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American Muslims: Prejudice, Politics and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Obama Era (Multimedia)
August 20, 2011 Leave a Comment
NEW YORK, Aug 8, 2011 (IPS) - Last week’s appointment of a ranking member of Iran’s influential Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the country’s new oil minister could lead to a more unaccountable and unpredictable military with greater influence on the government in Tehran, analysts say.
The IRGC currently controls Iran’s most powerful intelligence- security arm, which played a key role in the post-election crackdown of 2008 and the intimidation, arrests and imprisonment of hundreds of political dissidents.
It has built up a sprawling business empire since the 1979 Revolution, with annual revenues estimated at some 12 billion dollars and investments in sectors ranging from oil, gas and petrochemicals to cars, bridges and roads. It also controls the paramilitary Basij militia.Organisations affiliated with the IRGC hold key roles in the ballistic and nuclear industries, and design and carry out military and civilian operations outside of the country.
The pressure on parliament to approve the posting appeared to be immense. At the Aug. 3 confidence vote, which ended 216-22 with seven abstentions, Rostam Ghassemi’s appointment was vocally opposed by only a single conservative member, Ali Mottahari.
“Appointing a military commander as the oil minister would cause a union of political power and economic power and this could lead to corruption,” he cautioned.
Mottahari recalled the period 1989 to 1997, under Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency, when Iran’s intelligence ministry was allowed to engage in economic activities. During that period it became clear that the ministry’s operatives were directly involved in the murders of dissident Iranian intellectuals and writers.
Mottahari added that parliamentary oversight of the oil ministry would become much harder with an IRGC commander at the helm, and said that asking questions of the minister or putting him up for a vote of confidence would be difficult.
A foregone conclusion
A journalist present at the parliamentary vote called it “a complete show”.
“During the vote, Speaker Ali Larijani told the MP’s ‘to vote for Mr. Minister.’ This meant that everyone had to vote for him,” she told IPS.
A U.S. State Department official told IPS in an email that, “Iran is tarnishing OPEC’s prestige by naming a minister linked to both [nuclear] proliferation activities and human rights abuses as the head of Iran’s oil ministry, when Iran holds the OPEC [Organisation of the Petroleum-Exporting Countries] presidency.
“IRGC General Rostam Qasemi has been sanctioned by the U.S. and EU for his nuclear proliferation activities as head of Khatam-ol-Anbia, the construction and business arm of the IRGC and currently the largest contractor of government projects in Iran. His appointment shows the expanding influence of the IRGC in Iran’s economy,” the official said.
Washington most recently sanctioned the IRGC on Jun. 8 for human rights abuses against the Iranian people.
Putting an IRGC commander in place as oil minister completes the military’s domination of Iran’s economy, politics and military- intelligence apparatus.
In assuming his new post, Ghassemi will resign as head of the IRGC’s Khatam-ol-Anbia Construction Base, considered the most important financial unit of the Guards and currently the largest contractor of government projects in Iran, a position he has held since 2007. The base was established in 1990 with the agreement of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Over the past four years, the entity has been the contractor for 1,500 of the country’s most important government projects.
Power struggles at the top
In May, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi, also an IRGC commander. According to a source familiar with the oil ministry and the IRGC, the reason for Mirkazemi’s dismissal was that he had divulged expenditure reports to the supreme leader.
“Mirkazemi considered himself above Ahmadinejad and had very close relations with Ali Khamenei and his allies, and in some cases, he provided his reports directly to Iran’s supreme leader, and Ahmadinejad found this very hard to tolerate,” the source told IPS in a telephone interview.
“But Mirkazemi’s dismissal created a lot of anger among the high- ranking IRGC commanders,” he added.
Shortly after, Ahmadinejad tried to appoint a member of his inner circle, Mohammad Ali Abadi, as the interim oil minister, but was unsuccessful in gaining the support of top officials and the parliament.
Ghassemi was reportedly not Ahmadinejad’s favourite candidate for the post. However, by choosing an IRGC commander who is less influential within the leadership, the president could improve his fractious relationship with the parliament and the IRGC, while also having an oil minister he is better able to control.
Hossein Bastani, a political analyst with BBC Persian Service who was secretary-general of the Iranian Journalists’ Association during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist presidency, believes that “in reality, the head of the Khatam-ol-Anbia Base is no less powerful than the oil minister, maybe more.”
Bastani believes that the Khatam-ol-Anbia Base has not been directly involved in Iran’s nuclear programme, as “the military parts of the programme are carried out by IRGC’s Ballistics Division, and the nuclear parts are carried out by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.”
“Of course the billions of dollars spent on IRGC’s economic projects are all spent through the Khatam-ol-Anbia Base,” he noted.
A political analyst in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS, “The general policies of the oil ministry, including certain expenditures that are never reflected in official reports, such as Iran’s nuclear programme, are determined by Iran’s supreme leader.”
“All individuals appointed to the position of oil minister are those who are completely trusted by the Iranian leadership. Many of the Islamic Republic’s international under-the-radar activities are funded by Iran’s oil ministry. Even if the oil minister is not involved in such projects, he would know about their financial transactions,” he added.
August 8, 2011 Leave a CommentThe Slate, Tuesday, July 12, 2011 -This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. A Future Tense conference on the promise and limitations of using technology to spread democracy will be held at the New America Foundation on July 13. (For more information and to sign up for the event, please visit the NAF website.)
The Obama administration has begun taking action to bring Internet freedom to Iran. This sounds wonderful.
But this approach ignores two key factors: 1) Iran already has the upper hand in this battle; 2) the current approach is dangerous to activists and focuses on too few people. If the U.S. really wants to bring free-flowing information to Iran, it needs to rethink its current strategy.
I grew up in Iran and worked as a journalist there until 2004, when I—along with 20 other bloggers, Web technicians, and journalists—was arrested by security forces for my blog, in what was the first major raid against bloggers and online activists. After two months of mistreatment and solitary confinement, I was released and soon after moved to the United States.In January 2010, I joined a number of Internet activist and journalists from around the world for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s major address on Internet freedom. In the speech, she announced what amounts to a soft cyber-war with authoritarian regimes including Iran. “We are … supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship,” said Clinton, adding, “We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the Internet safely.”
According to some estimates, the State Department will spend something around $70 million on “circumvention efforts and related technology.”
In June, the New York Times reported that “the Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy ’shadow’ Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.” One of the secretive programs that the administration is working on is a $2 million project dubbed the “Internet in a suitcase.” The idea is to send these devices to activists in authoritarian countries like Iran; recipients will be able to use wireless communication and connect to the global environment, without fear of monitoring. (The Open Technology Institute of the New America Foundation, which is part of the Future Tense partnership with Slate, is a recipient of the grant and taking part in the “Internet in a suitcase plan.) Iranian authorities promptly announced that they have plans to fight back these secretive plans. In fact, they’ve already been doing it for years. The United States has a lot of catching up to do if it hopes to use the Internet to bring freedom to Iranians.
Over the past five years, Iran has employed one of the most sophisticated filtering systems in the world. It controls Internet service providers, hunts activists via the Internet police, uses thousands of operators to monitor Web content, and can slow down or shut down the Internet when needed.
Since the contentious 2009 presidential election sparked so much international conversation about the role of social networking in democracy movements, Iran has intensified its efforts to finish the “National Internet Network,” which costs the government about $1.5 billion. The network is supposed to disconnect Iranians from the World Wide Web and enable the government to have a much higher control over the Internet. A year after the election-related unrest, Iran’s police commander told reporters, “Social networking on [the] Internet has imposed a heavy cost to the country.” Iran’s investment in curbing access shows that the government sees the threat of the power of the Internet.
Furthermore, the Iranian government has managed to mobilize an army of hackers that intensely attack opponents’ websites and hack emails. In 2010, the deputy to the militia Basij Force said, “Cyber war is a two-sided war. As we are targeted by cyber-attacks [such as the Stuxnet virus], our cyber army includes experts from Basij, university students, and students in seminaries.”
As much as I find the Obama administration’s efforts promising, I believe they are practically insufficient and will not bring any meaningful change to Iranian people’s ability to access information and organize. They will also likely do more harm than good. The budget is very small, the target group is very sensitive, and progress is very slow. We need a way to connect the millions who are without access to the Internet—not just a small group.
Moreover, it’s strange that the efforts have been made public. Many Iranians I spoke to about this news were shocked that the plan has been revealed; bringing such plans to the attention of the Tehran authorities may put people in danger. What will happen if the Iranian government captures an individual with one of those Internet suitcases? He or she will be charged with espionage. Punishment may take the form of a long prison sentence or even execution. In 2010, Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, who was involved in anti-proxy programming, was sentenced to 15 years in prison just for fighting against censorship. The same applies to cell phones that might be equipped with such U.S.-backed technologies; they will be just too risky for people to try. A better use of U.S. Internet freedom funds would be to develop better anti-proxy software programs, which is dangerous, expensive work for in-country digital activists.
Furthermore, the Internet, while important, is not the entire game. In Iran, only 38 percent of the population is even connected to the Internet. Almost 90 percent of these people use sluggish dial-up-modem connections; sometimes it takes one minute to open a page. In contrast, satellite TVs have very broad outreach. But the Iranian government jams satellite TVs, including the Voice of America and the BBC. The United States would make far more of a difference by investing in technology to circumvent Iran’s satellite-jamming process. Last year, I tried to emphasize the importance of this strategy when I testified before the Senate judiciary committee’s subcommittee on human rights and the law. I emphasized that the commercial carriers are reluctant to broadcast reform-oriented Iranian TV content because of the jamming. Using new technologies that jam the jammers, so to speak, would be a wise investment for the U.S. government.
This approach would give millions access to TV channels that fight back against the Islamic Republic’s incessant propaganda. The U.S. would also be wise to invest heavily in the underfunded Voice of America TV channel, which is popular in Iran. VoA Persian could be the most powerful tool to fight Iran’s anti-American propaganda. If authorities can find a way to unblock VoA Persian, the U.S. will be able to reach beyond the middle-class and city dwellers. And this approach would not place people in danger: Millions are already tuning into satellite TV, even in small villages, even though it’s illegal. On occasion the police have gone door to door in big cities to intimidate people into not using it, but once they are gone people merely cover their dishes and turn the TV back on.
I believe that the United States is in a propaganda war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Winning this war will require more than just providing Internet access for a couple of hundred people. Tehran Internet freedom sounds great in speeches like Clinton’s, but the United States’ current plan to change the Iranian Web landscape is simply not realistic. In fact, the current plan makes me suspect that the U.S. isn’t taking Iran as seriously as it ought to.
July 12, 2011 Leave a Comment
Huffington Post, Posted: 7/5/11- Less than a week after the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed former Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran, Head of Iran’s Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, in a TV interview said, “accepting the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights is not our policy.”
In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism for Iran and appointing a Special Rapporteur. Last month, three candidates were considered for this position. The Iranian side, knowing that a Special Rapporteur would be immediately appointed soon, sent a message to Geneva that the Rapporteur on Iran should have three qualifications: Be a man, be a Muslim, and not be from an Arab country. One of the male candidates didn’t seem to cause any controversy for Tehran; Ahmed Shaheed’s appointment met all of Iran’s requirements.The Head of the Iranian Judiciary had kept silence on the implementation of a special human rights monitoring mechanism since the approval of the HRC resolution in March leaving opposition to the resolution to the Iranian Parliament and the verbose Conservatives Therefore, it was assumed that during this time the Judiciary was assessing its position on permitting the entry of a the Special Rapporteur to Iran. In mid-June, Ebrahim Raisi, First Deputy of the Judiciary, said “The Islamic Republic will review the entry of the rapporteur.” No special rapporteur on human rights has been allowed to enter the country since 2005.
Considering the dire human rights situation in Iran, it seems that Tehran has found it politically very costly to let a foreign independent inspector visit the country. However, regardless of whether the Iranian Judiciary and Foreign Ministry allow the UN Special Rapporteur’s entry, Shaheed must present his report to the UN in September 2011. It is believed that Shaheed started his work even before his name was announced as the Special Rapporteur.
Iran’s lack of cooperation with the UN could lead the case to be discussed at the UN General Assembly in September, and most likely would increase political pressue on Tehran.
Over the past two years Iranian officials promised to cooperate with UN special mechanisms. For instance, earlier this year, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the Head of the Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, had said that they will cooperate with UN mechanisms.
But, why Iran wouldn’t be willing to cooperate with a UN special monitoring mechanism on human rights?
Since the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian government has been able to dominate its narrative of events through its gigantic propaganda machine. Iranian authorities deny any human rights violations inside the country and accuse Western countries, particularly the US, of politicizing the UN human rights body.
The rapporteur is most likely a challenge to the government’s narrative and will certainly reveal a new image of the Iranian government. In fact, the Iranian government is acutely concerned that the Special Rapporteur’s presence in the country might have uncontrollable consequences. Ahmed Shaheed is known to be a serious and ardent character, and Iranian authorities’ ability to influence Shaheed, a non-Arab and Muslim man, seems dim.
For Shaheed’s presence in Iran to be meaningful, cooperation of related organizations is necessary, in order to provide him access to documents, political prisoners, detention centers, prisoner families, political dissidents, and other resources. It would be meaningless for the Special Rapporteur to travel to Iran and not be provided with appropriate access to resources. The Iranian Judiciary and Foreign Ministry authorities know that under the present conditions in Iran, such access is fundamentally impossible. On the off chance that the Iranian Judiciary may decide to grant such access, Iran’s security and intelligence organizations would resist such a decision.
Three decades after the revolution, Iranian authorities continue to imprison and abuse political dissidents, however they are increasingly failing to silence their voices. Contrary to the 1980s and 1990s, names and detailed accounts of hundreds of prisoners are currently available on the internet. Many of those arrested after the election have sent letters from their prison cells, revealing prison abuse and torture. Hamzeh Karami, Mohammad Nourizad, and Abdollah Momeni are only a few of such individuals. When a political prisoner, such as Mohammad Nourizad, writes a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from inside prison, detailing the abuse and cruelty, it would not be too far-fetched to expect him to sit before the Special Rapporteur and tell him his experiences.
Therefore, it is also very likely that despite intimidations of political prisoners, their families, and human rights lawyers for not meeting with the Special Rapporteur, many of them would have insisted on such meetings.
Despite all political and moral pressure Iran faces worldwide, it has designed its narrative in such a way that it calls every UN resolution an American one, and instead of responding to the cases of human rights violations in Iran, it attacks Washington directly and offers instances of human rights violations in the U.S. It’s not surprising that attacking the U.S. on human rights appeals to some countries, particularly those that, next to Iran, bear a similar international pressure.
The Special Rapporteur’s presence could lead to a propaganda catastrophe for Iran’s government. One in which the distorted image the Iranian government’s judicial, security, and diplomatic apparatus have tried to portray of Iran’s human rights record, could turn into an ugly caricature, which would not leave any room for Iranian authorities to defend the alarming violations of human rights in the country.
In putting his report together, Shaheed will not face too many problems if he is not allowed to go to Iran. Currently, many victims of violence and rape, students who suffered education discrimination, religious minorities — such as the Bahais — many human rights activists and distinguished human rights lawyers who have served prison terms over the past years and left Iran after their release, represent valuable, live sources of information that the Special Rapporteur can use in writing his report.
The UN Special Rapporteur would also contact families of political prisoners and experts, via email and other types of electronic communication, in order to collect information. Those inside Iran, who would have avoided an in-person meeting with Shaheed due to security concerns and fear of persecution by security forces, are now in prime position to discuss their issues with him with peace of mind and without fear of being identified and any compromise totheir security. They will be excellent sources of detailed accounts of abuse, discrimination, torture, and unfair judicial reviews for Shaeed’s report.
During the past weeks, a lively momentum has been created amongst Iranian activists to help the UN Special Rapporteur in compiling his report on the country.
The Iranian Judiciary authorities face a lose/lose situation, no matter which path they take, they will pay a heavy price, domestically and internationally.
July 5, 2011 Leave a Comment