Why Iran’s brightest young graduates are leaving their country behind

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Brain drain to the West

Why Iran’s brightest young graduates are leaving their country behind

Updated 7:20 AM ET, Tue June 27, 2017

Tehran, Iran (CNN) Sporting earbuds and sagging backpacks, students lounge on patches of grass, shaded by trees from the harsh sun. They sit in the library, hunched over laptops, massaging their temples, cramming for tests or bashing out lines of code.
It could be a college campus anywhere in the world, but Sharif University of Technology sits in the shadow of the Azadi tower in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
SUT represents the aspirations of a generation of Iranian policy makers who, in the wake of the 1979 revolution, were determined to put their country on the science and technology map.
It is often called the MIT of Iran — re-imagined after austere beginnings, based on the example of that American powerhouse, Sharif President Mahmud Fotuhi Firuzabad told CNN on a recent spring morning in Tehran.
“I don’t want to exaggerate the situation,” says Professor Jawad Salehi, tongue far from cheek, but “MIT is the Sharif of the U.S.”
Be that as it may, Iran’s educational leaders must also brace themselves for the fact that Sharif is a conduit out of the country.

Tehran's Sharif University of Technology was founded to help put Iran on the science and technology map.

The university cites as a point of pride the mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, an alum who in 2014 became the first woman to win a Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. Now, though, she’s a professor at Stanford University, not Sharif.
“The computer engineering department in this university — they call that the airport,” says 19-year-old civil engineering student Kiarash. “Our main reason for joining this university is for going abroad.”

Knowledge, technology ‘fundamental’

Iran’s 1979 revolution swept aside a Western-backed monarch, and with it a system of outward dependency.
“Going back really to (the) early stages of the revolution, but it continues, the government has really invested in education, partly to address inequality,” says Arang Keshavarzian, associate professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU.
That investment took on new importance after the bloody Iran-Iraq war launched by Saddam Hussein, says Salehi.
The war “showed the core of our system — that knowledge and technology is very fundamental for our survivability in the future.”

What's life like inside Iran?

What’s life like inside Iran?
The lesson, says Salehi, was broad. MIT “helped to advance the American society,” he says. “Iranian society at the time was in need of engineers, more than anything else.”
“Our society would have to advance itself based on knowledge, on science, and know-how.”
The resemblance between Sharif and major Western universities doesn’t extend much beyond the groups of students chatting beneath the trees outside — the buildings are heavy on breeze block and concrete. There are no starchitect-built theaters here, but faculty members and students speak of the place with pride.
“If you gave us the MIT budget,” says Salehi, ” and you gave us the facilities and laboratories, but here in the Sharif campus, I am sure that — I mean, I don’t want to exaggerate this — but I am sure that we would be at par with some of the best of the world.”
SUT staff would not allow CNN to chat to students on campus, but we spoke to several on the streets nearby; they are identified here only by their first names, as some of their comments could be considered controversial.
The university is “the best in the country,” says 25-year-old electrical engineering student Mehdi.
But he says Western sanctions — some now lifted in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal — have limited students’ access to scientific papers, equipment, and the ability to “reach the technology. It’s heavily affected us.”

Influence of Western culture

Walking to campus with four friends, Kiarash says that the “university atmosphere is way better” than most other Iranian institutions.
Kiarash’s generation lives in a different world to that of their parents; through the internet, Western culture reaches Iran like never before.
Though many social media websites, such as Facebook and Reddit, are officially blocked, simple workarounds mean they are easily accessible. Encrypted messaging apps like Telegram have taken off, and allow of a form of communication completely out of the government’s sight; even Iran’s presidential campaigns have embraced Telegram.
Students like Kiarash and his friend Pegah, 20, recognize their privilege, but expect more.

With students lounging beneath the trees on campus, at first glance, SUT could be a college anywhere in the world.

“It’s known to be the best university of Iran, but we don’t have much facilities,” says Pegah.
“We have something,” Kiarash chimes in. “A device for mixing some kinds of concrete. It’s (from) the former king of Iran’s era.”
And there are bigger, more fundamental issues.
“I wear whatever I like,” says Kiarash. “But, for example, my friend here, she has to wear hijab.”
Their clothing would fit it in at any Western university — jeans and T-shirts. But Pegah, who is female, must adhere to Iran’s rules mandating conservative clothing for women.
Several times, Pegah says, she’s been reprimanded for her clothing. “For example, they say your jeans are too tight. But it’s not tight!”
“The MIT of Iran?” laughs Satya, a 20-year-old in her senior year studying physics. “It is the best university in Tehran, I guess. It’s hard. But I am doing it.”

Tug-of-war over lifestyles

The strictures placed on students are not just a matter of personal annoyances, says Iranian economy and education specialist Nader Habibi, of Brandeis University in the U.S. “The government imposes an Islamic lifestyle,” he says, but for many urban families, “their vision of a good lifestyle is more liberal.”
One way around this, Habibi says, would be to “create small areas where (a) more diverse lifestyle is tolerated” — think Dubai, an outpost of liberal excesses in a fundamentally very conservative country, the United Arab Emirates. That model has been successful in attracting foreign investment, and convincing multinationals to set up shop.

Women in Iran are expected to conform to strict rules on dress, wearing headscarves and modest clothes.

In Iran, there is a constant tug-of-war between politicians like President Hassan Rouhani — reform-minded, at least by Iranian standards — and the conservative, revolutionist clergy, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the helm.
It’s evident everywhere in Tehran, where you’re as likely to pass a woman covered head to toe in a flowing black chador, as a woman made up to the nines, with coiffed hair, designer clothes, and a scarf half-way back on her head, barely conforming to rules requiring female head coverings.
The Iranian government, says Habibi, has thus far resisted implementing any Dubai-style system in Iran.
As far as Kiarash is concerned, that inflexibility is driving away Iran’s brightest students. “They only wait (for) their main civil rights,” he says. “And when they don’t give them, they have to go.”

Seeking greener pastures

Ramtin Keramati is one of those who left the country. On the phone from California, the SUT graduate recalls the first time he saw Stanford University’s campus. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is gorgeous! This is amazing!'”
Keramati says the transition was difficult, but he had company — in the form of roughly 8,700 Iranian students studying in the US, according to a 2014 study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. They’re among as many as 50,000 Iranians studying around the world.

Capturing everyday life in Iran

Capturing everyday life in Iran 
Stanford even has a Persian Students Association, which Keramati says picked him up from the airport and helped him get acclimatized to life on a US campus.
“It’s really hard,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect … everything was a surprise.”
There is a rich history of Iranians seeking greener pastures — at least temporarily — abroad.
President Rouhani studied in Scotland. His foreign minister, Javad Zarif, studied in California. SUT’s Salehi got his bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Irvine and his PhD at the University of Southern California before working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, which he calls “one of the best periods of my life.” Firuzabad, the president of SUT, got his master’s degree and PhD in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Rouhani, Zarif, Salehi and Firoozabad all came back to Iran, but what of those who don’t return? Some leave because of what they see as a lack of basic civil rights. Others see little hope in an economy in which the real — as opposed to official — unemployment rate could be well over 20%.

‘Significant’ brain drain

The “brain drain is significant,” says Brandeis’ Habibi; he says Iran’s government has tried to stem it, using economic incentives.
Anyone who receives a government scholarship to study abroad can have that loan written off if they return to Iran to work for a certain number of years, but “that’s only a small fraction of Iran’s brain drain,” Habibi says.
Much more significant are the students or professionals who move abroad for better opportunities. Once someone has completed their mandatory military service, Habibi says, the government can do nothing to stop them from leaving.

Many students leave Iran for work overseas once they have completed their degrees, prompting fears of a brain drain.

The brain drain is a “very sensitive question,” Salehi acknowledges. Everyone has the right to emigrate, he says, “but we can influence their choice.”
“It is the duty of the government, or the society, to give so many opportunities in our country that a young person who was thinking of leaving would have a bit of a doubt,” he says.
The government often reaches out “to educated professional Iranians in … Western countries, to encourage them to come back,” Habibi says; he estimates that the Rouhani government, aided by the lifting of some sanctions, has convinced 100 to 200 Iranians a year to return to work in their homeland.
And the desire to leave is by no means universal.
Aerospace engineering student Mohammed, 21, says his faculty members have “good connections with the industry to get a job later,” adding: “I just want to stay here.”

Mohammed, an aerospace engineering student at SUT.

But a very unscientific survey found that the call of foreign countries resonates with plenty of Sharif’s students. That’s certainly the case with physics student Satya.
As far as she’s concerned, “every one” of the university’s students goes abroad.
“That’s the goal when we come here,” she says. “This is why Sharif is important, and very famous, because we can apply and we can go and never come back, maybe.”

Two Terrorist Attacks In Terhan Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Tehran, Iran (CNN) Multiple attacks have hit the Iranian capital of Tehran, according to state media.

Hostages are being held in the Iranian parliament, where at least three people were injured after an attacker stormed the building, state-run Press TV reports.
In another incident, a woman was arrested after a bomb attack and shooting spree wounded two people at the Ayatollah Khomeini mausoleum south of the city Wednesday, the semi-official Fars news agency reports.
The news agency reported that another attacker is currently surrounded by security officers.
Terrorist attacks in Iran are rare, particularly in the highly-controlled capital where tourist and government sites are tightly policed.

Symbolic attack

Iran’s parliament, also called the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, has 290 members. It has female members and has representatives for religious minorities including Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews.
It is currently unclear how the attacker or attackers entered the parliament building, which is highly fortified, with multiple security checkpoints.
Gun ownership is tightly controlled in Iran, meaning those who carried out the attacks on the parliament and the shrine likely had to smuggle their weapons into the country.
The location of the second attack is extremely symbolic, targeting the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder and first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He led the revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 and was Iran’s leader for 10 years.
The mausoleum is located around 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the parliament.
TERRORISM IS RARE
Terrorist attacks in Iran are rare, but the country — with its largely Shiite population — has been involved in military actions against Sunni terrorist groups such as ISIS, who regard Shiites as apostates.
Last year, Iran’s government said it thwarted “one of the biggest plots” by terror groups targeting Tehran and other major cities during the month of Ramadan. This year’s holy month started almost two weeks ago on May 26.
The last major attack in Iran was in 2010 when a Sunni extremist group carried out a suicide attack against a mosque in Sistan-Baluchistan killing 39 people. Kurdish groups have carried out small scale attacks against Iranian security forces in the north-west of the country.

Anger from Qatar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Anger from Qatar

In May 2014, Bloomberg published statements of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim: “It is our right to make Qatar seem as the most important country in the world. But the problem is that some Arab countries did not play their role properly so when we played our role some thought that we are taking theirs.”

These statements were reiterated since the former emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa took over the rule in the country in 1995 – they brief the strategic targets of the Qatari foreign policy but the political reality says that no state can do the role of another.

Bahrain, for example, can’t do Egypt’s role and Saudi Arabia can’t do the role of UK. Doha continued through its endless provoking and throughout the past twenty years it was in a quest to achieve its goal in becoming a regional power even if at the expense of the Gulf countries and the region’s security and stability.

Aside from statements claimed to be said by Emir of Qatar and that Doha is denying, they actually represent the Qatari policy since Qatar has always used contradictions as a way to deal with brotherly countries.

The Gulf countries – including Qatar – take strict stances towards Iran during the meetings of the GCC to stop its intervention and to face its expanding project. In October 2015, Doha signed with Tehran a military security agreement. Qatar participates in the Decisive Storm in Yemen that has a major goal to put an end to the Iranian power.

Few months later on, the emir said in the UN that the relation with Tehran is developing and growing continuously based on common interests and good neighborliness. When the Gulf summit was held in Doha, leaders were surprised by the attendance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon a Qatari invitation as an honor guest.

Bahrain is suffering turbulence that has exceeded demands of reforms and constitutional kingship into aborting it and establishing a republican regime in the country. The Gulf countries refuse these acts because any chaos in a country would sure transfer to the neighboring ones.

But Doha is being impartial and is suggesting initiatives that go in favor of the militias supported by Iran. Al Jazeera, the diplomatic media arm of Qatar, has continued to support the chaotic forces in Bahrain and described them as a “national revolution”.

The Gulf countries fight terrorism fiercely while Doha – unfortunately – has a different agenda. It hosts the Muslim Brotherhood and funds it. It granted al-Qaeda leaders a media platform they used to dream of. It also presented al-Nusra Front as a “moderate force” and promoted for its separation from the terrorist al-Qaeda group.

Recently, the agreement to release Qatari captives from Iraq took place and displaced four Syrian towns as a price.

Guarantors of the agreement included Iran and Nusra Front. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain summoned their ambassadors from Doha after accusing it of threatening the security and political stability of the Gulf countries through supporting Muslim Brotherhood figures in the Gulf.

Also, the Qatari funds have threatened the whole region after reports that have proven Qatar’s support to Nusra Front. It also backed the anti- Saudi, Emirate and Bahraini media through transforming Qatari institutions into platforms to attack them. Qatar also funded figures that object over the ruling regime in these countries in addition to recruiting political funds and public relations companies in the US and West to damage the Gulf interests.

After Qatari pledges, the three ambassadors returned after nine months under one condition that Doha abides by Riyadh Agreement. However, Qatar did not – a Gulf official told me that the former Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah considered that the agreement was over with the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who sponsored the agreement.

The justifications that pushed Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain to summon their ambassadors then still exist today, nothing has changed.

Every state has the right to follow policies that comply with their interests and there is no condition in the international policy that imposes identical stances among countries. However if these policies damaged the regional security, led to chaos and shook stability then no state would be as patient as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

If Doha doesn’t change its policies that are damaging its neighbors and threatening their national security then any return would be useless and a dead end would be reached.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

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.

CHEERING AND DANCING

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.

BREAKING TABOOS

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)

Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia

The White House announcement that US President Donald Trump will carry out his first foreign visit and that Saudi Arabia will be a major stop is a message on a major shift in his foreign policy priorities.

Since Obama’s term came to an end in 2016, relations with Saudi Arabia have changed. During Obama’s last visit to Riyadh, ties were at their lowest in more than half a century. With Trump in power, we are witnessing changes in all aspects: Syria, Iran, Yemen and bilateral relations.

The televised interview of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense clarified the stances from these issues that are expected to be part of the discussions in Riyadh.

Regarding Syria, Riyadh eased its stance to reach a political solution that satisfies Russia and doesn’t grant the regime and its allies a free hand. In the Astana talks, there were two prime developments – approval to differentiate national factions from terrorists and readiness to establish safe zones, two of Trump’s pledges while campaigning for the presidency.

On the Yemeni war, the deputy crown prince was persuasive when he boldly admitted that the rush in liberating Sana’a and other cities might cause huge losses on both sides of the conflict.

“Time is in our favor and we are not in a rush. We can liberate it in two days with a costly human price or liberate it slowly with fewer losses,” he said.

Iran is a mutual huge concern for Riyadh and the US as well as other governments in the region. The deputy crown prince specified the Saudi government’s vision and its current policy. He said the history of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran leaves no doubt that Tehran has been targeting it even in times of rapprochement.

He added that the kingdom will defend its existence and will not remain in a state of defense for long. Trump has already delivered clear messages against the policies of the Tehran regime in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf waters.

Talks on arranging regional relations meant mainly Egypt. In the televised interview, the deputy crown prince hinted to the Muslim Brotherhood’s media of standing behind growing Saudi-Egyptian differences. His statement put an end to speculations about the relations with Cairo, depicting them as a passing summer cloud.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a problem restricted to one country. This is a political group using religion as a means to reach power and is similar to communism which puts it on collision course with the rest of the regimes in the region.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a unified group from Gulf, Egyptian, Sudanese, Tunisian and other nationalities waging collective wars. The group tried to besiege the government in Egypt through the media and by provoking the Egyptians against it as well as urging the region’s people to cut ties with it.

Though supported by dozens of TV channels, websites and social media, the group failed to achieve its objectives. The Egyptian government is now stronger than when Mohamed Morsi’s government was ousted more than three years ago.

The Muslim Brotherhood project in Egypt has failed. Its losses grew when Trump reversed the foreign policy of Obama who had boycotted the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Moscow is Trying to Influence Iran’s Presidential Contest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

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.

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Tehran Awaits Response From Pakistan on Killing of 8 Iran’s Border Guards

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE RUSSIAN OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY SPUTNIK)

World cities. Tehran

Tehran Awaits Response From Pakistan on Killing of Iran’s Border Guards

© Sputnik/ Vladimir Fedorenko

ASIA & PACIFIC

17:16 27.04.2017(updated 17:26 27.04.2017) Get short URL
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Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Tehran awaits a response from the Pakistani authorities regarding murder of eight Iranian border guards in southeastern part of the country.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Tehran awaits a response from the Pakistani authorities regarding murder of eight Iranian border guards in southeastern part of the country, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Thursday.

“The Pakistani authorities have to respond on why they allow criminal gangs to operate on the country’s territory,” Ghasemi said.

Late on Wednesday, the Iranian police said that eight border guards were killed by a number of terrorists in southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province near the border with Pakistan. The incident took place in the Mirjaveh region, over 74 kilometers (46 miles) from Sistan and Baluchestan’s capital of Zahedan. Police also said Pakistan bore responsibility for the ambush.

An investigation has been launched into the attack.

Iran’s Supreme ‘Fraud/Liar’ Will Never Allow Honest Elections Or Any Semblance Of Honesty Or Freedom!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Iran Blocks Telegram

It is not strange that Iran is the only country in the Middle East that blocks services which are considered essential now like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp as part of its continuous blackout policy. Tehran even disturbs the signal of several broadcast channels blocking citizens from any external media access.

Of all international social media applications available, Iranians are only left with the messaging application Telegram.

Telegram was formed by two Russian brothers and is headquartered in Germany. Almost 40 million Iranians use its voice messages, while 20 million use the application for texting. Being the only application available, this precious service is in high demand among Iranians who amount up to a quarter of Telegram’s users across the world.

But then the government quelled Iranians’ sole source of joy by blocking most of Telegram’s services, precisely the voice messages under the pretext of protecting national security.

The truth is that the regime blocked the application fearing it would affect the course of the upcoming elections; a course that had already been engineered.

Thousands of local candidates are “filtered” according to the criteria of the “democratic Iranian religious clerics”. In the end, only those whom they are satisfied with are allowed to run for elections. It is not a secret system and, eventually, no one is allowed to win the elections or even run for it if the Supreme Leader doesn’t agree.

The 2009 elections caused a great embarrassment both domestically and internationally because those who diverted from the leadership were figures licensed by the leaders of the regime to run for the elections.

The supreme leadership decided that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would become president and forged the results accordingly. This angered the candidates who had the best chance in winning and led to the famous “Green Movement” revolution, during which many died or were injured and arrested. The memory of the uprising has been haunting the authorities that believe this massive antagonist movement wouldn’t have been possible, especially in Tehran, hadn’t it been for Twitter and Facebook.

Indeed, back then al-Arabiya Channel relied almost completely on the videos, photos and information it received from those two platforms to cover the Iranian events after the authorities shut down its office and expelled its correspondent. The results were astounding! The regime was in confusion after images of the protests, clashes, and injuries were broadcast on international media outlets.

After reading a report published about a month ago in the Los Angeles Times about the influence of Telegram inside of Iran, I sensed the regime’s fear and anticipated its next move. The report mentioned that the security authorities had already begun warning users of political messages and forced anyone who owned a channel with over 5,000 subscribers to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture. The government then began a series of arrests for active users on the application.

Iran has now shut most of Telegram’s services hoping to contain the atmosphere of the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are mostly an encore of the same charade. Results can be partially or completely forged, even after the filtration and suspension done during the early stages of candidacy.

The regime is really concerned with controlling the reactions of the Iranian street to avoid the repetition of the Green Revolution.

No surprises on the level of the presidential elections are expected because the approved candidates are just copies of each other.

Even former President Ahmadinejad, despite his importance and history, was banned by the Supreme Leader from running for this election. Ahmadinejad shocked everyone and announced himself a candidate with a series of clarifications and apologetic statements saying he didn’t disobey the directives of the Supreme Leader. He pledged to withdraw from the elections after the first round and said he only participated to support his friend, a presidential candidate, and give him the media and public attention.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

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.

Photo

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.”

A British mother who is prison in Iran has collapsed while still waiting for vital hospital treatment on her neck.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BRITISH ‘METRO’ NEWS AGENCY)

A British mother who is prison in Iran has collapsed while still waiting for vital hospital treatment on her neck.

Nazanin Zaghari_Ratcliffe is awaiting treatment for several out of place neck vertebrae, damage caused by months of having no bed, poor exercise and stress.

But despite the recommendations of specialists the charity worker has been still not been admitted to hospital from the country;s notorious Evin Prison for emergency treatment.

The 38-year-old, from Hampstead in London, has been in prison in Iran since April, after being arrested while visiting family in Tehran.

The dual-nationality citizen, who was on holiday with daughter Gabriella at the time, was jailed for five years after being accused of being a Western Spy despite no evidence being put forward to support the claims.

Her family have been pressing for her to receive hospital treatment that they have been told is vital.

Her husband, Richard, explained on change.org that her neck and back problems have worsened over the last few months.

‘Without urgent treatment Nazanin runs the risk of permanent impairment,’ he wrote.

‘This week she collapsed again. She had been complaining of nausea and headaches, of an increasing inability to do anything apart from lie down.

‘It seems due also to psychological strains. Nazanin reports increasing unexplained panics, suffering severe insomnia at night – waves of worries in the quietest hours, magnifying the alone.

‘During the day suddenly unable to get calm, feeling inescapable pressures.

‘Feeling the interrogators’ presence, even where they are not. That drip feed of cruelties does not magically drain away.’

Nazanin and Richard’s two -year-old daughter is also still in Iran, and is living with her grandparents in the same city her mother is imprisoned in. She is able to visit her once a week

The Foreign Office has said previously that it is prepared to bring her home, but has been able to do less in her mother’s case as Iran doesn’t recognise dual-nationality citizens.