Sobh, which is published by Mashaei.

The Imams of Friday Prayers in various cities also intensified their attacks on Mashaei and Ahmadinejad. In addition to what Ahmad Jannati said at Tehran's most recent Friday Prayers, other Imams also got into the act. Asadollah Imani of Shiraz said in his sermon, "Pseudo-intellectuals of yesterday and today want to expel the clerics from the government." Mohammad Taghi Rahbar of Isfahan said, "The president should not allow some corrupt people to sell out the political system." Mohammad Taghi Lotfi, Eilam's Imam, said, "Mr. Ahmadinejad's team wants to use demagoguery, such as claiming that the country is run by Imam Mahdi, to decrease the influence of the clerics in the country." He added, "The perversion sedition is worse than the '88 sedition [the Green Movement]."

At the same time, Abbas Salimi Namin, hardline former editor of Kayhan International, said that Mashaei may be arrested and imprisoned. Salimi Namin, who heads the Center for Studies of the History of Contemporary Iran, also claimed that the "perverted team" is linked with the Islamic Azad University system, a fiefdom of Rafsanjani's.

Shariatmadari, in the Sunday issue of Kayhan, questioned the sincerity of Mashaei's recent statement that "obeying Velaayat-e Faghih is necessary for obeying Imam Mahdi," as reported by Tehran Bureau. He wrote, "If Mr. Mashaei truly believed in what he said, he would have vacated the post of first vice president [in August 2009] as soon as the Leader of the Revolution [Khamenei] ordered Ahmadinejad to remove him, [but] he hesitated for one week and was removed under pressure." Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, the reactionary cleric who used to strongly support Ahmadinejad and was considered his spiritual leader, also said that he is 90 percent sure that "Ahmadinejad is infatuated with the problematic person [Mashaei]" and is controlled by him.

***

Attorney Houtan Kian, known for representing Sakineh Ashtiani, who was condemned to death by stoning, has been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. He was arrested last October 10, together with two German citizens. He was tortured and forced to denounce his own activities in an interview. He was not allowed to be represented by an attorney, and has not been allowed to see his family. He is currently in Ward 8 of Tabriz Prison in East Azerbaijan province.

Two university student groups have released statements about the current state of the country and its institutions of higher learning. The first was issued by student activists at Iran University of Science and Technology, formerly a base of support for Ahmadinejad. They condemn the repressive security environment at their school. In particular, they protest the fact that the university has pried into the private lives of the students, who are routinely insulted and mistreated by the school's security officers. They declare, "The university's chancellor and his deputies must answer the question: What legal permit do they have that allows them to do what they have been doing?" The second statement was issued by a group of university student activists who now live outside Iran. After recounting what has been done to the students in recent decades by the government, they that the universities are under informal marshal law and demand that they be returned to a normal state, without the intervention of the security forces.

Political prisoner Hamzeh Karami was transferred to solitary confinement in Ward 209 of Tehran's Evin Prison and interrogated. After nine days, he was returned to Ward 350. The actions were prompted by a letter that Karami wrote to Khamenei in which he described the tortures that he had gone through while previously in solitary confinement. While being tortured, he had been told that he must confess to having sexual relations with a close relative of one of the leaders of the Green Movement and with two relatives of "an official." To force him to confess, the interrogators pushed his head into a toilet "more than 20 times." He finally gave in and the "confession" was used against him. Karami has been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. He was governor of Varamin, a town 20 miles southeast of Tehran, from 1989 to 1995, and then political director of the office of the president until 2001. During the Iran-Iraq War, he was a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Reformist journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian has been sentenced to ten days of solitary confinement and a three-month ban on meeting with his family. As reported by Tehran Bureau, in September 2010, Mahmoudian wrote a letter to Khamenei in which he described the horrendous conditions in three prisons. The letter was recently publicized, for which Mahmoudian, currently incarcerated in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, is being given extra punishment. Mahmoudian has been sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Reports indicate that he has gone on hunger strike and drinks only water.

Leading reformist Dr. Ali Shakouri Rad, a member of the central committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, said that the reformists will not work with any conservative, fundamentalist, or hardline group. Shakouri Rad made the statement after some websites that support Khamenei accused the reformists of wanting to take advantage of the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei team's confrontation with the Supreme Leader to enter the power structure again. Shakouri Rad said, "They make such accusations because they want to distract people from their own problems, but these have no basis in truth. At the moment the reformists have made no decision regarding future elections, and therefore do not even consider coalition with anyone. And overall, there is no difference between the various principlist [right-wing] groups, as far as the reformists are concerned."

Thomas Donilon, President Obama's national security adviser, spoke in detail about Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In the prepared version of his remarks, Donilon said,

President Obama has long understood the regional and international consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. That is why we are committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. From his first days in office, he has made clear to Iran that it has a choice: it can act to restore the confidence of the international community in the purposes of its nuclear program by fully complying with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and U.N. Security Council resolutions, or it can continue to shirk its international obligations, which will only increase its isolation and the consequences for the regime. There is no escaping or evading that choice.

Already, Iran is facing sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before. As a result it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure -- and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well. Leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran -- and are choosing to no longer do so. These are companies you've heard of: Shell, Toyota, Kia, Repsol, Deutsche Bank, UBS, and Credit Suisse, to name just a few. The impact is real.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure. As the president has said, "Iran can prove that its intentions are peaceful. It can meet its obligations under the NPT and achieve the security and prosperity worthy of a great nation. It can have confidence in the Iranian people and allow their rights to flourish. For Iranians are heirs to a remarkable history."

Like all NPT parties, Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. But it also has a responsibility to fulfill its obligations. There is no alternative to doing so. That is why -- even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East -- we remain focused on ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. But as you all well know, the Iranian regime's nuclear program is part of a larger pattern of destabilizing activities throughout the region: in Iraq -- where, as our former commander General [Ray] Odierno said last summer, "they continue to be involved in violence specifically directed at U.S. forces"; in Syria, where it has helped the [Bashar] Assad regime suppress pro-democracy demonstrations; and in Lebanon, where it continues to arm Hezbollah.

So make no mistake, we have no illusions about the Iranian regime's regional ambitions.

We know that they will try to exploit this period of tumult and will remain vigilant. But we must also remember that Iran has many weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Iran's model, like al-Qaeda's, lacks a vision relevant to our times. It is a model that could not be more out of step with the sentiments of the Arab Spring. This model has the following characteristics:

First: A corrupt, mismanaged, and isolated economy that offers the younger generation little hope for a better future. It is an economy increasingly working for the security services like the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and elites, and not for the people of Iran.

Second: The denial of the basic human rights of freedom of expression -- the very liberties people across the Middle East are prepared to risk their lives to claim.

Third: a political leadership focused on preserving its reign at all costs, including by unleashing violence against its own citizens, rather than enabling its citizens to flourish.

Fourth: The pursuit of policies that have worked to make a great civilization and people an isolated state, increasingly unable to carry on basic interactions with the rest of the world.

So it's no surprise, then, that Iran's world view bears little or no resemblance to the movements afoot in the streets of Tunis and Cairo, Benghazi, Deraa. Iranian leaders' attempts to declare themselves the inspiration for these demonstrators are belied by their clear hypocrisy: demanding justice for others while crushing their own peoples' demands.

Our observation is that since the elections in 2009, the regime has been heavily focused internally -- on silencing dissent and preserving itself. And as you might expect, we now see fissures developing among the ruling class -- a dispute that has nothing to do with meeting the needs and aspirations of the Iranian people. It also reflects a fundamental question: whether Iran has the confidence to engage with the outside world -- a prospect that has been offered and that is in the overwhelming interest of its people. As the president has said to Iran's leaders, "We know what you're against; now tell us what you're for."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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