Saturday, July 18, 2009

Iran: The protest that won't die - What does it mean?

Despite government bans on demonstrations, Iranians continue to protest what they claim is a fraudulent election result that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "President." Increasingly, it is becoming a battle between rival Ayatollahs, religious leaders who are the real powers behind the Iranian government. It is not clear if Rafsanjani, who is leading the protests, is a Hojetoleslam as he is titled here, or an Ayatollah (see here) , the higher designation for a religious authority.
Rafsanjani is sometimes mistaken for a moderate. The following quote from Rafsanjani will give a better appreciation of his views and of the nature of the internal split in Iran, which should not be misunderstood as a battle between forces of light and darkness:
Europe resolved a great problem – the problem of the Zionist danger. The Zionists, who constituted a strong political party in Europe, caused much disorder there. Since they had a lot of property and controlled an empire of propaganda, they made the European governments helpless. What Hitler and the German Nazis did to the Jews of Europe at that time was partly due to these circumstances with the Jews. They wanted to expel the Zionists from Europe because they always were a pain in the neck for the governments there. This is how this calamity fell upon the Muslims, especially the Palestinians, and you all know this history, more or less.[...]The first goal was to save Europe from the evil of Zionism, and in this, they have been relatively successful. (Source)
Ami Isseroff

July 18, 2009
Rafsanjani defies Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as protesters turn out in force
pro-government militiamen firing tear gas at the opposition demonstrators
Tens of thousands of Iranians flooded the streets of Tehran yesterday to hear the country's most influential powerbroker pronounce the Islamic Republic in crisis and as he called for the release of those arrested in recent pro-democracy demonstrations.
In a devastating attack on the regime, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a leading cleric and former President, told a crowd at Tehran University that the Government had lost the people's trust. Referring to the handling of last month's disputed election, which President Ahmadinejad claims to have won, he said that the custodians of the Islamic Revolution had undermined its basic principles.
Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani condemned the brutal suppression of protests and called for the release of those detained during the post-election crackdown. The crowd acclaimed his address by chanting: "Death to the dictator" and "Leaders, give us arms".
Police and pro-government Basij militiamen responded by firing teargas and using truncheons to break up the crowd, the largest street gathering in weeks. Mehdi Karoubi, one of the presidential candidates who claims that his votes were stolen last month, was assaulted by plainclothes militia.
At least 15 people were arrested, including the leading women's rights campaigner and lawyer Shadi Sadr, who was beaten and dragged into a car in front of a crowd of her friends. "Shadi called me from an unknown location and said she was arrested by plainclothes officials who forcefully got her into a car," her husband, Hossein Nilchian, said.
Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani's sermon at the university, the cradle of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, came as a crucial opportunity to galvanise the embattled opposition, who believe that the election was stolen from the moderate challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Mr Mousavi's attendance at yesterday's sermon was his first official public appearance in weeks. He has been under virtual house arrest, his communications monitored, closest aides arrested and news outlets closed.
Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani, a key Mousavi sponsor, who heads the clerical council with the authority to remove the Supreme Leader, has spent the past few weeks canvassing the religious establishment in Qom to make such a move against him.
Only a month ago at the same venue, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, declared that the election debate was over and warned of consequences for those who questioned the victory of Mr Ahmadinejad, the conservative incumbent. Many within the clerical establishment saw his backing of one candidate as a betrayal of his position.
Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani couched his sermon yesterday with calls for unity but his challenge to the regime was unmistakable. "Today is a bitter day," he said. "I hope with this sermon we can pass through this period of hardships that can be called a crisis."
He warned Iran's leaders not to ignore the will of the people — a key tenet of the revolution. "If the Islamic and Republican aspects of the revolution are not preserved, it means we have forgotten the principles of the revolution," he said. "Our key issue is to return the trust which the people had and now to some extent is broken."
Reminding worshippers of his close relationship with the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, he condemned the use of iron-fisted security forces to crush protests. "We knew what Imam Khomeini wanted. He didn't want the use of terror or arms," he said. Iran puts the official death toll at 20, although human rights activists believe that hundreds may have been killed during the protests.
Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani drew thunderous applause as, blinking back tears, he demanded the release of demonstrators. "It is not necessary that in this situation people be jailed. Let them join their families. We should not allow enemies to rebuke and ridicule us because of detentions. We should tolerate each other," he said.
Outside the prayer hall protesters carrying green banners — the colour of Mr Mousavi's election campaign — called on President Ahmadinejad to resign. Some evoked the slain martyrs of the protest movement, chanting:
"Sohrab is not dead, it is the Government that is finished" and "We are all one voice, we are all Neda".
The regime had banned public rallies, which had largely died out since security forces launched the crackdown on the streets last month, making Friday prayers one of the few opportunities left to gather.

Friday, July 17, 2009

For Switzerland, there are no terror organizations


The Jerusalem Post
Jul 17, 2009 2:46 | Updated Jul 17, 2009 10:31
For Switzerland, there are no terror organizations
Switzerland continues to dismay Israel, as its Foreign Minister
Micheline Calmy-Rey told Swiss RSR Radio on Wednesday that while she
recognizes there are terrorists, Switzerland does not have a list of
terrorist organizations because it believes that while a person can be
called a terrorist, an organization cannot.
During the interview, Calmy-Rey admitted that officials from her
ministry met in June with a Hamas delegation - led by former Hamas
foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar - when he was at an international
conference in Geneva.
The Swiss officials had joined a meeting the Hamas delegation held with
former US diplomat Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador to the UN and
undersecretary of state. Pickering is today the co-chairman of the
non-profit International Crisis Group.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said "the Swiss government, by
ignoring the murderous and extremist character of Hamas, is again making
the wrong choice, sending the wrong signal, and missing an opportunity
to side with the moderates in the Middle East."
Palmor said "again" because in April, Israel recalled its ambassador to
Bern for consultations after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz met with
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Pointing to the year-long spat the Swiss are having with Libya over the
arrest - and later release - in Switzerland of Muammar Gaddafi's son and
daughter-in-law, Palmor said Gaddafi last week called for breaking up
Switzerland, which he described as a "global mafia."
"How would the Swiss feel if we invited Gaddafi here now to discuss the
matter?" Palmor said.
The Swiss Embassy in Tel Aviv said the Swiss Foreign Ministry had no
comment on the issue.
Palmor said that while Israel would not this time recall its envoy in
Bern, Ilan Elgar, for consultations, the ambassador would make Israel's
dissatisfaction known to the Swiss government.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU. The EU, like the US, does
consider Hamas a terrorist organization and has refused any contact with
it until Hamas recognizes Israel, forswears terrorism and accepts
previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Although there are some voices inside the EU - primarily from Sweden and
Belgium - that would like to ease these conditions so a dialogue could
be maintained with Hamas, Palmor said there was no real concern in
Jerusalem at this time that the EU would change its position on the matter.
The US has also not changed its position on Hamas, with The Washington
Post on Wednesday quoting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as
saying that before Hamas can participate in peace talks, "we have made
it clear, both publicly and privately, through all kinds of
pronouncements, that we would expect Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce
violence and agree to abide by prior agreements."

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Hear the REAL Voices of Israeli Soldiers
The website, Soldiers Speak Out, was created after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this past January. It is a response to the allegations made by participants in the organization Breaking the Silence, an anonymous group of former IDF soldiers who make negative claims on the Defence Force's activities. The stories featured on Soldiers Speak Out are live an unedited.
Please join the Facebook group if you are a member

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Iranian election debacle

The main premise of the article is questionable. It states:
On 12 June, the Islamic of Republic of Iran officially died. Even if hardliners in and outside the government thought that they could get away with the usurpation of the election without causing a major popular upheaval, it was evident that governance after "election-day" will largely have to rest on authoritarian rule.
As if Iranian had a democratic government before that time! At any rate, it shows that even the rubes who never read, "Reading Lolita in Tehran," never heard of the murdered Bahai or the hanged homosexuals, and thought that Iran was a democracy, are now beginning to understand the nature of this regime.
Iran: "How to lose friends and alienate your own people"
Written by Bernd Kaussler on July 10, 2009 – 4:04 pm
On 12 June, the Islamic of Republic of Iran officially died. Even if hardliners in and outside the government thought that they could get away with the usurpation of the election without causing a major popular upheaval, it was evident that governance after "election-day" will largely have to rest on authoritarian rule. In fact, for those who have always advocated an almost totalitarian interpretation of the velayat-e faqih, this was the very motivation of rigging the election in the first place.
As far as government propaganda was concerned, the nomenclature has always done a great job in showing the world Iran's veneer of democracy, by highlighting the dynamics of partisan politics, numerous constitutional tenets of popular sovereignty and civil rights and most importantly, regular elections with at least more choices than elsewhere in the Middle East. Since 12 June and the brutal crackdown that followed, this masquerade will no longer work. The Republic is dead! Long live the Islamic State of Iran!
In Western capitals, the tealeaves are being read. Those who have always advocated regime change and rejected engagement with Iran seem vindicated and charges of "appeasement" gain momentum in Washington and elsewhere. Israel's call for arms is the crudest manifestation of this mindset.
Given the level of state-sponsored violence and waves of arrests, Iran's long quest for democracy for now has been strangled by a hardliner elite. Many stakeholders of democracy and human rights have been killed, arrested or intimidated.
Is this it for Iran?
How does the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei alliance intend to rule Iran like this? Judging by its paranoid rhetoric about "foreign plots", which in itself adds insult to injury to millions of Iranians, a siege mentality has already developed at the top - and siege they may well face.
What the regime is doing to its own people, the "children of the revolution", is essentially political and economic suicide in the long term. According to the International Monetary Fund, over 150,000 qualified Iranians emigrate from Iran each year, the highest brain in the world. The commitment of ordinary Iranians in science, art, business and academia has been a pillar of the Islamic Republic. For years, scientists, economists and intellectuals have worked endlessly within a restrictive framework beset with crony capitalism and carefully guarded political constraints. Stoicism and an element of fear kept them going. But in the light of recent events, one wonders if this endurance on the part of Iranians can continue?
According to the "International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran", over 2000 persons have been detained, including political personalities, journalists, professors, and students. In past cases, following their arrests by government agents or paramilitaries, political prisoners are refused legal representation, held in solitary confinement and intimidated or tortured. Should charges been brought forward against them, detainees are usually been tried by a revolutionary court, which is closed to the public. During the trial the prosecution will not release any evidence substantiating the accusations - overall a truly textbook case in how to violate human rights. By and large, the modus operandi of Iran's judiciary and security machinery is intimidation and violence.
So, who are those detained?
There is, for example, Bijan Khajehpour, a renowned economist and successful business consultant who was arrested on 27 June and detained in Tehran's infamous Evin prison. Khajehpour's services to Iran's economy have been invaluable, co-founding, Atieh Bahar, the country's first and now most successful strategic consultancy, helping domestic and international investors understand Iran's business environment for years. Khajehpour has also been instrumental in creating a large number of jobs throughout his two decades of work in Iran, and has been highly active in the professional development of promising young Iranians.
The decision to imprison him on whatever absurd charges the Iranian authorities have come up with, is as economically expedient as if the US were rounding up CEOs of Boston Consulting Group or McKenzie & Co. Mr Khajehpour's story is like that of many other highly educated Iranians who obtained advanced degrees and professional experience abroad, yet came back to Iran, demonstrating hard work and diligence whilst putting up with nepotism and political restrictions.
There are Dr. Kamiar Alaei and his brother Dr. Arash Alaei , two high profile physicians who have been spearheading Iran's campaign against HIV/AIDS for years. Together they set up HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention clinics and initiated a scheme to distribute free needles and condoms in prisons and elsewhere. (Over 42 per cent of prisoners are drug convicts according to the judiciary) Their professional contributions and voluntary commitment to public health in Iran are second to none. In June 2008, both have been arrested on unknown charges. Internationally recognized for their medical services to their country, the Iranian government has long tried to somehow link them to the US government and eventually indicted them for "communicating with an enemy government sentenced to three and six years, respectively, in Evin Prison in Tehran.
In Iran, the estimated number of HIV-positive cases could be up to 100,000 according to the WHO with AIDS deaths as high as 6000 in 2007. Intravenous drug use and needle sharing amongst drug addicts account for 62 per cent of transmissions. Getting rid of those who are dedicated to combat this disease beggars belief.
And then there is Dr. Ardeshir Amirarjomand, chair of UNESCO's Democracy and Human Rights Program at Shahid Beheshti University and legal adviser to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has been arrested almost immediately after the election. Amirarjomand's academic credentials certainly speak for themselves. His legal hermeneutics centered on his demand for the "potential of the Constitution to be released in order safe- guard the rule of law and protect basic human rights" whilst highlighting the Supreme Leader's transgressions with regards to legislation. Practicing what he preaches, Amirarjomand, like many other likeminded academics, helped to foster both a human rights culture and a framework in which the rule of law is increasingly challenging authoritarian tenets.
Amongst those journalists and intellectuals detained, there is Mohammad Ghoochani - the editor-in-chief of E'temad-e Melli Newspaper (the party newspaper of Mehdi Karrubi) and formerly editor-in-chief of Shargh Newspaper as well as the popular weekly magazine Shahrvand-e Emrooz (Iran's version of Time Magazine). Both of the latter publications have been shut down now. With journalists, like him, the press in Iran, despite self-censorship and violent crackdowns, unlike anywhere else in the Middle East became a source of ideas, critique and genuine political discourse. Ghoochani was arrested in his home a few days after the elections.
They will never forget
Prosecutor General Dorri-Najafabadi promised to teach the demonstrators in detention "a lesson they will never forget." He is right, Iranians will never forget. Just as the British-American instigated coup d'état against Iran's Prime Minister in 1953 and the West's support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war has marked an entire generation's collective memory, so will 12 June be a watershed event to Iran's youth. Time will tell how the country moves on from here. But there is little doubt that there are few regimes that are as good as loosing friends at home and abroad and at alienating their own people as Iran's nomenclature.
Dr Kaussler teaches US Foreign Policy, Middle East Security and Political Islam at James Madison University in Virginia. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews in Scotland.