Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Hot Summer Ahead

Mehrdad Sheibani, Rooz Online:
During the week that just ended, marking the end of the 15-day deadline extended to Iran by the UN Security Council and culminating in the meeting between its members and the group of 5+1, Iranian society expressed its concealed and suppressed feelings and senses through three major events. Events that revealed the deep tornado that is buried deep in a nation whose ruling hardliners strive to contain with their “iron fist” policies. READ MORE

Last week commemorated two epic events in Iranian history. On May 24, 1983 Iranian forces drove out the invading Iraqi army from the port city of Khoramshahr, near the Iraqi border, in the third year of the Iran-Iraq war. Iranian rulers did not take this opportunity then to end the bloody war, but were forced to do this over 5 years later in an act that was described by the founder of the Islamic regime ayatollah Khomeini as “drinking a cup of poison.”

The other epic event was the election of reformist Mohammad Khatami to the presidency of Iran, which unleashed the crushed and suppressed masses and movements in Iran in 1997. The elections are called the 2 Khordad movement, which is the Persian date when Khatami won the presidential race. But the reform movement turned into a disaster. And after 8 years, president Khatami, who in the words of one of his advisors said that he had one foot in the establishment and the other in the masses, abandoned people and their dreams to themselves, and in his own words, “sided with the regime.” A year has passed since the end of the 2 Khordad movement, and the reform movement is, in the words of newspaper editor Mahmoud Shamsol Vaezin, still in a state of shock and trying to recover itself from the defeat it suffered in the past presidential elections in May 2005. Those elections catapulted the hardliners into the presidency, the last power in the state that was not in their hands. On the anniversary of this event, the Iranian masses expressed their frustrations, as labeled by Ahmad Shirzad, a former Majlis (Iran's Parliament) representative.

Provincial Council Representatives, which the hardline government tried to take over through a bill in the Majlis (Iran's Parliament), staged a protest. Even Rasool Khadem, Iran’s wrestler hero and member of the council who is close to the right burst out and called president Ahmadinejad’s government “illegitimate”. The result was that the proceedings on the bill were suspended.

The second eruption came from the ethnic minorities in the provinces. It originally began in Khuzestan province and then moved south to Baluchistan last month. Hardlines in Iran, who confronted the Khuzestan unrest with executions, responded with Phantom fighters and helicopters in Baluchistan. And while the southern province burned in fire, residents of two northern Azeri provinces erupted. The printing of a series of caricatures in the government newspaper Iran run by hardliners caused people in West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan to take to the streets in protest. And while the caricatures displayed bad taste, they did not warrant such a wide uproar, still, indicating the dormant unrest and dissatisfaction that lies below the surface.

Azerbaijan is the home to many historic social movements in Iran and thus occupies an important political position and so the unrest there is of a different nature and acquires a greater importance than those in the other provinces.

In recent years, an extreme ultra-nationalistic fervor “Pan-Turkism” has been very active through a number of television networks with the goal of creating a Larger Azerbaijan. It has been working to win over Iranian Azeris who are known Iranian patriots to join it.

The first bourgeoisie revolution in the Middle East occurred in 1905 in Iranian Azerbaijan. The next two decades witnessed Soviet attempts to cede the province from Iran and its return to the Iranian fold. The guerrilla movement against the Shah in 1960s too began in Tabriz, the capital of West Azerbaijan. When the wave of the revolutionary protests in 1977 reached Tabriz from Qom, a new chapter was opened in Iran. The shah declared that “demonstrators had been brought into the province from outside the country.” And he meant non other than the former Soviet Union.

After the victory of the 1979 revolution, Azerbaijan was the province that came to the help of ayatollah Shariatmadari, the Azeri supreme ayatollah. He was among the first dissidents of the Islamic regime who spoke up and finally due to his age had to confess to activities against the state and express his regrets for it.

And now after 3 decades of Islamic rule, the two Azeri provinces of the north are in protest again. And while their marches have been peaceful, opportunists have already jumped on the bandwagon with their violence. Local sources attribute the violence to hardliners who want to provide excuses for a showdown. These claims have been acknowledged by some hardliners.

And just like in the unrest in Khuzestan and Baluchistan, the government immediately attributed the protests in Azerbaijan to foreigners, and this time the finger of blame was on those who had replaced the Soviet Union as their enemy: i.e. the US and Israel. “US and Israeli intelligence agencies have put Iranian ethnic minorities on the top of their lists”, claimed the representative of Iran’s ministry of intelligence in Azerbaijan. 54 people in Tabriz and 15 in Orumie were arrested on the usual charges of “opportunists linked to foreigners.” Harsh punishment of the culprits” became the order of the day rather than looking into the causes of the unrest.

The third eruption came from the place that in the words of Iran Ma website had been contained and was under control: The University of Tehran. Last week, the national strike of students reached its height Keyhan, the official organ of the hardliners in Iran called it the strike of the “representatives of US Congress." The government response was again the iron fist. Tear gas and clampdown followed.

In a week where the epicenter of events returned to the domestic scene, outbursts were not limited to the masses. Even the “upper” ruling levels which are under intense international and local pressure tried to show that they still called the shots. In this light, the initiative that strives to organize itself around Hashemi Rafsanjani expanded its activities. The small Majlis (Iran's Parliament) group comprising of reformist representatives and the Heyate Motalefe group met with Rafsanjani in a seeming effort to put him in charge of the Majlis Khobregan (Assembly of Experts on Leadership), whose elections are forthcoming and over which there is an intense power struggle. This government body monitors the activities of the 3 branches of government and reviews the performance of the supreme leader of the regime, also determining the criteria for selecting a successor.

Internationally, International Atomic Energy Agency’s Mohammad ElBaradei met Iran’s national security council chairman Ali Larijani on his way to the United States of America. News sources reported that the nuclear sheriff was carrying a message from the Islamic regime to US President George Bush. At the same time, US ambassador to the UN John Bolton openly presented a new line on Iran when he said, “The Iranian regime can stay if ends arms pursuit.” Other news sources revealed the real US conditions for talks with Iran: recognition of Israel and acceptance of the Middle East peace plan.

Summer in Iran always begins with the last month of spring. And a hot summer has always been loaded with big historic events.

With this week began Iran’s long and hot summer.