Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: June 4, 2001

4 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 21

KHATAMI WINS IN STRAW POLLS... Seventy-nine percent of those polled by Gilan University students favored President Mohammad Khatami in the 8 June presidential election, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 22 May, and 4.8 percent of them favored Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani. Eighty-seven percent of the people polled in Tehran's 20 districts favored Khatami, the pro-reform "Hayat-i No" reported on 23 May. In a straw vote at Qom Higher Education Complex, 48 percent voted for Khatami and 42 percent voted for Ahmad Tavakoli, Tehran's conservative "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 30 May. In another straw vote at the Qom branch of Islamic Azad University, 41 percent of the students voted for Khatami and 26 percent for Tavakoli. Khatami won 76 percent and Tavakoli trailed with nine percent of the vote in a mock election organized by the science faculty of Shiraz University, IRNA reported on 31 May. At similar university polls in Khatami's home province of Yazd, he gained 74.9 percent of the vote while Tavakoli got 10.3 percent. In a late May public opinion survey conducted by students in Zanjan, 86.8 percent of the 301 people polled said they would vote for Khatami and 4.5 percent preferred Tavakoli. (Bill Samii)

...AND AMONG MINORITIES. Arab tribal and religious leaders from Khuzestan Province issued a statement expressing support for President Mohammad Khatami, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 May, and expressed the hope that with his victory the equal rights for all members of the Islamic nation and the ethnic minorities' constitutional rights would be realized. Twenty-two Kurdish parliamentary deputies have expressed their support for Khatami, Neu-Isenberg's "Ozgur Politika" reported on 21 May, and they expressed the hope that they would "receive constitutional guarantees for their political, cultural, and economic rights." (Bill Samii)

INCIDENTS OF CAMPAIGN VIOLENCE. A fistfight broke out after President Mohammad Khatami�s 1 June visit to a student gathering at Tehran�s Jamaran Mosque because members of the Office for Strengthening Unity disagreed about demands for the release of student leader Ali Afshari, whose forced confessions were televised in mid-May. Hard-liners in Qazvin Province disrupted a speech by the widow of President Mohammad Ali Rajai at a reformist event, "Noruz" reported on 31 May. Attackers stabbed the chief of Abdullah Jasbi's election headquarters in Islamshahr and then set the building ablaze on 30 May, according to IRNA. Unidentified motorcyclists staged an arson attack on Khatami's campaign headquarters in Isfahan, and they tore up his posters and turned off the electricity, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 29 May. Tear gas grenades were thrown at a reformist campaign office in Izeh, Khuzestan Province, on 28 May. Police arrested demonstrators calling for the release of all political prisoners after a 28 May Khatami rally. A group of pro-reform disabled veterans and the "families of martyrs" were attacked during a gathering at Tehran's Behesht-i Zahra cemetery on 26 May. Vandals broke windows and office equipment at Jasbi's office in Ardakan on 26 May, according to AFP. (Bill Samii)

CANDIDATES BARELY DIFFER ON RELATIONS WITH U.S. Foreign relations are rarely a decisive factor in the elections of most countries, but Iran's relationship with the U.S. has been discussed by the country's religious leaders, opinion-makers, and by the presidential candidates. The statements by all these individuals do not lead one to expect any major changes from the current state.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's comments about the U.S. during his 18 May sermon set the tone for Iranian state policy on the renewal of relations. He said, "We do not expect anything from America. We do not expect America to do anything [about the Palestinian problem]; it will not do anything, and in fact it is incapable of doing anything. The American government, the American ruling clique is fully controlled by the Zionists." He also accused the U.S. of "attempting to plunder the national assets and rich resources of Iran to vent its hostility against the Islamic republic" during a 6 May speech in Rasht.

President Mohammad Khatami, who is campaigning for re-election, held a televised question-and-answer session on 23 May and participated in political rallies on 28 and 30 May, but he did not discuss relations with the U.S. at these events. Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry adviser Mohammad Sadiq Husseini was more willing to discuss a future Khatami administration's policies. He said that relations with the U.S. would be reassessed after the election. Husseini told the 9 May "Al-Zaman" that "if the United States does not assess its previous policies toward Iran, no genuine relations will be established. If the United States admits that its previous policies on Iran were wrong and says it will re-assess them, I believe that there will be no objection to developing ties with it."

Some of the other candidates were more outspoken than Khatami. "I have always known that the global arrogance has targeted this country's security," candidate Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani said during a 26 May television program. He also demanded, according to the 25 May "Financial Times," "[t]he U.S. must stop supporting 4 million Jews who are in Palestine and have occupied the lands of another country. If they stop this support, lift the pressures against Iran internationally and stop thinking they are the leader of the world, and their bullying. If the U.S. is ready to negotiate as two countries speaking on equal terms, then we can re-enter political relations."

Fallahian also discussed U.S. sanctions against investment in Iran's oil and gas sector in a 25 May interview with MSNBC. "With America, we have only a political problem. The United States unilaterally imposed sanctions on us, and Europe has been selling us goods at a higher price because of U.S. pressure. We don't want these sanctions to exist. The damage is more to them rather than us. They have lost the region's market and the conditions have become harder for them. About oil, there is always an increasing demand for it. It's now predicted that within a few years that demand will increase. This region contains 80 percent of world's fuel. American experts have suggested the sanctions be lifted. The sanctions and political matters must be separated.

"If America stops supporting four million Israelis, if it also reduces the pressure it is exerting on Iran in the international arena and if it is prepared to view the two sides as two countries which have equal rights, then it will be possible to consider the issue of negotiating with America," Fallahian declared, according to state radio on 22 May.

"In view of the U.S. policy of arrogance and expansion, establishing or holding relations with the U.S. government does not fit our national interests," conservative candidate Ahmad Tavakoli told the 27 May "Al-Hayat." He repeated this sentiment in a 21 May interview with "Aftab-i Yazd" and in a 19 May interview with "Siyasat-i Ruz."

Defense Minister and presidential candidate Ali Shamkhani avoided declaring a position on the issue of relations with the U.S. Instead, he told a rally in Mahdieh, near Qom, that "the esteemed leader decides the general policies. And the president must just follow the policies of the esteemed leader as well as the guidance of the ulama and the sources of emulation to become a good executor," state television reported on 21 May.

Candidate Abdullah Jasbi did not rule out relations with the U.S., telling the 22 May "Al-Hayat" that "the establishment of relations is not in itself something bad. The important thing is to take the national interests into consideration." Jasbi went on to say that the issue is in U.S. hands because the U.S. severed relations in the first place. Jasbi did not mention any specific conditions for the normalization of relations other than the unfreezing of all Iranian assets in the U.S., but Jasbi said that as president he would first get the Supreme Leader's permission.

Candidate Shahabedin Sadr did not rule out relations with the U.S., either. He said, state radio reported on 21 May, "We must proceed on the basis of the principle of dignity and honor because our people want to have a place of respect in the world. We are in favor of any relationship which results in strengthening our principles, our dignity and our national interests."

Candidate Mahmud Kashani seemed to be an exception to the general mood. He spoke of the U.S. Constitution as one in which "one cannot take away the rights, freedom, and life of an individual," Reuters reported on 26 May.

Ayatollah Ali Meshkini urged his congregation, furthermore, not to vote for someone who favors "American-style reforms" during the 11 May Friday prayer sermon in Qom. Ayatollah Mohieddin Haeri-Shirazi, the Shiraz Friday prayer leader, warned his congregation during his 27 April sermon that "the individual who buys an American-made overcoat is serving America," and this contradicts Iran's "neither east-nor-west" foreign policy. Veramin Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mahmudi warned on 31 December that American investment is meant to harm Iran, and certain newspapers are cooperating with this practice, Veramin's "Farhang-i Islami" reported on 9 January.

Other political opinion-makers have weighed in on relations with the U.S., too. "Entekhab" editor Taha Hashemi, promoter of the new conservative third current and "religious modernism," told Reuters on 29 May that he believed relations between Iran and the U.S. are a possibility in the next presidential term. He suggested that the U.S. take the first steps by showing "repentance" and that it not expect Iran to remain silent on the Palestinian issue. Hashemi also pointed out that the process would take time: "Because the United States has been presented as our most important enemy and Great Satan for 22 years, they cannot suddenly be presented as trustworthy friends. It needs a lot of work." (Bill Samii)

THE RELIGIOUS CONSTITUENCY VERSUS SECULARISM. The pursuit of political reform in Iran might be perceived as a struggle between secularism and religion. Yet for most Iranians, particularly the more devout, religious leaders still hold a position of respect and influence. Who these religious leaders endorse could influence voting behavior. Moreover, people are faced with a worsening economy and are questioning the regime's legitimacy, so some are returning to the traditional vehicles of discontent. "Already, the higher-ranking ulama [clerics], under the banner of the institution of marja'iyat, are moving to their traditional role of opposing the state with seemingly traditional reasoning, i.e. the illegitimacy of the state in the absence of the Lord of the Age," Maziar Behrooz wrote five years ago ["The Islamic State and the Crisis of Marja'iyat in Iran," Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, v. xvi, n. 2 (1996)].

Much of the recent clerical discussion focused on President Mohammad Khatami, who is seen as the front-runner. "During your term in office, those attempting to overthrow the Islamic regime have been given extensive authority," Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Faker of the Association of Instructors of Qom Religious Seminary complained in a recent issue of "Fayzieh." Faker went on to claim that clerics are campaigning against Khatami, a claim he also had made in early May. Faker added that 15 million of Khatami's 1997 votes came from the religious community, according to "Nosazi," but those same people would not vote for him again. In April, Faker complained that Khatami's failure to declare his candidacy precluded the opposition's rallying its forces and this amounted to "surprise tactics," according to "Noruz."

Reports in London's "The Independent" of 11 May and "The Economist" of 10 May also suggest that the seminaries, or at least Qom, do not view Khatami favorably. The social and press reforms with which he is identified are seen as going too far. "The Economist" reported "the majority of the city's 20,000 clerics deplore what they see as the government's encouragement of libertarian excess." The Qom clerics argued that the people around the president were using him as a Trojan horse. A 5 May communique from the Qom Theological Lecturers Association (Jameh-yi Modaresin-i Qom) attacked the whole concept of a referendum, which is how the reformists have described the election. Instead of proposing such initiatives, the communique suggested, reformist candidates should focus on poverty, unemployment, corruption, and favoritism.

Before the 1997 presidential election, the leading clerics refused to endorse a specific candidate until the Supreme Leader's office prevailed on them to endorse the conservative favorite, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri. The offices of Grand Ayatollahs Haj Sheikh Mohammad Fazel-Movahedi-Lankarani, Yusef Jannati-Sanei, and Nasser Makarem-Shirazi announced that they had not expressed any views about the presidential election, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 22 May.

Other clerics have expressed statements in favor of the incumbent. The Association of Qom Seminaries' Researchers and Instructors issued a statement that identified Khatami as its preferred candidate, "Hayat-i No" reported on 21 May, and expressed the hope that he would put his four years of experience to overcoming the government's weaknesses. Some senior clerics from Qom voiced "firm support" for Khatami, "Hambastegi" reported on 20 May. In late April, 4,600 Qom clerics signed a letter in which they asked Khatami to compete in the election, IRNA reported. 300 instructors and writers of the Qom seminary called on Khatami to seek re-election, "Noruz" reported on 24 April, because his failure to do so would bring about secularism.

Clerical endorsement is important for other candidates, too. Ali Shamkhani met with Ayatollahs Abdol-Karim Musavi-Ardabili, Haj Sheikh Mohammad Fazel-Movahedi-Lankarani, Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, Hussein Nuri-Hamedani, Yusef Jannati-Sanei, and Sheikh Javad Aqa-yi Tabrizi, state radio reported on 22 May, and asked them to "express their views on his participation in the elections."

Clerics also defined what kind of candidate people should vote for and the areas on which the next president should concentrate. Grand Ayatollah Nuri-Hamedani urged Iranians to vote for "an individual who was loyal to the principles of the movement established by the late Imam Khomeini," state radio reported on 31 May. The Society of Qom Seminary Instructors issued a communique that said the next president should fulfil popular demands on the basis of Islamic tenets, adhere to Islam when developing his plans, be loyal to the Imam's ideals, and "prioritize eradication of poverty, corruption, and unemployment," "Iran Daily" reported on 21 May.

During the 19 May Friday Prayers in Qom, seminary lecturer and Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini said that just because ten people were deemed eligible to stand in the election did not mean that they were all good candidates. The best candidate, according to Amini, must deal with the major problems facing Iran. These include "the wretched economic situation...unemployment...shortage of property...poverty...inflation." Other issues that must be addressed are "moral corruption and the cultural onslaught that has spread among our young people and older generation," and "administrative reforms." Finally, according to Amini, Iran has "many enemies abroad [and] there are many enemy plots," so the best candidate should "understand international politics."

Visitors to Qom speak of a palpable atmosphere of anomie (lack of purpose or identity). Estimates on the number of clergymen in Iran range from 90,000 to 250,000. Another 50-60,000 Iranians have some religious training. There are about 40,000 theology students at Iranian seminaries. Finally, there are 60,000 people with no formal training or qualifications who act as urban preachers, rural prayer leaders, and procession organizers, according to Nikola B. Schahgaldian's "The Clerical Establishment in Iran," [RAND Publication Series prepared for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, (June 1989)]. How these numbers and this sense of anomie play out on election day remain to be seen. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S VOTE COULD BE DECISIVE. Forty-nine percent of the Iranian population of 65,619,636 is female (32,333,354), and 21,297,649 of these women are fifteen years or older, which means that they can vote in the presidential election. In the May 1997 election women voted in great numbers for Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, but four years later, do they think that he met their expectations?

"No outstanding development has been made in the status of women," Tehran City Council spokesman Sediqeh Vasmaqi told IRNA on 26 May, but that did not mean that they were in an undesirable position. Vasmaqi mentioned that women are involved in the presidential cabinet, the parliament, and the municipal councils, and if there was any problem, it was the lack of female managers. Zahra Shojai, President Khatami's adviser on women's affairs, said during a 12 May press conference in Amman that the Western news media has distorted the image of Iranian women. According to Shojai, the Islamic revolution restored Iranian women's rights, and as for hijab (the Islamic dress code for women), this was a means by which women could meet their "personal need for decency and security" and hijab actually raised women's confidence at international fora.

The Association of Iranian Women (not to be confused with the Association of Iranian Women-USA, which is a Mujahedin Khalq Organization front) told IRNA on 6 May that female participation in political and administrative affairs has increased since 1979. Moreover, women have greater involvement in the workplace, so that the gap between unemployed men and women in 1997 (8.5 percent to 13.3 percent) has dropped to 16 percent to 16.9 percent in 2000.

The rise in the number of female university students, furthermore, often is cited as evidence of the improvement in women's status in Iran. Yet that means little if they cannot find jobs in which they use their new skills. Women fill a miniscule proportion of management positions, according to the 5 May "Entekhab." Women are only 1.4 percent of deputies of executive organizations, 1.4 percent of directors general, 3.2 percent of deputies to directors general, and 6.8 percent of deputies of groups and departments.

Several Iranian women told RFE/RL's Persian Service that their situation has improved in the last four years, but they did not give Khatami much credit for this. Dr. Fatemeh Ghassemzadeh, a pediatrician in Tehran, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that since Khatami's election, women have a greater role in the economy, in society, and in municipal councils. She also pointed out that there are more women than men in the universities. She suggested, however, that these developments are part of a natural process and cannot be ascribed to a specific individual.

Women are involved in the municipal councils and the parliament, as pointed out by Vasmaqi and Shojai. Yet there are fewer women in the sixth, reformist-dominated parliament, than there were in the fifth, conservative-dominated parliament (14:11). And as Ziba Mir-Hosseini writes in the Spring 2001 "Middle East Report," "politics is still the domain of men, and women who enter the field tend to be related -- either by blood or by marriage -- to prominent men."

A Tehran housewife told RFE/RL's Persian Service that she voted for the first time in the 1997 presidential election. She said that her hopes have been met to some extent; for example, the harassment of women in the streets by self-appointed moral authorities has lessened a great deal. In many other areas, such as press freedom, however, she was greatly disappointed. She said that the president did not really speak out against press closures or the arrests and trials of various individuals.

Even in the social arena, the Iranian woman's lot is difficult, and it has been made more so by the country's economic problems. Some young women, either because they have run away from home or because they have no other way to make money, have turned to prostitution. They become the "hidden attractions of Qom," Camelia E. Fard writes in the 28 March "Village Voice," and engage in temporary marriages. These temporary marriages have become a cover for prostitution and "an under-the-table means of social welfare for poor women" -- they earn from 20-40,000 rials ($2.50-$5.00 at the open market rate) for each temporary marriage. A mother of two who was flogged in Qom for "having illicit sex" said she had gotten into the sex trade because of "poverty and inability to pay rent," "Kayhan" reported on 31 May.

Twelve prostitutes in Mashhad have been murdered during the last nine months, strangled to death with their own scarves.

Abortions also are on the rise, according to the "Village Voice." Some 90,000 women apply for abortions every year, and there are 221 abortions a day. Many women cannot pay for abortions in hospitals, so they must resort to illicit ones, with all the health risks that entails.

"The question of women demands a new approach at every level of society," Khatami said at a 30 May campaign rally, showing his recognition of women's concerns. Calling for an end to legal and professional discrimination, he said that "Woman plays a fundamental role in society, she is the pivot of the family. But that doesn't mean that she has to work exclusively at home or that she is limited to guaranteeing the comfort of men." (Bill Samii)

NEXT PRESIDENT MUST CREATE JOBS. The need to tackle unemployment is the one underlying or even overt theme in all the statements by Iranian presidential candidates. This theme is followed by more general concern about the state of the economy. Defenders of President Mohammad Khatami used to say that discussions about unemployment were just a hard-line tactic to undermine him. Yet it is hard to argue that an estimated 25 percent (or an official 16 percent) unemployment rate is irrelevant, and it is also clear that many young Iranians are fleeing the country in pursuit of a brighter economic future. Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mostafa Moin warned on 1 May that "some 220,000 leading academic elites and industrialists have left Iran for Western countries over the past one year."

"We want the president to pay more attention to the youth and solve the problems of their employment," was part of the first inquiry Khatami faced in a 23 May question-and-answer session. The president responded that "employment is the most important challenge facing us today, tomorrow, and I think for another ten years." Khatami also said that Iran needs "fundamental economic reform" and he repeated his warnings about excessive dependence on oil, which according to him used to provide 70 percent of the government's budget and now provides 50 percent of it. But according to Khatami, Iran's ability to repay some of its foreign debts, the slight reduction in the inflation rate, and the creation of 400,000 jobs in the last year, "are all signs and indicators of a boom in our economy."

Khatami did not mention any specific job-creation plans, but on 28 May Vice President for Planning and Management Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi said that employment was the focus of the economic rehabilitation plan, IRNA reported. Aref added that the government also is concerned with preventing a rise in unemployment and lowering the number of unemployed. A mid-May Management and Planning Organization report stated that this year's budget allots 36.7 percent more funding for job creation than the previous year's budget, according to IRNA.

Ali-Akbar Fallahian said the main perquisite to the creation of jobs is economic progress, and as president he would cut unemployment "considerably." He said that with sound planning unemployment could be reduced to zero, IRNA reported on 26 May.

Abdullah Jasbi said that "special attention" should be given to the elimination of unemployment, and he said that economic progress was the key. Jasbi, who is the chancellor of the Islamic Azad University, said that with state support 350 colleges could be established in four years, and with the elimination of entrance exams 140,000 people would be admitted annually and this would create about 40,000 jobs. Jasbi also said that he has a policy that would create 100,000 jobs in the agriculture and food production sectors, IRNA reported on 26 May.

Mansur Razavi, a former vice president, said in a 24 May televised address that job creation would be his focus. He said that "I think our youths are now grappling with job-hunting and job-generation should be based on economic production," according to IRNA. Razavi said that he had a plan to deal with this problem, but he did not share that plan with his audience.

Ahmad Tavakoli also discussed high unemployment, capital flight, and other economic problems in his 23 May television address, and he said that they were a result of unscientific methods. Citing a figure of 4 million unemployed, Tavakoli told the 19 May "Siyasat-i Ruz" that Iran's "biggest economic problem" is the "large number of enthusiastic, unemployed, and generally educated young people." He went on to say that current policies not only fall to create jobs, they actually are leading to factories being on the verge of closure. Tavakoli said that he would correct tax laws, rationalize the exchange rate, and reform banking laws to alleviate the unemployment situation.

Candidate and Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said during his 23 May television broadcast that he entered the race for president because he is worried about Iran's future. A number of things worried him, and he specifically named "2 million unemployed people today. There are going to be 5 million unemployed people in the future." Shamkhani went on to warn that "this army of the unemployed, this innocent army of the unemployed, is the most innocent labor force in our country. Do you not think that they are good prey for rebellion, addiction, unrest, and crises?" (Bill Samii)

THE RULES OF THE GAME. More than 44.5 million Iranians -- everyone born before 8 June 1986 -- are eligible to vote in the 8 June presidential election, IRNA reported on 13 May. Individuals must present their identification cards to vote, but on 30 May the Guardians Council ratified a law that eliminates the requirement for a photo on the card. There will be more than 85,000 election monitors, and for what "Tehran Times" refers to as the "first time in the history of elections in Iran," party representatives will oversee proceedings at the Election Headquarters. Eighty-five percent of these eligible people will vote, according to a poll conducted by IRNA in late May, which marks a 3 percent increase from an April poll. A poll of 1,434 people in Tehran's 20 districts found that 68.2 percent of them will vote, "Hayat-i No" reported on 23 May.

The period in which the ten candidates can campaign started on 18 May and lasts until 24 hours before election day. The Interior Ministry said that using public places for campaigning is forbidden unless all candidates are free to use these places. Governmental publications (ex: "Hamshahri," "Jam-i Jam," "Kayhan") are not allowed to print articles by the candidates if they appear to be campaign literature, but descriptions of the candidates are allowed if they all are comparable. The Tehran Justice Department announced on 15 May that candidates and their supporters cannot use smear tactics against their opponents. Everybody must get equal time with state broadcasting and on other official platforms, and none of the candidates can give a Friday Prayer sermon or a pre-sermon address. Academic or religious ranks will not be used when identifying candidates.

Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told a 28 May seminar of election supervisors that there already had been some violations of the election regulations. The Guardians Council also said on 27 May, according to state television, that members of parliament cannot express support for specific candidates in the legislature, and doing so would be in violation of Article 68 of the election law. Broadcasting such speeches is illegal, too. Moreover, the Friday Prayers pulpit or any other official or semi-official venues cannot be used for election publicity.

Even before the campaign period started, there were warnings that security would be enforced. The Armed Forces Judicial Organization (AFJO) declared on 16 May that the armed forces are not allowed to get involved in factional politics, and the AFJO prohibited the use of military or Law Enforcement Forces resources or personnel in election activities on behalf of or against any factions or candidates. The previous day, Tehran LEF chief Mohsen Ansari said that some 10,000 officers will maintain peace and security in the capital during the election. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said at a 5 May news conference that "election security headquarters" have been established in all the country's towns and cities, and the Interior Ministry's deputy head of security and law enforcement will be in charge of them.

State broadcasting, which in the past has been accused of favoring conservative candidates, announced on 13 May that it must give all the candidates equal time. They could each have a minimum of 115 minutes of radio and television time during the campaign period. They could discuss their programs and plans in roundtables, group discussions, interviews, and question-and-answer sessions. (Bill Samii)

EGGS LEAD TO SUICIDE. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, during a January 1978 speech at the Sheikh Ansari mosque in Najaf and an October 1978 speech in Neauphle-Chateau, accused the monarchy of importing eggs from Israel. Iran no longer imports eggs, according to press reports, and in facts it exports them to Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkmenistan. Yet there have been demonstrations, imprisonments, and even a suicide because a number of Iranian hatcheries are going bankrupt.

At a late April demonstration in Tehran, a large number of people registered their dissatisfaction with the Agricultural Jihad Ministry, and an IRIB cameraman was beaten up during a mid-May demonstration. The demonstrators complained that he had no business being there since his organization did not report about their problems, anyway, "Tehran Times" reported. Moreover, 150 members of parliament called on President Mohammad Khatami to address the breeders' problems.

A Tabriz journalist told RFE/RL's Persian Service that 90-95 percent of the chicken breeders are facing bankruptcy, and on average, each one owes about 600 million rials ($75,000 at the open market rate) to banks or to private lenders. He explained that the chicken men complain about the difference between market prices and production costs. Over the last three years, eggs sell for about 2,700 rials a kilo (34 cents), but they cost 4,800 rials to produce (60 cents). The Tabriz journalist added that the eggs cost the final consumer about 3,700 rials (46 cents) a kilo.

Asqar Naderan, the managing director of the Laleh Baq mechanized agriculture company in Gorgan, had warned last October about problems faced by eggs. He said that there is insufficient investment in the poultry industry. Moreover, the execution of a plan to solve the industry's problems only led to an increase in the exchange rate, "Afarinesh" reported. Laleh Baq now suffers losses of 7-10 million rials ($875-$1,250) a day because of the difference between production costs and the market price for eggs, Naderan said. He explained that it costs 4,300 rials (54 cents) to produce a kilogram of eggs and they sell for an average of 3,300 rials (41 cents) per kilogram.

Veterinary science specialists from Gilan Province, however, said in an open letter to President Mohammad Khatami that reforms in the agricultural sector had been successful and had a positive impact on the poultry industry. Their letter said that "deregulation and privatization of the poultry and hatchery industry, and the elimination of subsidies in this sector in [1991] prompted a remarkable growth and flourishing in the production of poultry and eggs." Annual per capita egg consumption has risen from 4.3 kilograms to 10.2 kilograms, Rasht's "Pegah" reported in August.

The poultry farmers have considered debt cancellation as one of the solutions to the problems they face, but they realize that this would be very unpopular with private creditors. The Tabriz journalist told RFE/RL's Persian Service that ten breeders have been imprisoned because of their debts and one of the biggest chicken breeders committed suicide because of his debts. (Bill Samii)