7 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 26
U.S. PLAYS DOWN ALLEGATIONS THAT IRAN'S PRESIDENT-ELECT WAS HOSTAGE TAKER. U.S. President George W. Bush said on 30 June that he wants to know if allegations that President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad was involved in the 1979-81 hostage crisis are accurate, Reuters reported. By 2 July, anonymous U.S. officials were quoted by the "Los Angeles Times" as saying it is not Ahmadinejad who appears in a photograph with a blindfolded hostage. It is less clear if he was otherwise involved with the episode.
Several of the Americans who were held hostage for 444 days -- including former naval officer Donald Sharer, former army officer Charles Scott, former Marine Kevin Hermening, and former CIA officer William Daugherty -- said they are certain that Ahmadinejad was one of their captors, Reuters reported on 30 June.
But that was not a uniform response. Former embassy political officer John W. Limbert said, "I don't recognize him," "The Washington Post" reported on 2 July. "I don't remember these guys' faces very well. They didn't introduce themselves to us."
At the time of the embassy takeover Ahmadinejad was involved with radical student politics, and on his website, Ahmadinejad states that he was a founding member of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV). The organization that seized the embassy, however, was named the Students Following the Imam's Line.
Mohammad Ali Seyyednejad, one of DTV's five founding members, said in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda on 30 June that he and Ahmadinejad were the only student leaders who opposed the embassy seizure. He added, "[Ahmadinejad and I] both agreed that the U.S. Embassy should not be occupied. This was why the issue of the embassy occupation was not approved by the DTV's central council, and Mr. [Ebrahim] Asgharzadeh and Mr. Mohsen Mirdamadi [two DTV central council members who supported the planned seizure] then coordinated their activities with four universities in Tehran [Sharif, Polytechnic, Shahid Beheshti, and Tehran universities] and used the name 'Students Following the Imam's Line' to pursue the embassy occupation."
According to Reuters on 30 June, Mirdamadi said: "I deny such reports. Ahmadinejad was not a member of the radical students' group who seized the embassy."
Ahmadinejad denied the allegations as well. "It is not true," he was quoted as saying in "The New York Times" of 2 July. "It is only rumors." (Bill Samii)
AHMADINEJAD'S PROFESSION OF MODERATION IN DOMESTIC POLICIES DOESN'T CONVINCE REFORMISTS. President-elect Ahmadinejad said on 26 June that he will aim for moderation in his future domestic policies. "In domestic affairs, moderation will be the policy of the government," he said. "Extremism does not have a place in the popular government. It will be dealt with. All powers and abilities, all opportunities and all competencies, will be used in the popular government. The focus will be on national interests, national honor, and progress for all."
Ahmadinejad is to take office in August. A former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, he is portrayed as an extremist by his opponents. On 26 June, however, he spoke only of tolerance, friendship, and compassion.
Many observers believe Ahmadinejad's presidency will serve to lessen tensions inside Iran's Islamic establishment. But they also warn that pressure on activists and dissidents could increase and that political and social freedoms could be curtailed.
Ahmadinejad and his allies now control both Iran's parliament and its presidency. The Guardians Council and the judiciary are also under the control of hard-liners. Because of this, Ahmadinejad will enjoy a freer hand than his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
Khatami is the leader of Iran's main reformist party, Mosharekat. He is warning of a "more restrictive climate" under Ahmadinejad and says reformists will have to adopt a more cautious attitude in order to survive.
On 26 June, Ahmadinejad called his future cabinet the "government of 70 million." He said every Iranian will have the right to be involved in the country's political developments and decisions. He also rejected human rights concerns, saying that freedom lies in the spirit of the Islamic Revolution.
Despite such comments, human rights activists believe there is cause for concern. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is the spokesman of the Center of Human Rights Defenders, which was founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. He says Ahmadinejad will have to go far to fulfill his promises of bringing social and economic justice to Iranian society.
"[One] thing that is of great concern is that Mr. Ahmadinejad in his campaign or in his talks after his victory did not unconditionally say to what measure he will act on human rights violations in Iran," Dadkhah said. "Therefore, commenting about his [future] actions is mixed with concern and anxiety."
On 26 June, Ahmadinejad called criticism a "divine gift" and said the hands of critics should be kissed. He was asked about the fate of prominent jailed journalist Akbar Ganji, a strong critic of the regime. Ahmadinejad responded by saying that intervening in the affairs of the judiciary would amount to "injustice and dictatorship."
Dadkhah believes it is likely that critics of the establishment will face even greater state resistance under Ahmadinejad's presidency. "Under [Khatami], we know that many lawyers -- including me -- were jailed," Dadkhah told RFE/RL. "Their crime was to point to the breaches of the law. Currently, several journalists are in prison, with the current state, under a government that claims to protect freedom. [So] I don't know how to predict [the state of freedom] under a government that has not yet spoken about human rights."
Many activists say they will remain committed to fighting for human rights and more freedoms in Iran. Abdullah Momeni, a student leader, told Radio Farda that activism will continue. "The presence of a person as the head of the government cannot make any difference in the student movement," Momeni said. "Just like before [Khatami's presidency], when the student movement experienced an era of repression, they predict another such era is coming as the result of a government that has radical stances regarding political and social freedoms and also democracy."
On 27 June, outgoing President Khatami -- in a reference to Ahmadinejad -- said social justice cannot be achieved by force.
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad is not a friend of democracy and freedom. He said Ahmadinejad is very supportive of the ayatollahs "who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives."
Rumsfeld predicted that, over time, young people and women in Iran will find Ahmadinejad -- "as well as his masters -- unacceptable." (Golnaz Esfandiari; Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi contributed to this report.)
ALLEGATIONS OF ELECTION MISCONDUCT PERSIST. A statement from the Islamic Iran Participation Front (Jebhe-yi Mosharekat) says that a militaristic party has emerged, but this party is nameless, its members do not wear uniforms, and it does not have a license, Radio Farda reported on 27 June. The statement goes on to accuse this party of using official facilities and funds, and of interfering in the election, Radio Farda reported.
One of the unsuccessful candidates in the first round of the election, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, has accused Basij Resistance Force commander Mohammad Hejazi of involving the group in politics and suggested he become the secretary-general of a Basij Party. Another first-round loser, Mustafa Moin, had similar complaints. Second-place finisher Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani complained on 25 June that he and his family were the subjects of personal attacks by individuals using the public coffers, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.(see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 and 27 June 2004).
Outgoing President Khatami said at a 29 June ceremony in Tehran commemorating the 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republic Party headquarters that he has documentation on campaign and election violations, IRNA reported. "Based on quite authentic documents, I have prepared a detailed dossier on violations of election laws before and during the voting [in the first and second rounds of the presidential election]," Khatami said, adding that he would present this information to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and President-elect Ahmadinejad.
Khamenei said in a 28 June speech in Tehran, "A number of the presidential election candidates were subjected to unfair and cowardly defamation," state radio reported. Khamenei said the judiciary should follow up on such cases. However, Khamenei said allegations of interference in the campaign and the election by the Basij Resistance Force are inaccurate. "That is not true," he said. "The hands of the enemy are involved here in order to create mischief and to create corruption." (Bill Samii)
DO THE PRESIDENTIAL VOTE NUMBERS REALLY ADD UP? The Guardians Council, the body tasked with supervising Iranian elections, announced on 29 June its endorsement of the second round of the Iranian presidential election five days earlier, the ISNA reported. Yet analysis of election data -- available at the Interior Ministry website (http://www.moi.ir) -- reveals what appear to be glaring irregularities and raises questions. The data also shed light on provincial interests.
The first item that meets the eye is the increase in the number of polling places. There were 40,805 in the first round of the election on 17 June and 40,979 in the second round. There is no explanation for this increase.
The Turnout Question
Then there are the high turnout levels, which are perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of the Interior Ministry data. Ninety percent of eligible voters in eight municipalities voted in the second round. That is an exceptionally high figure for any country, but it is far higher than Iran's average of 59.6 percent.
Voter enthusiasm was particularly noticeable in districts of Tehran in the second round -- Damavand (100.53 percent turnout), Robat Karim (131.3 percent), Rey (216 percent), and Shemiranat (839.82 percent). These districts were similarly impressive in the first round -- as were Jam, Bushehr Province (107.78 percent); Kuhrang, Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province (110.39 percent); Mehr, Fars Province (102.23 percent); and Manujan, Kerman Province (112.51 percent in the first round and 108.29 percent in the second round).
There are several possible explanations for the Tehran figures. The Interior Ministry provides data on the number of eligible voters in each municipality. However, one is not restricted to voting at a specific polling station or even in that municipality. As long as one has an Iranian identification card and meets the other eligibility requirements, one can vote anywhere in the country. There are 8,231,230 eligible voters in the capital, according to the Interior Ministry, and 5,367,165 of them voted. This is about 65 percent, which is not much higher than the national average.
Turnout in other major cities was less startling. In Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, turnout was almost 67 percent; in Shiraz, Fars Province, it was about 55 percent; and in Rasht, Gilan Province, it was about 55 percent. In the Khuzestan Province cities of Abadan and Ahvaz, turnout was 44 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
The more likely explanation for the extremely high turnout figures in parts of Tehran is that out-of-town voters were bused in. Packing polling places in Tehran that are more likely to be visited by foreign correspondents could contribute to reports of "massive participation" and the like. Moreover, the large number of imported voters could serve as a bloc that would intimidate those who are in the minority.
Turnout and results in provinces primarily inhabited by minorities -- Azeris, Baluchis, and Kurds -- was lower than the national average. In nine municipalities in the second round, fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The lowest turnout figure was 11.87 percent in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, where fewer than 16,000 of the approximately 135,000 eligible voters went to the polls. Turnout figures in Ardabil, West Azerbaijan, and East Azerbaijan provinces, were lower than the national average, coming in at 2,398,721 of 5,494,228 eligible voters (43.5 percent). These provinces backed ethnic Azeri and local son Mohsen Mehralizadeh in the first round.
In the first round of the presidential election, Sistan va Baluchistan Province voted overwhelmingly in favor of reformist candidate Mustafa Moin. In fact, this was the only province he won. In the second round of the election, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani won the province, 381,425 to 282,505. This implies that the province's predominant Baluchi minority believes it would be better served by a less hard-line candidate. Moreover, Moin made a particular effort to reach out to Sunnis in the first round of the election, as did Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the week before the second round.
Turnout in Kurdistan Province -- which Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi won in the first round of the election -- was quite low. Out of 1,032,306 eligible voters, just 257,643 voters voted (about 25 percent). The province's proportion of spoiled ballots in the second round, approximately 8 percent, surpassed the national average of approximately 2 percent. In Sanandaj, almost 13 percent of the ballots were spoiled in the first round and more than 11 percent were spoiled in the second round. This is comparable with the 2004 parliamentary elections, when 14 percent of the ballots in Kurdistan Province and 25 percent in Sanandaj were invalid.
As scholars, analysts, and policymakers seek to understand the reasons behind and the implications of Ahmadinejad's upset victory, it might be helpful to try to understand voters in locations other than Tehran. But the reality is that their interests are as varied as those of voters in the capital. "We are tired of disputes, arguments, violence, and instability, and we want someone who can establish stability -- that is to say, economic, social, political, cultural, and...stability," a prospective voter in Tabriz said, according to "Iran" on 23 June. A Tabriz student promised to back the candidate who could resist efforts to weaken the country's student movement, while another called for a president who would not waste state resources. "Our society needs economic development, and economic development, in turn, cannot materialize without 'stability,'" a Tabriz bazaar merchant told the daily. (Bill Samii)
ELECTION WORRIES IRANIAN MARKETS. A 26 June commentary on Iranian state radio said that it is normal for capital markets to fluctuate after an election. The commentary went on to predict growth in the capital market and said the new government is likely to "support the capital market; expand the market by attracting small and large investments to the stock exchange, provide the necessary laws; and thus help Iran's capital market to grow further." The new president, it said, wants to give away shares in state enterprises and encourage private shareholders.
Mr. Khoshchehreh, the president-elect's representative for economic affairs, said on 26 June that Ahmadinejad will take steps to promote investment, state television reported. Ahmadinejad's policies aim for wealth creation and "the just distribution of wealth." Khoshchehreh said "certain investors," who he did not identify, are behind current stock-market fluctuations, and he called on the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to take action.
The Baztab website reported on 25 June that in the space of a few hours the Tehran stock-market index fell precipitously and many people started to dump shares.
AFP reported on 22 June that uncertainty over Ahmadinejad's economic plans were undermining market confidence.
In the face of rumors that he opposes the stock market, Ahmadinejad said, "we will fully support the idea of using the stock market as an investment market." "The stock market and the investment market are investment tools, which link capital to production and investment." However, Ahmadinejad hinted that there will be some changes, saying, "The stock market will definitely be promoted, but of course there should be some reforms." He also called for greater transparency and the elimination of hidden transactions. (Bill Samii)
DISSIDENT JOURNALIST CONTINUES HUNGER STRIKE. Masumeh Shafii, the wife of imprisoned dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, told Radio Farda on 27 June that her husband is continuing his hunger strike. Ganji, who has been in jail for five years, was given a furlough in early June so he could get medical attention. He returned to prison on 11 June and resumed the hunger strike he was on before his release.
Shafii said Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi has ordered the media not to report on Ganji's condition, Radio Farda reported. Publications are afraid of being closed down, she said, so they do not publish information about Ganji, including statements or faxes from his wife. Shafii last saw her husband on 21 June. She said Ganji's health is failing and his weight was down to 60 kilograms at that time, Radio Farda reported, but his spirit is undiminished. Shafii said her husband is in solitary confinement and he is not allowed to telephone. Shafii told Radio Farda that she, their children, and Ganji's mother are very worried and eager for news about him.
Sohrab Suleimani, director-general of Tehran Province's prisons, said on 27 June that Ganji is no longer on hunger strike, the ISNA reported. Suleimani added that Ganji can have visitors, including his family and lawyers. He also said that he has ordered that Ganji be transferred to a minimum-security suite.
Shafii told Radio Farda on 28 June that to her knowledge her husband is continuing his hunger strike. Ganji's family has expressed its concern about him in letters to international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, Radio Farda reported. Shafii said she last saw her husband eight days earlier, and at that time he warned her not to believe anything about him unless she sees it for herself.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi discussed Ganji's poor state with Radio Farda on 30 June. "Unfortunately, Mr. Ganji is still on hunger strike and judiciary officials are not paying attention to the fact that, with his illness, this is dangerous and Mr. Ganji is step by step getting closer to serious danger," Ebadi said. Ebadi reiterated that Ganji is in danger, saying: "If no immediate action is taken he could [die]. I ask judiciary officials and the Iranian and international public opinion to help Ganji."
The day before, the U.S. State Department called for Ganji's unconditional release and the provision of medical assistance, according to its website (http://usinfo.state.gov). "His mistreatment in prison is a serious violation of fundamental human rights," the statement added. (Bill Samii)
PRESS GROUP WANTS NEW PRESIDENT TO COME CLEAR ON FREEDOMS. A spokesman for the Association in Defense of Press Freedoms urged President-elect Ahmadinejad on 29 June to clarify his position on "the free flow of information and the freedom of expression and the press," ISNA reported the same day. Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said the group met in Tehran that day to consider the consequences of Ahmadinejad's election. Ahmadinejad is considered very conservative. Shamsolvaezin said the group will ask the president "to clearly state his position, without any ambiguity" on the "rights set out in the constitution," and "state his respect for the constitution on the freedom of expression and free flow of information," ISNA reported. He said the closure [on 20 June] of "Eqbal," a reformist daily, was not "a positive sign" in the "horizon of future interaction" between the press and authorities.
Shamsolvaezin said members of his group intend on 5 August to present Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a prominent government critic, with a press prize at his home in Qom, ISNA reported. Montazeri was under house arrest between 1997 and 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003).
Iranian writers and political activists met with members of the European Parliament at a seminar in Brussels on 29 June and urged them to help bring democracy to Iran, Radio Farda reported the same day. Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders told the seminar that the European Union should continue to talk to Iran, but this should be conditional on the release of dissidents currently jailed in Iran. Helene Flautre, a Green member of the European Parliament, called for the immediate release of two prominent dissidents, Akbar Ganji and Nasser Zarafshan. Simin Behbehani, an Iranian novelist and poet, said, "we will fight to the death for freedom and democracy, but in this struggle, we need the European Union and international community, and their support," Radio Farda reported.
In Tehran on 29 June, legislator Reza Talai-Nik warned that the European response to Iran's recent elections has been "cool" and this "shows a change in the European approach to Iran," and possible "challenges" for Iran in the nuclear dossier and human rights areas, the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 30 June. (Vahid Sepehri)
ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES IRANIAN ELECTION. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in Jerusalem on 27 June during a meeting with visiting European officials that the Iranian presidential election reveals the country's conservatism and radicalism, according to the government's press office. He referred to a democratic pretense for dangerous and radical policies. Shalom said on 26 June that the international community must be tough on Iran, Voice of Israel reported.
Asked about the Israeli reaction to his election, President-elect Ahmadinejad said at a 26 June press conference, "I think that the situation of the leaders of the regime occupying Quds [Jerusalem] is too well-known for me to try to say something to other nations about them," state television reported. He continued: "Those individuals are destroying people's homes above their heads. Those individuals' existence is illegitimate. Those individuals are the root cause of insecurity throughout the Middle East." "They do not have the right to express their views of others," Ahmadinejad concluded. (Bill Samii)
PRESIDENT-ELECT SAYS PEACEFUL NUKE USE IS A RIGHT. President-elect Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 28 June that his 24 June election was a "second revolution" for Iran, after the 1979 revolution that toppled the monarchy, and that it would destroy "the roots of injustice in the world," Radio Farda reported on 29 June. He told a gathering held to commemorate state officials assassinated in 1981 that "the time of the arrogance of a system of dominance and injustice" has come to an end, and "the waves of the Islamic Revolution" will soon "overwhelm" the world. It is not clear if these were foreign-policy guidelines, but the international community is curious about Ahmadinejad's stance on the nuclear issue.
Ahmadinejad described the peaceful use of nuclear technology as a right and something that is required for medical, engineering, and scientific advancement. Ahmadinejad reacted angrily to a reporter's question about EU threats to freeze nuclear discussions if he does not make commitments on human rights and the nuclear issue. "I think that the European side should come out of its ivory tower and stop addressing the Iranian nation with arrogance," he said. "These arguments are banal, outdated, and disgusting." He further warned, "They [the EU] should be careful that the Iranian nation is a big and wise nation, which defends its rights seriously." He said negotiations with the EU will continue.
As head of the Supreme National Security Council, the president has an important role in foreign affairs, but on the nuclear issue, decisions appear to be made collectively by a group headed by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. Ahmadinejad was vague on his nuclear negotiating team, saying, "The decision on the composition of the team is made by the foreign-policy decision makers."
Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on 29 June that "the next government will continue the system's present policy of attaining peaceful nuclear energy," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 June, citing ILNA. He said a request by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that Iran should not resume uranium enrichment and related activities violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Iran's plans to access "peaceful nuclear technology" go beyond "the present or future Iranian governments."
Separately, European states are increasingly pessimistic about reaching a deal with Tehran over its nuclear program, the "Financial Times" reported on 30 June, citing unnamed diplomats in Brussels, while U.S. support for talks has "noticeably declined." It will now be more difficult to persuade the United States to "go further in helping out," the daily quoted an unnamed EU official as saying. If Iran rejects the EU's proposed compromises, to be presented in August, EU officials will push for unspecified resolutions against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency, then the UN Security Council, the daily added, citing "officials." (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)
NORTH KOREA GETS CRUISE-MISSILE TECHNOLOGY FROM IRAN. Iran has provided North Korea with cruise-missile technology, the South Korean Yonhap news agency reported on 26 June, citing Japan's "Sankei Shimbun" newspaper. "North Korea and Iran have maintained a secret network for the development of weapons of mass destruction," an unnamed Japanese defense official said. Iran reportedly acquired the technology when it purchased Kh-55 cruise missiles from Ukraine in 2001. The missile reportedly has a 3,000-kilometer range. (Bill Samii)
TECHNOCRATS AND REFORMISTS SQUARE OFF AGAINST CONSERVATIVES AND LABOR OVER WTO MEMBERSHIP. The United States recently dropped its objections to Iran's accession negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO), and a nine-year-old membership application was approved by WTO members on 26 May. Iran's ambassador in Geneva, Mohammad Reza Alborzi, may now attend WTO meetings, representing Iran pursuant to observer status that could last for years before full membership is granted.
The Iranian response has ranged from welcoming eventual accession as an opportunity to reform the state-dominated economy and boost exports, on the one hand, to expressing fears of foreign exploitation and the destruction of Iranian jobs on the other. Those with technocratic tendencies and officials linked to the reformist administration have been most positive, while traditionalists, conservatives, and labor-related sectors have expressed caution or hostility to the prospects of integration into the global free market.
Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said in the northeastern city of Mashhad on 28 May that membership would provide Iran with "a golden opportunity" to export manufactured goods and oblige other countries to reduce tariffs on Iranian imports, IRNA reported the same day. Jahangiri reportedly said membership would not damage Iran's industries despite unspecified "restrictions" it would need to impose on them. Officials have insisted for more than a decade that Iran must diversify export revenues and end its dependence on oil sales.
Gholamreza Saharian, a deputy minister of agriculture jihad, the rural-development ministry, also welcomed membership on 30 May. He said the agricultural sector does not fear the free market, already claiming 25 percent of Iran's non-oil exports, IRNA reported the same day. Saharian cited the sector's successful cultivation of citrus fruit.
Economist Masud Nili wrote in "Sharq" daily on 28 May that WTO membership would make Iran more prosperous, as has happened in China and India. He rejected warnings of cheap imports flooding Iran and rendering Iranian workers jobless. Membership would force Iran to exercise "transnational discipline," or accept the responsibilities of an integrated member of the international community, Nili claimed. It would also force changes in "economic structures," he said, and compel sectors like services, banking, and manufacturing to become more competitive.
...Or Not Quite Ready?
There is recognition, however, that in spite of potential benefits, Iran is not yet ready for membership. Deputy Finance Minister Farhad Dezhpasand said in Tehran on 28 May that Iran needs to develop its electronic-commerce sector, which he called an important component of modern free trade, IRNA reported the same day. Legislator Adel Azar told ISNA on 21 June that Iran would need an "electronic government," or the computerization of key bodies like customs, insurance, and banks.
The head of the Khorasan Trade and Industries Chamber said in Mashhad on 19 June that "the country has no professional traders," a dilemma that will "destroy our economy" in the long run, the "Donya-yi Eqtesad" financial daily reported on 20 June. Identified only as Shafei, he vowed that his regional trade chamber would run e-commerce courses to prepare traders for global trade.
Separately, Jamshid Pazhuyan, a lecturer at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University, said on 28 May that it would be impossible to join the trade regime now, given "the low quality of goods" from Iran and the low profitability resulting from the use of old machinery imported from communist countries in the 1980s, "Kayhan" reported on 29 May.
The daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" argued in a commentary on 29 May that Iran has "a long way to go" before it can export competitive products and remains dependent on its oil-related revenues. There are "legal and executive" shortcomings in Iran, the daily warned, and "weaknesses" in government institutions. Iran would have to reform its "economic situation," end "extensive monopolies," and better "existing infrastructures," according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami." Separately, commentator Mansur Bitaraf wrote in "Iran," a daily close to the executive branch, that Iran must increase its support for the private sector, end "cronyism," and make the economy more "transparent," specifically the allocation of subsidies.
Legislator Peyman Foruzesh said in Tehran on 17 June that the country needs to address "structural" problems in its economy, before its diplomats negotiate entry terms, "Donya-yi Eqtesad" reported on 18 June. State bodies should coordinate efforts to make those structural changes, and the judiciary should think about e-commerce regulations or intellectual property rights, he said. The Trade Ministry has reportedly submitted the draft of a new trade law to the cabinet, though business sectors have said they do not know if it will conform to WTO norms, "Donya-yi Eqtesad" reported on 18 June.
On a more skeptical note, "Resalat," a conservative daily close to traditional merchants, commented on 28 May that WTO membership might be both dangerous and beneficial. It observed that past governments have already made relevant economic adjustments, reducing import duties, changing different import barriers to tariffs, and cutting subsidies. Little more needs to be done, "Resalat" argued, and "the gates of the country, which will be further opened by membership, were opened a long time ago." Iran imported $34 billion worth of goods in the year to 20 March, the daily stated.
Membership, "Resalat" added, will open foreign markets to Iranian goods but also open the country to "pillaging multinationals,... international banks, and insurance companies," with which Iranian rivals are hard-pressed to compete. "There is a possibility that most local manufacturers, investors, and banks and insurance companies" will go bankrupt, according to "Resalat."
Davud Qaderi, a member of the coordinating body for the Tehran Islamic Labor Councils, was more hostile when he said on 1 June that "foreign producers will dump their products and [Iran's] production cycle will be totally destroyed...and many workers will be" rendered jobless, ILNA reported the same day.
Another academic, Sadiq Khalilian, told Mehr news agency on 28 May that swift acceptance into the WTO would mean that "all our industries, except for a small part of the light and food industries, will be closed," leading to "extensive unemployment." He said Iran needs 10 or more years of preparation.
The 'Rich Minority'
The radical right-wing weekly "Ya-Lisarat" on 1 June interviewed its own "eminent professor," Shapur Ravasani. Ravasani warned that WTO membership would open the door to a flood of imports and make Iran dependent on the outside world. "When foreign goods are imported, the result is unemployment," he cautioned. "When foreign capital flows in, the result is an outflow of domestic capital...[and] an increase in poverty and unemployment." But he added that "a minority of people will become rich." Foreign investors, he said, will arrive and make money. "Do you think they will care about our interests and act to our advantage?" Modern Iranian history, Ravasani said, "shows a bitter experience" with foreign capital.
Supporters and opponents of membership alternatively make pertinent points and omit equally pertinent ones to suit their arguments. An increasingly liberalized market might indeed eliminate inefficient industries and jobs -- both of which are currently maintained by a system in which consumers must pay high prices for domestic products that are often (although not always) inferior to their foreign equivalents.
Opponents assume that Iran will keep selling oil at premium prices to pay for an extensive network of subsidies and subsidized industries that provide jobs for thousands. And why not, their logic goes, since oil is considered a national asset that should be used to better the lives of Iranians? Supporters of membership counter that few of the immediate consequences of accession or of the related economic reforms would represent adverse effects on Iranian jobs or lives.
And where, one wonders, would large-scale privatization and increased respect for private property leave the ideals of the 1979 revolution? (Vahid Sepehri)