June 3, 2008


Talking is still on the table (Omid Memarian , 6/04/08, Asia Times)

It appears the major obstacle to initiating direct talks with Iran is the uneasiness brought on by talking to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose controversial remarks about Israel and the Holocaust have given him an infamous international reputation. But Ahmadinejad is not the man with whom the US should talk.

In the complicated Iranian political system, it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who makes major foreign policy decisions. Khamenei allowed Iranian diplomats to talk with Washington about ousting the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. Ahmadinejad's power in Iran's politics has been over-exaggerated in the West, particularly in the US.

In recent months, Ahmadinejad has been criticized by major Iranian political figures over his economic policies, which have pushed the inflation rate to an unprecedented 25%. In Iran's recent parliamentary elections, Ahmadinejad's radical allies failed to gain the majority in Majlis (parliament) before the moderate conservatives.

Ali Larijani, Iran's former national security secretary and head of the nuclear negotiating team with the European Union, who was chosen as the speaker of Iran's parliament last week, is a moderate politician with close ties to Khamenei.

Larijani left his previous post to protest Ahmadinejad's defiance over the nuclear program. He now is shaping up to become a major thorn in Ahmadinejad's side ahead of next year's presidential elections, undermining Ahmadinejad's populist image and giving his rivals ammunition to blame him for the country's economic woes.

In fact, by having high profile talks that obviously snub Mahmoud you can further isolate him within his own system.

MORE (via Jim Yates):
He can't even control state news agencies as is:
Privatization is indispensable for growth and globalization (Abdolreza Ghofrani, 5/30/08, Press TV)

Every nation is seeking welfare and prosperity, and governments usually make their outmost attempts to secure the best interests of their people. This will be supposedly feasible mainly through economic growth and is a path that all governments have followed for a long time.

No matter what the economic system, the prime goal of any government is that the people be better off. To achieve that goal there are different ways and means, depending on the economic policies a certain country adopts.

Some countries have chosen state controlled economy. That is, the state, or public sector, predominantly oversight all economic sectors and decisions rest on the central government. In this system, the private sector's role is minimal.

On the other extreme, we do have economic systems in which the public sector duties are limited to defense and security of the country and protecting citizens' certain rights and the state do not interfere in economic affairs. The so-called market economy with differences depending on specific circumstances, is working.

Which system is more effective in assisting a country to achieve the goals it has set for growth and prosperity? The issue has dominated debates in academic centers, and it has been studied by various political systems and scholars. There have been pros and cons for both systems and no inclusive answer has yet been found. Many books have been written on the topic, and hundred of speeches have been delivered and seminars and conferences have been held to address the issue. It is noteworthy that in 1940s prominent British economist John Maynard Keynes emphasized the directive role of the government or so-called welfare government despite the fact that he supported market economy.

Undoubtedly, no system is perfect. Each system has its own advantages and flaws. However, we need to focus on the approaches the world has so far adopted. Despite of all these theories, as mentioned earlier, market economy is now in use and it is the primary system every country employs to secure the best interests of its people. Interestingly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) that replaced GATT after Uruguay Round is based on market economy and emphasizes minimal government involvement.

Having all this in mind, privatization now is a key factor to integrate into the world trade and eventually into the process of globalization.

Economic liberalization is a project of Ayatollah Khamenei, who is seeking to save the Republic from the financial ruin caused by the Revolution's ideology. For an official outlet to essentially declare the End of History is an obvious shot at those trying to immanentize the eschaton.

Meanwhile, Iran orders suspension of news agency (Middle East Times, 6/02/08)

The official IRNA news agency reported that Fars had been "suspended for publishing false news and disturbing the public order."

No further details were given but Fars had on Sunday published a report saying that Iran's central bank governor Tahmasb Mazaheri was stepping down and being replaced by Vice President Parviz Davoudi.

It later issued another report denying the story.

Mazaheri and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are reported to be at loggerheads over Iran's monetary policy amid inflation rates of close to 25 percent. The central bank chief's future has been the centre of intense press speculation.

The conservative news website Borna said the story about Mazaheri was the reason for the temporary closure. [...]

Fars, which is known for its security contacts and regularly publishes interviews with top military commanders, is normally considered supportive of Ahmadinejad's government.

And, on a more important level of infighting, IRAN: THEOLOGICAL CONTROVERSY IN ISLAMIC REPUBLIC COULD HAVE PROFOUND POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS (Kamal Nazer Yasin, 5/30/08, EurasiaNet)
A developing theological controversy in Iran is causing a major rift among the country’s political and theological elites, who together control the chief levers of state in the Islamic Republic. Over the near term, the doctrinal dispute raises questions about the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s neo-conservative president. [...]

The dissatisfaction of many clerics with Ahmadinejad burst into public view in early May, when some top religious leaders rebuked the president for manipulating religion for political purposes. The trigger for the controversy was the broadcast of a speech made by Ahmadinejad weeks before in April, during which he proclaimed that Imam Mahdi, the 12th Imam of a direct line from the Prophet Muhammad, was helping to guide his government. Imam Mahdi, also known as the Hidden Imam, was said to have been born in 868 a.d. and disappeared in 874. A central tenet of Shi’a Islam is that Mahdi is a savior who will one day reappear and usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.

During his 2005 campaign for the presidency Ahmadinejad indicated that his administration would strive to prepare for Imam Mahdi’s return. During the mid-May broadcast, Ahmadinejad stated that Imam Mahdi was "managing the world’s affairs." He also intimated that the Hidden Imam gave him support when he was verbally attacked during a public appearance in 2007 at Columbia University in New York. During that appearance, the president parried much of the criticism, scoring a public relations victory. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "Was the Columbia University incident anything other than the Imam’s hand moving things behind the scene?" Ahmadinejad said.

The Friday after the broadcast, several prominent clerics gave sermons strongly criticizing the president. For instance, Ayatollah Hojatol-eslam Doagoo, Shemiran’s Friday prayer leader, explicitly accused the presidential administration of exploiting Imam Mahdi as a means to deflect criticism of its economic and social policy failings.

But the most important sign of clerical displeasure came May 13, when Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani -- a consummate deal-maker, and a man believed to be among the most influential clerics in Iran -- denounced Ahmadinejad. During an address given at the elite Imam Sadegh University, of which he is rector, Ayatollah Kani pointed out that not even the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, made claims about Imam Mahdi’s return, or intervention in affairs.

Ayatollah Kani -- who also serves as the chairman of the powerful Association of the Combatant Clergy (ACC), which is the conservative clerics’ main political organization -- said Ahmadinejad’s statements could alienate the population from Islam. "If Imam Mahdi is managing the world’s affairs, couldn’t he do something about the economic mafias? Is the [expensive price of] rice a result of his management also?" Ayatollah Kani asked.

The conservative clergy’s problems with Ahmadinejad actually extend back for months. Ayatollah Kani on several occasions complained, discretely and largely in an unpublicized way, about the Ahmadinejad administration’s exclusionary policies, under which anyone who did not agree with the president and his inner circle was purged from the government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 3, 2008 7:53 AM

Association of Combatant Clergy (ACC)?

I think of bearded Ninja wannabes, wearing turbans and fighting clumsily, yelling loudly at each other over who is the most faithful to the Islamic dream of Khomeini. And slapping women and young people who are standing up too straight. They are replicants of the Sunni mutawan in Saudi Arabia (which would no doubt enrage them even further).

It is interesting that Ahmadinejad can cow the 'reformers', but is pretty much helpless against the 'conservatives'. Of course, many conservatives are behind him, although his nuttiness has obviously driven a lot of them away.

A visit to see Larijani would be great, but don't get stars in your eyes. Had Suslov ever grabbed the top spot in Soviet Russia, even Andropov might have looked good.

And Khameini might want economic growth, but how far can he go in loosening up society without risking all? Methinks not too far - certainly not as far as the Chinese have gone. Islamism is too much of a brake (or a club) for Iran to advance.

Iran is a Rube Goldberg construct, brittle and unlubricated, waiting for collapse. The more likely alternative is when one of the competing gangs tries to grab all the power. A dangerous moment for all.

Posted by: ratbert at June 3, 2008 5:36 PM