Iran Linkage

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 27, 2009

The main story coming out of Iran these days on the human/political rights front involves the show-trials. But there are other stories of note and interest as well . . .

1. Concerning the show trials, we have Ali Khamene’i telling us that whoops, the people subjected to show-trials should not be considered agents of Western powers. However, Khamene’i continues to maintain that foreign countries were the catalysts behind the protests. For those trying to figure out the method behind this latest statement of madness, consider the following:

The ayatollah’s dramatic shift appears to be a reaction to the growing anger in Iran over allegations that torture and rape have been used to extract false, televised confessions from a number of Iranians. There have been signs of discontent within Iran’s conservative camp over the harsh crackdown on political opponents for weeks.

It is nice to see the backlash occurring. Took long enough. But no one should consider Khamene’i's latest statement a proper response to the backlash. Rather, it is an insult to the collective intelligence of Iranians and the international community at large.

2. Roger Hardy properly excoriates the show-trials. So does the former president, Mohammad Khatami. It’s all worth reading.

3. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani really doesn’t like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

The family of Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Iran’s former president, has filed a legal complaint against Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, amid signs of continuing tensions at the highest levels of the Islamic regime.

The legal complaint was revealed by domestic media, which quoted one of Mr Rafsanjani’s sons, Mehdi Hashemi.

It appears to be related to allegations of corruption made by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad during a television debate in the campaign for the June 12 presidential election.

The allegations were revived in the trials of senior reformist figures accused by the regime of instigating the post-election unrest.

Mr Rafsanjani has been a leading backer of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the reformist candidate who says the election was stolen from him. Although symbolically important, given the questionable independence of the judiciary, the lawsuit is not likely to be seriously pursued.

Perhaps not, but it is certainly a sign of significant fissures on a political level.

4. Speaking of fissures on a political level:

Most Iranian lawmakers stayed away from a party hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Etemad, a reformist daily, cited unidentified members of parliament as saying their absence signaled disappointment at the hardline president’s proposed cabinet following the disputed June election.

Ahmadinejad’s media adviser was not immediately available for comment.

Ahmadinejad submitted the cabinet list to parliament last week but he may face a battle after some deputies suggested they were likely to reject several nominees.

“From the 290 lawmakers invited to a party hosted by the president on Sunday night, only 20 attended. Lawmakers say with Ahmadinejad’s proposed cabinet, there is no reason to hold meetings and talks,” Etemad reported.

Despite all of the regime’s efforts, it has failed to cover up the tensions that quite clearly exist among members of Iran’s political class. Think that those tensions will probably grow in nature and seriousness as time goes on? Me too.

5. Behold the racket that is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps:

The IRGC leaders have united behind Mr Ahmadinejad not only to defend their shared idea of an Iran that is less of a republic but more stridently “Islamic”. They also want to protect a moneymaking machine. The IRGC controls a big chunk of the 70% or so of Iran’s economy that is state-run, with stakes in everything from dental and eye clinics to car factories and construction firms. Even “privatised” assets seem to fall into its hands or those of friends. The real private sector has grown hoarse crying foul, as recently when the state privatisation agency quietly passed ownership of Tehran’s main convention centre to an army pension fund.

Because their accounting is off-the-books and the ownership of these businesses is notoriously opaque, it is difficult to gauge their value. But in his first term Mr Ahmadinejad steered billions in uncontested oil, gas and large-scale infrastructure contracts to the IRGC. Its main construction firm, Khatam al-Anbya, could barely keep up with the workload. In 2006 alone the subsidiary received $7 billion to develop gas- and oilfields and for the refurbishment of the Tehran metro system. “It’s got much worse in the last four years,” says one local market analyst. “They’ve become a mafia. They undercut bids by abusing their access to free labour and exploiting their intelligence capabilities [to spy on competitors].”

The IRGC is also widely rumoured to control a near monopoly over the smuggling of alcohol, cigarettes and satellite dishes, among other things in great demand. One MP reckons these black-market deals net it $12 billion a year. This creates not just a drain on state coffers but an incentive to radicalise the regime; the IRGC’s commanders personally profit from Iran’s isolation, since it creates more demand for contraband. Some American congressmen have called for an embargo on petrol imports if Iran does not come to terms over its controversial nuclear programme. The IRGC might even relish that.

Not only is the regime brutal, vicious, and tyrannical, it is also corrupt to the gills. And people wonder why Iranians risk their lives and fortunes to demand change.

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