Week of December 10, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here
- Prominent Reformist Dissidents Discuss Potential for Revolution
- Revolutionary Guards Commander Confirms Recent Missile Test
- Rouhani Advisor Reignites Debate Over House Arrest of Green Movement Leaders
- Rouhani Signals Gas Price Hike
- Detained Leader of Striking Workers Released
- Ten Arrested in Connection with Chabahar Car Bombing
- University Students Decry Suppression
- Political Prisoner on Hunger Strikes Dies
- Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions in Coming Year
Two prominent reformist dissidents, Abbas Abdi and Mostafa Tajzadeh, gave far-reaching interviews this week discussing the state of political reformism, the impact of U.S. sanctions, and prospects for revolutionary unrest in the country. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force also confirmed that Iran had recently tested a missile, becoming the first Iranian official to acknowledge a test after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo censured Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile earlier this month. A senior advisor to President Rouhani also spurred controversy after stating that the house arrest conditions of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have eased, while President Rouhani suggested that different prices for gasoline would be introduced for drivers depending on their level of gasoline consumption.
In other news, a detained leader of the Haft Tapeh workers has been released, as part of an agreement for the workers to end their strike. Iran’s police chief also announced that ten individuals have been arrested in connection with last week’s car bombing at the port city of Chabahar, which left two Iranian security guards dead and dozens injured. Ayatollah Khamenei also delivered a speech denouncing U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. University student organizations also issued letters and statements condemning a growing atmosphere of suppression in the country.
Reformist Dissidents Discuss Iran’s Political Climate
Abbas Abdi, an influential reformist and former political prisoner, gave an interview where he discussed the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and prospects of the Islamic Republic being toppled. Abdi emphasized the discontent of many Iranians towards the status quo should not be equated to support for U.S. policies. “The United States and Trump don’t pay attention to the fact that even if the people are not content with current conditions, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate with them,” Abdi stated. “Popular discontent doesn’t mean the people accept America’s hostile actions. The people don’t accept the current conditions, but this doesn’t mean they accept any and all alternatives.”
Abdi also said that the U.S. perception of events inside Iran was incorrect due to misinformation campaigns, which he compared to mistaken U.S. views of Iraq leading up to the 2003 invasion. Abdi stated: “Iran’s critics on social media have created a perception of Iran that is at odds with reality. Domestic analysts better analyze and understand the situation.” He added: “These [online] critics try to create a perception and environment for [to influence] the United States, which is the same thing that happened towards Iraq [before the war]. The New York Times has even accepted that it was mistaken in its policy to support the Iraqi invasion and that it was misled by wrong intelligence from these same types of political opponents [U.S.-based Iraqi dissidents].”
Abdi went on to caution Iranian authorities to not take peaceful dissent for granted and make reforms before dissent turns violent. Abdi agreed with the interviewer that despite the many grievances in Iranian society, the country is stable on the surface, as evident in the recent peaceful protests by workers at the Haft Tapeh and Ahvaz steel companies. However, Abdi stressed that the peaceful protests by the people should not be “misinterpreted and that officials shouldn’t believe that in the future nothing will happen.”
Mostafa Tajzadeh, another prominent reformist who was imprisoned from 2009-2016 in Evin prison, also gave an interview to IRNA on the state of political reformism in Iran. He stated: “The defeat of reformism can lead to a revolution, foreign intervention, and likely violence in the country. To not become engulfed in such a situation, we must keep reformism alive and preserve the peoples’ hope in reformism.”
Tajzadeh stated that reformists must become more forthright in pushing for substantive change in the country. He proclaimed: “Reformists can help keep paths to solutions open and on top of defending their own rights, strongly defend the rights of others. To open paths, we must speak more explicitly than in the past with the government and the people.”
Tajzadeh added: “The hidden [deep] state must be dismantled, military forces must return to their barracks, healthy elections must be held, private media stations must be permitted, filtering of the internet must end, and we must all recognize each other’s rights and respect each other’s lifestyles.”
Tajzadeh asserted that those who wish to topple the Islamic Republic need reformism to be sidelined. He opined: “The reason that those who want to topple the system say that reformists must either join them or be made so disreputable that they are eliminated from Iran’s political scene is because they believe that as long as reformism is alive in society, and as long as Khatami’s words are accepted by the public, neither a revolution will occur in Iran nor can foreign countries intervene [inside Iran].”
Tajzadeh stated that the idea of toppling the Islamic Republic was moot as long as most Iranians believe there is no alternative but reform. He opined: “As long as a massive percentage of the people, due to a variety of reasons including that things can get worse, oppose the toppling of the government, even if they don’t believe in the Islamic Republic and are opposed to it but prefer to reform it, the idea of toppling the system will remain only the slogan and wish of its supporters.”
Tajzadeh stated that the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring had created a fear of revolutionary unrest in Iran. He stated: “The developments in recent years after the Arab Spring have created a deep and widespread fear that revolutions in Middle Eastern countries can have devastating consequences. We have witnessed the opposite of the low-cost revolutions of Iran [the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the 1979 Islamic Revolution] with the Arab Spring. Foreign intervention in these countries have had widespread and deeply negative consequences.”
Tajzadeh then argued that other regional states succumbed to revolutionary chaos because they lacked strong reformist movements. He proclaimed: “I want to focus on important differences [between Iran and regional countries that have undergone social and political unrest in recent years], which it would be catastrophic for us to not pay attention to.”
He went on: “One of the main reasons for the disastrous situation today in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is that these countries lacked powerful reformist currents that simultaneously spoke and engaged with the state; prevented it from taking extremist, hardline, or criminal actions; and restrained its power. That could also talk to the people and explain that toppling the government at any cost would not solve problems and could create a situation for society that is far worse.”
Tajzadeh argued that reformism must succeed in Iran for the country to not suffer the fate of its war-torn neighbors. He declared: “If Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen are not partitioned and maintain their cohesion, they might be able to after two decades—if they have complete unity—achieve durable security. This experience has resulted in us saying that the most important reason for the existence of reformism is that Iran doesn’t experience such a fate.”
Tajzadeh concluded by stating that U.S. interventions had resulted in popular anger against it. He stated: “America has created enemies for itself in every Middle Eastern country it has intervened against. Why was the generation of the 1979 revolution anti-American? Because Washington supported the Shah and had 30 to 50 thousand personnel settled inside Iran.”
Missile Test, Chabahar Arrests
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, confirmed in an interview that Iran recently conducted a missile test. It marked the first confirmation by an Iranian official that the country had tested a missile since U.S. Secretary of State’s December 1st remarks censuring Iran for allegedly test-firing a ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons (more on the Iranian reaction to Pompeo’s comments in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
In his comments, Hajizadeh said that Iran carries out 40 to 50 missile tests a year. He stated: “For the Americans to show a reaction to some of these tests reveals that they’re under pressure.” Hajizadeh did not disclose what type of missile was tested or whether it was a ballistic missile.
Iran’s Chief of Police Hossein Ashtari said that ten people had been arrested in connection with the December 6th car bombing in the Iranian port city of Chabahar.
Ashtari also commented on the case of Iranian border guards captured by Pakistan-based militants in October, stating: “The necessary efforts have been made through the foreign ministry and the armed forces and we are hopeful that all these guards will return to their families in full health” (more on the case of the captured border guards in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
Reignited Debate Over Mousavi and Karroubi
On December 9th, Hesamodin Ashna, a senior advisor to President Rouhani, delivered a speech at Tehran University and engaged in a back-and-forth with students on social, political, and economic issues.
Ashna stated that the house arrest conditions for 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had eased. He stated: “Don’t doubt that Mr. Mousavi’s conditions under house arrest have changed greatly. The arrest hasn’t been lifted, but in my opinion what remains from lifting the arrest is just a shell.” He added: “The Rouhani administration and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council have done what they needed to do, and what remains is the shell [of the house arrest]. I am hopeful with your prayers and with the efforts of those who’ve have paid costs in this regard, the arrest will be [fully] lifted.”
Ashna also discussed the possibility of changing the Iranian constitution in response to a question from a student. He stated: “Based on the constitution, when it comes to reviewing the document, four tenets are unchangeable: being Islamic, Republicanism, Velayat-e Faqih, and the government respecting the votes of the people. The other principles of the constitution are amendable.”
Ashna added: “If some have issues with these four principles, they must think of more difficult ways of pursuing the changes they want and must accept the costs they’ll have to pay in this regard. On the other hand, within the constitution, there is plenty of capacity to make changes without needing to amend it.”
Ashna’s comments on the house arrest of Mousavi and Karroubi sparked renewed discussion regarding their nearly eight-year-long detention. In response, hardline MP Mojtaba Zonnour asserted that the arrest was not lifted this past summer because of a sharply critical letter written by Karroubi to the Assembly of Experts. (more on the letter in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
Hossein Karroubi, the son of Mehdi Karroubi, addressed the comments by Ashna and Zonnour in an interview with Etemad newspaper. Karroubi stated: “The issue of lifting the house arrest was never seriously contemplated for Mr. Karroubi’s letter to have impacted this process … neither senior officials or the Supreme National Security Council, which is tasked with managing this issue, have seriously discussed lifting the house arrest.”
Hossein Karroubi said in response to Ashna: “What Mr. Ashna means is that there has been a slight opening on the issue of the house arrests. By this I mean that now their [Mousavi and Karroubi’s] family can visit them. But they’re still completely disconnected from the outside, so there hasn’t been a major difference. What Ashna meant by saying only a ‘shell’ remained of the house arrest is that now, after years, their family can visit them without needing prior permission.”
On December 12th, Ismail Bakshi, a leading representative of the Haft Tapeh striking workers, was released. The workers had previously reached an agreement with authorities to cease their strike in return for receiving unpaid wages and better job contracts as well as securing Bakhshi’s release (more on the Haft Tapeh strike in a previous Iran Unfiltered).
On December 12th, the family of political prisoner Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, who was on hunger strike for two months, was notified of his death. His demands while on hunger strike were to be transferred out of Qom’s Langarud prison—where he said conditions were poor and he had shared cells with dangerous criminals—and to have a fair trial.
The charges against him included “insulting the Leader and propagating against the political system.” Qom’s public prosecutor said in response to Nasiri’s death: “Nasiri was a prisoner in Langarud prison who was serving his sentence for insulting sacred beliefs on social media. He suffered from a liver disease and his physical condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a hospital. After seven days in the hospital, he passed away. The precise cause of death is being investigated by forensic specialists.”
On December 8th, over 500 students active in academic publications wrote an open letter to President Rouhani warning of the consequences of they said was “widespread suppression of every independent civil institution and legal, peaceful protest.” The letter came a day after a similar statement was released by student councils of 35 universities, which deplored the “suppression of students” after last winter’s protests inside Iran. It stated that over 300 students have been arrested, over 100 cumulative years of imprisonment have been issued, and that some students have been whipped and barred from leaving the country.”
Rouhani Hints at Gas Price Hike
During a December 10th meeting with officials from the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, President Rouhani suggested that gasoline prices would be increased. He stated: “In our country gasoline has a fixed price. It’s not like this in other parts of the world. There is one price for the weekend, one price for a work day, one price for busy days … over here we’ve become used to a consistent gas price.”
The reformist Fararu notes that Iran’s gasoline subsidies have become increasingly costly as the price of the Iranian rial has fallen against the dollar over the past year. Fararu states: “In recent months it’s been heard that the price of gas will change and there will be two rates as before [under a system instituted by the Ahmadinejad administration]. Gasoline was changed back to one rate during Rouhani’s first term and has been sold for 1,000 tomans per liter. In the past year, the price of gas hasn’t changed, even though the cost of the dollar has increased rapidly.”
Fararu also states regarding the price and consumption of gasoline in Iran: “Gasoline consumption in Iran is very high and based on reports is roughly 3 billion liters every month. This figure has increased by 10 percent since last year … After Venezuela, Iran has the cheapest gasoline in the world. The price of every liter now is roughly 10 cents (in American dollars).”
Fararu states that many experts believe Iran must return to a policy of instituting gas consumption quotas and higher prices to control sharply increasing gasoline smuggling in border region. According to Fararu, the Rouhani administration is currently preparing the infrastructure to return to this policy.
Under this system, as instituted previously under the Ahmadinejad administration, every vehicle owner is allotted a specific gas quota per month. If this amount is passed, the owner would have to purchase gas at a higher price.
Fararu also states that the Rouhani administration aimed to increase the gasoline price last year with its budget bill but backtracked due to last winter’s protests. “Every year, when there is argument over the national budget bill, there is a debate on the issue of rising gasoline prices,” Fararu states. “Last year, there were whispers that the price would be increased by 50 percent, which was later confirmed by the administration. But the protests of last December and January resulted in the administration backtracking from the gas price hike.”
During his address, Rouhani also indirectly rebuked Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday Prayer leader of Mashhad. Alamolhoda, a staunch conservative opponent of Rouhani, had earlier attacked the Rouhani administration’s bills to reform Iran’s financial sector in line with guidelines from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as “not compatible with Islam.” (more on the contentious domestic debate over the FATF in previous issues of Iran Unfiltered).
Rouhani said in response, without directly referencing Alamolhoda: “How is it possible that in today’s world we don’t work with the global banks? And someone comes from a specific ideological corner and incites the people by saying that if this agreement or convention is signed or if we work with this financial group, Islam will be lost. How will Islam be lost? I wish you understood Islam!”
Ayatollah Khamenei Warns of U.S. Interventions
On December 12th, Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech lambasting U.S. pressure as futile but warned Iranians to be vigilant of U.S. interventions in the coming year. Khamenei said of U.S. aims towards Iran: “The Americans through the years have constantly been seeking to gain dominance over Iran just as they had before the revolution. They want to create the same conditions for Iran that they have in some weak regional countries which they see as cows to be milked. They have wanted this with dear, great, and proud Iran but haven’t reached this aim and from here out will definitely never reach it.”
Ayatollah Khamenei said of the Trump administration’s Iran approach: “Their aim was that through sanctions and actions affecting Iran’s security, within Iran they would create polarization, differences, war between groups, and draw some people into the streets. They named [this operation] ‘hot summer,’ but to their blinded eyes [an Iranian expression] this year’s summer was one of the best summers.”
However, Khamenei cautioned Iranians to be vigilant in the coming year. He proclaimed: “However, even though the enemy’s plan has been exposed, we have to preserve our vigilance because America is an evil and devious enemy. It may be intending to deceive so that this year it created a crisis, and for example it has plans for next year.”
Khamenei added: “We must not be inattentive for even a second and must all be awake and alert. My advice to the Iranian people, especially to the youth and different groups in the country and all classes and political currents, is to be careful to not make the environment ripe for the enemy. For if we become inattentive, even this weak enemy will unleash its poison.”
Ayatollah Khamenei also said regarding the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen: “The Saudis believed that within a few days or weeks, they would be able to establish their dominance over Yemen. But now it’s over four years and they haven’t been able to do anything and the more time passes, the harsher the damage inflicted on them will get.”