Friday, June 27, 2008

Iran: Corruption Scandal and Political Campaign


Iran: Corruption Scandal and Political Campaign

Ali Asghar Kazemi

June 10, 2008


Like many other phenomena, political struggle in Iran has its own peculiarities. While presidential elections is still away, skyrocketing inflation and other social evils are abreast, political entourage and devotees of the hard-line president are launching harsh propaganda campaign pointed upon corruption, racketeering and favoritism in the country. They are trying to find avenues to cover government’s mishandling nation’s affairs in order to divert public attention from the unbearable gloomy condition, misery and hardship to corrupt circles close to high echelon cleric and imminent personalities labeled as “mafia groups” in the Islamic regime!

Who are these mafia groups? What are the objectives behind recent revelations about corruptions allegations of high political figures? What are the plausible impacts of this premature campaign? Who will benefit from it?


We may recall that the incumbent president in Iran won the elections by focusing on a number of programs that pleased a great majority of the least favored people who were quite distressed about widespread Inflation, unemployment, poverty, corruption, drugs abuse, etc. Pretending to understand the causes of these social ills, he pledged to cure them through appropriate revolutionary and just policies. Unfortunately, after almost three long years in office, not only he failed to achieve his promises but all the malaises aggravated with an unprecedented momentum and citizens are left helpless in an ocean of hardship and misery.

Ever since the hard-line government came into power in Iran and attempted to solve various problems of the country by force and populist policies, inflation, unemployment and other social troubles got out of control in various sectors of the society. At first officials denied the whole quandary and blamed liberals and “fifth columns” of enemies for fabricating propaganda in order to weaken the “popular government.”

Gradually the matter became so flagrant and critical that even hard-line MP’s in the previous Parliament (Majles) started to nag and criticized the government for its failure in containing the galloping inflation. Finally the President and other high officials admitted to some extent the existence of these problems but, as expected, they tried to put the blame on domestic invisible evil hands (mafia groups) and extraneous factors for the anomalies.

Naturally, when inflation, unemployment, low-productivity and other consequential social impacts grow out of proportion in a religious state such as Iran, the matter requires serious attention. There is no doubt that a portion of the current price rises is due to the global inflation created by increasing oil prices, sanctions and adverse economic policies of great world powers. But, nobody can deny that mismanagement of the current government paved the path for widespread poverty, greed and corruption at different level of the society.

Thus, in order to remain in power for a second term, top government officials, including the president, started to raise the perennial history of corruption apparently beyond their power to cope with. In their belief, people will support once again such a bold and valiant president who earnestly wants to fight economic “mafia groups” who seem to outweigh the power of government.

Official media usually are forbidden to depict controversial issues aimed at discrediting the overall regime and its important figures. Yet from time to time, when bad news propagates as public rumors, only fractions of the problem are exposed in the media. With the lack of private independent radio and television stations, most daily papers have learned by experience not to cover controversial issues surpassing “the red lines”; fearing regime discontent which could be very costly. Nevertheless, when bad news pierces their way to mass media, one should expect storms of allegations and misinformation to emerge in order to neutralize the impacts.

Recent revelations by a dubious government official about corruption issue was indeed a very serious accusation against high religious and political figures which explicitly opened what the president had implied in his speech few weeks ago in the holy city of Qom. Quite naturally, the opposition groups inside and outside the country thoroughly capitalized on the matter. Perhaps the pro-government devotees did not anticipate such a harsh campaign to discredit the whole Islamic regime.

Obviously, the culprits directly responsible for the propaganda shock were arraigned a day after on the account of propagating deceptive information with the intent to dishonor the political system and to provoke people against the regime. Interestingly, the detainees were themselves charged with corruption and divulgation of classified official documents having impact on national security and defamation of high cleric public figures. Some representatives of the Islamic parliament correctly argued the rationale behind the arrest of committee members set up by the Majles to inquire into the corruption in the judicial branch. They are asking for clarification as to whether these charges are true or not disregard of the circumstances or persons who have uncovered the matters.

Impacts of these revelations would eventually be widespread; because the tremendous gap between the haves and have-nots has created an extremely hostile environment among people in big cities such as Tehran who really can’t afford their daily bread and are naturally very repulsive to the deplorable conditions. Without a doubt, the situation is susceptible to create clash between various layers of the society. There seems to be no chance that the government could tackle with the problem the way it has been doing so far. This will incite little people to solve their misery outside the realm of law, ethics and rationality.

Of course many descent and honest poor people may take the hardship as a misfortune, fate, and bad luck. But needy greedy populaces don’t see the matter this way and are tempted to revolt against such injustice in their own ways. Realizing to be unable to claim justice from the government, they will go after wealthy and opulent targets in order to put things straight and get their fare share. Car thefts, burglaries, assaults, larceny, bank robbery etc. are ordinary occurrences in big cities. In their view this is a handy way to get around poverty, injustice and unfair distribution of wealth and oil revenue promised by the president.

Throughout the history, clergies in Iran have had esteemed position in public eyes, because of their honesty, integrity, truthfulness and veracity. Ever since the Islamic regime ascended to political power, genuine spiritual leaders distanced themselves from official power circles and left the scene for opportunists, unscrupulous and deceitful people. Naturally, the lust of material rich pushes weak spirits toward corruption and other unethical earthly desires. This can make the whole social structure vulnerable and to risky situations which could uproot the entire political system in the long run. Centuries ago, Ibne-Khaldun, the renowned Muslim sociologist, has well predicted the matter and history has proven the case repeatedly.

Whether the recent scandal and revelations about “mafia groups” is a true and genuine fight against corruption and other social evils, or is just a political campaign for gaining the ballot boxes in the coming presidential elections, the matter is yet to be unfolded. But, one thing is crystal clear that the Islamic regime has lost its remaining credibility by these astonishing corruption leaks. /

Monday, June 23, 2008

Iran at a Critical Crossroads


Iran at a Critical Crossroads

Ali Asghar Kazemi

June 23, 2008


Iran’s continuous defiance to halt nuclear enrichment and its implicit rejection of the latest 5+1 incentive package has incited opponents to go for military option. Recent news of Israel’s military preparations to strike Iran’s nuclear sites is indeed a serious source of anxiety for peace and security in the Middle East. Israelis have already shown on other occasions that they don’t hesitate to run such risks when their very survival is at stake. Strikes at Iraq’s nuclear plants long ago and recent demolition of the Syrian nuclear site are vivid examples.

The Islamic regime pretends to be indifferent of threats coming from various directions. But, there is little doubt that sensible politicians are scared like rabbits of eventual strikes. They are questioning the rationale behind so much rigidity on an issue that can hardly be considered as the vital core value of the national interests, in the face of imminent threats which are liable to decide once for all the fate of the Islamic regime. People are caught in a mixed emotion. They are perplexed about their hardship after a new clash which could lead to widespread conflict on the one hand, and the extinction or consolidation of an arrogant and oppressive regime on the other.

What are the plausible consequences of the present crisis? Who should be blamed for crisis escalation? How much we should be vigilant about a new conflict in the region? What would be the outcome of such a military collision? Who would benefit from the consequences of eventual clash at this critical stage? How the crisis should be managed in order to avoid a real confrontation?


There are moments which are quite critical and decisive in the history of a nation. In fact, nations are alike human beings in the sense that they may run into trouble by diseases and curses. They may be infected by authoritarianism, violence, oppression, tyranny, terrorism, war and the likes. The list of viruses and infections that they can catch is quite impressive; they can originate from within and from outside. The impact also may show up in various sectors of the society: economic, social, cultural, security, strategic, etc.

As I have said elsewhere at the beginning of the crisis, Iran’s intransigent attitude vis-à-vis the International community and the UN Security Council may leave the impression that the Islamic government is a bold actor in the international scene, seeking to challenge the rule of the game in world politics. However, this behavior may only please those who have no notion of history and prevailing norms and rules in the fuzzy and chaotic realm of international relations.

Many crises in the past dragged nations into hostilities and bloody conflicts, due to lack of vision of political leaders, overwhelmed by their ideological obsessions, religious beliefs or by mere arrogance and illusion of power. Saddam Hussein is one recent example of this kind that by his foolish defiance against world public opinion and international community dragged Iraq and its people into pointless chaos and bloodshed.

It is not futile to repeat once again that boldness, which may be a virtue in individual performance, becomes a vice to be avoided like pest when the fate of a nation and its overall interests with large scale and enduring impact are at stake. In other words, when the risks of an action or decision only has a limited impact upon one’s interests or yield, bold choices may be a value. But in a wider perspective, political leaders are not allowed to run such risks for a nation.

There are many indications that the overall political system in Iran is not ready to engage in an adventurous and risky situation in which the very existence of the Islamic regime might be jeopardized. Of course, there may be some elements inside the political apparatus that would eventually anticipate some benefits in a limited confrontation with an outside power. But, given that the conservative government lacks the necessary experience and capacity to deal with uncertain situations, most probably it would abstain to test its chances in such a hazardous issue as nuclear matter.

As to the domestic public opinion, it does not seem that the government and especially those in charge of the nuclear policies have been able to convince the public at large and less the educated people on the rationale of the nuclear project, even for peaceful purposes. Therefore, the nation as a whole seems not prepared to accept and wholeheartedly support another hostility and military engagement or to endure severe economic sanctions and limitations.

In other words, the general public really does not consider the issue to be a vital national interest touching their daily life. Moreover, expectations of those who voted for the conservative government are quite different and they would not go along with policies that would push them even further down the bottom of poverty line. Therefore, bold action and behavior is no remedy to the current nuclear crisis and the chances that prudence and rationality will prevail are very high.

With respect to an eventual preemptive strikes either on Iran’s nuclear facilities or other strategic targets such as oil installations on land or offshore, directly by the United States or through Israel, there is little chances that these operations produce the expected outcome. This may only create contradictory results: either awakens Iranian nationalism by consolidating people against foreign invasion, or gives the upper hand to the Islamic regime to further expand its domestic grip.

While it appears that Iran has a weak hand in this dangerous game, it is always possible that due to some miscalculation or lack of vision, hard-liners’ provocative and bold behavior would escalate to a full scale crisis. Indeed, such condition is susceptible to lead ultimately to a real conflict situations that could severely jeopardize Iran’s national interests.

However, an optimistic assessment leads to the conclusions that chances for the Islamic regime in Iran to avoid a confrontation on nuclear issue are high, provided that Iran is not totally barred from pursuing its declared peaceful use of nuclear technology in a faithful and transparent manner. The face saving aspect of an eventual solution is also an important dimension of the crisis management.

Therefore, to avoid the worst to happen, all interested parties shall abstain from any action that could escalate the crisis to a full scale military confrontation and be given a chance to further seek peaceful solution in order to avoid harsh decisions that could destabilize the whole region and the world. In other word, the West should endeavor to engage in a fair non-zero-sum game with a positive outcome in which neither side feels defeated. The Islamic regime also has the duty not to aggravate the situation by provocative actions that could incite opponents to go for military option. /


Friday, June 06, 2008

Obama: On the Footsteps of the White House

Obama: On the Footstep of the White House!
Ali Asghar Kazemi

June 6, 2008
Almost half a century after the historic speech of Martin Luther King Jr. that cost him his life, “wishes come true”! Barack Obama, a black man, who apparently seeks his ancestors’ roots in southern region of Iran (Bushehr), is on his way to the White House as president of the United States. Indeed, the power of democracy can make miracle in an open and free society!

What does this mean for the Islamic regime in Iran? Shall it be happy for this historic change and consider it as the will of God who promised the victory of the oppressed over the arrogant powerful? Can the Islamic regime continue to evade from the chastisement of its defying behavior in the nuclear venture?
Before we let ourselves drawn by the joy of this astonishing event, we should listen to Obama’s speech before the Jewish lobby AIPAC after his victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries, which has all the answers to the above questions. Perhaps, for the first time a presidential candidate took so bold and explicit stance vis-à-vis Israel’s security and survival in the tumultuous Middle East political strata. This is indeed a direct consequence of Iran’s hard-line president’s vicarious statements about Israel during the past years. Obama even went beyond usual political campaign and revealed new intelligence about Iran possessing 150 kg enriched uranium ready to be used in nuclear warheads; a serious allegation that could entail grave consequences.

Obama’s further observations on Iran’s role in the instability of the Middle East, terrorism and the security of Israel bear good witness about my previous comments after the victory of democrats in US Congress:
“Those who believe that democrats’ control of the U.S. Congress in recent mid-term elections will change American political environment in favor of the Islamic government in Iran are either naïve or have no grasp of history. To the contrary, there is enough evidence to support the contention that from now on a necessary cohabitation and bi-partisan approach of democrats with the White House will make things much more difficult for conservative hard-liners in Tehran.”
In another section in the same article I noted that:
“Democrats have shown in the past that they are very strict on matters such as human rights, Israel’s security, Palestinian problem and WMD proliferations. On the issue of terrorism they are as much preoccupied as the republicans. They may even venture more risky and malicious plots such as “regime change” if they perceive that this will promote their cause. The previous regime in Iran has been toppled during the democrats.”

Americans are amazing people and know well how to use their constituent power to express their ideas and decide their choices and preferences. Like many nations, they don’t compromise their solidarity on common causes. . This means that they are not prepared to accept humiliation because of mishandling of crisis situations by their leaders. Barak Obama came at an opportune time when America was split on matters of terrorism after September 11, Afghanistan and Iraq. The second term of the republican president, George Bush, is at its final stage. Chances for another republican candidate with military background such as McCain to replace him, is rather slim.

Therefore, we should expect Obama to enter the White House as the next US president, unless, something extraordinary happens in American political and social scenes. I don’t want to speculate on an unexpected event, such as those that happened to the late Martin Luther King Jr., Kennedy brothers etc. But, there is always a foolish racist around the corner that would be tempted to fire a gunshot. This is especially conceivable if Hillary Clinton joins Obama as vice president candidate in order to avoid her supporters to vote for McCain.

With respect to Iran- US relations under Obama, as we have already alluded before, chances of some sort of rapprochement are very meager as things stand at present. Since, we should recognize that the problem of Iran-US entanglement goes well beyond the conventional bilateral relations and party politics. This is to say that in all assessment we shall take into account the problem pertaining to US most close ally in the region, Israel, as well as other Middle East critical issues.

In fact, the American foreign policy in the Middle East is intimately tied to Israel’s survival and everything that goes with it. To put it in a more sophisticated strategic context, Israel and its continued existence in the Middle East is an important dependent variable in US strategic schemes, disregard of who and which party is in power in Washington.Obama’s election as US president could be a potential opportunity to break ices between the two countries. But, this is not an automatic occurrence and needs tactful planning and political will from the two sides. Despite the unpleasant situation that the Americans are now experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would not seem strange that a democrat president in the White House, backed by a strong democrat Congress, become persuaded to settle the Iranian issue by force if necessary.

Therefore, it is safe to suggest that Iranians leaders should watch carefully their future course of actions and avoid any provocation that might push further the democrats towards the republican hard-line policies. They should also be cautious not to fall in a dangerous trap on the naïve belief that U.S. democrats will endorse the Islamic regime and will give it “carte blanche” on the nuclear issue. /

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Iran:The New Parliament and the Nuclear Case

Iran: The New Parliament and the Nuclear Case
Ali Asghar Kazemi
May 31, 2008
In an introductory speech upon his election to the position of Iran’s chief legislative branch, the former nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, launched harsh critiques on the recent ambiguous statement of the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear case. The remarks seem to be designed to send simultaneously multiple signals to various directions pursuing a number of objectives.
Who is the man recently elected as the speaker of the Islamic Parliament? Shall we consider him as the person who will break through the nuclear deadlock? How we shall construe the message he conveyed in his first official address to the 8th parliament with respect to the nuclear issue? What are chances for him to manage the impending crisis quietly and peacefully?
Coming from a religious nobility background, son of a Grand Ayatollah, holding PhD in mathematics and philosophy and former member of the Revolutionary Guards, close to the leader and having a number of high positions in his record, the newly-elected speaker of the Islamic Parliament is a clever and articulate man who is well aware of the power of logic and persuasion. Unlike his counterpart in the executive branch, he seems to ponder upon his words and vocabulary on issues having impact on vital interests of the nation. His election from the district of theological City of Qom, his family background and his squabble with the hard-line president while he was chief nuclear negotiator, gave him enough credibility to be elected Chief Legislative by the majority of the new conservative faction in the Majles, known to be critical of the president.
In fact, he was fired by the president while he was in the middle of negotiations with EU representatives on the nuclear issue. He was then the secretary of the National Security Council and his sudden dislodgment was indeed a real embarrassment for the regime.
Contrary to the divertive course that shaped the fate of imminent Ayatollah’s offspring in the past and turned them away from the rigorous religious dogma, the Larijani family could be considered an exception. It is worth to note that the main body of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) opposition group, who fiercely fought against the Islamic regime, was formed from among close relatives of well known religious figures who assumed high positions after the revolution in Iran.
The Larijani brothers are all well-educated and devoted to the Islamic regime. They have been serving the revolution from the beginning as university rector, political theoretician, physician, and member of the Guardian Council. The man who is now elected to the position of Iran’s chief legislative power is a smart and educated person who has enough credibility and knowledge not to engage in populist and humdrum discourse in order to prove his competence in the job and his loyalty to the regime.
Now against this imposing background, how far Mr. Larijani will be successful in his new position is subject to query. With respect to his first speech as the new chief legislative, the following messages could be read as regards the nuclear issue:
· Though Larijani’s observations on IAEA appeared tough and uncompromising, he seems to convey the message that he is the one who will pursue the case quietly and intelligently;
· Given his past experience and his good relations with the EU as chief nuclear negotiator, most likely he will not hesitate to get involved more closely to the issue and will take the initiative in his hands as the speaker of the house;
· From now on the Majles will be the main forum where the nuclear policy will be dictated to the executive branch, meaning that the president can no longer maneuver on the nuclear platform for his future presidential campaign;
· The message seems to send signal to the populist president that the Majles will no longer support him blindfolded and if necessary will embark on his impeachment for incompetence.
All of the above are just mere conjectures that appear most likely to emerge in the months to come. However, it would not be unusual that suddenly some unknown factors come into play and change the whole course of events in Iran’s political landscape. Chances for Mr. Larijani to handle horrendous problems in domestics and external affairs created by an amateur eccentric president, who tends to run state affaires by instinct and not reason, is indeed extremely difficult if not impossible.
As regards the nuclear case, we could expect that Larijani be able to take the initiative through the parliament in resuming talks from where he left last time, provided that the hard-line president abstain to interfere in the business and the supreme leader gives his unequivocal support to him.
Furthermore, he should endeavor to convince the conservative front that the West, and by the same token the permanent members of the UN Security Council, will not draw back from their principal position in letting Iran to become a nuclear actor in the present vulnerable international relations. This is to suggest that he should think and act realistically and rationally in order to avoid the nuclear issue to escalate into a full scale clash between Iran and the opposing parties. /