Week of January 22, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council
- Rouhani Disqualified from Participating in the Assembly of Experts Election
- Amir-Abdollahian in Davos: Houthis Do Not Take Orders from Iran
- Protest Campaign Against Executions: “Do Not Kill Iran’s Children”
- Revolutionary Guard Members Killed in Israeli Strike on Damascus
- Raisi’s Visit to Istanbul: New Agreements and Joint Efforts Against Terrorism
- The President of the Iran Chamber of Commerce Elected After Seven Months of Dispute
- Iran Announces Successful Launch of ‘Soraya’ Satellite into Space
- Iran’s Gloomy Near Future: Becoming an Importer of Oil and Gas?
- Council of Educators: Hiring Seminary Students in Schools Is a Regressive Step
The Guardian Council of the Constitution has announced the list of candidates whose qualifications have been approved for election to the Assembly of Experts. Similar to the parliamentary elections, many well-known figures and former officials have been disqualified from participation in the election, former President Hassan Rouhani being the most prominent among them. On the other side of the political spectrum, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi’s qualifications have also been rejected for the impending election. A prominent figure in Iran’s security and judicial sectors, Pour Mohammadi was a member of the “Death Committee” responsible for the widespread execution of political prisoners during 1988.
In response, Hassan Rouhani has formally requested that the Guardian Council clarify the reasons behind his disqualification from the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts on Leadership. This appeal was made public through a statement on his official website. Apart from official explanations from the Council, it is understood that the disqualification stemmed from accusations of “inaction” and “mismanagement,” for which thereis a file against Rouhani in the Article 90 Commission of the Parliament.
Rouhani condemned the decision to disqualify him and numerous other parliamentary candidates on what he said were primarily political grounds. He challenged the authority of those responsible, asserting that they neither possess ownership over the revolution and the nation nor hold the right to dictate national interests and disqualify genuine and committed individuals.
Rouhani, after registering for the Assembly of Experts elections, expressed his respect and well-wishes for the Supreme Leader’s long life and continued success while noting the probability of the next Assembly’s involvement in the selection of the next Supreme Leader. The Assembly of Experts, which convenes every eight years, holds the significant responsibility of appointing or dismissing the Leader and overseeing the performance of relevant institutions.
Historically, the qualifications of candidates for the Assembly of Experts are determined by senior Shiite clerics and authorities. However, under the leadership of Ali Khamenei and following a revision of the Assembly’s internal regulations, this responsibility shifted exclusively to the Guardian Council. Critics of the Islamic Republic accuse the Council of politicizing the vetting process for candidates in key elections, thereby favoring the hardline government faction.
Rouhani also criticized the Guardian Council for endorsing a recent parliamentary bill that restricted voting rights. This move, he argued, reinforces public disenchantment with the electoral process and demonstrates a clear intent by the ruling minority to deliberately diminish public participation in elections, aiming to control the populace’s destiny through undemocratic means.
Rouhani’s political career is notable, having served as President for eight years, as the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years, and as the Leader’s representative on this council, in addition to his 20 years in the parliament. He has been an active member of the Assembly of Experts on Leadership since 1999 for three terms and participated in the current Assembly of Experts elections during his presidency, emerging as the second representative from Tehran after Mohammad Emami Kashani.
The Council has previously barred former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from presidential candidacy as well. Ahmad Jannati, Secretary of the Guardian Council and current President of the Assembly of Experts, has repeatedly defended these decisions. Jannati himself has yet to register for the sixth term of the Assembly of Experts elections.
The Assembly of Experts elections, scheduled for the 1st of March, will coincide with parliamentary elections. Observers, activists, and journalists inside Iran describe a subdued electoral atmosphere, anticipating a continued trend of severely diminished voter turnout. This election marks the first under President Ebrahim Raisi’s tenure, following last year’s forceful suppression of protesters.
Reflecting on the current political climate, Rouhani remarked that both the ruling minority and the majority of the populace seem to concur that there should be low turnout at the polls. On the other hand, Iran’s Minister of Interior, Ahmad Vahidi, and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Mohammad Bagheri, have claimed that external forces such as the U.S. prefer a diminished voter participation.
Critics, including former officials of the Islamic Republic, contend that the Assembly, by failing to uphold its supervisory role over Ali Khamenei, has become a subordinate body to the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In its history, the Assembly of Experts has only once selected a Leader, in June 1989, following the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appointing Ali Khamenei to lead the Islamic Republic of Iran.
During the annual Davos summit, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian pointed out that Yemen’s Houthi rebels do not operate under Iranian directives. This statement came amid discussions about the Houthi rebels, who are believed to be militarily backed by Iran. They are an increasing focus in Western capitals given their efforts to disrupt maritime trade in the Red Sea, a critical shipping lane for global trade, in solidarity with Palestinians amid the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The situation in Yemen, particularly the involvement of the Houthi rebels in attacks that threaten maritime security, was a focal point at the Davos conference.
Amir Abdollahian’s commentary at Davos extended to the broader geopolitical context in the Middle East, specifically the relationship between the United States and Israel. He cautioned the United States, under President Joe Biden, against closely aligning its policies with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Iranian Foreign Minister accused Washington of contributing to regional instability through its unwavering support for Tel Aviv. He argued that this relationship between the United States and Israel exacerbates tensions in the region, particularly in the context of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a related development, the Houthis have recently reiterated that their attacks on maritime traffic in the Red Sea will cease at the end of Israeli military actions in Gaza. Amir Abdollahian referenced this condition in his remarks, calling on the United States to take an active role in halting the Gaza conflict.
Further amplifying Iran’s stance on regional conflicts, Amir Abdollahian addressed the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, 23rd January. In his speech, he criticized the United States for its “comprehensive support” of Israel, which he believes hinders the establishment of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. The Foreign Minister’s remarks underscored Iran’s perspective on the perceived imbalance in international diplomatic efforts, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and opposition to Israel’s military operations.
In a significant escalation of protests against the Iranian government’s execution policies, several political prisoners began a hunger strike on Thursday, January 25th. This action is a direct response to the recent executions of Mohammad Ghobadlou, a detainee from the 2022 nationwide protests, and Farhad Salimi, which took place on Tuesday, January 23rd. Farhad Salimi, a 43-year-old cleric from Saqqez, along with other Kurdish prisoners including Ayoub Karimi, Anwar Khodri, Kamran Sheikh, Khosro Besharat, Davoud Abdollahi, and Qasem Abesteh, were arrested between late 2009 and early 2010.
The Tehran Revolutionary Court, led by Judge Moqiseh, handed down death sentences to these Kurdish prisoners in March 2016 on various charges. These charges included “acting against national security”, “propagating against the regime”, “membership in Salafi groups”, and “corruption on earth.” The recent execution of Davoud Abdollahi, Qasem Abesteh, and Ayoub Karimi, co-defendants in the case, has been confirmed.
A group of 61 female political prisoners have declared a hunger strike in response to this most recent wave of executions, echoing the broader movement. As reported on activist Narges Mohammadi’s Instagram page, these women are protesting to remember those executed and halt further executions. Mohammadi’s page highlights that Mohammad Ghobadlou’s execution was carried out without a definitive order, signaling a troubling disregard for due process. The executions have ignited widespread outrage and protest throughout Iranian society.
Following this announcement, the hunger strike has seen a surge in support, attracting other prisoners and human rights activists. Notably, Mehdi Yarrahi, a prominent singer known for his protest songs, who himself has been arrested and censored by the Islamic Republic, has declared on social media his intention to join the hunger strike. Yarrahi had previously released “Women’s Anthem” in Mehr 1401, in response to Mahsa Amini’s killing in police custody, as part of his ongoing support for the protests. Earlier in the year, he released “Enough with the Cage” and “Life’s Anthem” in support of Iranian women. Currently, Yarrahi is on temporary release with a bail of 15 billion Tomans.
Zahra Rahnavard, a notable figure under house arrest with her husband Mir Hossein Mousavi, stated, “Do not kill the children of this nation.” She claimed the regime had created a “sea of blood” across the country and impacted Iranian families. Rahnavard warned the rulers about their impending fate and the eventual rise of the nation’s salvation.
In a separate but coordinated response, political prisoners Bahareh Hedayat, Zeynab Jalalian, and Toumaj Salehi announced their participation in the hunger strike. Additionally, Khedarram Qolian, father of political prisoner Sepideh Qolian, announced that he and his wife would join the hunger strike. This act further underscores the extensive impact of the government’s actions on the Iranian community. Concurrently, Saeed Madani, a sociologist currently incarcerated, issued a statement titled “Against Execution,” criticizing the regime’s reliance on executions to maintain power and suppress dissent. He highlighted the regime’s loss of moral authority over its people.
On Saturday, January 20, an airstrike on a building in the Mezzeh district of Damascus, Syria’s capital, killed several members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two senior officials. Iranian officials blamed Israel for the attack. The IRGC confirmed the fatalities in a statement, indicating that the deceased were “military advisors,” without detailing their specific roles. Among the deceased was Sadegh Omidzadeh, the Deputy of Intelligence for the Quds Force, also known as “Haj Sadegh”, and “Hojatollah Omidvar.” Iranian media sources also reported the death of Omidzadeh’s deputy, identified as Haj Gholam. Other names listed include Ali Aghazadeh, Hossein Mohammadi, Mohammadamin Samadi, and Saeed Karimi, all IRGC members. Iranian sources also indicated Syrian forces were killed in the attack.
Reuters reported that the multi-story structure targeted in Mezzeh housed IRGC personnel and advisors to the Syrian government. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted that the explosion occurred in an area usually inhabited by senior commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
Later on Saturday, U.S. forces at Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq came under heavy rocket and missile fire, injuring two soldiers. According to the New York Times, “At least 10 rockets and seven short-range ballistic missiles were fired at the base, with two making it through air defense systems, in the most successful attack the militias had carried out so far.” Given the timing, it certainly appears as if the attacks were connected, with militia forces penetrating U.S. defenses and injuring U.S. troops after an assassination of Iranian forces attributed to Israel.
U.S. forces engaged in additional retaliatory strikes on January 23 to respond to the January 20 attack, as reported by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). According to their tweet, U.S. forces “conducted unilateral airstrikes against three facilities used by Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq. These strikes targeted KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”
During Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to Turkey this week, officials from both countries signed several cooperation agreements in sectors such as oil and gas, communications, and culture. Most notably, however, President Raisi stated that significant decisions were made between the two countries on combating terrorism.
The visit, initiated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was finally held after being postponed twice before. The trip was initially planned for January 3th but delayed due to the terrorist attack in Kerman. And earlier, in December, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced that the visit to Ankara was postponed due to a Security Council meeting regarding the situation in Gaza and the ceasefire process.
Following about two hours of private discussions, both presidents attended a signing ceremony for the cooperation documents and a joint press conference. In the press conference, President Raisi emphasized Iran’s intention to enhance bilateral relations, building on past cooperation. He stated that Iran and Turkey had made significant decisions regarding combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime during this visit. The details of these decisions were not disclosed. Both presidents also addressed the Middle East crisis and the conflict between Israel and Hamas in their statements, criticizing Israel.
Following their statements at the press conference, they did not respond to journalists’ questions. Before departing for Turkey, Raisi also mentioned that the two countries aim to elevate their trade relations to 30 billion dollars. This meeting marked the second bilateral encounter between Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after meeting in Tehran the previous summer. Despite their proximity, Iran and Turkey have faced challenges in their relationship in recent years, particularly over issues such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
After months of dispute, a new Iran Chamber of Commerce head has been elected. State-run news agencies in Iran reported on Sunday, January 21st, that Samad Hassanzadeh was finally elected as the president of the Iran Chamber of Commerce. An initial vote in June was walked back after a candidate deemed controversial was elected, leading to intervention and a new election in January.
ISNA news agency reported that out of 21 qualified candidates, 17 withdrew, and Samad Hassanzadeh was elected with 208 votes. This was following a seven-month conflict between the government and the private sector due to the controversial disqualification of Hossein Salahvarzi following his triumph in the election last June, which was met with immediate criticism by hardline media outlets and security circles within the Islamic Republic.
Controversies surrounded Hossein Salahvarzi, a candidate for the Chamber in Khorramabad. The issues escalated after he announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Iran Chamber. News agencies close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, citing some of Salahvarzi’s stances on the 2022 anti-government protests in Iran, labeled him as a supporter of the protesters. This led to intervention by the Supreme Council overseeing the Iran Chamber, resulting in his dismissal and new elections.
Opponents argued that Salahvarzi’s qualification was rejected by the intelligence service, and he should not have participated in the June 18th elections. However, the intelligence service’s response, contrary to the regulations, was not received by the supervisory association within 10 days. As a result, the security of the Ministry of Industry announced Salahvarzi’s election despite the apparent reservations of the establishment.
According to statements from government officials in the Islamic Republic, the Iranian Space Agency successfully launched the ‘Soraya’ satellite on Saturday, January 20th. The satellite was carried by a three-stage solid-fuel rocket named ‘Qaem 100’, operated by the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It has been placed in a 750-kilometer orbit around Earth, which Iranian state media reports is the first time Iranian launch vehicles have reached this particular orbit. Internal media sources in Iran, along with Isa Zarepour, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology who posted on his social media, state that the rocket was developed by the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and can carry a payload of up to 100 kilograms.
The commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed in October that a separate launch of a ‘Qaased’ satellite carrier and the placement of the ‘Noor 3’ satellite into a 450-kilometer orbit had been successful. In response, representatives from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom wrote to the UN Secretary-General, denouncing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s action of launching the ‘Qaased’ satellite rocket as a “violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” However, the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic to the United Nations, in a letter to Antonio Guterres, referred to Iran’s missile and space program as “outside the jurisdiction of this resolution.”
According to an investigative report published by ‘National Wealth,’ a magazine affiliated with the National Development Agency, Iran is about to become an oil and gas importer. As a result of the country’s broader economic weaknesses, Iran’s oil industry faces challenges as a driving force and engine of economic growth. It is becoming increasingly evident that the global shift away from fossil fuels poses a threat to countries heavily dependent on oil and gas sales and who have failed to diversify their economies and create competitive advantages. Some Gulf Arab countries have made significant progress due to their awareness of this risk and their efforts to reduce their dependence on oil and gas.
A significant consequence of this trend is the decrease in the average recovery factor of the country’s reservoirs. Several decades of neglect of production and reservoir engineering have resulted in a decline in the recovery factor of hydrocarbon reservoirs, according to a report published last summer by the Research Center of the Iranian Parliament. Therefore, there is still a substantial amount of oil and gas trapped underground, which requires considerable investment to extract.
There are many experts who predict that if the current situation persists, Iran will not only be unable to export oil and gas, but will also have difficulty meeting its domestic needs.
Amid significant student participation in 2022 protests, Iran’s education system faces a major shift. The Secretary of the Cooperation Council between the Seminary and the Ministry of Education declared in December 2022 that in compliance with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s directive, 21,000 seminary students are “voluntarily” involved in the educational sector. A year later, the state news agency reported on the Education Minister’s plan to employ 25,000 seminary students with the aim of enhancing students’ ideological training.
This move comes amid reports of dismissals of teachers who had supported protesters and continuous demonstrations by educators demanding their rights and delayed benefits. The Council of Teachers’ Unions has released a statement, available on their Telegram channel. The statement criticizes the government’s strategy to replace qualified educational professionals with seminarians, who lack proper training in child and adolescent education.
The Council’s statement describes the mass employment of clerics in schools as a regressive step, likening it to traditional schools. This action, they argue, undermines a century’s worth of educational advancements. The Council points out the growing number of clerics in school administrative and teaching roles, viewing this trend as harmful to the educational environment.
The statement also addresses the negative implications of this clerical presence in schools. It highlights the clash between children and adolescents’ values and those imposed by the clerics. It suggests that this could transform schools into battlegrounds of ideological conflict, negatively impacting students. The Council specifically raises concerns about the “securitization” of education due to clerical involvement, especially regarding issues like the voluntary hijab for female students.
Moreover, the Council warns against increased religious politicization within the educational sphere. It accuses the government of inculcating its official political interpretation of religion, effectively turning the education system into a training ground for religious fundamentalism supportive of the regime.
In response, the Council calls upon families to actively oppose these policies through civil resistance. They suggest various forms of protest, including letter-writing campaigns, media-based objections, and organizing demonstrations outside educational administrative offices.