Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest



Iranian intellectuals call for referendum amid political unrest

Letter with 15 signatories says Iran’s leaders have failed to deliver on republican ideals

Pro-government rally in Iran
 Women hold posters of the Iranian revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini and the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a pro-government rally. Photograph: Mohammad Ali Marizad/AP

A group of prominent Iranian intellectuals have said they have lost hope that the Islamic Republic can reform, and have called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling establishment is still backed by a majority.

A day after Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, touted the idea of holding a referendum as a means to heal Iran’s deepening political divisions, 15 figures – including some based in Iran – said leaders had failed to deliver on republican ideals.

Signatories to the letter include the Nobel peace prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi; Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist currently imprisoned in Tehran; Nasrin Sotoudeh, a rights lawyer; and the film-makers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi.

Rouhani did not elaborate on what he was proposing to put to a vote, but he has sounded increasingly frustrated about the political stalemate.

The judiciary has limited his ability to improve social freedoms despite his triumph in last year’s presidential election, and critics say his recent budget, which allocated huge funds to state bodies under the control of hardliners, demonstrated his lack of power.

Meanwhile, the Iranian currency has taken another dive against the dollar in recent days, adding to fears about the state of the economy.

Speaking last week, Rouhani expressed concern about what he said was the unwillingness of his hardline opponents to listen to the voices of ordinary people, particularly after a wave of unrest that began in late December.

“The previous regime, which thought that its rule would be lifelong and its monarchy eternal, lost everything because it did not listen to the voices of criticism, advice, reformers, the clergy, elders and intellectuals,” he said, referring to the late shah’s rule. “The previous regime did not listen to the voice of people’s protests and only listened to one voice, and that was the people’s revolution. For a government that only wants to hear the sound of revolution, it will be too late.”

The activists’ letter states: “Four decades have passed since the establishment of the Islamic republic, a government whose obsession with Islamisation has left little room for republican ideals.”

It criticises the conservative-dominated judiciary, which acts independently of Rouhani’s government. “The judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power. So many women, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, workers and political and social activists have been harassed, arrested, convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison, solely for criticising officials, enlightening public opinion, inviting the rulers to respect separation of religion from government or demanding women’s relief from the mandatory veil.”

Last month Mehdi Karroubi, an Iranian opposition leader currently under house arrest, wrote a letter attacking the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran. Direct criticism of Khamenei is rare.

Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament, wrote: “You have been Iran’s top leader for three decades but still speak like an opposition. During the last three decades you have eliminated the main revolutionary forces to implement your own policies, and now you should face the results of that.”

Iranian officials say high turnouts in elections show that the establishment is still popular. Critics dispute that, saying many voters participate in the hope of bringing about change.

Saeed Barzin, a London-based Iranian analyst, said Rouhani’s call for a referendum was a threat to push back the economic and political meddling of an unelected faction dominated by hardliners, in particular the Revolutionary Guards.

“The undercurrent issue is how the power will be distributed after Khamenei, and in a way the power struggle has already begun,” Barzin said. “Reformists feel under threat that the current situation might lead to people losing hope in reform or becoming radical or becoming apolitical. Hardliners, on the other side, might see an opportunity here to scapegoat Rouhani and even conduct a soft coup d’état, but it’s a gamble.”

Barzin said he was not impressed by the activists’ letter, though the range of signatories was interesting. Even those based in Iran, he said, did not represent mainstream reformists, who would view holding such a referendum as the establishment acquiescing to its own destruction.

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates


(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presentational grey line

A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

Presentational grey line

Iran’s Supreme Murderer Ali Khamenei Blames Iran’s Enemy’s For Protests



LONDON — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, blamed “enemies” of Iran on Tuesday for protests that have left more than 20 people dead, in his first comments since the unrest started last week.

“In recent events, enemies of Iran have allied & used the various means they possess, including money, weapons, politics & intelligence services, to trouble the Islamic Republic,” said a post in English on Ayatollah Khamenei’s Twitter account. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity & any crevice to infiltrate & strike the Iranian nation.”

As of Tuesday morning, the death toll from the protests across the country and the ensuing crackdown by the government and security services was at least 21. About 450 people had been taken into custody in the capital, Tehran, alone, according to the semiofficial news agency ILNA, and arrests have also been reported elsewhere.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has been a target of the protesters, did not specify which individuals or countries he was referring to, saying he would “speak to the dear people when the time is right.”

In his stream of posts on Twitter, he did, however, implicitly compare the current demonstrations to Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, when the United States, its European allies and the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates backed the Baath Party government of Saddam Hussein against Tehran.


“During Saddam’s imposed war on #Iran, If the Ba’thi enemies had entered Iran, they would show no mercy towards anything or anyone,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote in another tweet. “Iran’s situation would be worse off than today’s #Libya or #Syria.”

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies are all backing the rebels fighting the Iranian-backed government in Syria.

In Libya, NATO led a bombing campaign that helped remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, and both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have continued to back allied groups inside Libya in the continuing civil strife there.

“The Iranian nation will forever owe the dear martyrs, who left behind their homes and families, to stand against the wicked enemies backed by westerners, easterners, as well as reactionaries of the region,” Ayatollah Khamenei wrote, apparently in another reference to the Iran-Iraq war.

His remarks came a day after President Trump criticized Iran, saying the country’s leaders had repressed their people for years. Mr. Trump again addressed the situation there on Tuesday, in another Twitter post that appeared shortly after the supreme leader’s, in which he expressed solidarity with the Iranian people, even though he has sought to prevent them from entering the United States.

That drew an angry response from Iran, with Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, describing Mr. Trump’s comments as insulting, useless and counterproductive, the state news media reported.

“It is better for him to try to address the internal issues, like the murder of scores killed on a daily basis in the United States during armed clashes and shootings, as well as millions of the homeless and hungry people in the country,” Mr. Qasemi said, according to the state-run news agency IRNA.

The protests are the largest in Iran since 2009, during the so-called Green Movement, which took place after the election of the hard-line leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and transitioned into a wider protest against the country’s leadership.

The latest demonstrations, which largely seemed to come out of nowhere and have surprised the authorities with their size and intensity, appear to be rooted in anger toward President Hassan Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate, and his inability to bring change to an economy that has long suffered under the weight of sanctions.

As the protests have continued, however, they have taken on a political bent directed at the establishment, with demonstrators calling for the death of Mr. Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Rouhani has tried to acknowledge the protesters’ complaints, asking them to avoid violence while saying they had a right to be heard, but others in the government have called for a firmer response.

Brig. Gen Esmaeil Kowsari, deputy chief of the main Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base in Tehran, told the semiofficial news agency ISNA: “If this situation continues, the officials will definitely make some decisions, and at that point this business will be finished.”

Iran is battling with the Saudi-led Persian Gulf states for dominance across several unstable countries around the region.

In addition to providing military support for Damascus against Syrian rebels who receive backing from Gulf states, Tehran is providing aid to Houthis in Yemen who are fighting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Iran has provided support for protesters and militants opposing the Saudi-backed monarchy in Bahrain, and Iran-assisted factions dominate the politics of Lebanon and Iraq against opponents Saudi Arabia backs.

In most cases, the contest for power plays out through sectarian rivalries. Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchs are backing fellow Sunni Muslims in each arena, and the Shiite government of Iran is backing Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, as well as allied heterodox Muslim sects like the Alawites in Syria or the Houthis in Yemen.

When Iran’s ‘Supreme Mass Murderer’ Dies Will The People Of Iran Insist On Freedom?


It’s time to prepare for Iran’s political collapse

 July 5

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In recent congressional testimony, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sensibly stressed that the United States should “work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.” The commentariat was aghast, and the Islamic republic registered a formal protest note. Both parties seemed surprised that the United States has long assisted those seeking democratic change. During the Cold War, secretaries of state routinely assured those trapped behind the Iron Curtain that America supported their aspirations. Given that Iran is ruled by an aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the United States should be prepared for a transition of power there that may yet precipitate the collapse of the entire system.

In a region littered with failed states, Iran is often mischaracterized as an island of stability. The history of the Islamic republic, however, is a turbulent one, featuring a constant struggle between an authoritarian regime and restive population seeking democratic empowerment. When they first assumed power, the clerical oligarchs waged bloody street battles to repress other members of the revolutionary coalition who did not share their desire for a theocratic dictatorship. In the 1990’s, they faced the rise of a reform movement that remains the most exhilarating attempt to harmonize religion and pluralism. The reformists spoke about reconsidering Khamenei’s absolutist pretensions and expanding civil society and critical media. The regime reacted with its usual mixture of terror and intimidation to eviscerate the movement. And then came the Green Revolt in summer 2009 that forever delegitimized the system and severed the bonds between state and society.

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The one thing certain about Iran’s future is that another protest movement will rise at some point seeking to displace the regime.

Today, the Islamic republic lumbers on as the Soviet Union did during its last years. It professes an ideology that convinces no one. It commands security services that proved unreliable in the 2009 rebellion, causing the regime to deploy the Basij militias because many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards refused to shoot the protesters.

The seminaries in the shrine city of Qom appreciate the damage that the government of God has done to Islam as the mosques remain empty even during important religious commemorations. Young men don’t wish to join the clergy, and women don’t want to marry clerics. The system is engulfed by corruption, which is particularly problematic for a regime that bases its power on divine ordinance. And Iran just underwent a presidential election where the winner, Hassan Rouhani, promised freedoms he has no intention of delivering and further delegitimized the government by airing its dirty laundry on issues of craft and repression. Today, the Islamic republic will not be able to manage a succession to the post of the supreme leader as its factions are too divided and its public too disaffected.

The regime does, however, have one thing in its favor: its nuclear agreement with the international community (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.) Historically, arms-control treaties have generated their own constituency. During the 1970s, at the height of U.S.-Soviet arms-control diplomacy, influential voices in the West did not want to pressure the Kremlin for fear that it would disrupt the agreements. The Islamic republic can count on similar forbearance from critical sectors of Washington. Many will feign concern about Iran’s terrorism or human rights abuses, but will rebuff attempts to impose truly crippling sanctions on Tehran. The legitimacy and longevity of the regime will not be questioned by those whose foremost priority is sustaining a deficient arms-control accord. And it was this sentiment that Tillerson challenged when he called for making common cause with those struggling for freedom inside Iran. The amorality of arms control has little room for such lofty and idealistic ambitions.

The task of a judicious U.S. government today is to plan for the probable outbreak of another protest movement or the sudden passing of Khamenei that could destabilize the system to the point of collapse. How can we further sow discord in Iran’s vicious factional politics? How can the United States weaken the regime’s already unsteady security services? This will require not just draining the Islamic republic’s coffers but also finding ways to empower its domestic critics. The planning for all this must start today; once the crisis breaks out, it will be too late for America to be a player.

In March 1953, when Joseph Stalin died, President Dwight Eisenhower asked to see his government’s studies about how to exploit the Soviet succession crisis. There were none. An exasperated Eisenhower exclaimed, “For about seven years, ever since 1946, I know that everybody who should have been concerned with such things has been sounding off on what we should do when Stalin dies…. Well he did — and we want to see what bright ideas were in the files of this government, what plans were laid. What we found was that the result of seven years of yapping is exactly zero. We have no plan.” For his part, Tillerson has established the guidepost that should direct U.S. foreign policy. The task for the administration now is to study ways that we can take advantage of Iran’s looming crisis to potentially displace one of America’s most entrenched adversaries.

The People Of Iran Will Soon Over Through Their Mullah Mass Murder Dictators


World Affairs #ForeignAffairs

What Does The Future Hold For Iran?

 Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A Shahab-3 long range missile (L) and Zolfaghar missiles (R) are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. Chants against the Saudi royal family and the Islamic State group mingled with the traditional cries of ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America’ at Jerusalem Day rallies across Iran today. / AFP PHOTO / Stringer (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

With developments regarding Iran and the Middle East on fast forward recently, voices are heard speaking of winds of change in Iran. Iran’s society, described as a powder keg due to social discontent, is literally simmering.

And after far too many years, the international community is gradually but surely realizing how appeasement will only yield further destruction. Catapulting events further is Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s failure to engineer the recent presidential election to unify his regime for the tsunamis ahead.

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi was the keynote speaker of a recent convention in Paris where she delivered a very different and new perspective on how to resolve the Iran dilemma.

We are also only a week away from July 14th, marking the second year of the Iran nuclear deal signing. Despite a windfall of over $100 billion dollars pouring into Iran, this agreement has failed to provide meaningful change in people’s lives.

And yet, Tehran has in fact allocated these funds to fuel turmoil across the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.

Returning to Iran’s milestone May 19th presidential “election”, Khamenei attempted to end his regime’s impasse by placing his weight behind conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi in that race.

Considering Raisi’s notorious role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, and a massive campaign launched by activists of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) inside Iran, Khamenei’s candidate stood no chance.

However, the fact that the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was able to secure a second term will not render any change in the regime’s status quo. In fact, quite the opposite.

In an attempt to fabricate the final vote tally, the mullahs’ regime boasted a 70+ percent voter participation. Merely a month later, however, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, an 88-cleric body tasked to select the next supreme leader and supposedly maintain him under their oversight, issued a statement declaring “people’s votes, demands and views” are of no significance whatsoever. This is the Iranian regime’s definition of democracy.

Thus, with a look at the past 38 years and the ever so changing status in and out of Iran today, there are three initial conclusions we can reach:

1) The rule of the mullahs’ dictatorship in Iran must come to an end.

2) Such an objective is now within reach more than ever before. Rifts inside Iran’s political hierarchy are inflicting deep, irrecoverable wounds.

3) In contrast to its neighbors, Iran enjoys a democratic alternative and an organized opposition movement fully capable of setting this regime aside.

For those continuing to advocate a policy of encouraging reform from within, this regime will not be reformed. Period. This has been proven through 20 years of three presidents claiming to be reformists/moderates. The slate includes Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami and the current Hassan Rouhani.

All the while, for three decades the West has gone the limits in testing the appeasement policy. Unfortunately, lessons have not been learned from Chamberlain’s disastrous agreement with Hitler.

And yet, despite the deafening propaganda orchestrated by the mullahs’ regime, this apparatus is threatened most not by a foreign foe, but the numerous protests and revolts witnessed each day through Iran. This is a ticking time bomb winding down fast.

The regime’s incompetence in resolving domestic and foreign dilemmas, and its failure to obtain nuclear weapons has left the ruling regime highly concerned over the road ahead.

Unfortunately, the countries going through the Arab Spring had no alternative apparatus to replace their ousted ruling governments. This is not the case with Iran.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, (NCRI), an umbrella coalition with the PMOI/MEK as its core member, enjoys vast influence inside Iran, seen in the following developments:

1) Back in 2009 the NCRI established the main uprising core across Iran, elevating the motto of “Where is my vote?” to a more demanding, “Down with the Dictator.”

2) For a year now the NCRI has directed a campaign focusing on seeking justice regarding the 1988 massacre. Iran, with its very young population, witnessed the regime succumbing to the people’s will of condemning Raisi for his role in the mullahs’ decades of executions.

From day one of their rule the mullahs have been at war with the entire Iranian population. All other wars, especially the devastating Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the ongoing onslaught in Syria and Iran’s role in the killings, and the regime’s face off with the international community over its effort to build an atomic bomb, have been aimed at cloaking this ultimate war.

Thus, it is a mistaken conclusion to believe Iran resorting to such wars are signs of its strength. With no government stepping up to the plate to confront Tehran’s all-out belligerence.

It has only been the Iranian opposition, represented by the NCRI, leading the effort to expose the mullahs’ true nature. The NCRI hoisted the flag peace and freedom in response to the mullahs’ warmongering, been the sole supporter of the Syrian people from their first protests back in March 2011, and continuously blown the whistle on Iran’s notorious nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

Four decades of appeasement in the face of Iran’s human rights violations, deadly meddling in the Middle East and beyond, terrorism and a concentrated nuclear/ballistic missile drive, have failed miserably. There is also no need for another devastating war in an already flash point region.

A solution is at hand, demanding strong and brave decisions by the United Nations, European Union, United States and regional countries.

a) Designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization;

b) Revoking Tehran’s membership from all international organizations, including mainly the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation;

c) Setting international tribunals to hold Khamenei and other senior Iranian regime officials accountable for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity;

d) Recognizing the Iranian people’s legitimate resistance to topple the mullahs’ rule.

This regime has taken advantage of a highly flawed appeasement policy for too long. The Iranian people and their organized resistance, pioneered by the NCRI, need not a single dime, rifle or bullet. Together they are more than able and absolutely capable to end the mullahs’ rule.

“…the ultimate solution to the crisis in the region and confronting groups like ISIS, is the overthrow of the Iranian regime by the Iranian people and Resistance,” Mrs. Rajavi said.

Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World


By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.


Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.


Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

Threat of War Stokes Conflict in Iran


(Commentary: It is my total belief that it does not matter how the people of Iran vote on May 19th, (just as it did not matter 2 elections ago) there is only vote in Iran that counts, and that is the vote of the Supreme Leader (Hater) Ali Khamenei!)(trs)

Threat of War Stokes Conflict in Iran

Tehran- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday slammed election slogans of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani on the removal of the “shadow of war” from Iran by signing the nuclear deal.

Iranians should not thank Hassan Rouhani’s policy of detente with the West for any reduction in the threat of war, Khamenei said on Sunday, stepping up his criticisms of the president as elections approach.

Hours later, Rouhani renewed his position, but softened his tone.

At the same time, Iran’s Election Commission announced that it received complaints from four candidates in the presidential elections because of the issues witnessed in the first debate.

Ebrahim Raisi, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and conservative presidential candidate Mustafa Merslim protested against the way the debate was moderated and accusations made against competitors.

In comments that appeared to favor hardline candidates in the May 19 vote, Khamenei played down the benefits of Rouhani’s landmark agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

“Some say since they took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state media.

“It’s been people’s presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country.”

Khamenei and his hardline supporters have also criticized the nuclear deal — which stiffled talk by Washington of possible military action against Iran — for failing to deliver promised economic benefits.

But speaking at the opening of a refinery that Iran says will make it self-sufficient in oil products, Rouhani defended his position.

“The nuclear deal was a national achievement. We should make use of its advantages. But some have started a fight over it,” Rouhani said. He cited the new refinery, in the Gulf port city of Bandar Abbas as a result of the deal and “interaction with the world”.

One of Rouhani’s main challengers, Raisi, an influential cleric with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, said Iran had no need of foreign help to improve the economy and could always defend itself.

“We should not warn our people of wars and crises. We have full security in the country,” Raisi said in a recorded address on state television.

“This approach, that we should wait for foreign investment and for foreigners to resolve our issues, is wrong.

“This is wrong, to wait years and years for foreign investors to come … We should resolve issues by relying on domestic capabilities,” Raisi said in comments that echoed those previously made by Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.

Rouhani has said Iran needs foreign capital to modernize its oil, gas, transportation and telecommunication sectors after decades of international isolation.

However, foreign investors are still cautious about trading with or investing in Iran, fearing penalties from remaining unilateral US sanctions and President Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on the Islamic Republic.

This has caused long delays in contracts that Iran seeks with international firms to develop its oil and gas fields.

Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest


Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

For four decades Tehranis have heard so many weird slogans chanted in their streets that almost nothing comes as a surprise to them. And, yet, last week many Tehranis were surprised to hear a group of youths, all adorned with suitable beards, shouting: “Russian Embassy is a Nest of Spies!”

“Nest of Spies” was first launched in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini as a label for the US Embassy which had been raided and which diplomats were held hostage by the so-called “Students Following the Lead of Imam”. The operation that provoked a 444-day long stand-off between Tehran and Washington had been quietly encouraged by KGB elements in Tehran working through the Tudeh (Communist) Party and its smaller left-wing affiliates as a means of driving the US out of Iran.

At the time no one could imagine that one-day it would be the Russian Embassy’s turn to be thus labelled. True, Iran already has a history of raiding the Russian Embassy. In 1829, a mob, led by mullahs, attacked the Tsarist Embassy ostensibly to release two Georgian slave girls who had sought refuge there. Alexander Griboidev, the Embassy’s ambassador was seized, sentenced to death with a fatwa and beheaded. (Griboidev was more than a diplomat and had made a name as a poet and playwright.)

It is, of course, unlikely that the regime would allow anyone today to raid the Russian Embassy and seize its diplomats as hostages. Nevertheless, the anger expressed by the small bunch of demonstrators is real.

But why has the Russian Embassy become a target for militant anger some four decades later?

The question is all the more pertinent as the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has launched what he calls a “Looking East” strategy based on an alliance between Tehran and Moscow. That strategy is in direct violation of Khomeini’s famous: “Neither East nor West” slogan (Na sharqi, na gharbi!) Khomeini insisted that unless Russia converted to Islam it should not expect to be treated any differently than other “Infidel” powers. (The ayatollah sent a formal letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev inviting him to embrace Shiism.)

However, two years ago, in a four-hour long summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Khamenei agreed that his Islamic Republic would take no position on major international issues without “coordinating” with Moscow. That historic accord was quickly put into effect in Syria where Putin provided air cover for an alliance of forces assembled by Iran around the beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin played a key role in exempting Iran from cuts in its oil production under an agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC producers to stabilize prices.

Putin also lifted the ban on sale of advanced surface-to-air missile systems that Iran says it needs to face any US air attack. At the same time, Moscow has done quite a lot to shield the Islamic Republic against further concessions on the thorny issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Putin went even further by tacitly acknowledging Iran’s lead in shaping policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan.

Working in favor of strategic alliance with Moscow are several elements within the Islamic regime. These include the remnants of the Tudeh, the People Fedayeen Militia and assorted groups of anti-West activists. However, the proposed alliance also enjoys support from powerful clerics who believe they need Russian support to face any future clash with the US.

“By courageously defending the Syrian government, Russia has proved it is a true friend,” says Ayatollah Muhammadi Golpayegani who heads Khamenei’s personal cabinet.

However, to sweeten the bitter pill of alliance with Russia, a power which has a 200-year long history of enmity and war with Iran, the mullahs also claim they could seize the opportunity to spread their brand of Islam in the Russian Federation where Shi’ite account for less than three per cent of the estimated 30 million Muslims. (The only place where Shi’ites are in a majority is Darband in Dagestan.)

In his typically sly way, Putin has encouraged such illusions. He has promised to let Qom set up seminaries in both Darband and Moscow to train Russian Shi’ite mullahs. Putin has also set up something called Strategic Committee for the Spread of Islam led by Tatarstan’s President Rustam Minikhanov.(Tatarstan is the largest Muslim majority republic in the Russian federation.)

Having allegedly tried to influence the latest presidential election in the US and the current presidential election in France, Putin is also accused of trying to do the same in Iran. Last week he sent a 60-man delegation, led by Minikhanov, to Mash’had, Iran’s largest “holy” city to meet Ayatollah Ibrahim Raisi, the man regarded as one of the two candidates most likely to win the presidency. Minikhanov was accompanied by Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti Kamil Sami Gulen who told reporters that Putin wants Iran and Russia to work together to “present the true face of Islam to young people” and “counter propaganda by terrorist circles.”

Kremlin-controlled satellite TV channels have played up the meetings, casting Raisi as a statesman of international standing.

However, to hedge his bets, Putin had already received the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani during a hastily arrange visit to Moscow last month. However, some observers claim that Putin regards Rouhani and his faction as “too close to the Americans.”

Some senior members of Rouhani’s administration who are rumored to be US citizens or holders of “Green Cards”, may cast doubt on their sincerity to embrace a strategic alliance with Moscow.

There are signs that not everyone in the regime is happy about tying Iran’s future to that of the Putin regime. The slogan “Russian Embassy is Nest of Spies” is just one small example of that unhappiness. Other examples include a series of features published by the official media, including IRNA, about Russian historic aggression against in Iran.

One curious feature published by IRNA even claimed that US President Harry S Truman helped Iran recover two of its provinces occupied by Russian despot Stalin in 1946. Another feature, published by a news agency close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard narrates the “shameful” history of pro-Russian factions in Iran from the 19th century onwards.

An old Persian saying claims Russia is a big bear to admire from afar; if he embraces you he will crush you.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

More Posts

Iran’s Master Butcher Ali Khamenei Says U.S. Missile Strike On Syria ‘Strategic Mistake’


Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday said the recent US missile attack on a Syrian air base was a “strategic mistake”.“The Americans’ action is a strategic mistake, as they are repeating the mistakes of their predecessors,” Khamenei’s official website quoted him as saying.

As Europe is now facing the threat of terrorists, the US will not stay away from this threat as well, he added.

The US fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base in central Syria at dawn on Friday, saying the strike was intended to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Thursday said the recent Syrian air strike on a rebel-held town in Idlib Province in northwestern Syria struck a rebel depot containing chemical materials, and denied that the air force used toxic gas during the attack.


Iran’s Top Leader Appears To Rebuke President As Election Nears



Tajrish Square in Tehran. The Iranian economy did not get the boost many had hoped for after the nuclear deal. Credit  Khamooshi for The New York Times

Iran’s top leader criticized the pace of national economic growth on Thursday in what appeared to be a rebuke of the president, who had forecast prosperous times after the 2015 accord that lifted international sanctions in exchange for nuclear limits.

The critical comments by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came two months before elections in which President Hassan Rouhani is expected to seek a second term. The comments suggested some tension between them as the vote draws nearer.

“We receive complaints from people,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in the remarks reported on state television, as translated by Reuters. “People should feel improvements regarding creation of jobs and manufacturing. It is not the case now.”

It is not yet clear who may run against Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric. While he is said to enjoy a longstanding relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei, the president is not well liked by some other hard-line conservative elements of Iran’s political hierarchy.

In the 2013 elections, Mr. Rouhani won against a field of comparatively conservative rivals, partly on his pledge to negotiate an end to the international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities, which had left the country economically weakened and isolated.

An agreement between Iran and major world powers, most notably the United States, ended many of those sanctions in January 2016 in return for Iran’s verifiable commitments to peaceful nuclear work.


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is expected to seek a second term in the coming elections.Credit Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yet while Mr. Rouhani has received credit for that achievement, Iran’s economy has not flourished as hoped. Moreover, foreign investment in the country remains muted and tenuous, leaving Mr. Rouhani potentially vulnerable to conservative critics who say he compromised Iran’s nuclear autonomy without any clear benefit.

Mr. Rouhani and his associates have countered that Iran has improved economically compared with the era of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They also say many foreign companies remain reluctant to invest in Iran because of non-nuclear related sanctions by the United States, part of the long history of animosity between the two countries.

Economists also have partly attributed Iran’s persistent economic weakness to reliance on sales of oil — its most important export — in a heavily glutted market that has left prices depressed.

Punctuating that point, the benchmark grade of crude oil in the American market dropped below $50 a barrel Thursday to its weakest level since December.

Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to express frustration on Thursday over what he described as the government’s failure to achieve a “resistance economy,” a reference to self-sufficiency and less reliance on imports.

He acknowledged there had been some economic improvements under Mr. Rouhani but also said that “if the resistance economy had been implemented fully and widely, we could witness a tangible difference.”

While Ayatollah Khamenei endorsed the nuclear agreement, he also has expressed wariness about any step toward reconciliation with the United States, describing the Americans as duplicitous and malevolent.

President Trump’s election, his publicly stated contempt for the nuclear agreement and his hostility toward Iran appeared to reinforce the suspicions of Ayatollah Khamenei. Reacting to Mr. Trump’s order last month suspending visas to a group of mostly Muslim countries including Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei sarcastically ridiculed Mr. Trump, thanking him for revealing America’s “true face.”

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