Tag Archives: Qalibaf

Questions about the crisis in Iran, pt. 4

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Is this a military coup against the clerics?
Ever since the ‘election results’ were announced, observers and protesters have talked about a military coup in Tehran: that the elections itself and the subsequent clampdown were part of a pre-arranged coup masterminded and executed by the Revolutionary Guards (Sepâh-e pâsdârân or IRGC).

Other speculation includes reports about support for Musavi among the powerful Revolutionary Guards (see Ebrahim Nabavi here); and about defections among Revolutionary Guards generals. However, there are no reliable sources or verifiable documentation for these claims. No doubt, some Revolutionary Guards commanders are thinking about the future of Iran these days, and whether or not they are on the winning team. However, in the words of New York Times’ MacFarquhar:

“Anyone attempting to identify divisions within the Iranian security forces that may dilute the government’s ability to stop the protests has thus far searched in vain, according to Iranian analysts and American government officials … Although outsiders may be cheering on the idea of people power, there is no sign yet that any part of the military will switch sides …”

The quite uniform response of Revolutionary Guards commanders leaves us with the impression that the Guards stand united and firm behind the government and the Leader. And it has made some serious and respected scholars talk openly about ‘the coup’. In his recent blog post, Gary Sick writes about the topic that has ‘been ignored’:

“Why did the regime resort to such a frantic manipulation of the vote when it was entirely possible that Ahmadinejad would have made a respectable showing—or possibly even have narrowly won—a fair election, and when the opposition in any event was devoted to the concept of the Islamic republic as it existed? The answer may be that the corporate entity saw this election as one of the final steps in cementing its absolute control. Accepting the Islamic republic as it is and not as they wanted it to be was simply unacceptable. The emergence of a relatively mild reformer—or even a substantial reformist vote—would undercut the kind of absolute authority that they were getting ready to assert. It would, in a word, complicate the coup that they were in the process of carrying out.”

On CNN, Fareed Zakaria and a former CIA-agent assess that there has been a military coup:

“BAER: Fareed, I’m quite sure there’s been a military coup d’etat by the Islamic revolutionary corp in Tehran. They’re taken over. And the fact that the Basij came out so quickly. They could have only done that on orders from the IRGC. The fact that Ahmadinejad’s a former IRGC officer, he has the backing of senior officers. I think what we’ve seen is a military coup against the old clerical establishment.”

He might be right. I just want to add that, that the ‘Basij came out so quickly’ doesn’t prove anything. They have been mobilized in such speedy and massive fashion several times (and of course, such mobilization is ordered by the IRGC; nothing new there) – and authorities had already before the elections announced that there would be a massive security presence.

To Ali Nader of the RAND Corporation, there is no doubt: The Revolutionary Guards are the real winners of the elections:

“The Guards indicated even before the election that they would not allow Ahmadinejad’s challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, to succeed. And they are willing to use any means possible, including mass arrests of opposition leaders and the use of military force against protesters, to maintain their grip on power. Iran’s ruling political elite have earned much popular hostility in the last few days, but they appear to have enough military support to withstand the protests for now. Regardless, the Islamic Republic may no longer be able to count on the people’s will to maintain its legitimacy”

Nader sees the recent re-election (which ‘depended on systematic fraud’) as a battle between the younger military elite and the older clerical elite (see also the RAND report ‘The Rise of the Pasdaran’ here). To some extent, I think he’s right: when Ahmadinejad blasted Rafsanjani and Nateq Nuri on live TV for being corrupt, he was in fact sending a stern warning to all senior clerics in Iran, and their families – not just the two mentioned.

However, I still have a hard time buying the idea, floated among some observers, that Ahmadinejad is actually in total control now, and that Khamene‘i is merely his puppet. Surely, many clerics may now be threatened by an emboldened Ahmadinejad; however, it seems to me that:
a) Ahmadinejad could not do without the clergy; he will need their religious credentials to legitimize his government;
b) that so many clerics would not stay silent if they really felt threatened; we will have to see much more criticism from Qom before I can believe that the tables have turned in such a dramatic fashion. This is not to say that there isn’t criticism from Qom – more on that later.

An interrelated question is that of ‘Ahmadinejad’s crusade’ against ‘corruption’. If Ahmadinejad were to succeed in his self-declared mission to purge out the ‘mafia’, he will of course not do so only out of pure, idealistic conviction. The wealth will go to other people in power, and whomever they may be – including the Revolutionary Guards – they will need the aura of legitimacy that only a clergy can endow the religious-political system with.

And the stakes for the Revolutionary Guards are high, as this updated backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations point out:

“Political clout and military might are not only attributes of today’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is also a major financial player. The Los Angeles Times estimated in 2007 that the group, which was tasked with rebuilding the country after the war with Iraq, now has ties to over one hundred companies that control roughly $12 billion in construction and engineering capital. Former CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh has linked the guards to university laboratories, weapons manufacturers–including Defense Industries Organization–and companies connected to nuclear technology. Khalaji, of the Washington Institute, lists the Bahman Group, which manufactures cars for Mazda, among guard-owned companies. And Wehrey writes that “the IRGC has extended its influence into virtually every sector of the Iranian market.” The engineering firm Khatam al-Anbia, for instance, has been awarded over 750 government contracts for infrastructure, oil, and gas projects, he says.”

We could maybe describe this as the culmination of several years of militarization in Iranian politics, and a victory for the Revolutionary Guards establishment. Maybe we could also call the elections and the post-elections clampdown aspects of a military coup d’état. However, I still don’t think that the Guards and Ahmadinejad can survive without the sincere and voluntary support of the clergy. I might be wrong. Comments please!

Where are the ‘moderate conservatives’?
Ali Larijani – speaker of parliament, former presidential candidate and a pragmatic politician considered close to the Leader – has made several statements critical of the regime’s brutal response to the protests. He has condemned the violent attacks on Tehran University, called for investigations, stated that he would wish the Guardian Council was impartial and that Musavi should be given a chance to appear again on state-run TV.

To EurasiaNet’s reporter Yasin, Larijani – along with his brothers Sadeq and Mohammad-Javad, their cousin Ahmad Tavakolli and Ali Motahari – represents a ‘third force’ between ‘hardliners’ such as Khamene‘i and ‘progressives’ such as Musavi.

Larijani has recently made yet another interesting statement:

“A majority of people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced,” Larijani said in comments posted by the Khabaronline website. “The opinion of this majority should be respected and a line should be drawn between them and rioters and miscreants.”

If Larijani is quoted correctly, it is indeed a significant statement. However, it can also be interpreted as pure opportunism – and part of the internal rivalries, as Yasin notes:

“There would appear to be an element of personal animosity at work in Ali Larijani’s relations with Ahmadinejad. Prior to becoming parliament speaker, Larijani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, but was pushed aside by political maneuvering carried out by the president and his neo-conservative allies, and undertaken with the backing of the supreme leader.”

Marsha B. Cohen, writing for Tehran Bureau, has a lengthy and detailed account of Larijani, which is highly recommended reading.

Another ‘moderate conservative’ is Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, former Revolutionary Guards commander and now mayor of Tehran. Qalibaf seeks to appeal to the young voters and is considered a likely future candidate for the presidency.  Qalibaf has stated that the ‘election law is flawed’, that the protest rallies should be ‘legalized’ and he has condemned the violence. However, he has of course refrained from siding with Musavi. There are now calls for Qalibaf to join the new Special Committee which the Guardians Council has created to investigate the opposition’s allegations of fraud. It remains to be seen if Qalibaf would make a difference to the work of this committee.

Ahmad Tavakolli – who is the chief of the Parliament’s Research Center, a former presidential candidate and a prominent ‘moderate conservative’ – might also have made a surprising statement; however, he allegedly did so under a pseudonym.

Ayande News, a reformist website, indicated that Tavakolli used the name ‘Javad Kargozari’ to write a piece on his website Alef News recently (however, Ayande then changed the text of their article making it unclear who is behind the article). Of course, it is impossible for me to confirm this claim.

Nonetheless, if the statement is indeed Tavakolli’s – or if it represents Tavakolli’s opinion – it is remarkable: ‘Kargozari’ severely criticizes the state-run TV & radio for ‘illegal activities’, including the showing of fake declarations of guilt by pro-Musavi protesters, introduced on TV as ‘rioters’. These ‘rioters’ have been arrested during recent protests and allegedly forced to confess to working for Iran’s foreign enemies. ‘Kargozari’ demands to know who has given the state media permission to show such illegal ‘confessions’ before the persons have even been tried in a court.

A major figure among the ‘moderate conservatives’ is of course Mohsen Reza‘i – former Revolutionary Guard commander and himself a presidential candidate who has also rejected the election results. Despite the fact that there are still reports of ‘ambiguities’ surrounding Reza‘i’s votes coming out, and despite his recent letter to the Guardian Council calling for a change in the members of the Special Committee, he has apparently withdrawn his own complaints – citing concern for the security situation.

This does not bode well for Musavi and Karubi, who are now more or less alone with their complaints.

I think that the ‘moderate conservatives’ are following a calculated effort to appear 100% loyal to the system and the Leader while using the opportunity to air their criticism of Ahmadinejad. However, this should not be interpreted as support for Musavi/Karubi or for the protest movement. The ‘moderate conservatives’ are cunning opportunists – and certainly not interested in fundamentally reforming the Islamic Republic or in putting the human rights of the Iranian people at the top of their agenda.

This ‘third force’ is concerned with its own economic interests and political power under the government of an emboldened Ahmadinejad. Nothing more, nothing less.

Who is a reformist and what is principle-ism?

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Khatami’s recent withdrawal from the Iranian presidential elections came as a shock. The question now is what will happen to the ‘reformists’ before the elections slated for June 12.

However, the debate is obscured by the fact that the terms ‘reformist’ and ‘conservative’ are increasingly inappropriate simplifications of the much more complex and confusing reality of Iranian domestic politics. Indeed, it might be that the ‘reformist’ candidates are not reformists at all; that the ‘conservative’ candidates can attract ‘reformist’ votes; and that everybody wants to be a ‘principlist’!

It is time to review the terminology – and maybe even the mentality behind – when talking about Iranian politics.

The Ubiquitous Principlist
Ever since Khatami’s landslide victory in 1997, Western media and scholars have described him and his allies as ‘reformists’ or ‘moderates’. While ‘moderate’ obviously depends on the observer’s subjective view, ‘reformist’ is interesting since that is how most of Khatami’s allies describe themselves. During his presidency, Iran scholars constantly emphasized that Khatami was only interested in reforming, and not overthrowing, the Islamic Republic. Yet some Western media portrayals nonetheless indicated that Khatami not just represented a liberal interpretation of Islam, but also a gradual secularization. This was reinforced in the portrayal of Khatami’s Other, his rivals, called ‘conservatives’ or ‘hardliners’. Such terms seems to signify this segment’s views on ideology, cultural values and their interpretation of Islam. To the common reader in the West, a picture thus emerged of a rift between a rigidly Islamist ‘conservative’ group in Iranian society and an open-minded, tolerant ‘reformist’ group. While such a picture is not completely devoid of legitimacy, it is not sufficiently nuanced. Indeed, several factors have complicated the use of terms such as ‘reformist’ and ‘conservative’.

The 2005 campaign showed that the ‘conservatives’ were definitely not a united, uniform bloc. Thus, the term ‘neo-conservative’ was coined, mainly to denote the ‘second generation’ of politicians associated with Ahmadinejad. The current president is, however, a self-styled osul-garâ, a word that has led to the rather awkward translation ‘principlist’ or ‘principleist’. Osul-garâ‘i – ‘striving towards principles’ – could also be translated ‘fundamentalism’, as it refers to the fundamental tenets of Khomeinism. However, to avoid confusion with the Sunni fundamentalism of, say, Wahhabists, it seems that ‘principlist’ is now common use. Crudely put, ‘principlist’ became synonymous of the (neo-)‘conservatives’ around Ahmadinejad. The only problem is that it is not just Ahmadinejad who defines himself as a ‘principlist’. After Ahmadinejad adopted the term, other politicians soon declared themselves ‘principlists’, including those ‘conservatives’ who were opposed to Ahmadinejad; and now, even the main ‘reformist’ candidate appears to be a ‘principlist’!

Confusing? Indeed. Let’s look at recent developments as examples of the diverse, interlaced discourses of factional identification prevalent in Iranian domestic politics. The aim is not to re-classify or invent new categories, but rather to nuance the discussion of Iranian politics.

Is The Reformist a reformist?
It seems as if Khatami stepped down since he had promised to do so if another candidate – Mir-Hosein Musavi – would join the race. Musavi dragged his feet, but on March 9, he announced his bid. One question that bothers many now is of course: why did Musavi join the race at all, thus causing the allegedly popular Khatami to step down? A possible explanation is that Khatami knew that he would meet formidable obstacles that Musavi, with his outstanding credentials and political background, could avoid. However, as usual, conspiracy theories abound, one of them being that Supreme Leader Khamene‘i ordered Musavi to join the race in order to force Khatami – a severe challenge to Ahmadinejad and a nuisance to Khamene‘i and his ‘conservative’ clergy allies – to withdraw. The fact that such conspiracy theories exist first of all shows what many Iranians feel about the political game; but it certainly also has to do with the person of Musavi.

Originally a painter, architect and university lecturer, Musavi served as Iran’s last prime minister from 1981 to ‘89, when the position was eliminated. He is recognized across the political spectrum as an impeccable servant of the nation. His time as prime minister and close aide to Khomeini coincided with the bloody war between Iran and Iraq, and Musavi is praised for his attempts to keep Iranian economy alive despite the devastating war. Musavi represented the ‘left wing’ (another obscure term) of Iranian revolutionary politics: he was in favor of a state-regulated economy with a central role for collective cooperatives (ta‘âvon). Musavi could also be termed a ‘radical’ in the sense that he belonged to this ‘left wing’, which, among other things, challenged the historical Shi‘i clerical stance on the sanctity of private property.

Around the death of Khomeini, ‘the right wing’ – primarily based around the traditional clergy and the bazaar merchants naturally opposed to state ownership – finally ousted their foes on ‘the left’ and abolished the prime ministry. Musavi withdrew from politics and devoted himself to the cultural scene. Now that Musavi is the main ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, it is interesting to read his (hitherto very few) statements. After Khatami’s withdrawal, Musavi wrote Khatami a letter, stating that

You know that I too believe that the correct way is reforms alongside a return to the principles…

The use of the word ‘principles’ (osul) is not a coincidence: Musavi is aiming to use his political record and image to attract ‘principlist’ votes. In a recent interview, Musavi elaborated:

I believe that ordinary people are both principlist and reformist in a true sense. For example, the people do not like a politician who will back down on the issue of nuclear technology… [but] the people rejoiced at the launch of a space satellite… [Such feelings] can be seen as ‘principlism’. At the same time, the people do not like it that the state interferes in their personal affairs, or limits their legal liberties, or that the state closes down one newspaper after another for petty mistakes. It is possible to call such a feeling and tendency ‘reformism’… Amongst ordinary people, principlism and reformism are not separate. I think of principlism and reformism just like the people do.

Thus, Musavi is simultaneously laying claim to Ahmadinejad and the ‘neoconservatives’ ’ rhetoric of ‘principlism’ and Khatami’s ‘reformism’. Together with his quasi-socialist discourse of social equality and justice that might succeed in ‘stealing’ from Ahmadinejad’s core voters, the poor masses, this seems to be Musavi’s main message. He might already have attracted support from some unusual corners: former Revolutionary Guard commander and so-called ‘moderate conservative’ Mohsen Reza‘i is rumored to back Musavi’s bid. Musavi recently appeared at a commemoration for a famous martyr of the Iran-Iraq War, alongside Reza‘i and Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Reza‘i is certainly not a ‘reformist’ – yet he supports Musavi’s bid for presidency, maybe due to their background as colleagues during the war.

It is also very possible that other similar figures might follow suit, as indicated by recent remarks from conservative critics of Ahmadinejad in Parliament and by other former Revolutionary Guards commanders. It is even rumored that Nateq Nuri – who was Khatami’s ’conservative’ opponent in the 1997 elections – has been secured a place in the future cabinet if Musavi is to be elected. That would seriously undermine the idea of a ‘conservative’/’reformist’ dichotomy: would such a cabinet, including ‘conservatives’, be ‘reformist’ at all? Indeed, some proponents of ‘reformism’ argue that Musavi should not be seen as a ‘reformist’ – at least not in the ‘Khatamian’ sense. Khatami recently stated that

We have never claimed that Musavi would enter the [presidential race] as the epitome of reforms.

This ambiguous statement indicates that Musavi’s policies will not be anything like those of Khatami’s. An observer recently wrote on the reform-minded website Khordâd that

Mir-Hosein Musavi has plainly declared that he is ‘not a reformist’ … and a few months ago, during a private meeting with [reformist groups], he denied any relation with these [groups]. Mir-Hosein Musavi’s actions and words clearly send a message that he does not want the vote of such reformist groups in society nor the problems associated [with such a vote].

Zahra Eshraqi – Khomeini’s granddaughter and wife of Mohammad-Reza Khatami, the former president’s brother – has also stated that “Mir-Hossein Musavi is a principlist”. It is interesting to note that the political bazaar today is filled with rumors of Mohammad-Reza’s possible candidature. In such an event, we will probably see Mohammad-Reza capitalize on Musavi’s ambivalent political rhetoric and present himself as a true ‘reformist’.

Two sides of one coin

Thus, Mir-Hosein’s currying of favor with the ‘moderate conservatives’ and the ‘principlist’ discourse can easily have a boomerang effect. Despite Khatami’s endorsement, it now seems far from certain that the majority of reformist voters will back Musavi.

According to the daily Ham-Mihan, a public survey institute recently found that 57% of Khatami voters in Tehran would instead vote for Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf – currently the capitol’s mayor, who is often described as ‘a moderate conservative’ but has not yet announced his candidature. Only 29% would vote for Musavi while 14% still hadn’t made up their mind. Even though opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in Iran, the report does point to a significant fact: that the idea that Iranians are divided between ‘reformists’ and ‘conservatives’ is somewhat obsolete. Indeed, the whole story is turned upside-down when we take into consideration a recent article in Tehrân-e emruz, a daily connected to Qalibaf. In it, an editorialist wrote that

an analysis of the view and executive-administrative approach of Mir-Hosein Musavi and Mahmud Ahmadinejad reveals the close resemblance of the two

In the piece, titled ‘Two sides of one coin’, it was also stated that Musavi’s candidature was “one step ahead, two steps back”; that Musavi is also a “man of rationing” (referring to Ahmadinejad’s controversial economic policies); and that Musavi has not made clear exactly how he differs from the current government. Sarcastically, the editorialist wrote:

Today, the policy of fattening the state is being executed, the cues [of people waiting for ration coupons and subsidized groceries] have returned to the streets and the most important government debate is how to target subsidies and promote a lessening of consumption … so why has Mir-Hosein, in such circumstances, suddenly rung the bell of danger?

The point is that Musavi’s policy of ‘Islamic Economy’ bears resemblance to that of Ahmadinejad – and, implicitly, that Qalibaf’s differs from these.

However, there are further aspects to this discussion. Qalibaf has presented himself with a ‘modern’ image: he is dressed in chic clothing, sports fashion sunglasses and appears as a suave, cool and youthful type. One of the controversies over Qalibaf was when he allowed Benetton to open a store in Tehran, and allegedly gave Mr. Benetton a private helicopter tour over Tehran’s skyline. Ahmadinejad’s supporters among the Basij militia criticized Qalibaf for being morally corrupt and facilitating the Western cultural invasion. On the other hand, figures such as Ahmadinejad and Musavi present themselves as austere ascetics, dressed in simple, locally produced clothing and living in humble residencies amongst ‘the people’. While Qalibaf’s constituency is the young and affluent, the private entrepreneurs and the globalized elites of northern Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s constituency consists of low-paid public employees, the unemployed masses of south Tehran, the poor in traditional, rural areas – as well as segments of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij.

Another sign that Musavi is tapping into Ahmadinejad’s constituency was his choice of venue for his first speech as presidential candidate. Naziabad is a poor area of southern Tehran. Musavi used to live here and even as a prime minister and despite Iraqi missile attacks during the war, he stayed here. Now, Musavi is looking for support among the ‘dispossessed’ and pious peoples of Naziabad – and other similar destitute areas throughout Iran. Furthermore, Musavi’s regular use of religious, revolutionary and wartime language underpins that he will not be seen as a candidate for the secular-minded liberals.

Thus, the categories of ‘conservative’ and ‘reformist’ once again fails to grasp reality: that a so-called ‘conservative’ (Qalibaf) might eventually score the allegedly ‘reformist’ vote of some liberal-minded Tehranis; and that a so-called ‘reformist’ (Musavi) might score votes in what is traditionally seen as ‘conservative’ areas. This political site is not about ‘reformist’ or ‘conservative’: it is a question of culture and class.

However, facing Ahmadinejad on home ground is not the only challenge facing Musavi. It seems he is lacking broad-based support from a very crucial segment: the students. First of all, the generation born in the 1980s does not know much about Musavi except that he is a ‘man of the system’. Secondly, they have still to see an original and far-reaching agenda for change. Musavi’s old-fashioned rhetoric and his cautious criticism of those in power is simply not an approach that appeals to this section of the electorate.

After Khatami’s withdrawal, an emergency meeting of the youth divisions of Khatami’s organization revealed a lack of support for Musavi. Rather than Musavi, some of the young activists pointed to a visitor at the meeting as their candidate – Abdollah Nuri. Nuri was one of Khatami’s trusted aides and served as his Interior Minister and vice-president. He was sentenced to five years in jail in 1999 for insulting Khamene‘i, ‘disturbing public opinion’ and advocating links with the US. Nuri has not yet announced whether he will join the presidential elections but nothing can be ruled out in the coming weeks and months.

Old wine in new bottles
So, how about the second ‘reformist’ candidate, Mehdi Karubi? Always a controversial figure, Karubi too belonged to the ‘left wing’ of Iranian politics in the 1980s where he was a key parliamentarian. In 2005, he split with the ‘left wing’ clerical body Majma‘-e rowhâniyun-e mobârez (Clerical Combatant Assembly) in order to create his own ‘party’, E‘temâd-e melli (National Trust). It seems that the 71-year old cleric is a candidate for every election, every time – but never wins.

Some facts are, however, in favor of Karubi: a decent result in the 2005 elections (17%); a steady following among some of Iran’s ethnic minorities; vocal criticism of Ahmadinejad and his government’s repression of students, artists, Sufi dervishes and the opposition; support from some of Khatami’s former aides; and his populist promises of cash handouts to all Iranians if he is elected. However despite all this, Karubi is not widely seen as a potential winner. He too seems to lack the broad-based support of the younger generation. And again, there is the question: is Karubi a ‘reformist’ at all?

In Iranian cyberspace, it seems that some do not believe so. A renowned ‘reformist’ blogger, ‘Bahman Aqa’ recently wrote:

In my point of view, Karubi isn’t a reformist. He is one of the leftist clerical leaders of the 1980s who was thrown out of power in the 90s and now wants to come back in. He is very brave and outspoken. He writes a letter to Jennati and tells him everything he wants to tell him

This refers to Karubi’s controversial letter of 2007 in which he severely criticized the high-ranking Ayatollah Jennati for praising Ahmadinejad. ‘Bahman’ continues:

But the fight between Karubi and Jennati is just the continuation of the fight between the [leftist] Combatant Clerics Assembly and [rightist] Combatant Clerics Society of the 1980s. Then, the Supreme Leadership supported those of the ‘Assembly’, today it supports those of the ‘Society’

This view is indicative of the fact that for many Iranians, the intra-clergy and factional struggles are basically irrelevant: there is no significant difference between most of these candidates and even in name, their organizations sound similar. Terms such as ‘reformist’, ‘conservative’ and ‘principlist’ are in constant flux and prone to opportunist abuse from all sides.

The bottom line is that all candidates are loyal to the fundamental ideology of the Islamic Revolution and the fundamental framework of the Islamic Republic. The second common characteristic is that they all utilize populist slogans in one sense or another, even though ‘the people’ to whom they address their rhetoric are from different socioeconomic and cultural strata of Iranian society.

This piece should of course not be seen as an indictment of Iran scholars and observers. I have used (and will continue to use) somewhat simplistic terms such as ‘reformist’, ‘conservative’ and ‘principlist’ when describing Iranian politicians. As analysts working with a controversial field of some interest to public opinion, we are obliged to talk in a plain language with a minimum of exotic words and complex neologisms. We need to describe the general currents in a multifaceted and often ambiguous, obscure political landscape.

Yet, it seems evermore important today to exert caution when choosing words for describing political trends and presidential candidates in Iran. It is evermore important that we refrain from clear-cut labeling and binary definitions of ‘reformist’ vs. ‘conservative’. Iranian politics is dynamic and unpredictable. We might see a ‘conservative’ come to power in the guise of a ‘reformist’ – just as we might see a professed ‘principlist’ reform the country in a direction away from the ‘principles’.

Boroujerdi, Rafsanjani, executions, counterterrorism

A selective glance at Iran and Iranian media, November 30.

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

The dissident Ayatollah Seyyed Hosein Kazemeyni-Borujerdi has allegedly been beaten up and brought to an unknown location. Borujerdi has advocated the separation of religion and government. Here is some interesting footage from two years ago of Borujerdi, his followers and his opponents; here is an older article and here a more recent piece.

Mohammad Hashemi-Rafsanjani, younger brother of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, has aired the possibility he might be a presidential candidate for the reformists. He has also stated that he do not know whether his older brother will be a candidate himself. Khatami’s former first vice-president, Mohammad-Reza ‘Aref, has also declared that he will run for presidency – if he receives support from the reformists.

Several media outlets have stated that Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf’s presidential campaign has started. Qalibaf is the mayor of Tehran and former chief of police. He is considered a ‘moderate conservative’ and he is known for his somewhat ‘modern image’ aimed at appealing to the young and affluent. At least Admiral Shamkhani, former Defense Minister, is ‘wise enough not to become a candidate!’.

The centrist / ‘moderate conservative’ Hasan Rowhani – a top advisor to Khamene‘i, former nuclear negotiator and currently the head of the Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research – has warned against paramilitary powers taking over the process of privatization in Iran. “Up until now, it was the government that hampered privatization, now it is being hampered by supra-governmental and paramilitary sectors”.

While one man was executed on November 18 for being an ‘Israeli spy’, authorities have now announced that they have unraveled a network of Israeli spies inside Iran. The network allegedly spied on Iran’s nuclear facilities (in English). Furthermore, three men have been sentenced to death for the April bombing of a mosque in Shiraz. Allegedly, the three are members of ‘a terrorist group’. They will be hanged in public.

Meanwhile, Iran has opened a Center for Advanced Studies in Counterterrorism. It is the purpose of this center to study the history of terrorism, ‘scientific strategies of counterterrorism’ and the ‘real face of the US’ as the culprit behind international terror today.