Iran is self-destructing

Iran is self-destructing

Ma bi-shomarim / We are countless
— Slogan of the Green Movement in Iran

Within minutes of the picture of a frail and fragile Mohammad Ali Abtahi appearing on the Internet, the blogosphere was flooded with split images of him before and after his predicament. Having lost some 20 kilos since his incarceration in late June, his handsome, always smiling and endearing, face thinned beyond recognition, disrobed of his clerical habit, his turban lost, and clad in unseemly prison pajamas, the former vice president under President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), a leading reformist, and particularly popular with bloggers because of his own weblog, Abtahi’s case was particularly heart- wrenching to his young admirers.

The belligerent custodians of the Islamic Republic had forced him to confess to crimes that would make a dead chicken laugh, as we say in Persian, and as an oppositional figure quickly pointed out. This is a velvet revolution, he was made to say, plotted by the reformists, supported by the “Enemy,” and there was nothing wrong with Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory. Instead of sadness and disappointment, the blogosphere was abuzz with love and admiration for Abtahi. He was instantly declared a national hero. “For the first time,” said one blogger, “I learned to love a cleric — and then I looked again; he had no clerical robe anymore.” Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the leading Iranian filmmaker now active in support of the Green Movement, delivered the most memorable punch line in support of Abtahi and dismissing his forced confessions. “If Khamenei were to be treated like Abtahi in jail, the Supreme Guide would come to national television belly dancing!”

Every state is founded on force, Max Weber believed early in the 20th century. What Weber termed “legitimate violence,” as the defining apparatus of any state, is predicated on what he called “external means” and “inner justification”: the more a state has to resort to external means (use of violence), the less its claim on inner justification (constitutional mandates) on its citizens. The massively orchestrated and naked violence that the Islamic Republic has launched against its own citizens (young and old, men and women, rich and poor) has not only delegitimised its claim to the notion of a “republic”, it has, ipso facto, discredited any claim to “Islam” that it may have while bordering on discrediting Islam itself, which is the reason why so many prominent, high-ranking, Shia clerics are coming out so forcefully and categorically denouncing the violent crackdown of peaceful demonstrations, in both juridical and rational terms. There were many Iranians who doubted the accuracy of the June presidential election results, and there were those who thought they were perfectly accurate. But the vicious, blatantly criminal, activities of people in positions of power in the Islamic Republic have now assumed a reality sui generis, beyond anything that any critic of this election had ever uttered. The Islamic Republic of Iran is self-destructing. [continued…]

Tehran’s self-fulfilling paranoia

My interrogators explained to me that the United States, bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer contemplates military action against Iran. Rather, they said, Washington is engaged in a long-term plan for regime change in which a crucial role is assigned to America’s great universities and think tanks, such as the one where I work. These institutions target Iran’s intellectual elites — the same class that led political revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. They use fellowships, conferences, workshops and speaking invitations to recruit Iranian intellectuals, journalists, academics and political activists, and they turn them into willing or unwitting partners in this conspiracy. The plan feeds upon itself: ideas, recruitment, linkages with politicians, mass protests and then regime overthrow.

I was supposed to be the mastermind or at least a key player in this project. My chief interrogator offered to let me off if I implicated my employer, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. At one point I replied to my interrogators that Iran is not a banana republic to be overthrown by 20 scholars sitting around a conference table.

Eventually, I was freed. But in the mass “trials” that began this month, the government prosecutor laid out precisely the same “conspiracy” I was charged with. Using the same mad logic I faced during interrogation, he managed to link together foreign governments, the BBC, other journalists, a French-language teacher, anti-regime monarchists, a former guerrilla organization and prominent leaders of the Islamic Republic. All are supposed to have joined hands to bring about regime change. [continued…]

Iran to allow IAEA greater monitoring

Iran agreed with United Nations inspectors to grant greater monitoring of Tehran’s uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz as well as a nearly completed heavy-water reactor, according to officials briefed on the talks.

The accord breaks a monthslong impasse between Iran and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that has fed into concerns Tehran is moving toward developing atomic weapons. Officials involved in the diplomacy hope Iran’s decision could signal a greater willingness by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government to cooperate with the West.

President Barack Obama has set a late September deadline for Tehran to respond to an international offer to negotiate on the future of Iran’s nuclear program, or face a new round of economic sanctions.

Tehran, engulfed in a postelection political crisis, has offered conflicting signals in recent weeks about its response. But Iran experts said Tehran’s decision on the monitors is likely a harbinger of the conciliatory stance it will take toward the international community as the deadline looms, even if it doesn’t scale back its nuclear work. [continued…]

Iran’s Ahmadinejad softens tone before Cabinet vote

Iran’s embattled leader toned down his rhetoric, softened his voice and attempted to directly woo the people in a live prime-time television interview Thursday before what most analysts predict will be a fierce fight with parliament over his proposed Cabinet.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said 11 of his 21 nominees have doctoral degrees, and said it was an advantage that many of them appear to be staunchly loyal to him.

“Some people suggested that such and such person is capable but he does not agree with you,” he said. “I say . . . the Cabinet ministers must be in coordination with the president so that we create synergy.”

As he spoke, the capital erupted with defiant cries of “Allahu Akbar!” and “Death to the dictator!” from rooftops and windows in what has become a nightly ritual of protest against the nation’s June 12 presidential election, which was marred by allegations of massive vote-rigging in Ahmadinejad’s favor. [continued…]

Iran parliament to reject Ahmadinejad ministers: MPs

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a tough battle to win parliament’s approval for his new cabinet after some deputies signaled they were likely to reject several nominees.

“Those nominated by the president for government posts must have sufficient expertise and experience, otherwise a great deal of the country’s energy would be wasted,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted parliament speaker Ali Larijani as saying on Thursday.

Vice speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a pragmatic conservative who has been critical of the hardline president in the past, suggested up to five members of Ahmadinejad’s 21-strong cabinet risked being voted down by parliament. He did not give names. [continued…]

Built to spill

Iran’s Achilles heel, goes the mantra of many Washington hawks, is its dependence on imported petrol – the result of underinvestment in its energy industry during three decades of sanctions. While the country is a net oil exporter, Iran’s domestic refining capacity lags, forcing the Islamic Republic to import roughly a third of its daily petrol needs from abroad and ration consumer fuel purchases.

The US Congress is currently considering a bill, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would exploit this weakness by penalising companies and individuals that import petrol into Iran or invest in its domestic oil and gas infrastructure. The rosy logic behind the sanctions bill, which currently enjoys majority support in both houses of Congress, is not new: the hope is that ordinary Iranians, squeezed at the petrol pump, will pressure their recalcitrant leaders to halt uranium enrichment, embrace Israel and stop their unpalatable activities in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. That, or Tehran will lash out frantically in response, which will lead to an international consensus for even tougher sanctions – or worse.

Opponents of the bill have already pointed out many of its flaws: for starters, Iran could seek investments from Russia and China to build new refineries. Beyond that logistical loophole, it is also the case that Iranians generally support the country’s nuclear programme – and even if they didn’t, forcing Iran’s increasingly authoritarian government to reverse course would require months, if not years, of struggle and bloodshed. Sanctions against oil-producing nations often starve business and civil society, while the continuing flow of oil profits to the state leaves the targeted regimes more, rather than less, powerful – Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq being the best example. [continued…]

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