Written by Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
The embargo on Iranian oil exports imposed by the European Union came into effect earlier this week. Mehr News Agency reported this weekend that four cabinet members had convened for a special meeting last Wednesday, June 27, to discuss possible ways of dealing with the embargo. The ministers of economy, industry, and petroleum, as well as the governor of Iran’s Central Bank, held their meeting at the Central Bank, where they spent several hours developing potential courses of action. The proposed courses of action were then presented to President Ahmadinejad, who had given the cabinet members special instructions on the necessary preparations for dealing with the sanctions (Mehr, June 29).
Economy Minister Shamsoldin Hosseini reported that, in the past several days, he had held a number of meetings with the president, government ministers, and top officials to discuss the measures that need to be taken in light of the recent developments. He noted that the effects of the sanctions can be observed at both the practical and the psychological levels. At the practical level, the sanctions make money transfers more difficult, but Iran has been able to successfully deal with the restrictions imposed on it, Hosseini said. At the psychological level, however, the sanctions still exert a visible influence on developments on the foreign currency exchange market (ISNA, June 29).
As the oil embargo came into effect, Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi issued a notice calling on all the employees and directors of his ministry to mobilize efforts for contending with the embargo and its consequences (Mehr, July 1). The minister stressed, however, that Iran is a big country which has many friends across the globe, and is not concerned about its ability to sell oil being compromised. According to Qasemi, the sanctions even represent an opportunity for the Islamic republic to achieve technological progress in its petroleum industry (ISNA, July 1).
Other top Iranian officials conveyed a dismissive attitude towards the oil embargo. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Kazem Seddiqi, the Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said during his weekly Friday sermon in the University of Tehran that the sanctions will hurt the West more than they will hurt Iran. The Western countries should know, he announced, that the Iranian nation has its roots in conditions of pressure and war, and that, as the sanctions intensify, so will Iran’s prosperity, solidarity, and unity. The eight-year war against Iraq was a university for the Iranian people, and they look up to the victims of the war as role models. The Iranians will therefore be able to successfully deal with the pressure exerted on them by the West (Fars, June 29).
Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, the president’s first deputy, argued that Iran welcomes the sanctions as long as it remains united (Fars, June 30). He did admit, however, that his country is facing the most severe sanctions ever imposed on it, and called on Iranians to help the government fight against the sanctions, which, as he put it, are intended to hold back the progress and development of the Iranian people (Mehr, July 1).
At the same time, top Iranian officials called on the public and on state authorities to show resolve and national unity. In a speech given by the Supreme Leader during a meeting with top judiciary officials, Ali Khamenei announced that the Western countries have mobilized all of their strength to hit the Islamic republic and its economy. The sanctions, he said, target the people of Iran, and are intended to undermine their support of the regime. He expressed his confidence that the West will fail in its conspiracy since it is not familiar with the people of Iran, who are aware of their enemies’ intentions. He noted that the United States is trying to lay an economic siege to Iran, but that the ones under siege are the Western countries, which are currently facing many unsolvable problems while Iran enjoys internal wealth, good citizens, and human resources. Khamenei called on the three branches of government to cooperate and stand united against the conspiracies of the enemies of Iran (IRNA, June 27).
Islamic Guidance Minister Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini said that what Iranian society needs right now is the same “spirit of masculinity” that was the country’s hallmark during the Iran-Iraq War. Speaking at a ceremony honoring veterans of the war, Hosseini said that, in the fight against the sanctions and threats, the Iranian people need to maintain their spirit of sacrifice and dedication (IRNA, July 1). Majles member Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel also stressed the need to show resolve in light of the sanctions, saying that the most important strategy to contend with them is appropriate conduct and resistance (ISNA, July 2).
In recent days the Iranian media has extensively covered the oil embargo. Tehran’s resolute approach could be clearly seen in commentary articles published by the conservative media, which also cited estimates according to which the effect of the embargo will likely be limited. In a special commentary article, Mehr News Agency listed four possible measures Iran can take in response to the oil embargo: stopping the use of dollars and euros in its oil transactions and moving to other currencies or barter trade; establishing a syndicate to provide alternative insurance to oil tankers to compensate for the fact that European insurance companies no longer insure tankers that carry Iranian oil; improving the storage of crude oil in Persian Gulf facilities; and reducing oil production across the country’s oil fields. The news agency also discussed the possibility of closing the Strait of Hormuz to reduce the export of oil and increase its cost on the global market, estimating that the chances of that happening have become greater now that the “illegal” sanctions have been imposed (Mehr, June 30). Ebrahim Aqa-Mohammadi, a member of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Council, said this week that, in response to the oil embargo, 100 Majles members have already signed a bill to stop countries that have joined the embargo from sending their oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz (Mehr, July 2).
The Tabnak website estimated that the Western countries’ hopes of bringing about a change in Iran’s nuclear policy by means of the sanctions may be dashed, since they are wrong in their evaluation of how Iran calculates its profit and loss. Iran and the Western countries have a different view of the sanctions’ objectives. The West seeks to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power by stepping up the economic pressure on Iran’s middle class with the intention of undermining the internal stability in the country. Iran, on the other hand, believes that the sanctions are intended to keep it from spreading the Iranian model and the Islamic revolution throughout the region, and prevent any possibility of it becoming a role model for other countries to follow. Accordingly, it is Iran’s view that yielding to the West would be the same as completely giving up its values and objectives, which is why it prefers to pay an economic price. The West’s economic dependence on oil gives Iran hope that, eventually, the Western countries will be forced to back down. Iran views the economic price it has to pay as a long-term investment at the cost of taking some damage in the short term. It is impossible to say for certain what the effects of the oil embargo will be, Tabnak said, but it is a game of chess which both sides play according to different sets of logic (Tabnak, July 1).
In two commentary articles published in recent days, Fars News Agency argued that the oil embargo will have no impact whatsoever on Iran. An article published the day before the oil embargo came into effect said that the date of July 1 has no particular significance, and that its portrayal by the Western media as the starting date of the embargo is only intended to increase the psychological impact of the sanctions, which have led the West into a dead end. The news agency stressed that European countries, which import as little as 18 percent of Iranian oil, had started implementing the embargo already several months ago, and that at the same time, 19 countries that are considered the main importers of Iranian oil had been exempted from the need to comply with the embargo. Those countries, the article said, have made a token reduction in their oil imports from Iran to avoid a conflict with the United States (Fars, June 29).
Another article, titled “Why is the oil embargo doomed to failure in the long run?”, argued that, given the increasing global demand for oil and the depletion of the world’s oil reserves, the Western countries will eventually be forced to terminate the sanctions and cooperate with Iran to take advantage of its oil resources. The industrialized nations, particularly China and India, can’t go on long without 150 billion barrels of Iranian oil, Fars said. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no military option of dealing with Iran, and the United States will eventually be left with no other choice but to yield to the people of Iran and cooperate with them to gain access to the Iranian energy reserves. The news agency did admit that the sanctions may cause economic problems in the short run; it added, however, that they can’t continue in the long run and that they even open up opportunities for Iran to free itself from its dependence on oil. Other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, have no ability to compensate for the loss of Iranian oil, and the world can never completely wean itself off the high-quality Iranian oil. What is more, it is impossible to tell the difference between Iranian oil and oil produced by other countries, and Iran can also export its oil in exchange for vital commodities from China and India. The Iranian people have a historic memory of resistance to external pressure, Fars concluded, and the market rules will likely serve Iran’s interests in the campaign being waged against it (Fars, June 30).
The daily Ghods also argued that the sanctions will have no effect on Iran, and that their impact will be felt mostly by European countries. An editorial published by the daily, titled “Europe has no ability to keep playing the game of threats”, said that Europe is facing an economic crisis even more severe than the one it suffered after World War II. With conditions being as difficult as they are, the European countries are forced to cooperate with the United States in its new embargo game, even though it is clear that they will be the biggest losers (Ghods, July 1).
The Revolutionary Guards’ weekly Sobh-e Sadeq also took a defiant stance towards the West, warning that Iran may respond in various ways to the stepping up of the sanctions. It has the ability to decide whether it will continue or terminate the talks with the West, it can impose restrictions on the passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz and even close it completely, and it can cause an escalation of the problems facing the United States and the West in the region. The E.U. foreign affairs representative and the Western leaders should know that Iran will not give up its national interests and will do whatever is necessary to protect them (Sobh-e Sadeq, July 2).
Mehr News Agency reported this week that, due to the continuing price increases of basic goods, the food expenses of an average Iranian family far exceed its income. The news agency found that a family of four can’t meet its monthly expenses even if both parents work and earn 400 thousand tomans (about 325 dollars) per month. The income of an average Iranian family, which consumes 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of meat, 5 kg (11 lbs) of chicken, 10 kg (22 lbs) of rice, 10 bottles of milk, 5 packs of butter, 60 loaves of bread, 10 kg (22 lbs) of vegetables, and 60 kg (132 lbs) of fruit is not enough to purchase these basic products, since a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of meat costs 25 thousand tomans, a kilogram of chicken costs 5,000 tomans, a kilogram of rice costs 2,500 tomans, a bottle of oil costs 3,500 tomans, a kilogram of fruit costs an average 2,500 tomans, a loaf of bread costs 600 tomans, a kilogram of vegetables costs 1,000 tomans, a bottle of milk costs 1,500 tomans, a pack of butter costs 2,400 tomans, and yoghurt costs 2,000 tomans. This means that many families are unable to obtain adequate nutrition, and the family members are thus liable to suffer from vitamin deficiency.
Mehr reported that, in light of the recent price increases, many families are removing basic foods from their diet whose intake is vital for good health, including dairy products. An Iranian man told a reporter for the news agency that the increase in the price of dairy products has forced him to stop buying a bottle of milk every day and settle for buying milk every two or three days. He said that many Iranians have been forced to stop buying dairy products altogether because of the sharp increase in their prices. There has also been a substantial decline in chicken and meat consumption as a result of the price increases. A butcher told a reporter for the news agency that the number of buyers has drastically decreased these past several weeks. Mehr warned that, if the government can’t fulfill its promise to control product prices ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, many Iranians will be unable to purchase the protein-rich foods that are needed for the month-long fast (Mehr, July 2).
The government’s economic policy has come under increasing criticism over the price increases. The Tabnak website accused the government of responsibility for the failure of its price control policy, and argued that even when the government does impose price control, it can’t prevent the sharp price increase compared to the past. The government has been unsuccessful, according to Tabnak, in maintaining an effective price control mechanism or enforcing the prices it has established. This shows that the decisions made by the government with regard to prices fail to take into account the needs of the economy, or that it does not adequately supervise the implementation of its decisions. Tabnak warned that, if the government persists with its current conduct, the confusion surrounding prices and the price control policy will continue, which may lead to economic destabilization (Tabnak, July 2).
The Farda website strongly criticized President Ahmadinejad for his silence over the rise in the prices of products. According to the website, the president prefers sending his deputy or his cabinet ministers to talk to the media about the price increases, while he spends his time sending holiday cards to world leaders for their countries’ independence days. The website provided three possible explanations for the president’s silence: he is trying to avoid making public statements to hide the failure of his government ministers; he remains silent in order to lay the groundwork for the possible sacking of some of his ministers in light of the continuing criticism against his government; or he is trying to keep a low media profile in the several months remaining until the end of his government’s term since he understands that any public statement on the issue would be detrimental to his government, which is why adopting the “strategy of silence” is a better choice. Farda said that the government has a responsibility towards its citizens, and warned that its ongoing silence hurts not only the government but also the entire regime (Farda, July 2).
Majles Speaker Ali Larijani also criticized the government for failing to curb the price increases. Speaking at the beginning of the Majles session held last week, Larijani warned that the Western countries are attempting to create an atmosphere of economic despair in Iran and destabilize the country’s economy. They are trying to portray any manifestation of an economic crisis, such as the increasing prices, as evidence to the success of the belligerent and hostile course of action they are pursuing against Iran. He noted that the government and the Majles must cooperate with each other and tackle the economic problems with greater determination, and argued that the inflation is the result of the government’s disregard for the recommendations of the Majles (Fars, June 27).
On the backdrop of the surging prices and escalating sanctions against Iran, several top clerics discussed the economic crisis and called on the people of Iran to muster their resolve and fortitude. Top conservative cleric Ahmad Khatami spoke about the growing economic pressure on Iran, and suggested that Iranians should not complain about the increasing prices to prevent the enemies of the Islamic republic from taking advantage of the situation. While the price increases do hurt the people of Iran, Khatami said, complaints from the citizens would lead the Western countries to believe that they have been successful in attaining their objectives. The Iranian people have been facing pressure for 33 years, and they can once again deal with it successfully (Mehr, June 28).
Top cleric Nasser Makarem Shirazi advised Iranians against spending money on unnecessary expenses. He noted that, even as the government is doing its job, the citizens need to play their part as well, tighten up their belt, and have faith that the enemies of Iran will not last long in the face of the firm stand of the Iranian people and stop exerting pressure (Farda, July 2).
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar instructed the province deputy governors to take the necessary measures to step up price control on the markets. Speaking at a conference of province deputy governors for planning affairs, Najjar said that one of their main tasks is to supervise the markets in order to keep the prices from increasing. He stressed that such supervision and prevention of law violation is particularly important with the month of Ramadan just around the corner (Mehr, July 2). At the same time, a top official at the Industry and Commerce Ministry announced that, in addition to the prices of chicken and dairy products, which have already been reduced in the past several days, the prices of other products whose consumption is particularly significant during the month of Ramadan will soon be reduced as well (Asr-e Iran, July 2).
This week, Raja News, a website affiliated with the radical right-wing faction of the conservative bloc, published a commentary article written by Dr. Mohammad-Hossein Rajabi Davani. Dr. Davani is a historian and researcher of the history of Islam, a subject on which he lectures at the Imam Hossein University in Tehran.
In his article, Dr. Davani attempts to answer the question of what is the historical parallel between the early days of Islam and Iran’s current situation. Is it correct to compare the situation of the Islamic republic, engaged in a struggle against the West, to the situation of the Muslim community under Prophet Muhammad in his early years, when it faced an economic boycott from the Prophet’s tribesmen, the Quraysh, or to its situation in a later period, when the Prophet himself started wars against his enemies? While the situation of the Muslim community as the message of Prophet Muhammad was beginning to spread was reflective of the “soft campaign” waged against it by the Muslims’ enemies from the Quraysh tribe, the battles of Badr and Khaybar fought by Muhammad against his enemies a few years later were indicative of a change in the situation of the Muslim community and a transition from a “soft war” to a “hard war”.
The first period addressed by the researcher is one referred to as the “Sha’b Abu-Taleb boycott”, named after a valley where the Quraysh tribesmen laid siege to Prophet Muhammad’s supporters shortly after Islam had appeared and its message had started to spread. The growth of the new religion created clashes between the Banu Hashem clan, which supported the Prophet, and the competing idol-worshipping clan of Banu Shams. The Banu Shams clan boycotted the Banu Hashem clan for several years to try and force them to discontinue their support for Prophet Muhammad and surrender. There was to be no intermarriage or trade with the Banu Hashem, the result being that the Muslims were forced to relocate to Sha’b Abu-Taleb, where they suffered from extreme hunger. The Quraysh tribe also supported Muhammad’s opponents, rejected all the peace treaties he offered them, and imposed heavy penalties on those who violated the boycott and traded with his people. They allowed Muhammad’s supporters to go to the city of Mecca to obtain supplies for only two months of the year, and even then they priced the goods out of the reach of Muslims. Eventually Prophet Muhammad and his supporters were able to stand firm and endure the consequences of the severe boycott. The Quraysh tribe was forced to lift the boycott and the Muslims came back to Mecca.
In his article, Dr. Davani argues that the current situation of the Islamic republic is similar in several aspects to the situation of the Islamic community during the Sha’b Abu-Taleb boycott. The United States first imposed sanctions on Iran in 1979 and in recent years they have escalated, the West has prohibited some top Iranian officials from traveling abroad and closed their bank accounts, the Western countries support the regime’s opponents and the Iranian opposition and refuse to accept Iran’s proposals aimed at removing the tension surrounding the nuclear issue. The West is also inciting the Persian Gulf rulers against Iran similarly to how the Quraysh tribe incited the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula against Prophet Muhammad. The researcher believes, however, that Iran’s current situation can’t be compared to the situation of the Muslim community during the boycott against Prophet Muhammad and his supporters. First, Muhammad and his supporters were a minority compared to the Quraysh. The Prophet, who wasn’t in any position of power, had no ability to confront his enemies physically and could not protect his supporters. Iran, on the other hand, enjoys a great deal of power and the West lacks the courage to impinge on its sovereignty since it is well aware of the price such aggression will demand. Second, the boycott of Banu Hashem caused immense suffering, hunger, and thirst, even though it ultimately failed. The sanctions against Iran, however, have so far had no actual effect on Iranians’ lives, and even the Western countries admit their failure. Third, unlike the Prophet’s supporters, who could not defend themselves from the boycott of the Quraysh since they depended on goods coming from the city of Mecca, the Islamic republic has taken several measures intended to guarantee its needs and thwart the plans of its enemies. The sanctions against Iran have even increased the self-confidence of the Iranian people and encouraged independent manufacturing, which frees the country from the need to import goods.
According to Dr. Davani, the more appropriate historical parallel to the current situation of the Islamic republic is the period of the Badr and Khaybar battles, fought between the Muslims and their enemies after the Prophet immigrated to the city of Al-Madinah in 622 A.D. After the Muslim political entity was formed, Muhammad began raiding trade caravans en route to Mecca. When Al-Madinah faced hunger, Muhammad ordered attacks on caravans carrying food to obtain food for his city. In 623 Muhammad headed out with his supporters to attack a Syrian caravan bound for Mecca. The caravan leader had found out about their plan and called for backup from Mecca. The Quraysh tribesmen sent hundreds of warriors, but Muhammad managed to defeat them during the Battle of Badr.
This battle, according to Dr. Davani, had a number of unique characteristics. First, it was fought after the Muslims had established a government and started a war to protect their power. Second, the battle proved the significance of the Muslim interests in the eyes of the prophet. When the enemy threatened these interests, the Prophet took resolute action against the interests of his enemies. Third, the Prophet did not want an all-out war but would rather settle for taking over trade caravans en route to Mecca. However, the enemy forced the Muslims into an all-out war and the Prophet did not retreat even though he recognized that his enemy had the military upper hand. Fourth, the Muslims had divine assistance and won the battle. Fifth, as a result of the battle, the Muslims were able to hit their enemies’ important economic interests and turn the Muslim state into an entity with control over an important trade route in the Arabian Peninsula. Sixth, the victory of Islam in the Battle of Badr brought about the emergence of a new power in the region and was evidence of its strength.
This situation is more similar to Iran’s current situation. The United States and the “Zionist regime” are trying to force Iran into an all-out war due to their supposed military superiority compared to Iran, but this war will end with a great victory for Iran, the defeat of the United States, and the disappearance of Israel.
Comparing the situation of the Muslim community at the time of the Battle of Badr to Iran’s current situation provides several significant insights, according to the researcher. First, present-day Iran also has an Islamic government led by the substitute of the imam. Protecting this regime is a duty for all Muslims, and in case the regime is threatened, all Muslims are duty-bound to protect it. Second, the Supreme Leader also places enormous significance on the interests of the Islamic republic, and if the Iranian economic interests are hit by the West, Iran will react strongly and hit the interests of its enemies. Third, Iran is not concerned about the material power of its enemies and will stand up to them with all the means at its disposal. Fourth, since the Islamic regime in Iran follows the path of God for the sake of protecting Islam, there is no doubt that, in case of war, Iran will be victorious thanks to divine assistance. Fifth, an Iranian victory will not be restricted to the military sphere: it will also be a political and economic victory, and the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the West will be stopped as long as Iran wants it to stop. Sixth, a war will demonstrate the great power of Islamic Iran for all the world to see, and its victory will lay the foundation for a great union of the Islamic countries under its leadership and precipitate the fall of “world arrogance”.
At the end of the article, the author also discusses the Battle of Khaybar, fought by the Prophet in 629 against the Jewish tribes that had been expelled from Mecca and resided mostly in the region of Khaybar. In this battle, according to Dr. Davani, the Prophet tried to prevent the Jews from bringing to fruition their conspiracies against the Muslims. Today’s Iran, too, finds itself in a situation where it needs to react to the threats of a military attack made by the leaders of the “Zionist regime”. Just like Prophet Muhammad took advantage of the Battle of Khaybar to put an end to Jewish sovereignty in the region and bring it entirely under Muslim control, the Supreme Leader of Iran is also taking Israel’s threats seriously, and Iran’s reaction will be swift and severe, putting an end to the “Zionist regime” and wiping it off the map of the world (Raja News, June 29).
The government’s decision to remove Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad-Hossein Mousapour from his position as the governor of Qom Province and replace him with Karam Reza Piria’i, the former governor of Hamadan Province, sparked a controversy in the province this week and re-invigorated the political struggle between the president and his critics in the conservative camp. Mousapour, the first cleric to be appointed as province governor, has held his post for 33 months. The new governor of the province is considered an ally of Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, Ahmadinejad’s first vice president, who, according to the president’s critics, is close to the “deviant faction” (a term used to refer to the political faction affiliated with the president and his office chief Rahim Masha’i). The Fararu website reported that, during a speech given by Piria’i in Hamadan last year, several citizens shouted slogans against the “deviant faction”. In response, he stopped his speech and left the scene (Fararu, July 1). The president’s critics also claimed that, during the severe crisis that broke out last year between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei over the dismissal of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, Piria’i expressed his support for the president (E’temad, July 2).
According to some commentators, the president’s decision to remove Mousapour from his position and replace him with Piria’i also has to do with the political struggle being waged between Ahmadinejad and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, elected to the Majles for Qom Province (Fararu, July 1). The Iranian media reported this week that the president had recently appointed another one of his close allies as governor of North Khorasan Province.
The government’s decision on the appointment of a governor for Qom Province provoked intense criticism in the province, the heart of the country’s Shi’ite religious establishment. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad Sa’idi, the Friday prayer leader in the city of Qom, criticized the decision and called on the government to let Mousapour retain his position. He said that it is unfortunate that the residents of the province found out about the appointment from the media, adding that the removal of Mousapour from his position is frowned upon by the top clerics and the province residents. Sa’idi stressed Mousapour’s distinction as the first cleric to serve as the governor of a province, as well as his good relations with top Shi’ite clerics. He praised his skills and his work, and noted that the province representatives had sent the government a request to reconsider its decision (www.snn.ir, June 29).
The criticism was taken up by several other top clerics (including the conservative cleric Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani), a number of trade unions, and student organizations. A statement released on behalf of several student organizations said that, when it comes to the new governor, the main concern of Qom residents is the lack of a “spirit of cooperation” between him and the religious seminaries, as well as his leniency towards directions of thought and personalities that have no place in the city of Qom. The critics of Piria’i’s appointment as the new governor of the province argued that the residents of Hamadan Province did not find his performance as governor satisfactory (Jaras, July 1; E’temad, July 2).
The representatives of Qom Province in the Majles also expressed their objection to the appointment of the new governor. Majles member Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ashtiani Araqi argued that the decision does not serve the interests of the province residents and does not befit the status of the province (Khabar Online, July 1). The Qom Province branch of Hezbollah, an organization affiliated with the radical right-wing faction of the conservative camp, also strongly criticized the removal of Mousapour and warned the government that, unless it reverses its decision, the organization will take action in accordance with its “revolutionary mission”. One of the group members said that Qom Province must not be left at the mercy of the monafeghin (a derogatory term used to refer to the opposition organization Mojahedin-e Khalq), the “incitement” (a derogatory term used to refer to the opposition), and the “deviation” (a term for the “deviant faction”). He added that the organization’s activists are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect the Islamic and revolutionary values (Fararu; Jaras, July 1).
The controversy reached a peak during the new governor’s swearing-in ceremony, held on Sunday, July 1, when Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar’s speech was interrupted by a student from one of the religious seminaries in the city of Qom, who demanded that the minister explain the reason why Mousapour was removed from his position. The minister answered that he was willing to listen to what the student had to say, but asked him to wait until the ceremony was over. The demonstrator continued interrupting the minister’s speech, and eventually the organizers of the ceremony had to escort him out of the hall. As part of his remarks, the interior minister announced that he intends to appoint Mousapour as his advisor. In his farewell speech, the outgoing governor said he was content to have served out his term, and thanked the Qom Province representatives in the Majles, particularly Ali Larijani, for their concern about the advancement of the province’s interests. He expressed his loyalty to the Supreme Leader and his commitment to Khamenei’s call to maintain unity in Iranian society (Mehr, July 1).
Following the controversy sparked by the appointment of the province governor, the reformist daily E’temad claimed this week that the affair is yet another expression of the shaky relationship between the president and the religious establishment in Qom. The daily reported that there have been recent attempts by the president to improve his ties with the top clerics by dispatching messengers on his behalf to the city of Qom to meet with the clerics and provide them with economic and political reports. The daily further claimed that three clerics whom the government had employed for the past several years to improve its relationship with the religious establishment are no longer in the government’s service. Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad Nasser Saghaye Biria, one of the students of top cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, resigned from his post as the president’s advisor on clerical affairs and joined the critics of his office chief Rahim Masha’i; Hojjat-ol-Eslam Morteza Agha Tehrani, considered one of the president’s close allies, has recently been elected to the Majles on behalf of the Steadfast Front and is no longer considered a government supporter; and Ayatollah Mohiyeddin Ha’eri Shirazi has withdrawn from politics and from the government due to health and other reasons. The fact that these three clerics have distanced themselves from the government, the daily estimated, is proof of the latter’s failure to improve its relationship with the top clerics, and the appointment of the new governor of Qom is an indication that the government continues to appoint province governors based on its own desires, without consulting anyone and without any concern for criticism (E’temad, July 2).
The Tabnak website also criticized the government for the appointment of the province governor and said that Ahmadinejad’s government “holds the record for replacing the most province governors”. The website reported that there were about 60 changes at province governor posts across Iran during the terms of Ahmadinejad’s two governments, and that the governor of Tehran may be soon replaced as well. These changes, the website said, undermine the administrative stability of the provinces (Tabnak, July 2).
This is not the first time that the president has been at odds with his critics over the staffing of province governor positions. In May 2011 the Iranian media reported on conflicts that broke out in Fars Province following the interior minister’s decision to dismiss Abdollah Hosseini, the province governor, only four days after his appointment. The president’s critics argued that Hosseini was dismissed for opposing the president’s office chief Rahim Masha’i.