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Spotlight on Iran Update, March 21, 2011

This past week's news from Iran as the crisis in the Middle East brings speculation of the Mehdi's return to estabilish a global caliph and destroying the West.

  • Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

  • Earthquake in Japan: lessons from Tehran

  • Majles Research Center warns about a severe crisis in Iranian electricity industry

  • Results of a public opinion poll held by the Majles: the public is relatively satisfied with the government’s performance, strongly supports a hawkish stance on the nuclear issue

  • Iran calls on Islamic hackers to enlist to the Iranian “cyber war”

Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the
Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

A documentary shown in Iran in the past several months has provoked a heated religious-legal debate. Titled “The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent”, the film claims that the events that took place in the Middle East in recent years should be considered proof of the coming return of the Twelfth Imam (the Mehdi).

Interest in the film has been fueled by the recent dramatic events in the Arab world. As the film becomes widely distributed, traditional conservative circles in Iran’s religious establishment strongly criticize the filmmakers, accusing them of straying from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. The clerics’ struggle against the film and its creators is part of an overall struggle waged by the Iranian regime for several years in an effort to tighten control over religious expressions that are incompatible with the official interpretation held by Iran’s current religious leadership.

One example of the view which considers the developments in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s imminent return could be seen in a Friday sermon given by senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, who claimed that the uprisings in the Arab world may be considered signs of the Mehdi’s return according to Shi’ite religious-legal literature.

Earthquake in Japan: lessons from Tehran

This week, Iranian media have extensively covered the implications of the earthquake that struck Japan last weekend.

Alongside constant reports on the heavy damage caused by the earthquake and its impact on Japan’s nuclear power stations, Iranian press also discussed the consequences of a possible strong earthquake that may hit Iran in the future. Iranian media have warned that a major earthquake in Tehran will completely obliterate the city, calling on the government to increase precautionary measures against a potential earthquake and improve the safety of buildings and infrastructure.

The Iranian media’s discussion of the possible consequences of an earthquake in Iran did not address, however, the safety of Iran’s nuclear facilities in an earthquake scenario.

Majles Research Center warns about a severe crisis in Iranian electricity industry

In a report published as part of the Majles Research Center's commentary on the budget proposal recently submitted by the government, the Majles Research Center has warned about a severe crisis looming over Iran’s electricity industry next year. According to the center, the government has not taken the necessary measures to guarantee the required investments in the electricity industry. As a result, it will be impossible to further develop the industry, and the electricity companies will be unable to pay their debts.

Despite the financial crisis hitting Iran’s electricity industry in recent years, the deputy energy minister has recently announced that the government intends to increase electricity exports to Iraq and expand cooperation in the field of electricity with other countries, including Russia, Tajikistan, Georgia, and India.

Results of a public opinion poll held by the Majles: the public is relatively satisfied with the government’s performance, strongly supports a hawkish stance on the nuclear issue

The Majles Research Center has released the results of a large-scale public opinion poll among 17,293 Iranians from 30 provinces across the country, examining the public’s views on various issues, mainly the performance of the government and state institutions.

The findings of the poll include the following (percentage of total polled):

Government performance assessment:

 

In economy

In domestic policy

In foreign policy

Very successful/successful

32

38.6

39.5

Unsuccessful/completely unsuccessful

28.4

19.7

23.1

Government performance in various areas:

 

Fight against inflation

Promotion of social justice

Fight against economic corruption

Defense of nuclear rights

Very good/good

19.9

35.6

35.2

75.4

Very bad/bad

45.4

22.4

27

4.9

Score for government ministers:

Excellent/good

38.4

Low/very low

29.5

Government performance in implementation of subsidy policy reform:

Excellent/good

41.7

Weak/very weak

22

How vital is the resistance and strong stand on peaceful use of nuclear energy?

Very high/high

72.1

Low/very low

7.1

Iran calls on Islamic hackers to enlist to the Iranian “cyber war”

The head of the Passive Defense Organization announced last week the coming establishment of the Cyber War Headquarters of the Islamic Republic, calling on “good-intentioned, revolutionary” hackers to help Iran promote its objectives. The senior official claimed that the past year’s events in Iran have increased the awareness of Iranian officials of the vital importance of the cyber field, and that following the cyber attacks against Iran the security and intelligence apparatuses in the country have increased their cooperation in that area.

The statement made by the head of the Passive Defense Organization joins similar statements made by Iranian officials, showing that the Iranian regime has become increasingly involved in the cyber field. The acting Basij chief has announced this week that hackers working for the Basij attack websites used by Iran’s enemies, while the Iranian deputy chief of staff claimed that the vital strategic facilities of the U.S. are not immune to an Iranian cyber attack and that the U.S. is concerned about Iran’s ability to react to cyber attacks on it.

 

Religious debate in Iran: are the events in the
Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s coming return?

A documentary shown in Iran in the past several months has provoked a heated religious-legal debate. Titled “The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent” (“Zohur besyar nazdik ast”), the film has been distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies by a group calling itself “Harbingers of the Reappearance”. The group, which began its activity online in 2009, spreads Shi’ite messianic messages and claims that signs indicate that the Twelfth Imam (the Mehdi) will return soon.

Ayatollah_Mohammad_Reza_Mahdavi_Kani
Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani

“The Reappearance [of the Twelfth Imam] is Imminent” claims that the events that have taken place in the Middle East in recent years must be considered proof that the Mehdi will make his reappearance in the near future. While the distribution of the film began before the recent dramatic developments in the Arab world, the developments have fueled interest in the film and increased its circulation. The film’s creators indicate similarities between events that have taken place in the Middle East in recent years (such as the war in Iraq and developments in Lebanon and on the Palestinian scene) and events mentioned by various Shi’ite sources, portraying them as proof of the coming return of the Twelfth Imam. The film also draws parallels between the appearance of major political players in the Middle East (Ali Khamenei, Hassan Nasrallah, and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah) and characters whose appearance, according to Shi’ite sources, marks the Imam’s return (the 75-minute Persian-language film can be viewed at http://www.shiatv.net/view_video.php?viewkey=14974e7fd34f975ced5b).

The film’s wide distribution and the considerable interest in has generated have recently drawn criticism from traditional conservative circles in Iran’s religious Shi’ite establishment, which runs an aggressive campaign against expressions of popular Islam and messianic beliefs. Last weekend, the Messianism Center in the religious seminary in the city of Qom released a detailed memorandum which categorically rejects all the claims brought up in the movie. 

The clerics argue that the film is based on weak, unreliable religious traditions and on unfounded sources of Islamic religious law, and that some of the claims brought up in the movie are not supported by any religious authorities. According to the memorandum, it is true that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, stated that the Islamic revolution in Iran could be considered a first step in the process of the Imam’s return and a prelude to redemption. The attempt to predict the time of the Imam’s return based on current events, however, is a deviation from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. God alone has the power to determine the time of the Twelfth Imam’s return, and associating various events with signs allegedly showing that redemption is at hand is dangerous, since it may cast doubt among the believers over the principle of messianism.

The memorandum further states that only clerics, headed by the Religious Jurisprudent (Vali-ye Faqih, as the Supreme Leader is known in Iran) are authorized to express opinions on religious issues, including issues pertaining to the coming return of the Twelfth Imam. No other person has the authority to speak out on issues pertaining to the Imam’s return and toy with public sentiments on the basis of dubious, weak evidence. The clerics stress that, in accordance with the principles of Shi’ite faith, it is strictly forbidden to state the time of the Twelfth Imam’s return, and those who do so are necessarily liars. Arguments such as those brought up in the documentary, the clerics say, serve the Shi’ites’ Christian and radical Jewish enemies, who also seek to lay the foundations for an apocalyptic war and for the return of the messiah in accordance with their faith (www.mahdi313.org).

Websites affiliated with the traditional conservative bloc have also strongly criticized the film’s distributors, accusing them of straying from the principles of Shi’ite religious law. The anticipation of the Imam’s return is a major principle in Shi’ite Islam, and every Shi’ite believer longs for his return, say the critics of the film. Creating false expectations among the public about the time of the Mehdi's return (such as by distributing movies about the issue) is harmful, however, and compromises the mental preparation of the public for the day of the Imam’s return (www.yalsarat.com, March 6).

One example of the view which considers the developments in the Arab world a sign of the Mehdi’s imminent return could be seen in a Friday sermon given by senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, who claimed that the uprisings in the Arab world and the massacres of citizens by their tyrannical rulers may be considered signs of the Mehdi’s return according to Shi’ite religious-legal literature (Fars, March 11).

In recent years, the Iranian regime has been involved in an intensive campaign to tighten control over religious expressions that are incompatible with the official interpretation held by Iran’s current religious leadership and with the concept of “rule of the religious jurisprudent”. Any view that may potentially threaten the status of Iran’s clerics and allows a religious commentary that does not depend on the religious institution is considered a theological, ideological, and political threat to the regime and the Supreme Leader’s status.

The campaign to increase control over the religious life in Iran is also reflected in the intensifying struggle against expressions of popular Islam and Shi’ite messianism, suppressing Sufi orders, and curtailing the freedom of clerics who question the concept of “rule of the religious jurisprudent”. Part of the escalating struggle against messianism also has to do with the conduct of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frequently makes reference to the possibility of the Vanished Imam’s return. Ahmadinejad’s messianic views have been strongly criticized by leaders of the religious establishment and his critics in the conservative bloc.

More on Iran News here on The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center

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