Omid Memarian

Friday, June 29, 2007

-Unrest Grows Amid Gas Rationing in Iran :(NYTimes)TEHRAN, June 28 — Unrest spread in Tehran on Thursday, the second day of gasoline rationing in oil-rich Iran, with drivers lining up for miles, gas stations being set on fire and state-run banks and business centers coming under attack:“The government will have to back down or face consequences,” said Ehsan Mohammadi, 32, who uses his motorcycle to work as a delivery man. “There are many people like me, and we cannot support our families with rationed gasoline.”

Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency...Watch this. A well done multimedia story about one of the most influential men in the Bush administration.....

- Clinton, Richardson fault policy on Iran: Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson on Wednesday urged the Bush administration to continue a dialogue with Iran as the U.S. tries to thwart the country's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

-Why the Iraq war won't engulf the Mideast (IHT), By Steven A. Cook, Ray Takeyh and Suzanne Maloney: Long before the Bush administration began selling "the surge" in Iraq as a way to avert a general war in the Middle East, observers both inside and outside the government were growing concerned about the potential for armed conflict among the regional powers.

-How to Deal With Iran? A policy brief by Karim Sadjapour. He is a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment. It is very timely and interesting to read....don't miss it....

Does Sanction Diplomacy Work?

Iran's government has finally decided to impose an overdue fuel rationing to prepare for the harmful consequences of the two resolutions adopted by the UN against Iran, in an effort to halt its uranium enrichment program. Turning the nuclear issue into a matter of national pride, the regime government has used the entire issue to unify its people behind the flag, emphasizing that adopting tens of such resolutions will have no effect on its nuclear program.

This was an alarming week for hardliners in Tehran: although there had been discussions regarding rationing of oil in the past few weeks, suddenly on Wednesday the government announced that rationing would go into effect at midnight. Pandemonium ensued. Hundreds of cars lined up at gas stations, people's frustration and anger multiplied, and eventually, dozens of gas stations and a few cars were set on fire, as people hurled abuses at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had promised to bring "oil revenues to the people's tables." The rationing has now been postponed, police Special Forces are guarding the pumps, and the situation is under control. If there is one thing this government is good at, it is controlling people!

For a long time, Iranian officials have been talking about removing oil subsides. However, the country is addicted to
cheap and plentiful oil, and none of the previous governments have dared normalize oil prices in fear of people's wrath. The motivation for Ahmadinejad's audacious government to do so now, is the increasing concern over the possibility of UN sanctions restricting oil exports and petrol imports. Needless to say, that Iran imports almost 40 percent of its daily petrol usage from abroad, and more than 70 percent of the country's economy is dependent on oil revenues.

These sanctions are theoretically aimed against the hardliner government's defiance, and intended to force them to cooperate completely with the
IAEA. But similar to countries under sanctions, Ahmadinejad's government has decided to shift the pressure on to his people. While the UNSC permanent members think that they can bring the hardliners in Tehran to their knees by adopting serial sanction resolutions, Iranian people are the only victims of these economical pressures.

The Islamic government in Iran has been living under sanction, military threat and political pressure since
1979, and is no stranger to external "pressure". Unfortunately, economic sanctions have not proven to be effective against most countries--a prime example being Iraq before the 2003 invasion. The UN sanctions on Iraq since 1990 only weakened the Iraqi people, destroyed the civil society infrastructure, and gave Saddam Hussein more reason to repress his people by using security related issues as the first priority of the regime.

At a time when factions of the Bush administration are seeking to pursue a
diplomatic path toward Iran, there are other hardliner elements in Washington who think that putting pressure on Iran's government will force the people to protest against them, and finally overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Given the huge
mess in Iraq and Afghanistan today, why would anybody want to overthrow another government? During the last four years, the Iranian government has extensively portrayed the bloody situation in these countries for its people, to show them how the negative results of foreign interference, weak government, and lack of security. I had heard about a US foreign policy stating that "if a policy doesn't work somewhere, try it somewhere else." It appears this policy is now in full affect--a policy, which in my humble opinion, will only lead to confrontation and bloodshed now matter how you look at it.

Destabilizing Iran will only turn the region into mayhem, ideal for increased world terrorism and violence harmful to the rest of the world. To change "the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran" as
Rice put it, the United Sates should commence discussions with them directly, without any preconditions. The letter that was sent by Iranians in 2003 inviting US into talks would have been a great first step. Ultimately, engagement with Iran, will benefit not only both countries involved, but encourage democracy in the Middle East.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Faith Ruling Presidential Elections?

"What is the biggest sin you have committed? Do you believe in evolution or creation? What is the role of faith in your daily life? Do you make decisions based on your moral values or a different set of values?"

Although you would expect to be asked these questions to get accepted to a university or federal job in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Iran, I was surprised and perturbed to hear these questions being posed to the 2008 presidential candidates in the
United States of America.

Upon seeing the TV show on "faith and politics", and hearing the preliminary presidential debates, I called a friend in Tehran to share the irony of it all: in a day and age where Iranian people are sick and tired of non-secular government and of hearing
faith-based allegations and claims by its politicians and clerics, how can this be happening in the US?

How is it that at the advent of the 21st century, with a secular constitution, these are the focus of questions being asked of politicians in the US, instead of how they plan to diminish poverty in the most affluent country in the world, increase the quality of the health care system (or lack thereof), or internationally, deal with the
genocide in Darfur, stop the war in Iraq and promote peace in the Middle East?

In Iran, despite a religious government and the importance of tradition among people, when politicians emphasize their faith or hide behind it, people become suspicious and do not believe the authenticity of what they hear. After years of living in an Islamic Republic, people no longer care about a
politician's particular faith or daily relationship with God: they want to know how the policies will improve their lives. In fact, faith and morality should be evident in good policies and decisions, and not something to be used as a banner simply to get votes.

Many leaders in the Middle East, including Iran's President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are allegedly masters of faith and have very close (if not direct) relationships to God. But the question is how has this faith translated into Human Rights, freedom of speech, and the possibility of living in abundance? In most of these countries, politicians hide behind faith and religion to keep people in misery and suffering, only to their own personal benefit.

There is a fine line between embracing God and using faith as a basis for governance. These lines are fast fading as we see the parallels between two leaders who repeatedly rule behind their faith:
President Bush who has made the Middle East a pool of blood, and President Ahmadinejad who continues to run his country into economic ruin, while taking away from the Iranian people their most basic human rights.

The real question is why it that in one of the most educated, affluent, and democratic countries in the world,
politicians are being questioned on their faith for votes rather than their agenda of improving life for Americans. Could it be that faith-based organizations are forming the direction of the upcoming elections, again?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Message Contained In a Statement with 700 Signatures

The statement prepared for the June 11th Women’s Solidarity Day, which was signed by over 700 civil society activists in Iran, demonstrates that despite all the tribulations and pressures of the previous years and specifically those of the recent months, some of the most dedicated activists demanding legislative changes and improvement in the women’s rights arena in Iran, have indeed renewed their faith in the outcome, gaining more support.

Those who try to eliminate discrimination amidst the social, political, and economic challenges of recent years, endurance of which is no easy feat, attempt law changes, cultural changes and criticism of deep-rooted traditions and beliefs in the multi-layered Iranian society.

In addition, issuing an assertive statement promising continuation of the movement and the will to realize demands costs for which escalate on a daily basis, proves how wrong those security-minded authorities are who think suppressive and oppressive confrontations in a police state, threatening to civic activists will delay or eliminate such demands.

It is now customary for suppressed social movements to be linked to entities abroad by security forces, as their activists are labeled, and financial, moral and other files are fabricated for them, their names continuously smeared in Kayhan, creating serious difficulties for them when they sign statements and petitions. I remember that in the past years, whenever such waves of attacks were directed at activists, even the heartiest of them who always signed these protest statements, would face reservations and trepidations in signing yet one more statement or petition.

I believe there are still those who face those reservations; those who seeing the incredibly swift suppression of even the most peaceful social protests—the flag for which is carried by Iranian women—experience misgivings in signing statements of support or protest. On the other hand, however, the flood of people who believe in the validity of such movements, or those who believe in pursuing the cause increases daily, delivering new names accompanying the old, promising that despite what a select few among security and judicial authorities who pursue civil movements with hate and hysteria think, the voices of women, as active participants of Iranian civil society, are heard by others. All the policies supporting beating, arresting, imprisoning, labeling, and libel against activists in that infamous newspaper, is not only no longer effective, it goes to prove that Iranian society supports the demands raised by educated women of Iran.

Now Kayhan’s Editor can continue writing his “House of Spiders” series I, II, and III, and in “special reports” he can connect everyone to foreign organizations and countries and intelligence services of western countries, etc. Nothing will change. These libel-filled articles, under the best of circumstances, will only continue to fool those who govern blindly, and will not affect the will of those activists. Seven hundred conscious votes of individuals some of whom have years of knowledge and experience behind their signatures and know the price of having signed prior statements, demonstrates that those methods, though effective for a while in the past, will now only deliver infamy to organizations supporting them.

The dedicated, thoughtful, and hard-working sections of the regime, whether in security or judicial branches now have a pivotal opportunity. They can receive the message contained in the powerful statement issued on the occasion of Women’s Solidarity Day. The message is that the people of Iran along with Iranian and international civil societies, in their cooperation with campaigns such as “No Stoning Campaign,” or “One Million Singatures for Changing Anti-Women Laws Campaign,” present viable demands in peaceful, humanitarian, and legitimate ways. Resisting such legitimate movements not only vilifies the regime, as seen in previous years, it will contribute to further deepening of the rift between the people and the government. Understanding those who lovingly and patiently demand improvements in their society, and joining and assisting these demands instead of going against the flow as Kayhan prescribes, will strengthen their ties with people of Iran and will reduce the perils of ineffective policies, returning energy and exuberance to Iranian civil society. It makes no difference which government is in power—such a prescription will help all authorities to get closer to the society they govern and instead of following the civil society, they can take charge of the process, working closely with the public, using all opportunities in different areas, compensating for the government’s earlier losses.

Those 700 signatures, some of which represent activists who have served jail terms, while some others still have open cases in the courts, released on heavy bails, braving the sword hanging over their heads which could return them to jail, indeed represents a very positive promise. Those signatures could tell the wiser in the regime, especially amongst the worldly moderate conservatives, that actions taken against Iranian civil society—and specifically that which has been done to women’s rights activists—has been an ugly, unfruitful, and costly project.

To those who sent this message should go congratulations for having turned every single bad event of recent years into a bouquet of flowers, the fragrance of which is pleasing to all Iranian civil society activists.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Serial Arrests in Iran!

What is the message in the arrests of several Iranian-American researchers over the past few weeks? Who is sending this message to whom, are what are its effects? What has transpired since the arrests of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, and Ali Shakeri?

All three individuals are some of the most reputable among their colleagues. Dr. Esfandiari is one of the analysts with the most realistic views on Iranian developments. Articles published by her, and views of those she invited to present at Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, all promote an outlook opposed to the radical ones present in Washington, the most important aspects of which state that inside Iran there are people who are sensitive to their destiny, and who try to build a better future for themselves, and that no one can rule above these people’s will.

Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, a university professor, researcher and consultant to several international organizations and to some entities inside Iran, is described as one of the most prominent professionals in the area of civic sociology, among other areas. Dr. Ali Shakeri is an individual who is known for his anti-war views by many.

These scholars live outside Iran due to their professional activities, and they are regarded with pride among the Iranian community outside Iran. Now they are imprisoned, facing various security-related charges in Iran. Kayhan, a conservative newspaper in Tehran, claims to have made “discoveries” about these individuals’ professional lives—discoveries not attained through ingenuity, but through the simple ways such information can be collected about individuals. This basic and quite public data, embellished with suspicions of overthrowing the government and spiced with incorrect and untrue accusations, display how empty those claims are and how innocent the imprisoned individuals are. By virtue of their very public academic and research activities, these individuals lead a rather transparent life, with their activities reflected and displayed on the websites and reports of their affiliated organizations, rendering the list of accusations against them as “inventions” rather than charges. Dr. Esfandiari’s husband provided a detailed reply to Kayhan’s accusations against his wife, though Kayhan refused to publish his letter.

Such lies and fabrications are standard tactics used to create fear among Iranians living outside Iran, and to discourage and warn those contemplating utilizing these individuals in the future. Such tactics usually backfire and achieve opposite results.

This is not the first time Iranian security groups, operating through Kayhan, are tackling such projects. Over the past years there have been several similar incidents, and it is not difficult to predict the final outcome. It is easy to expect that as this report is written, some of the wiser members of the conservative force in Iran are advising their more radical members against such rushed and ill-fated actions, just as the radicals in charge of the prisoners are promising their prisoners that a simple confession will enable them to go home.

Therefore the arrests, espionage charges, leaking interrogation questions in radical newspapers, issuing directives to prevent newspapers to report on the cases, denying the prisoners the right to access lawyers or to see their families, continuous lies, creating fear among certain sections of the society, revealing the names of numerous individuals who will be the next subjects of these security projects, or creating fear and putting pressure on the prisoners to give forced confessions, and eventually freeing them without a trial (and in case of a trial, a closed-door one) through posting astronomical bails, are all old and repetitive stories which lead neither to acquisition of any viable intelligence, nor any other gains.

Any Iranian citizen would like to see his security organizations managed by the most competent individuals, proficient and intelligent, and capable of safeguarding national security in the least costly way through enlisting assistance of the largest number of citizens in an atmosphere of trust and satisfaction. But even in the most optimistic evaluation the security forces have missed the mark so many times over the past few years, that one never ceases to wonder why individuals who are incapable of managing the smallest issues have been appointed to such important posts, portraying Iran in a way which supports the pro-war faction in the US who continually criticize Iran for its violations of human rights, showing Iranian regime as an oppressive state.

The question is how can hurting citizens who serve as ambassadors of peace and friendship, and who consistently defend Iran vis a vis “anti-Iranian” points of view, be fruitful? Naturally, people who live and work outside Iran have extensive interactions with organizations and entities in the societies in which they are active. Iranian Government may be able to have a say about the personal and professional lives of those living within its borders, but they cannot do the same with its citizens outside of Iran. Such simplistic approach in confronting Iranian elite who live and work abroad, people such as Ramin Jahanbegloo among others, will have two outcomes none of which is desirable.

First, those Iranian researches and academics who live all over the world, and who love Iran and try to bring resources and opportunities available abroad into Iran, become pessimistic and conclude that to love Iran and to work for this love will face them with imprisonment and endangerment of their personal lives. This will perpetuate Iran’s massive isolation of the past several years in various areas, exacerbating the current situation through closing its few outlets.

Such arrests also demonstrate a poor picture of the existing intelligence and judicial systems in Iran. This picture neither promotes pride for those who support it, nor does it add to the regime’s credibility. This picture creates the question that when security and judicial authorities approach Iran’s most reputable and well-meaning elite with such venom, how do are they treating the ordinary Iranian citizens who don’t enjoy the same fame and international attention?

What happened with Hossein Moussavian’s recent arrest, the significant charges made against him by pro-government radicals, and his eventual release within just a week, show that such fabrications are not mere intelligence errors, but are political maneuvers of groups inside the Iranian regime. In view of what was described above, these political maneuvers are not in the best interest of Iranian people, Iran, and even the regime. At a time when Iranian regime should be using all its resources to reduce and eliminate the increasing threats against the country, such arrests and actions are nothing short of committing suicide for the fear of death.