Written by The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
News update on the Iranian Regime and President Ahmadinejad
A statement made by President Ahmadinejad following the arrests of his allies triggered strong reactions from his political opponents earlier this week. Last Wednesday (June 29), the president said that the arrests were politically motivated and designed to exert pressure on his government. He warned that if members of his government were arrested, he would break his silence and utilize his legal powers to protect his supporters.
Majles member Ali Motahari categorically rejected the president’s argument about the arrests being politically motivated, saying that his remarks reflected his negative attitude towards the judiciary. He noted that the regime, the political groups, and the people of Iran had the president’s best interests in mind and sought to steer him away from the influence of the “deviant faction”. The president must choose between the values of the Islamic revolution and the opposite values represented by his ally, Rahim Masha’i, Motahari said. He further added that Ahmadinejad’s remarks on the government being a red line not to be crossed made no sense, since the red line should be the law and the values of the revolution, rather than the president’s friends and supporters (Tabnak, July 1).
The judiciary also rejected the president’s remarks. Commenting on Ahmadinejad’s statement, Mohammad Ja’far Montazeri, head of the Administrative Justice Court, said that the judiciary has no “red line” in its fight against lawbreakers, and that setting such a line would be meaningless for the judiciary (ILNA, July 4).
Iran’s media also voiced strong negative reactions to the president’s remarks. Alef, a website close to Ahmad Tavakoli, chairman of the Majles Research Center and one of the president’s most prominent opponents in the conservative camp, sharply criticized Ahmadinejad’s announcement, citing it as proof that he does not live up to the slogans he had promoted during the presidential race on the need to fight corruption in Iran. Ahmadinejad, who used to accuse his opponents of corruption, is now taking a stand against the judiciary and Majles members working to expose those members of his inner circle involved in corruption, going as far as to threaten them. The website called on the judiciary to continue its fight on corruption despite the president’s remarks and without fear of his threats (Alef, July 2).
Asr-e Iran, a website affiliated with the pragmatic conservative bloc, also strongly condemned the president for his remarks. An editorial published by the website said that not even Ali bin Abi Talib, the first Shi’ite imam, considered himself above the law or saw himself as a red line not to be crossed.
There is nothing wrong for a manager to back and protect his people, the article said. Such backing, however, must not be absolute, nor should it go beyond the bounds of the law. What’s more, it is inconceivable that the president should choose to protect a select few government ministers from the judiciary and not give his backing to other members of the government facing impeachment by the Majles.
The president’s claim about his government being a “red line” has no religious, legal, or juridical basis, the article said. Even Imam Ali agreed to stand trial following a conflict with a Jew who had stolen from him, and was even willing to be sentenced if found guilty by the court. He did not argue that, as representative of the Prophet and leader of the Muslim community, it was inappropriate for him to stand trial with a Jew. In another instance, the imam refused to protect his own family from the law. The Iranian constitution mandates that all are equal before the law, Asr-e Iran said, and it cannot be argued that government members are not subject to the law or immune to lawsuits (Asr-e Iran, July 1).
The daily Ebtekar argued that the president should use his legal powers to protect all the citizens of Iran, not just members of his government. An editorial published by the daily following the president’s remarks said that granting immunity to government members is illegal and unjustified, and that the president should have announced that any senior official was subject to legal action if there was proof to find them guilty. It is reasonable to expect the president to draw the line at violation of the law rather than action against members of his government, and to personally expose and dismiss senior officials involved in corruption (Ebtekar, July 2).
The conservative daily Siyasat-e Rooz argued that, for the revolution and the regime, Islam—not the government—is the “red line”. Protecting the government is a major task for any president, said an editorial published by the daily, but the argument about the government being a red line is President Ahmadinejad’s own innovation. The judiciary is an independent branch that operates in accordance with the law, and it cannot be accused of being politically motivated. It would have been best for Ahmadinejad to treat Islam, the regime, the Supreme Leader, and the law, rather than his government members, as “red lines”, the article said (Siyasat-e Rooz, July 2).
The daily Jomhuri-ye Eslami also reacted sharply to the president’s remarks, arguing that the Iranian people had never allowed a president to divide the citizens of Iran into three classes: third-class citizens who are not government members and whose lives do not matter; second-class citizens who are members of the government, investigation against which—even on matters of economic corruption—is considered by the president as a reflection of political struggle; and first-class citizens, also members of the government, with the president contending that the judiciary crosses a red line by pursuing an investigation against them (Jomhuri-ye Eslami, July 2).
A row broke out this week between President Ahmadinejad and Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad-Ali Ja’fari when the president implied that the Revolutionary Guards were involved in smuggling goods to Iran through illegal border crossings.
Ahmadinejad discussed the activity of illegal piers and border crossings operating on the Persian Gulf coast and in southeast Iran at a conference held in Tehran this week to address the issue of smuggling to Iran. The president said that the activity of the ports and border crossings used to transport goods without customs supervision was illegal and had to be terminated.
The president specifically mentioned the transport of goods pertaining to security, intelligence, and defense organizations, saying such goods had to be delivered to Iran through legitimate border crossings. Ahmadinejad argued that no organization had the right to build a pier or a port operating without customs supervision, and that some considered themselves above the law and, as well-meaning as they may be, created a climate for corruption (Mehr, July 3).
In response to the president’s remarks, the Revolutionary Guards chief denied any economic activities at the military piers operated by the Revolutionary Guards along Iran’s borders. In an interview to Mehr News Agency, Ja’fari said that, similarly to other military elements, the Revolutionary Guards do have military piers, but those piers, according to Ja’fari, are not used for the transport of goods. Those who make claims about the use of Revolutionary Guards bases for smuggling do so in pursuit of their own interests and in order to divert the government’s attention from the places through which goods are smuggled, he added (Mehr, July 3).
President Ahmadinejad with the Revolutionary Guards chief to his right
Following Ja’fari’s statement, Haft-e Sobh, a website close to President Ahmadinejad’s supporters, asked the Revolutionary Guards chief for explanations on the transport of goods that takes place in recent months via ports in southern Iran and border crossings in the country’s east. Ja’fari has to explain whether the transport of the goods to specific addresses is considered one of the missions of the Revolutionary Guards, the website said (www.7esobh.com, July 4).
In recent months senior Revolutionary Guards officials have decisively and unequivocally taken the side of the Supreme Leader and the traditional-conservative bloc in the fierce political struggle taking place in the conservative camp against the allies of the president and his office chief, Rahim Masha’i (“the deviant faction”).
In an interview given to Mehr News Agency on Revolutionary Guards Day, marked in Iran this week, Ali Ja’fari said that the responsibility for the arrest of the “deviant faction” activists has recently been transferred to the Revolutionary Guards. Most of the arrests of the faction’s activists were made on grounds of economic and moral violations, according to Ja’fari, who added that the Revolutionary Guards are charged with the revolutionist task of fighting against all factions that oppose the revolution. He accused the “deviant faction” activists of seeking to take advantage of their close involvement with Iran’s corridors of power to realize their objectives, and noted that the struggle against the faction would continue (Mehr, July 5).
Six months after the launch of the subsidy policy reform, Mohammad-Reza Farzin, spokesman for the Economic Transformation Headquarters, said that the economic situation of 70 percent of Iranians has improved as a result of the program.
Speaking at a press conference convened by the spokesman of the headquarters in charge of the reform’s implementation, Farzin noted that the improvement was most pronounced among citizens living in Iran’s underprivileged provinces. According to Farzin, the cash benefits paid to these citizens exceed their energy expenses, resulting in improved economic situation and advancing the principle of social justice.
Farzin reported that, since the launch of the reform, the government has distributed over 21 billion dollars’ worth of cash benefits to Iranians. The cash benefits are aimed to replace the subsidies on energy products that were cut under the reform. The spokesman of the Economic Transformation Headquarters also reported that nearly 73 million citizens currently enjoy the cash benefits. As part of the reform, the government also transferred about 1.4 billion dollars to the industrial sector, about 200 million dollars for agriculture, and about 200 million dollars to local authorities.
Farzin noted that no significant changes in the transfer of the cash benefits are expected in the near future, and that no specific plan has yet been made about the implementation of the next phase of the reform plan (Mehr, July 3).
Unlike the spokesman for the Economic Transformation Headquarters, who discussed the positive effects of the subsidy policy reform, government critics emphasized its negative consequences, mainly the massive drain on Iran’s budget resulting from the payment of the cash benefits, the inflationary impact of the reform, and its negative influence on the industry and agriculture sectors.
The daily Mardom Salari argued that the government’s promises about price stability after the launch of the reform have not been fulfilled, and that in recent months there has been a significant increase in the prices of many products and services, including basic commodities, cars, food products, government services, and so forth.
The daily said that despite attempts made by the Organization for the Protection of Consumers and Producers, which makes efforts to protect the citizens’ rights by sending inspectors who work to prevent unsupervised price increases, the prices of products and services continue to rise. The daily also said that the reform has not enhanced competition, which could have benefited the citizens and bring down the prices (Mardom Salari, July 4).
Tehran Emrooz, a daily affiliated with the Tehran municipality, warned that the negative impact of the reform may neutralize its positive effects. The daily argued that, contrary to the statement made by the spokesman of the Economic Transformation Headquarters, the reform was not particularly successful, but it was not as great a failure as its most radical critics claim.
The government did a good job launching the reform, the daily said. Through collaboration with all the relevant parties, the government was able to curb the potential psychological, social, and political consequences of the reform. The government was also successful in transferring the cash benefits, even to citizens in Iran’s more underprivileged regions. The reform has also led to a positive change in the citizens’ consumption habits, particularly of such energy products as fuel, electricity, and gas.
However, the daily pointed out severe problems in the implementation of the reform that jeopardize its success. First, it was a mistake to pay cash benefits to 73 million citizens as a substitute for the abolished subsidies. It is beyond the government’s abilities to continue paying cash benefits to so many civilians for a long period of time, and even now it has to run the printing press to keep up with the payments. The government revenues from the reform are less than what it expends on paying the cash benefits, and are also less than the Majles’ original forecast.
Second, the inflation driven by the reform has a gradual negative impact on the citizens, particularly the middle class. If the current trend of inflation persists, it may negate the positive effects of the cash benefits paid to the citizens.
Third, the reform has taken a severe toll on the industry and agriculture sectors. The benefits promised by the government to these two sectors have not been paid, and the government has not raised the prices of industry and agriculture products. As a result, the industrialists and the farmers are facing particularly severe problems (Tehran Emrouz, July 4).
The reformist daily E’temad also warned about the negative consequences of the reform. In an interview given to the daily, top Iranian economist Mousa Ghaninejad warned about the program’s impact on Iran’s budget. He noted that while the increase of energy products’ prices was justified and correct, it was not the right choice to indiscriminately substitute cash benefits for subsidies, ignoring the differences between the rich and the poor. According to Ghaninejad, the government is unable to sustain the payment of cash benefits as they currently stand, which will likely lead to a budget deficit. He further added that the government should have updated the prices and protected the weaker sectors of society instead of paying cash benefits to such a large number of citizens.
The top economist also said the government did not transfer 30 percent of the revenues generated under the reform to the industrial sector as it had promised, severely hitting the industrialists. He warned that, due to the way the reform was implemented, government expenses significantly exceed its revenues, which may jeopardize the reform’s future (E’temad, July 4).
The 41st university entrance examination (“Concours”) was held in Iran last weekend. For the three-day exam, test-takers were divided into groups according to their faculties of choice.
A total of 1,132,000 test-takers registered for the examination, 60.5 percent of which were women and 39.5 percent were men. The examination was held in 330 venues across Iran. Iranians residing abroad could also take the examination in 27 countries worldwide, including Germany, Turkey, Pakistan, the UAE, Syria, Italy, France, Britain, Spain, Japan, Austria, Malaysia, India, and Canada.
Mohammad Hossein Sorouraddin, head of the Assessment and Instruction Organization, in charge of administering the examination, said that the examination went well and was without special incident. The sole exceptions were a few attempts at cheating, such as an attempt to bring a cell phone device into the examination room (despite specific instructions saying that cell phones are not allowed during the examination), and an attempt by one test-taker to take the examination for another person. Sorouraddin reported that the oldest test-taker this year was 76 years old, and the youngest were 15. The answers to the examination questions were published on the Evaluation and Instruction Organization website (www.sanjesh.org) 24 hours after the examination ended. The results of the examination are due in several weeks (Fars, July 2).
The university entrance examination goes back to the 1960s, and is now considered one of the most significant experiences for young people in Iran. Only ten percent of higher education applicants are accepted to Iran’s prestigious public universities. Being admitted to a university, particularly one that is prestigious, is considered an important vehicle for social and economic mobility in Iran. Many students who fail the entrance examination have to leave Iran to study in institutions of higher education abroad. The entrance examination has therefore become particularly competitive, and Iranians often spend one year preparing for it. Those who take the examination are ranked according to their results, with the universities taking those rankings into account when making a decision on a candidate’s acceptance. The pressure is so intense that there are cases reported every year of young men and women committing suicide after failing the exams.
The examination consists of multiple-choice questions on various subjects, chosen by the examinees according to the university and faculty where they wish to study. For example, the examination for liberal and social arts includes the following subjects: Persian language and literature, Arabic, economy, sociology, psychology, philosophy, history, and geography. Those who seek admission into mathematics and technology faculties are asked, among other things, about math, physics, and chemistry. In addition, applicants are also tested on English and Islamic religion.
There are companies in Iran offering preparation courses for the entrance examination; however, the thousands of dollars such a course may cost put it far beyond the reach of most Iranians. There have been several proposals in recent years to cancel the Concours examination in light of claims about its negative impact on Iran’s high school education, which has, to a great extent, become geared towards preparing students for the examination, as well as claims about the emotional repercussions on prospective students and economic repercussions on their families, that are forced to pay for private schools and private tutors.
In late 2007 the Majles passed a bill requiring the government to cancel the entrance examination by 2011 and use the average grade of the last three years of high school instead. However, the examination has not been canceled yet. The head of the Assessment Organization reported this week that the examination will be gradually phased out by 2014 (Farda, July 3).
Touraj Kazemi, the head of the cyber police crime fighting division, reported this week that Facebook, a social network currently blocked in Iran, may be unblocked in the future.
In an interview to the Rouzgar newspaper, Kazemi said that people who use social networks are not criminals unless they violate computer crime laws. In themselves, the use of, membership in, and activity on social networks are not prohibited.
He noted that the decision to block Facebook in Iran had been made by members of a committee responsible for setting website filtering criteria to protect the safety of Iranians, after citizens complained about the misuse of the internet for political needs and for causing harm to other people. The committee may consider unblocking Facebook, depending on increased public awareness of the appropriate use of social networks. Kazemi said that even now some believe that there is no reason to block Facebook or to restrict the public’s access to the website (Asr-e Iran, July 4).
The logo of the Iranian “cyber police”
Meanwhile, the BultanNews website published the results of a new study showing that 19 percent of social network users in Iran employ software for unblocking websites.
Carried out by internet and telecommunications expert Mohammad Sadeq Afrasiabi, the study shows that 29 percent of Iran’s internet users are members of non-Iranian social networks, including Facebook, Yahoo 360, Twitter, and Netlog. The BultanNews website reported that it was the first comprehensive study performed among social network users in Iran. The results of the study also show that students are the largest group among social network users (about 41 percent).
55 percent of men and 54 percent of women polled (all social network users) said that, compared to their other online activities, most of their time on the internet is spent on social networks (BultanNews, July 4)
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center opened in 2001. It is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) , an NGO dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli Intelligence Community and it is located near Gelilot , north of Tel Aviv. It is headed by (Col. Ret.) Dr. Reuven Erlich .