Archive for May, 2013

Iran sees new voter interest in June contest

May 29, 2013

TEHRAN, May 29 (UPI) — More than 1.5 million voters are expected to cast ballots for the first time in June’s presidential election, the Iranian Interior Ministry reports.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said more than 50 million people are eligible to vote June 14. It will be the first voting opportunity for more than 1.5 million people, Iran’s state-funded broadcaster Press TV reports.

Iranian leaders have said a high voter turnout would send a strong signal about the resiliency of the Islamic republic. Presidential elections in 2009 were marred to violence following the controversial victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ineligible to compete in June because of term limits.

Mohammad-Najjar said there would be more than 130,000 ballot boxes open domestically on Election Day and 285 polling stations overseas.

There are eight candidates qualified for the election. Most of them are considered conservative leaders allied with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei told lawmakers Wednesday that candidates should campaign honestly.

“The words of the candidates should be real, friendly, (and) based on accurate and true information,” he was quoted as saying.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


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Outside View: What to make of Rafsanjani’s disqualification

by Alireza Jafarzadeh

Washington (UPI)

May 28, 2013

The Iranian regime’s presidential election, which is scheduled for June 14, took several dramatic turns last week when the Guardian Council disqualified former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had surprised everyone by standing in for the elections.

In the theocratic regime of Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei holds absolute power and ultimate authority on all matters relating to foreign policy and national security, including the nuclear file.

Still, the candidacy of Rafsanjani posed perhaps the greatest challenge to the ruling clique since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic in 1989.

But Rafsanjani is no light weight and the decision to bar him will have serious implications for the totality of the regime.

Since the inception of the clerical regime in 1979, Rafsanjani has always been the No. 2 figure after Khomeini. At that time, Khamenei was a low-ranking cleric from the city of Mashhad.

Rafsanjani, as he recently reminded everyone, almost singlehandedly raised Khamenei’s profile and secured his presidency in 1981. After Khomeini’s death, Rafsanjani was instrumental in installing Khamenei as the new supreme leader.

Rafsanjani has always been a kingmaker in the regime and he wants to make sure that Khamenei never forgets the immeasurable debt he owes to him.

The 2009 post-election uprisings were brutally suppressed by the regime in large measure due to the West’s misguided reluctance to proactively side with the Iranian street. Nevertheless, the regime failed to put a lid on its deepening divisions.

Since then, Khamenei’s authority has been significantly eroded and the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to challenge him openly. Ahmadinejad handpicked Rahim Mashaei as his successor to keep the presidency within his own faction, only to be stymied by the Guardian Council.

This widening internal rift, coupled with the crippling impact of international sanctions on Iranian economy and the faltering state of the Assad regime in Syria, which is Tehran’s main strategic regional ally, has significantly dented the Supreme Leader’s aura and authority, thereby accelerating the regime’s ultimate demise.

This explains why Rafsanjani, who until now was marginalized and driven into the shadows, had once again felt emboldened to make a last ditch effort to claim his share of power.

Indeed, anticipating Ahmadinejad’s defiance and Rafsanjani’s ambitions, the Khamenei faction had unleashed an extensive propaganda blitz to discredit and, at the same time, threaten the current and former presidents, calling Mashaei “deviant” and Rafsanjani “seditious.” But these efforts failed to dissuade Rafsanjani from pushing ahead with his challenge.

So, the regime, which had emerged out of the 2005 elections relatively unipolar and monolithic, is now fragmented as never before, splitting into three major irreconcilable camps. Khamenei’s cronies in the Parliament and elsewhere vociferously urged the Guardian Council to disqualify Rafsanjani and Mashaei, days before this unelected watchdog made its announcement.

In reality, when Rafsanjani stood for the elections, Khamenei was caught between a rock and hard place. None of the options seemed appealing, either to disqualify Rafsanjani outright or swallow his pride and in effect share power with Rafsanjani as president.

Khamenei finally chose to take the “nip in the bud,” option, which seems to be, on the surface at least, the less risky option.

By disqualifying Rafsanjani, however, the Supreme Leader further eroded the regime’s power base and delegitimized the regime and its election in the eyes of the most inner circles of the regime.

The bad news for Khamenei is that the windfall gains of four major regional conflicts — the 8-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the foolhardy invasion of Iraq in 2003 — which had him to not only attack the regime’s democratic opposition but also consolidate power internally, have receded.

One thing is for sure: Whatever the outcome, Khamenei and the ruling clique will emerge much weaker and more vulnerable. The regime’s political star is dimming and this will significantly improve the prospects of democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized opposition. As such, the United States can ill-afford to be a passive bystander and squander the opportunity this time around as it did in 2009.

Instead of investing in either of the regime’s factions, Washington should shift gears altogether,and evolve its policy from seeking behavioral change to standing with the millions of Iranians who have lost faith in the ballot box long ago, and are longing for a democratic, non-nuclear and peaceful Iran.

Source: Space War.


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“Destruction of Ahwaz’s marshes is like the destruction of the Amazon”

Friday, May 17, 2013

A speech by Ahwazi environmental activist Haifa Assadi, at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

The Ahwaz region faces an environmental catastrophe on a par with the destruction of the Amazon rainforests. River diversion and the draining of the marshes are turning a once fertile land into desert while industrial pollution has made Ahwaz City the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. As well as destroying the unique ecology of the region, the effects have been devastating for the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population.

Over centuries, the climate and environment of Ahwaz have depended on the rivers flowing through the region. The Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi rivers play an important role in the conservation of the marshlands of Falahiyeh and Hawr-Alazim. The life of the Arab farmers depends on the rivers’ water. Moreover, rivers prevent the salt water of the Gulf flowing up the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

However, the Iranian regime has been actively engaged in plans with the most destructive impacts on the ecological balance of the region and desertification of the once green fields of Ahwaz. One of these plans is the transferring of water to the central provinces of Iran through diversion of the rivers. This is done regardless of the region’s minimum water requirements.

Several dams and diversion tunnels have been built for this purpose of diverting water from the Karoon river to the already dry Zayanderood river of Isfahan. A total of 69 dams have been built or are under construction.

At the same time, the Iranian regime has been investing on the development of the environmentally destructive sugarcane plantations, created on 250,000 hectares of fertile farmland confiscated from Arab farmers.

The destructive environmental impact of these projects is the salty wastewater that turns the green fields of Ahwaz further downstream into barren lands. At the same time, fresh water from the Zagros mountains is being replaced by wastewater from the western cities of the country, contributing to the environmental crisis. The date plantations that traditionally sustained the livelihoods of thousands of Arab farmers are now dying. Moreover, the saline wastewater stored in a large area around the city of Muhammara for evaporation has left hills of salt there to become a great threat to the health of the Arab people of Ahwaz.

Due to the excessive pollution of the rivers the amount of total dissolved solids in the water has greatly increased. In the border cities of Abadan and Muhammara, it has reached four times the maximum level for potable water.

Another important factor in the aridification of the region is the deliberate evaporation of the Hawr Al-Azim marsh. This is being done on a par with Saddam’s destruction of the Iraqi marshes.

Hawr Al-Azim marsh has a very important role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Middle East. It has been completely destroyed and dried out due to the activities of oil companies. According to Ali Mohammad Shaeri, the vice president of the Iranian environment organization, “500 thousand hectares of marshlands of Ahwaz have dried out and this is the main cause of sand storms in the region.” The sand storms are the result of a decline in humidity throughout the whole region. As a result, the Pollutant Standards Index – or PSI – of the air quality in Ahwaz region has passed 600 units. This is while according to the international standards a PSI over 300 units is critically hazardous.

The destruction of Hawr Al-Azim has forced people from more than forty villages to abandon their homes and move to city slums. In Ahwaz City alone there are more than 400,000 Arabs living in slums, suffering difficult health and social conditions.

The environmental crisis in Ahwaz has several negative effects on the health of the indigenous Arab people. In recent years, respiratory and lung diseases have become very common as a result of high air pollution, leading to many deaths. Water pollution has resulted in skyrocketing digestive and Kidney diseases.

Because of the discriminatory policies of the Iranian regime against the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz, they are deprived of the right to manage their own affairs. The crucial managing positions are assigned to non-native people coming from other provinces. These assigned officials do not consider the right of the native people of Ahwaz in the water resources of the region and the resources are expropriated to the advantage of the central provinces. The Iranian regime has no intention of stopping or even considering stopping these plans. Instead, new projects for dam construction and water diversion are being proposed and destructive industries – which do not employ local people – are contributing ever higher amounts of toxic pollution.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.


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“Ahwazi Arab women are third class citizens”

Friday, May 17, 2013

Speech by Ahwazi women’s rights activist Elham al-Saedi at the Ahwaz human rights meeting in the UK’s Houses of Parliament, 15 May 2013

Ahwazi Arab women suffer double persecution by the Iranian regime due to their ethnicity and gender. This operates in the areas of education, health, politics and social life. While Ahwazi Arab men are second-class citizens, Ahwazi women are third-class.

Illiteracy among Ahwazi Arab women is around 80 per cent, compared to around 50 per cent for Ahwazi men and 27% for Iran as a whole. Ahwazi women suffer health problems as a result of a lack of adequate health facilities. As a result, Ahwazi women suffer gynaecological problems and have a high incidence of infertility, stillbirths and birth deformities.

Ahwazi Arab women are also subjected to state terrorism. The wives of Ahwazi political and cultural activists are often arrested and imprisoned, along with their small children, in order to put pressure on their husbands to confess to crimes they did not commit. Women and children are held as hostages by the Iranian regime and often held for months without charge.

Some incarcerated Ahwazi women have been pregnant and have either miscarried or forced to give birth in prison without adequate medical assistance and in unsanitary conditions. An example is Fahima Ismail Badawi who gave birth to her daughter Salma in prison. She was held in custody as punishment for refusing to denounce her husband Ali Matouri Zadeh and divorce him. She refused and as a result is currently serving a 15 year prison sentence following a secretive trial by Branch 3 of Ahwaz Revolutionary Court. Her husband was tortured into confessing to being a British secret agent involved in terrorist attacks and was executed.

Officially, Ahwazi Arab women have the same legal rights as every other woman in Iran. However, Ahwazi women share same the same culture and social existence with women in neighboring Arab countries.

In terms of their social and economic life, they endure a great deal of backwardness even in Iranian terms. We cannot blame only the discriminatory laws against women in Islamic republic regime as the cause of this problem. These laws are applied to both Ahwazi Arab women and women in central areas of Iran, although non-Persian women are subjected to more political repression. We cannot blame the ethnic tribal customs and traditions of Ahwazi Arabs people either. Women with same culture and social beliefs in neighboring countries, for instance in Bahrain, have become advocates and judges. As such, ethnic customs are not the only cause of Ahwazi women’s oppression.

Non-Persian women suffer multiple discrimination in terms of criminal and common laws. Because they are less protected by law, they are subjected to more social crimes and violence, such as honor killing. Honor killings are more common in non-central, non-Persian areas and are justified by law and custom. Women are subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage – sometimes while they are still children and traded like objects as gifts between some tribes in economically backward areas. Arabistan leads all other regions in anti-women crimes due to backward cultural attitudes that are tolerated and encouraged by the regime.

Only through education and culture can Ahwazi women be free of persecution. But the Iranian state prevents any form of Arab cultural activity. All cultural modes, such as television and newspapers, are controlled by the state. The government wants to sustain traditional tribal systems of control to keep the Arab community in a backward state and prevent self-directed cultural improvement. Meanwhile, official positions that are supposed to cover women’s issues in the Arab-populated region – such as the chair of women’s affairs in the provincial governor’s office – have always been occupied by non-Arab, non-local women. They do not know the culture, customs and tradition of these people.

Ahwazi Arab women’s problems and concerns are rooted in their community culture, customs and traditions and they are not going to be solved unless there are civil society organisations which originate in the heart of their culture. These civil organisations can play a major role in providing the best environment to work against discrimination against women.

Ahwazi Arab women are capable of social activism, as seen in their participation in political activities during the short reformist reign of President Khatami which to some extent was politically tolerant. During this time, Ahwazi Arab women won three out of nine seats in the Arab-majority city of Showra. But in the current situation, with the regime imposing discriminatory practices against ethnic nationals, women will be the most disadvantaged people. As such, it is no surprise that Ahwazi Arab women are absent from social and political life.

The freedom of all Ahwazi Arabs depends on the freedom of the female half of the population. Women’s rights should be central to the Ahwazi struggle.

Source: Ahwaz News Agency.


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Iran unveils new attack drone

Tehran, Iran (AFP)

May 09, 2013

Iran unveiled on Thursday a new drone, dubbed the Epic, capable of carrying out both surveillance and attack missions, the Mehr news agency reported.

Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying the Epic, which can fly at high altitudes, is a “stealth aircraft that cannot be detected by enemies.”

On April 18, Iran made public three other models.

The Throne, also a stealth model, has a long range and is equipped with air-to-air missiles, said General Amir-Farzad Esmaili, commander of anti-aircraft operations.

Esmaili said Iran had already produced and used dozens of them.

The Hazem-3 (Solid) and Mohajer-B (Migrator) are “tactical and combat” models and also capable of reconnaissance, the general said.

Source: Space War.


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