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Ed Webb

Stopping COVID-19 in Its Tracks: Science Gets the Upper Hand - 0 views

  • Men like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman have finally joined much of the world in imposing science-driven degrees of lockdowns, social distancing, and the search for medical cures and protections after initially opting for political expediency or advocacy of traditional healing methods and/or religious precepts.
  • The consequences of science-based approaches for civilizationalists who advocate policies inspired by religion or the supremacy of one religious group over another could go far beyond what should shape public health policies.They could threaten the foundations of their religious support base as well as their discriminatory policies towards religious or ethnic minorities. Israel is a case in point in terms of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious support base as well as his policies towards Israeli nationals of Palestinian descent.With ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and cities emerging as the communities most affected by the coronavirus, some Israeli commentators argue that the pandemic could undermine rabbinical authority on a scale not seen since the Holocaust when large numbers left ultra-orthodoxy after rabbinical advice to remain in Europe proved devastating.
  • “Torah no longer saves from death. The coronavirus has dealt an unimaginable blow to the rabbinical authority – and worldview – that ultra-Orthodox Jews previously regarded as infallible and eternal,”
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  • the return home of some 45,000 Palestinian workers to the West Bank for this week’s Passover holiday is likely to create bottlenecks in both Israel and the Palestinian territory after the Israeli government decided that they would not be allowed to return because of health concerns.The decision threatens to create a labor shortage in Israel, increase economic pressure on an already weakened Palestine Authority, and facilitate the spread of the virus on the West Bank given the administration’s inability to test all returnees
  • “Because the two populations are so intertwined, curbing the virus only in one society is impossible,” said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group.It’s a lesson that applies universally, not just to Israelis and Palestinians. That is no truer than in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps that dot the eastern Mediterranean
  • whether anti-globalists and civilizationalists like it or not, the coronavirus is global and universal. So is the science that will ultimately help get control of the pandemic and eventually stop it in its tracks
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

  • Iran has a complicated, and at times paranoid, government. Elected parliamentarians give a veneer of democracy but power ultimately resides with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s most powerful security force, answers directly to him. Rival arms of the state, including the security forces, jostle for influence. And the rules are unclear.
  • I had gone to report on the impact of American-imposed sanctions. Some news stories were claiming that Tehran was on the brink of collapse, but I saw few signs of it. There was no panic buying. The city looked cleaner and more modern than on my visit three years before. It has the best underground in the Middle East, with locally made trains. Parks and museums were abundant and well-tended, pavements were scrubbed and the city’s many flower-beds immaculately maintained.
  • America’s sanctions had hurt people, of course. Average monthly salaries were worth less than a pair of imported shoes. I saw people sleeping rough or hawking junk on the streets. One former university lecturer I met had been reduced to busking. But few people went hungry and there seemed to be a joie de vivre among many of those I talked to. Cafés, theatres and music halls were packed. An earlier bout of sanctions had forced Tehran’s Symphony Orchestra to disband but I wangled a ticket for the opening night of the reconstituted Philharmonic.
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  • My captors wore no identifying uniforms, but on the second day the doctor told me that he was an officer in the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s security agencies are many tentacled. In 1979 the new Islamic Republic retained much of the existing state apparatus, including the army and a good part of the bureaucracy, but it added another tier to keep existing institutions in check, and the parallel systems have competed ever since. The government’s own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival.
  • Over the course of four days the men spent most of their time glued to phone-screens, watching Bollywood films, or American or Chinese schlock full of street fights, which they accessed through virtual private networks to evade the censorship they were supposed to enforce.
  • Self-censorship ranks as one of an authoritarian regime’s strongest tools, and I was complicit.
  • Despite Iran’s pious reputation, Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible. There has been a rampant campaign to build new mosques, yet more people flock to art galleries on Fridays than religious services. With the exception, perhaps, of Tel Aviv, I had visited nowhere in the Middle East where people read as voraciously as Tehran. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable of women enslaved to a theocratic caste, is a particular favourite, the owner of one bookstore told me.
  • Life in Iran has always swung both ways. Nothing goes and everything goes. Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza.
  • The space for veil-free living had grown since I last visited. In the safety of their homes, women often removed their head coverings when chatting over the internet. Darkened cinema halls offered respite from the morality police who enforce discipline. In cafés women let their scarves fall languorously. The more brazen simply walked uncovered in the streets, risking imprisonment. And, in an unusual inversion of rebellion, ties have made a reappearance some 40 years after Ayatollah Khomeini denounced them as a symbol of British imperialism.
  • The listing of plays in Tehran was almost as long as London’s West End and I devoured them. Directors are adept at finding ways to evade the censors. A striking number of plays and films I saw were set in prisons – a commentary on the Iranian condition – but under bygone regimes. Opera was taboo, but a performance one evening in the red-cushioned opera house of the former shah, which was billed as Kurdish folk music, included Verdi. Beneath a vast glittering chandelier the audience threw bouquets of flowers at the Iranian singer, who is acclaimed in both Rome and Berlin; for an encore, she finally dared to sing a solo.
  • Of course not everyone got away with pushing at the strictures. In my first week in Tehran the authorities pulled a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” – the play is about suicide, which is forbidden in Islam – and another about poor women reduced to hawking to feed their families. Cafés that hosted live bands risked closure until they had paid off fines. Women without head-coverings who were spotted on one of Tehran’s many surveillance cameras received police summons by text. But the morality police, who drove around town in new green-and-white vans, seemed too stretched to suppress every challenge.
  • as well as being an intelligence officer, he was an academic and wrote a newspaper column
  • It was liberating to have the run of Tehran, without minders, deadlines or chores. But of course, I wasn’t truly free. I policed myself on behalf of the regime, becoming my own jailer and censor, aware that any lapse could have consequences. Sometimes I tried to speak over colleagues or relatives who were saying things that I feared might enrage my captors. I felt the presence of hundreds of electronic eyes. The friendliest faces who greeted me might be informers. And I could not leave Iran. It is an odd experience to know that you can be caught out at any time. But this was the way of Tehran. Some avenues open up, others close. Everyone feels like a captive. There are those who say that it is all a grand plan of the ayatollahs to keep people on edge.
  • I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.
  • I feared either that the Revolutionary Guards thought they could use my presence to negotiate some kind of deal, or that I was becoming a pawn in the internal rivalry within the Iranian government. I was beginning to see at first hand the glaring tensions between the two arms of the state. My hotel seemed increasingly nervous about hosting an over-stayer without a passport. In an attempt to evict me one evening, they cut the lights and blamed an unfixable electrical fault. The following morning the Guards arrived to transfer me to another location. En route we were chased by two motorbikes and careened up and down the alleyways of northern Tehran. Only when we pulled into a cul-de-sac did the Guards succeed in shaking them off.
  • A new interrogator – toad-like and clad in leather – told me that the Guards had found incriminating material on my laptop that touched on matters of national security: he had found a note from a conversation I’d had with a government flunkie about smuggling rings connected to the offspring of senior Iranian officials. This proved, he said, that I had crossed the line from journalism to espionage. They were reopening the case.
  • Notes he had discovered on Iran’s spiralling brain drain confirmed, to his mind, that I was seeking to undermine national morale.
  • I wasn’t even sure how genuinely religious many of those I had met were. When we drove about town, Ali talked of his student days, his young family and his passion for British football. Ideology rarely came up. Within the parameters set by the vice squads, Tehran’s dominant culture was defiantly secular. Iran called itself a theocracy, yet religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority.
  • For ten nights in Muharram these passion plays were performed with growing fervour. Even an irreverent man who taught me Farsi, who devoted much of his spare time to picking up waitresses in cafés, said Muharram was the one religious occasion he observed. The streets were lined with mokebs, stalls offering tea and dates and decorated with tragic representations of the battlefield using decapitated toy soldiers. At one mokeb, I came across a camel being readied for sacrifice. Many of these rites drew on ancient folklore rather than Muslim practice, akin to the celebration of Easter in the West. Since its inception the clerical regime had sought – and failed – to purify Iran of its non-Islamic elements.
  • “You feel a direct connection between people and God here,” a 40-year-old programme manager told me. He had stopped going to government mosques altogether, he said. Like some other pious Iranians I met, he feared that politics had sullied their religion rather than elevating it.
  • Panahian preached from a cushioned, teak throne beneath a vast chandelier while his acolytes crowded around him on the floor. He projected so much power, I got the feeling that if he’d read from a phone directory his disciples would still have sobbed. “Are you a servant of God or of man?” he said, scanning the crowd for suspects. “Choose between the tyranny of westernisation and God.” After he’d left a woman in a black chador took me aside. I steeled myself for an ideological harangue. Instead, she held up a plastic bag of bread and a plastic container of beans that the Husseiniya distributed after the sermon. “That’s why we came,” she said. “If you ask about the contents of the sermon, no one can tell you. If you ask about the contents of breakfast, they’ll all remember.”
  • the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Muslim world. Since the ayatollahs toppled the shah, Iran’s Jewish population has shrunk from 80,000 to around a tenth of that number. The ayatollahs have largely kept the remaining Jews safe, but they have also confiscated some of their property, particularly that of those who have left the country. Tensions between Iran’s Jews and the regime ebb and rise depending on the country’s relationship with Israel. But over time the Islamic Republic seems to have grown more at ease with the community
  • Iran has 22 mikva’ot – pools for ritual immersion. Many of Tehran’s dozen active synagogues are vast and packed with worshippers
  • There was a Jewish café, two kosher restaurants and a maternity hospital funded by the Jewish community in the south of Tehran, where less than 5% of those born were Jewish. A Jewish sports centre was also under construction
  • By rare coincidence the first service of selichot, the penitential prayers recited for a month in the run up to the High Holidays, began on the first day of the solemn month of Muharram. The synagogues were packed. At 1am Iran’s largest synagogue still teemed with families. At 2am the congregation swayed in prayer for Israel and its people. The communal chest-beating was gentler than in the Husseiniya, but more ardent than in Western congregations. Women walked up to the ark and kissed the smooth Isfahani tiles painted with menorahs and stars of David, acting like Shia pilgrims at their shrines. People milled around on the street outside chatting. I must have recited my prayers for forgiveness with conviction.
  • two men in black entered and introduced themselves as officers from another branch of intelligence. They apologised profusely for the difficulties I had faced and blamed the Guards for the inconvenience. They hoped that I had been well treated and expressed outrage that the Guards had made me pay my own hotel bill. They assured me that they’d been working strenuously for weeks to fix matters. My ordeal was over, they said. But could they just ask a few questions first?After 40 minutes of interrogation, they disappeared. Ten minutes later they were back with embarrassed smiles. One awkward matter needed resolving. Because I had overstayed my visa, I needed to pay a fine of 4m toman, about  $200.“Of course, the Guards should be paying since the delay was of their making,” they said.I called Ali and asked him to clear the fine.“No way,” he replied. “Can’t they waive it?”The intelligence officers apologised again but remained insistent. There were regulations. They couldn’t foot the bill for a mistake of the Guards.
  • Only when the flight map on my seat-back screen showed the plane nosing out of Iranian airspace did I begin to breathe normally.
Ed Webb

Lebanon and Iraq Want to Overthrow Sectarianism - 0 views

  • In Iraq, the protesters mostly consisted of angry young working-class men, and they were quickly confronted with violence. In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests have been marked by that country’s unmistakable sense of style and festive spirit, and the initiators have mostly been from the upper social classes. In downtown Beirut this past weekend, the sea of protesters included a woman in white-rimmed retro sunglasses with her dog named Pucci and a young man waving a Lebanese flag while lying in an inflatable kiddie pool. Yet despite the stark contrast between the protests, the rebels in both countries are in fact very similar. They are confronting many of the same political problems and are making essentially the same demand. They want the downfall of their countries’ existing self-serving elites, and big changes to the sectarian constitutional systems that enabled them
  • if austerity measures were a trigger, the protesters now have much bigger complaints on their minds
  • Iraqi protesters share the Lebanese view of their ruling elite as corrupt and inefficient (although they have also learned their government is quicker to resort to violence to restore order)
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  • Politicians give whatever work there is to their henchmen, not to us
  • Many of the politicians in Lebanon and Iraq are the direct material beneficiaries of sectarian systems instituted after conflicts in both countries.
  • Wealth and national resources were carved up along sectarian lines, with no party having an interest in upsetting the status quo.
  • After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq borrowed from Lebanon to build its own muhasasa taifa, or balanced sectarianism. Power is likewise shared between the ruling elite of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. As a result, while elections can shift the balance of power, they do little to change the faces of those who wield it, from whichever sect or faction
  • such division of power has reduced sectarian conflict but failed at making government efficient or transparent
  • one side of the protests is that they are against any political parties that are religious or ideologically charged
  • At least two generations of Iraqis have been scarred by sectarianism, beginning with Saddam Hussein’s killings of Shiites in Iraq, the subsequent revenge by the Shiite militias on Sunnis, and then the formation of the Islamic State. They are not just exhausted from the chaos unleashed by sectarian rivalries, but also disdainful of them. The most recent Iraqi protests were held mainly in Shiite cities and against a Shiite-dominated government.
  • In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests comprise different sects, ages, sexes, and ideologies. However, perhaps most notable were the protests by Shiites in the south of the country against the Amal Movement, historically the dominant Shiite political party. The streets of Tyre resonated with curses aimed at Nabih Berri—Amal’s leader, the Shiite speaker of the parliament, and a Hezbollah ally.
  • In both countries, Shiite militias backed by Iran have come to play a dominant role in government in recent years: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and groups that belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces, the irregular army raised to fight the Islamic State, in Iraq
  • many Lebanese feel that Hezbollah can no longer claim the moral ground it once claimed for itself as a political outsider, now that it’s clearly a part of the faulty system
  • In last year’s elections, a new movement of independent, nonsectarian “civil society” candidates stepped up, and though only one succeeded in winning a seat, amid claims they are too disparate and divided to succeed, they are still determined to try again
  • For now, however, the very act of protest offers a sense of possibility. “It’s very beautiful,” said Azab, “when you feel that you managed to defeat all your fears and say what you want out loud.”
Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Gover... - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

Why Iran's grand ayatollahs are fighting over Rumi - 0 views

  • Plans to make a movie about Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sufi poet, have once again revived an old quarrel between two currents among Iranian clerics — one that celebrates him as a great mystic and another that opposes his teachings as deviation and heresy.
  • nearly 750 years after Rumi's death, award-winning Iranian director Hassan Fathi, known in Iran for the hit series “Shahrzad,” announced Sept. 22 that he would produce a movie titled “Drunk on Love” about the much-speculated relationship between Rumi and Shams.
  • The project is to be an Iranian-Turkish production.
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  • two powerful ayatollahs in Iran would like to see the project nipped in the bud, saying Sufism is a deviation from Shiite Islam and any attempt to promote or spread it with a movie would be "haram"
  • The country’s culture minister, Abbas Salehi, a cleric who doesn’t wear a turban, told reporters after the Sept. 25 Cabinet meeting that while the opinions of marjas — the highest Shiite authorities — should be respected, “the country has its own laws.” This was taken to mean that the making of the film would not be prohibited because of the objections. So far, there are no indications that the movie is being obstructed by Tehran.
  • Members of the hadith current have issued fatwas against mystics repeatedly. For example, a summit in Qom in 2007 declared Rumi a heretic.
  • Part of the opposition to the film is based on the fact that it is a co-production with Turkey. A group of experts and journalists stated their opposition to the Rumi and Shams movie owing to the presence of a Turkish producer behind the film, implying that the two countries — both of which claim the heritage of Rumi — have different interpretations on the life and works of the mystic poet.
  • “Drunk on Love” is not the only controversy in Iran over films that deal with religious figures. In September, member of parliament Ali Motahari called on authorities to permit the movie “Hussein Who Said No” to be screened in cinema and theaters across the country. The movie, which has been banned for seven years, narrates the story of battle of Karbala in the year 680, where the third imam of the Shiites, Hussein ibn Ali, and 72 male companions were killed by Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiya’s army. “The main obstacle [in the way] of receiving the screening permit has been the portrayal of the face of ‘Abbas’ that I believe has no religious problem,” Motahari wrote on his Instagram page Sept. 23. Motahari said Abbas ibn Ali — the half-brother of Hussein — is not one of the sacred Shiite imams, which means the portrayal of his face should not be prohibited.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia makes friends with an old enemy - Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that's dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy
  • Saudi Arabia has also employed other soft power tactics such as offering to build a sports stadium and government-backed broadcaster MBC recently announced a dedicated channel for Iraq. Clerics in the kingdom have been toning down their anti-Shiite rhetoric
  • Saudi Arabia's aim is to prop up a government in Baghdad whose authority has been challenged by Iran-sponsored militias and bring the nation back firmly into the Arab fold
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  • Iraq has been dominated by non-Arab Iran after the majority Shiites took over power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia now considers Iraq as a potential bulwark against Iran rather than a puppet state controlled by Tehran
  • On a state visit to Riyadh last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi oversaw the signing of 13 agreements whereby Saudi Arabia pledged to pump a billion dollars into its neighbor's economy
  • The Saudis "have been relatively successful" in Iraq, said James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. "They need, however, to follow up on promises and capitalize on the fact that, unlike the Iranians, they have the cash to do so."
  • The Islamic Republic exported more than $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes alone to Iraq in 2017 and is the country's top source of everything from pig lard to human hair. Iran jumped from the Arab nation's fifth biggest non-oil exporter in 2016 to its biggest in 2017, bypassing China. Iraqi supermarket shelves are often stocked with cheap Turkish and Iranian products
  • "I don't think there's any illusion in Riyadh that Iraq will sever relations with Iran,"
  • After Iran cut off power to Iraq because of payment disputes last year, Saudi Arabia offered to sell it to Baghdad at a fraction of Iranian prices
  • As part of its outreach to Iraq, Saudi Arabia has also softened its position on Shiite Islam, long seen as antithetical to the official Wahhabi creed of the kingdom. In a nod to its often restive Shiite minority mainly in the east, Riyadh plans to open a consulate in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, to which many Saudi Shiites travel for pilgrimage
  • Still, Saudi Arabia continues to detain and even execute Shiites in large numbers on suspicion of spying for Iran, among other charges
Ed Webb

Khamenei.ir on Twitter: "Imam Khomeini's verdict regarding Salman Rushdie is based on d... - 0 views

  • Imam Khomeini’s verdict regarding Salman Rushdie is based on divine verses and just like divine verses, it is solid and irrevocable. 1990-06-05
Ed Webb

Iran's Next Supreme Leader Is Dead - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Outside the years 1999 to 2009, when he headed the judiciary, Shahroudi served from 1995 until his death as member of the Guardian Council, the powerful conservative watchdog that ensures the Islamic consistency and compatibility of parliamentary legislation and electoral candidates alike. He was likewise in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects the supreme leader’s successor, and a member of the Expediency Council, created toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War to adjudicate disagreements between parliament and the Guardian Council; this council subsequently also began advising the supreme leader on the broad contours of policy and strategy. After the 2017 death of its chairman—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a highly influential former president—Khamenei tapped Shahroudi as his replacement. Shahroudi was therefore clearly a figure Khamenei could rely on, a figure the supreme leader recently eulogized as a “faithful executor in the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions.”
  • Shahroudi presided over a witch hunt against reformist parliamentarians and newspapers, students and intellectuals, human rights activists and, at the end of his tenure, the pro-reformist Green Movement protesting against the fraudulent elections that handed Ahmadinejad a second term
  • Shahroudi is reported to have overseen, directly or indirectly, some 2,000 executions, including of minors
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  • also credited with introducing some reforms, including reinstituting the separation between judges and prosecutors abolished by his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi, suspending stoning as capital punishment, and proposing a bill granting more legal protection to minors
  • his unique selling point as potential supreme leader lay as much in his cross-factional appeal among the Iranian establishment as in the continuity he represented—two assets critical to Iran’s future political stability
  • Shahroudi maintained reasonably good ties with all four of Iran’s existing factions: conservatives, neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, and reformists
  • Shahroudi was also the only Shiite cleric in the rarefied pantheon of possible successors, or even anywhere, doubly rumored to have been angling for leadership of Iraq’s Shiites. Back in 2012, reports surfaced of Shahroudi building up a patronage network inside Iran’s western neighbor and specifically Najaf, greased by the levy of religious taxes and Iranian state funds. As things appeared, Shahroudi sought to undermine or even replace the aging Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s and therefore Twelver Shiites’ premier spiritual authority. Tehran had a good reason, too: the Iranian-born Sistani—a mirror image of Shahroudi—quietly opposed Iran’s political system based on the supreme leader’s rule, velayat-e faqih.
  • If Shahroudi was seen as an outsider with his Iraqi provenance and Semitic-laced Persian, neither quite Iranian nor fully Iraqi, his background at least held out some possibility of appealing to Twelver Shiite communities beyond Iran’s borders, and most critically in Iraq, where Shiites have tended to give velayat-e faqih short shrift. Ever since Saddam’s toppling in 2003, Iraq’s Shiite-majority government has gravitated closer toward Iran, but it continues to maintain a political autonomy at times grating to Tehran.
  • Iran’s internal stability and regime longevity—increasingly challenged by spontaneous protests countrywide over the past year—depend on the political class collectively accepting a supreme leader capable of forging consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s unique ability to span the divides of the Iranian political and clerical establishment was one reason his name was repeatedly floated as Khamenei’s eventual successor. He was also both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically reliable by Iran’s ruling establishment.
  • the hard-liners’ longtime stranglehold on the key levers of military, judicial, media, and clerical power will now leave little room for Iran’s reformists and moderates, among them current President Hassan Rouhani, to weigh in on the succession process
  • With the first generation of Iran’s revolutionary clerics fast fading out, Shahroudi’s relatively early death at 70 eliminates what is perhaps the most serious and qualified succession candidate so far floated in Tehran’s corridors of power
  • Iran’s acrimonious elite infighting may be normal and not necessarily a sign of regime weakness, but this requires a supreme leader generally accepted by all to adjudicate differences
Ed Webb

Is BBC Persian meddling in Iranian elections? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Amid the launch of the “No to these 5” (hard-liners on Jannati’s ticket) campaign on social media, prominent dissident Akbar Ganji and BBC Persian separately published articles that examined and analyzed this strategy to sideline hard-liners. Hard-liners were quick to seize on the latter as an opportunity to hit back at Rafsanjani, thereby undermining the “No to these 5” campaign. Hard-liners subsequently started branding the “No to these 5” campaign — as well as Rafsanjani and leading members of his list — as “English” and directed by the BBC
  • Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian military, has also harshly reacted to this controversy, saying, “If those who are being supported by Britain and the United States do not condemn these two countries’ meddling in Iran’s elections, they are considered [tried and] convicted.”
  • Rafsanjani’s Instagram page has published a short text about how prominent moderate Ayatollah Mohammad Hosayn Beheshti, who was assassinated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq organization in 1981, was also accused of being “British” by hard-line elements.
Ed Webb

Wary voters await elections in Iran - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • “The foreign media is trying to influence voters," said Ali, "The Persian-language channels are sending messages to people, calling on them not to vote for the revolutionary candidates.”
  • “People know well that the British are targeting the revolution. They want their candidates to win so they can have control over the country like before.”
  • “Those who are praised by the West can’t be trusted,”
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  • In a coffee shop near Bastani Square, Al-Monitor met with Bagher, another seminary student. The cafe showed no traces of being situated in Qom. Decorated with pictures of Salvador Dali, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio and others, it might have been anywhere in the world. However, two grand photos of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two supreme leaders in the history of the Islamic Republic, brought one back to Iran.
  • Bagher is critical of foreign media. He said he believes international media outlets are trying to present Iran inaccurately. “There are three main models dominating the world today,” Bagher told Al-Monitor. “The Western model, the Daesh [Islamic State] model and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s model; you can’t mix any of these three.”
  • as Iran is about to hold key elections, it appears the country is still in the grip of a struggle for the soul of the revolution — and what it means
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