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News | Calls to Boycott Majles Vote; Questions for Ahmadinejad

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

22 Dec 2011 02:35Comments

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. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

7:30 a.m., 1 Dey/December 22 Some reports indicate that the five Iranian engineers kidnapped in Syria may be members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They were working in Homs, a center of anti-government activities. The Syrian opposition has accused Iran of aiding the efforts by the regime of Bashar al-Assad to violently put down the rebellion. According to initial reports, eight Iranians were kidnapped, but apparently there were three victims who were not from Iran.

Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, who was just replaced as commander of the Guards' Mohammad Rasoulallah Corps, responsible for the defense of greater Tehran, has been individually sanctioned by both the United States and European Union, and the recent changes in the Guards' command structure appears to be motivated in part by the increasingly comprehensive international sanctions. His replacement, Brigadier General Mohsen Kazemeini, is close to top Guard commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari. Before his appointment as deputy Guard commander for operations in July 2009, Kazemeini commanded the Vali Asr Corps in oil-rich Khuzestan province. He also spent a stint in Lebanon, beginning in 1982.

PoliticalPrisonersGalleryA.jpg2:35 a.m., 1 Dey/December 22 Thirty-eight major Iranian political prisoners issued a statement calling on the reformists and supporters of the Green Movement not to run or vote in the Majles elections next March. In their statement, the prisoners said that the upcoming vote bears no similarity to free elections in other nations. In addition, they declared that the country is unofficially run by the military and intelligence forces, and experience has shown that elections that are supervised by such forces are simply for show. They added that participating in such elections only helps consolidate the hardliners' rule and undermines democracy, respect for human rights, and the key goals of the Revolution, namely, independence and freedom. The signatories include journalists Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, Masoud Bastani, Eisa Sahatkhiz, Mohammad Davari, Dr. Alireza Rajaei, Keyvan Samimi, and Mehdi Mahmoudian; university activists Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, Saeed Jalalifar, Ali Jamali, Zia Nabavi, Abdollah Momeni, Ali Malihi, and Fashad Ghorbanpour; major reformist figures Dr. Davood Soleimani, Javad Emam, former Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, Mir Hossein Mousavi's aide Seyyed Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh, former Deputy Prime Minister Behzad Nabavi, Abolfazl Ghadiani (Iran's oldest political prisoner) and Feyzollah Arabsorkhi; nationalist-religious figures Emad Bahavar, Amir Khorram, and Amir Khosrow Dalirsani; attorneys Mohammad Seifzadeh and Ghasem Sholeh Saadi; and several others.

The same group of people previously issued a statement that analyzed the current state of affairs in Iran. They called the Ahmadinejad administration "the most corrupt government in Iran's history" and declared that the current Majles is similar to the puppet parliament in Egypt during the rule of Hosni Mubarak. They were placed under heavy pressure by the security and intelligence forces to retract the statement, but refused. Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi responded by ordering a ban on visits by the prisoners' family members.

The Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary Green Movement leadership council while Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest, has also issued a statement that declares the impending Majles elections illegal. The statement said that the planned vote does not meet any of the usual standards for free and fair elections. It declared that, after extensive discussions, and particularly after becoming aware of the views of the two movement leaders, the council believes that taking part in the elections is against the nation's interests. The statement reiterated the conditions that Mousavi, Karroubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami have set for participation in the elections -- the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, complete freedom for the press and political groups, elimination of the Guardian Council's power to vet and reject candidates, and an end to the interference of the security and military forces in affairs of the state.

The coordination committee of the reformist groups has also called for the elections to be boycotted. Khatami has said that, because his conditions have not been satisfied, he too opposes participation in the elections and supports the committee's position.

Questions for Ahmadinejad

Ten Majles deputies have submitted a series of questions to the parliament's leadership and demanded a response from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They want the following issues to be addressed:

* The reason for the government's refusal to provide the necessary foreign currency for the continued expansion of Tehran's subway system.

* The reason for the delay in introducing the minister of sports and youth affairs after the law authorizing the ministry's establishment was approved.

* The low rate of economic development in 2010 -- 3 percent according to the International Monetary Fund and as low as 1 percent according to other estimates, versus the 8 percent that was projected.

* The way the 2010 budget for the promotion and elevation of culture was spent.

* Why the government is trying to implement the laws for the elimination of subsidies in under two years, whereas the laws stipulate that the process should be executed over a five-year period.

* Why Ahmadinejad resisted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's order to reinstate Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi for 11 days.

* Why former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was fired while on an official visit to Senegal.

* What the president's goal was when he said that the Majles is no longer at the helm of national affairs (contrary to what Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously declared).

* Why the president, in a nationally televised television program, criticized those who enforce the law mandating hejab and said that executing the law is not the government's responsibility.

* Why the president has advocated an "Iranian school of thought" as opposed to an "Islamic school of thought" in defiance of criticism from major religious figures in the country.

Poor health of political prisoners

Reports indicate that journalist Masoud Bastani, who is imprisoned in Rajaei Shahr Prison near Karaj, west of Tehran, is in very poor health, but that prison officials refuse to take action. Bastani has a serious blood disease that he contracted in jail. Sentenced to six years of incarceration, he has spent over 30 months in jail.

In related news, Mrs. Fatemeh Adinehvand, wife of imprisoned university activist Abdollah Momeni, reported that her husband is in poor condition, as well. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Momeni wrote a letter to Khamenei in which he recounted the torture to which he has been subjected, as well as describing the general conditions of the prison. According to Adinehvand, since writing the letter, her husband has developed severe problems with his ears, which were injured as a result of beatings and other forms of torture.

Admitting responsibility for the death of Haleh Sahabi

Majles deputy Ali Motahari revealed new information about the death of human rights activist Haleh Sahabi, who passed away during the funeral of her father, nationalist-religious leader Ezatollah Sahabi. Speaking at the University of Tehran, Motahari said that he asked Intelligence Minister Moslehi about the cause of her death. According to Motahari, Moslehi responded that the ministry's agents "did not want her to die, and what happened was the result of lack of attention by the agents." Previously, the government had claimed that Sahabi died of natural causes.

Revolutionary Guard appointment

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has appointed Brigadier General Mohsen Kazemeini as commander of the Mohammad Rasoulallah Corps, whose main mission is to defend greater Tehran. Kazemeini was previously deputy commander for Guard operations. The Tehran corps was previously commanded by Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani.

New position for Ali Akbar Javanfekr

Ahmadinejad has appointed Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the controversial director of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, as his representative to the council that oversees the operation of the national radio and television network. As reported by Tehran Bureau, in recent interviews Javanfekr, a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad, has rebuked the president's critics. The judiciary tried to detain him, but was blocked by Khamenei. He has been sentenced to one year of imprisonment, which is under appeal.

Board of trustees of Islamic Azad University

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected chairman of Islamic Azad University's board of trustees. As has been reported by Tehran Bureau, the university has been the subject of fierce contention between Ahmadinejad and his supporters and the camp arpund Rafsanjani, who was one of the university's founders in 1982. The board is supposed to select a new university president to replace the long-time officeholder, Abdollah Jasbi, who is close to Rafsanjani.

Devaluation of rial

The rate of exchange between both the U.S. dollar and the euro and Iran's rial has greatly increased. Although the official rate is about one dollar for 11,000 rials, the unofficial rate has increased dramatically to around 15,500-16,000 rials. Many believe that the Ahmadinejad administration has intentionally increased the unofficial rate of exchange by withdrawing large sums of dollars and euros from the market to make huge profits that can be spent on the upcoming Majles elections. This is a tactic that has been used repeatedly in the past.

Restricting cash handouts

Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, head of the Majles's Special Commission on Economic Innovation, said that the number of people who receive government cash handouts in lieu of subsidies must be reduced, because many recipients do not need the aid. He added that if that happens, 20 million people will be eliminated from the roster that receives the handout.

Warnings about Ahmadinejad's supporters

Two leading Majles deputies warned that if Ahmadinejad's supporters are victorious in the upcoming Majles elections, the Islamic Republic will be gravely harmed. Ahmad Tavakoli, a leading critic of Ahmadinejad, said, "If the list [of candidates] by Jebheh Paaydaari-e Enghlelab-e Eslami [Durability Front of the Islamic Revolution] gets voted into the Majles, it will greatly hurt the country." The JPEE was founded last summer by the reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi. Sadegh Mahsouli, Ahmadinejad's close friend and former interior minister, who is known as the "billionaire minister," provides the financial resources for the JPEE. The group has been unwilling to enter into a coalition with other conservatives and hardliners.

Separately, Ali Motahari, another harsh critic of Ahmadinejad, said that if the type of people that support the president and the JPEE are elected to the Majles, "the political system and Revolution will be destroyed a short while after."

Meanwhile, the formation of another pro-Ahmadinejad political group, Jebheh-e Hamian-e Dolat-e Eslami (Front of Supporters of the Islamic Government), has been announced. This is the third political group that has declared its support for the president, after the JPEE and Kanoon-e Daneshgahian-e Iran-e Eslami (Society of Islamic Iranian Academics), whose founding was announced in October.

Syria, the Arab Spring, and Iran

In a speech at the University of Tehran, former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki admitted that the spread of the Arab Spring is partly responsible for what is going on in Syria. This is contrary to Iran's official position that the demonstrations in Syria are mostly the work of foreign agents. Mottaki said that the people of Syria do have legitimate demands and aspirations that the Syrian government must address. He did repeat the claim that foreign agents have had a role in provoking demonstrations in Syria, accusing Saudi Arabia and the West of interference in Syria's internal affairs.

Iranian engineers kidnapped in Syria

Five Iranian engineers working in Syria have been kidnapped by unknown captors. They were working at one or more electrical power stations. Iran's Damascus embassy has confirmed the report.

Saudi Arabia ready to negotiate with Tehran

Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said in a press conference that his country is ready to negotiate with Tehran to reduce the tension in the region "at any level that Iran is prepared to do." He added that Iranian Intelligence Minister Moslehi's recent trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with the crown prince and interior minister indicates Iran's readiness for negotiations.

Timeline for Iranian nuclear bomb

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Iran "will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon." In an interview with CBS News, Panetta claimed that despite the efforts to disrupt the country's nuclear program, Iran has reached a point where it can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially even quicker. A short time later, however, Pentagon spokesman George Little retreated from the claim, telling the New York Times that Panetta's estimate "was based on a highly aggressive timeline and a series of actions that Iran has not yet taken," adding that inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency are in Iran and have "good access to Iran's continuing production of low-enriched uranium." Therefore, if Iran decides to "break out" -- use the low-enriched uranium to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium -- the inspectors will detect it.

Camp Ashraf will not be closed

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the deadline for closing Camp Ashraf, where over 3,000 members of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) reside, has been extended by six months. The camp was supposed to be closed by the end of December. Al-Maliki said that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. government had asked him to postpone the camp's closing, and he has agreed. At the same time, the United States has asked the MKO's leaders to "act realistically" and agree with its proposal to transfer the camp's residents to a former American military base near Baghdad's airport. The MKO leadership has apparently agreed with the U.S. proposal, on the condition that certain guarantees are met.

GCC chastises Iran

The [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council issued a strongly worded statement in which it demanded that Iran stop meddling in the internal affairs of its member states. "Stop these policies and practices...and stop interfering in the internal affairs of the Gulf nations," said the statement issued at the end of the annual GCC summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The statement also called on Iran to "fully cooperate" with the International Atomic Energy Agency and work to resolve regional conflicts "peacefully," adding that the GCC nations were still committed to a Middle East "free of weapons of mass destruction."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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