IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

On August 16, a number of young hardline clerics held an anti-government protest in Qom that highlighted differences among conservatives.

The rally was supposed to be against “financial corruption” and “government mismanagement,” but the banners held by the attendees, which contained messages threatening moderate President Hassan Rouhani, turned the event into an even more controversial demonstration, with moderates and reformists attacking the organizers.

A few conservative grand ayatollahs unexpectedly came forward to condemn the rally. What angered them weren’t the banners but a speech by a hardline theorist.

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Iran’s human rights record continues to deteriorate but there are effective ways to advocate for improvement that include making demands as specific as possible and enlisting broad multilateral support.

These were the main conclusions of a September 13 panel on the topic organized by the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

The system imposed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution seeks a return to conservative social values through rigid interpretations of Islamic law. From women losing rights previously enshrined in a 1975 Family Protection Act, to intimidation and repression of civil society at large by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Judiciary, Iran has violated a wide spectrum of ethnic, social, and religious rights.

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The logical conclusion of the Trump administration’s Iran policy seems not to be regime change but regime collapse.

Though Secretary of Defense James Mattis has denied that either are on the agenda, the White House's rhetoric and actions betray a different motive. The US president himself has trumpeted the harsh impact of reinstated sanctions and said that it is a “question” as to whether the Islamic Republic “will survive.”

President Donald Trump’s approach is slated to impoverish the Iranian population, cripple Iranian civil society, and eliminate prospects for peaceful democratic change. Indeed, state collapse and domestic turmoil loom larger on the horizon.

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As is the norm for most authoritarian regimes, fortunes rise and fall quickly for men of power in Iran. But the former chief of staff and vice president of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had it coming for a long time.

As the closest confidante of the former president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei has long been despised by much of the Iranian ruling elite for leading a supposed “deviant current,” and advocating a strange mix of ascetic mysticism, Iranian nationalism, Shia millenarianism, and anti-establishment sentiment.

After years of controversy, Mashaei was finally arrested last March. He was charged with “collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “insulting judicial authorities.” Along with his patron, the ex-president, Mashaei had spent much of the last few months agitating against the judiciary, especially after it targeted Hamid Baghaei, Ahmadinejad’s number three: his former vice president and a disqualified candidate during the 2017 presidential elections. Earlier this year, Baghaei ended up being sentenced to fifteen years in prison and fined for embezzlement.

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“Freedom has no limits; ideas and thoughts should never ever be limited … Any type of restrictions on ideas and beliefs especially on Social Media will lead to chaos and dictatorship.”

Probably the last person a Jeffersonian-style tweet would be connected to is former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Irony seems to be lost on Ahmadinejad, given that social media—Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—were banned under his presidency after the 2009 post-election protests known as the Green Movement. For almost a decade now, Iranian internet users have had to rely on circumvention tools to bypass censorship, while the former hardline president tweets like it’s his day job—which is more and more becoming the case.

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As the United States solemnly commemorates the seventeenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, questions about the relationship of Iran and al-Qaeda linger. Over the years, US courts have ruled that Iran provided al-Qaeda support to carry out its signature attacks, namely the 1998 East Africa bombings, the USS Cole in Yemen, and the 9/11 attacks.

Asking members of al-Qaeda to address whether they collaborated with Iran to carry out international terrorism is unlikely to yield a credible response. “Listening in” on what al-Qaeda members, their families and jihadists in their orbit were “saying” about their ties to Iran is far more credible.

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President Donald Trump’s offer to “meet with the Iranian president without preconditions if they wanted to meet” has been roundly rejected by Iran’s hardline establishment but has sparked a lively debate over the wisdom and efficacy of such a move in alleviating pressure on Iran’s economy.

During a recent meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet members, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to emphatically rule out any negotiations, asking, “What negotiations can we have with the current disrespectful and brazen US officials who are making no secret of their hostility toward Iranians? Therefore, no talks will take place with Americans at any level. Not just the president but the foreign and intelligence ministers as well.”

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To say that the US-Iran relationship is at new low would be an understatement.

Whatever slim opening existed as a result of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been closed shut, replaced by a cacophony of mutual threats, personal insults, financial sanctions and the absence of even basic communication between Washington and Tehran.

Donald Trump, who won the presidency partly because of his vow to make better deals for the American people, has instead ushered in a period of intense uncertainty with Iran. This could very well produce a dangerous miscalculation if communication channels between the two capitals are not re-opened on a full-time basis.

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Since the December 2017 nationwide protests in Iran, there have been countless strikes and labor protests. During the months of June and July alone, railroad workers and truck drivers went on strike in over two dozen cities across the country. Unionization is banned in Iran and security forces constantly crack down on labor rights activists, quelling any ability for Iranian workers to voice their concerns about working conditions and government policies that impact their livelihood, especially since the economic situation will further worsen with the reimposition of US sanctions. Iranian activists are often the target of scrutiny by the Iranian government, and also face obstacles when gathering information.

Due to these complications, Zamaneh Media—a Persian language media organization based in the Netherlands—has stepped in to monitor labor developments. This month they published “Labor Rights in Iran,” Zamaneh Media’s first bi-monthly report on the issue. The report analyses seven key areas: child labor; contractual issues and unemployment; discrimination in the workforce and fair wages; freedom of association and unionization; labor legislation; women in the workforce; workplace security and health.

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and its ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pledged decisive victory when they went to war in March 2015 against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The result has not been the Houthis’ defeat, but tens of thousands of deaths, a cholera epidemic and famine -- what the United Nations has deemed “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

One way to end the nightmare is for the United States to withdraw its support for the war, compel the Saudi-led coalition to accept a ceasefire and ensure a peace process that keeps millions more from unnecessary suffering.

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