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Iran Report: February 7, 2000

7 February 2000, Volume 3, Number 6

KHATAMI URGES YOUTH TO UNDO CANDIDATE REJECTIONS. Young voters are a powerful constituency in a country where the voting age is 16 and approximately half of the population is under 25. In Iran, these young voters tend to side with reformists, and they voted in overwhelming numbers for President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in May 1997. In comments at the end of January, Khatami urged Iran's young people to participate in the 18 February parliamentary elections. At the same time, he made comments that can be interpreted as a criticism of the Guardians Council's rejection of candidates.

Khatami discussed the Guardians Council power of "advisory supervision"--it rejects or approves candidates for elected office--in a 25 January meeting with the Islamic Students Association's Central Council. Khatami said he believes that "even if we leave this society alone and do not place supervision or conditions over it, the choice of most of the people would be religion, independence, and honor," according to state broadcasting. In what can also be regarded as a criticism of tough standards for social conduct imposed in the name of Islam, he said: "We should refrain from useless pressure and strictness, which are called for neither by religion nor by law."

In a 31 January interview with state broadcasting, Khatami urged people to vote. He pointed out that in the face of mass action, "all efforts and all powers are humbled before the will of the nation." Khatami went on to say that the public still wants Islam, but it is "an Islam that has respect for these people...[one] that wants to see the establishment of a popular government and to have the people decide for themselves and determine their own destiny."

Khatami acknowledged that the younger generation did not participate in the 1978-1979 revolution, so it may not understand what its parents fought for. The Iranian president said that the revolution was about sovereignty, and by voting, the youth are continuing the revolution. "Everyone who has a right to vote, and young people especially...must go to the polling stations." Khatami recognized that some people might be unhappy about the Guardians Council's vetting process, but "Even if some people are upset about some things, they must not allow this to detract from the liveliness of the elections."

Khatami's closing comments were also critical of the Guardians Council, although he was less direct than he was when criticizing it before the October 1998 Assembly of Experts election. This time he said that "Some people may like this law, some people may not like this law, but the right thing for us to do is to respect the law." Khatami added that "no right should be trampled, neither the right of the voter, nor the rights of the people being elected."

Khatami's comments, however, can be interpreted another way. He recognizes that young voters may be unhappy about candidate disqualifications and about the system generally, and he is concerned that they will not vote as a form of protest. The regime cites voter participation as a mark of its legitimacy, so a boycott of any sort could undermine such claims. Thus, he is encouraging participation to avoid embarrassment of the regime.

This interpretation finds support in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's statement on 2 February that through their massive participation, the Iranian people will "slap America's face." Khamenei said "the enemy is trying to prevent people from massively participating in the parliamentary elections so as to claim that people have distanced themselves from the revolution and system," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

CANDIDATE LISTS ANNOUNCED. Interior Ministry Deputy for Socio-Political Affairs Mustafa Tajzadeh, who heads Iran's election headquarters, said that even though the Guardians Council confirmed the rejection of 668 potential candidates for the parliamentary election, it had not heard all appeals by the candidates. He added that some of the candidates were not even told why they were disqualified, IRNA reported on 2 February, and he wondered why those whose candidacies were approved in previous elections were rejected this time.

Mohammad Rezai-Babadi, Tehran deputy governor for political and security affairs and head of the Tehran Province Election Headquarters, named a number of those who had been rejected, "Iran" reported on 31 January. One of the better-known names is Abdullah Nuri, who subsequently asked people not to write in his name on their ballots because it would void them. The rejection of sitting parliamentarian Yadollah Tahernezhad from Chalus was met with a demonstration by several hundred of his supporters, "Iran" reported on 2 February.

Some reformist journalists also had trouble. The candidacies of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi and Hussein Kashani of the banned "Hoviat-i Khish" were rejected. Hamid Reza Jalaipur of the banned "Neshat" also had his candidacy rejected. He complained that "I heard in the news reports that I had been disqualified again by the Guardians Council, but I have not been given any reasons or explanations," according to the 2 February "Akhbar-i Eqtesad."

Nationalist figures like Ezattolah Sahabi, Habibollah Peyman, and Ebrahim Yazdi (of the Freedom Movement) were rejected, too. They protested in a public statement and asked President Mohammad Khatami and the 2nd of Khordad coalition to respond. But the nationalists again promised that despite the rejections, they will "use every other legal and legitimate means to restore the trampled rights of themselves and other candidates," Asr-i Azadegan" reported on 31 January. Former Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur argued that the Freedom Movement should not be allowed to enter the government because "That faction will establish a dictatorship," "Fath" reported on 31 January. Parliamentarian Faezeh Hashemi, on the other hand, told the 2 February "Asr-i Azadegan" that the Freedom Movement should be allowed to enter the government.

Many 2nd of Khordad candidates, including Ahmad Burqani, had their candidacies confirmed, but others, such as Islamic Iran Participation Party founders Abbas Abdi and Ali Reza Farzad, were rejected. Theoretically, the presence of many candidates from the 18-member pro-Khatami coalition will help it at the polls. A 2nd of Khordad leader, Said Hajjarian of the IIPP, explained that the coalition is fielding 30 candidates and it hopes to win 20 seats, "Abrar" reported on 3 February. But there are splits in the coalition over preferred candidates, and Hajjarian said that the coalition would issue five different lists. Indeed, the lists of the Office for Strengthening Unity, Executives of Construction Party, and the relatively moderate Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) have been announced, and they are far from identical.

The Khatami government needs for reformists to win a majority in the parliament if its policies are to succeed. Ken Katzman of the U.S. Congressional Research Service explained this by using the example of relations with the U.S., always a hot topic in Iranian politics. He told RFE/RL that "If Khatami allies are able to gain a majority in the Majlis, we could see some forward progress resuming because then Foreign Minister [Kamal] Kharrazi would be relatively immune from impeachment if he decides to take some risks and move forward.... There could be some minor steps that could lead to bigger things.... The key point is that Khatami will then have a cabinet which cannot then simply be removed by his opponents." (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT PRECLUDES REVOLUTION'S 'IMPLOSION.' Iran's government appears to be on "the verge of imploding," an article in the January/February 2000 "Foreign Affairs" observed. "The revolution is imploding," argued a "Foreign Policy" article three and a half years earlier.

That the implosion has not occurred yet, according to the author of both articles, to some extent can be attributed to the revolution's empowerment of the Iranian people. A particularly noteworthy aspect of this empowerment is the women's movement, according to "Foreign Affairs." This, in turn, is demonstrated by women's part in electing President Khatami, the "brazen" stance of women's publications on reform issues, and their presence, both as students (40 percent of the total number) and as teachers (about one-third), at universities.

Not only were Iran's roughly 32 million females a factor in Khatami's election, they will be important in the February parliamentary elections, too. Some 504 women registered as candidates. Leading political figures are urging women to vote, and candidates are propounding gender issues.

Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, for example, told the parliament that its recent passage of a bill on separate facilities for medical treatment was inappropriate for the current era, the "Tehran Times" reported on 31 January.

It is not just medical treatment facilities that are gender-based. Medical education is also. In mid-January, student's from Qom's female-only Fatemieh Medical School demonstrated against the poor quality of instruction and facilities at their institution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000). The teaching hospital affiliated with Fatemieh also is segregated on the basis of gender, so the number of patients per student is inadequate.

Gender-related problems exist at the primary levels of education, too. Rural attitudes and traditions hinder governmental literacy promotion programs. Parents are reluctant to send daughters to schools with male teachers, for example. And when illiteracy of mothers is widespread, illiteracy of daughters is a natural consequence. Also, girls in the provinces are forced to marry at a younger age than their urban counterparts. It is not just a traditional background that results in early marriage. Maryam told the 10 January "Qods" from Mashhad why she quit school: "The reason I quit my studies was that my father was addicted to drugs and forced me to marry at the age of 15."

Zahra Shojai, Khatami's adviser on women's affairs, complained that facilities available to men and to women are of an uneven quality. She also said that the government is considering creation of a ministry to deal with women and youth affairs, IRNA reported on 30 January, and currently, 113 non-governmental organizations and 200 cultural centers provide legal, psychological, and other services for Iranian women. Shojai did not, however, think that this is adequate, adding that more special women's institutions must be created, IRNA reported on 28 December. She reminded officials that they are "duty-bound to prepare the grounds for women to enjoy their own rights." On a somewhat encouraging note, Shojai went on to say that the budget for next year allocates 20 billion rials (between $2.5 and 11 million, depending on the exchange rate) for handling women's affairs.

Public empowerment is being seen in the cultural sphere, too, specifically in questions of artistic freedom versus government standards. "Iranian cinema has led a major counter-cultural revolution since the early 1990s," according to "Foreign Affairs." Films now tilt at all the inadequacies of the system, including gender-biased laws. The greater freedom enjoyed by the movie industry can be attributed to Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani, who has been severely criticized by hardliners for his efforts.

There is more to do in this field. Batul Mohtashemi, speaking at a mid-January seminar on women in the Iranian film industry, said females must be portrayed more realistically in the movies.

Conservative parliamentarian Nafiseh Fayyaz-Bakhsh has come out strongly against pictures of women appearing in publications, however, because she believes that "anybody who uses the picture of a woman has some ulterior motive." She explained her logic further in the 23 October issue of "Zanan" monthly: "Any person who prints the picture of a woman on his publication intends to exploit the beauty of that woman and not to glorify her artistic talent. If you want to glorify or discuss the artistic talent of a woman you could do so by writing about it." She did not say how she felt about women in movies. Using pictures of a male athlete or star is acceptable, she said.

Gender equality has a way to go in other cultural areas. Female parliament deputy Faezeh Hashemi, who tends to be outspoken, said she advocated girls being able to propose marriage to boys. She also called for changes in the dress code for women. Hashemi even said women should be allowed to bicycle in public, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 22 December, admitting "I myself ride the bike late at night."

Fayyaz-Bakhsh is not as well known as Hashemi, but she has served in the fourth and fifth parliaments. Fayyaz-Bakhsh described some of the legislation specific to women. Among these is a family protection bill which makes provisions for insolvency and hardship, a bill on child custody, and a bill stating that the New Year's bonus (Eidi) for male and female pensioners and civil servants must be equal. There are 12 female parliamentarians of various ideological persuasions, but according to Fayyaz-Bakhsh, "on issues related to women, we are all unanimous." (Bill Samii)

THREE JEWISH PRISONERS RELEASED ON BAIL. Judiciary spokesman Hussein Mir-Mohammad-Sadeqi announced on 2 February that three of the 13 Jews arrested last spring for espionage have been released from Shiraz prison on bail, state broadcasting reported. He said they were released because the charges against them were relatively minor. The three were later identified as Navid Balazadeh, Amin Taflin, and Nejatollah Borukhimnezhad. The trial of the other prisoners will start next week, Sadeqi said.

Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi told "Entekhab" on 12 January that whatever the verdict, it will be implemented: "If they are condemned to hang, they will be hanged, if they are acquitted, they will be freed."

Harun Yashay, head of the Jewish Association in Iran, said "the case is in the hands of Iran's judiciary and we trust it." He added, according to London's "al-Hayah" on 3 February, "Iran's Jews will comply with the court's decision whatever it is, though they hope that the trial will not cause unrest in their circles and also hope to see the defendants acquitted." (Bill Samii)

MILITARY 'SELF-SUFFICIENCY.' Iranian officials make claims about military self-sufficiency in research, development, and production during special events. Recent developments cast doubt on these claims.

Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, commemorating the Ten-Day Dawn (the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return to Iran in 1979), said the most important lessons "learned from Imam's guidance and Islamic revolution has been the value of self-sufficiency and breaking from the chain of dependence," state television reported on 2 February. During last year's Sacred Defense Week (commemorating the war with Iraq), Brigadier General Olfati, head of the Seventh Department of the Office of the Joint Staff (charged with research and self sufficiency), described his unit's 470 projects. Among these are fire control systems for helicopters, optical guided missiles, tanks, and aircraft. He also discussed "other efforts aimed at attaining technical and scientific self-sufficiency," according to the 21 October "Saff" military journal.

This self-sufficiency is based on foreign know-how and supplies. Deliveries of Russian Mi-171 helicopters (the export version of Russia's Mi-8AMT) to the Iranian Navy were announced on 13 January, ITAR-TASS reported. They can be used as ground-assault and fire-support helicopters, and even if not supplied with weapons systems they can be upgraded easily. North Korea and Iran are cooperating on improving a naval cruise missile purchased from China, the London "Times" reported on 11 January. This will be an improved version of the Chinese C802 missile, which resembles the Exocet. Previously, Iran purchased the C801 missile from China.

In January, executives of Japan's Sunbeam company were arrested for shipping RPG-7 sighting lenses to Iran, Tokyo's Kyodo news service reported. Tehran denied the reports. Executives of Wisconsin's Siraj International pled guilty on charges of shipping military aircraft parts to Iran, AP reported last October. Mehrdad Banimostafavi of Texam Holding, Ltd., a holding company in Switzerland that forwarded the parts to Iran, was on the run. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AT ODDS WITH ISLAMIC COMMUNITY ON CHECHNYA. Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov told an 18 January press briefing at RFE/RL that despite Moscow's massive propaganda effort, Chechnya is gaining international understanding and support. But this claim is undercut by Tehran's relatively subdued reaction to the war. Russia's official RIA-Novosti agency said it all on 14 January: "It is very important for Moscow that Iran has again confirmed its pro-Russian position on Chechnya... and recognizes its right to punish terrorists and bandits."

Tehran's stance stands in sharp contrast to criticism of Russian conduct from other parts of the Islamic world. For that matter, Iranian media and religious officials have not been taken in by Russian propaganda, although RIA-Novosti claimed on 27 January that "Iran's leading news media approve of [Tehran's] stance on the Chechnya problem." Yet Tehran's financial and military interests are overriding its humanitarian--and, as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, religious responsibilities.

Some of the sharpest criticism came in an editorial in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," an influential, Saudi-owned London daily whose editorials reflect official Saudi foreign policy views. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is guilty of "stabbing the Chechen Republic in the back," the Arabic daily said on 27 January, referring to his statements that the conflict is an internal Russian affair. As for the OIC trip to Moscow to review the humanitarian situation, the daily said it was timid and Kharrazi should have stayed home.

Commentary from other sources in the Islamic community was gentler with Tehran, but they obviously saw through Russian propaganda. Allahshukur Pashazade, head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, told Baku's ANS TV on 8 January that despite Russian statements to the contrary, "from the very beginning up to now the Russian empire has been against the Muslim religion and Muslims."

The Cairo-based World Islamic Council for Call and Relief condemned what it called Russian troops' "use of Chechen civilians as human shields in Grozny," and it appealed to Muslim countries and major powers to help bring about a halt to the fighting. Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi urged Arab and Muslim countries to expel their Russian ambassadors and to recall their ambassadors from Moscow, Qatar's Al-Jazeera television reported on 17 January. Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa commented on Chechnya after he met with Kharrazi in Davos, Switzerland, IRNA reported on 28 January. In what can be interpreted as a criticism of Iranian leadership of the OIC, Musa said that "In the future meeting of the OIC foreign ministers, top priority should be given to the Chechnya crisis, and it is essential that the Islamic states should adopt united stances on this issue."

From Kabul, Afghan Voice of Sharia radio said, "The Muslim country of subject to fierce attacks by the barbaric Russians...The Russians...cannot tolerate the independence of the Muslim people of Chechnya." Kabul officially recognized the government of Chechnya in mid-January, and Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Motawakkil urged the rest of the Islamic community to do the same in a 27 January interview with "Al-Sharq al-Awsat."

Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel Meguid told journalists that "an urgent political settlement to the Chechen crisis must be reached," AFP reported on 28 January. He called for a halt to the Russian invasion.

Some Iranian religious leaders, such as Ayatollah Abdul Vaez-Javadi-Amoli, are criticizing Russian conduct, too. Javadi-Amoli said during the 15 January Friday Prayers in Qom: "Finally, the Red Army should understand that it has failed. It should end the killing of innocent people, particularly Muslims in Chechnya, otherwise it will find itself in a worse situation." He continued: "[Russia] will be destroyed and disgraced if it continues with the killing of the innocent Muslims in Chechnya." After the Friday Prayers in Tehran, a demonstration was held in front of the Russian embassy and a protest letter was submitted to the ambassador, "Kayhan International" reported on 24 January. The letter said, "we savagely condemn the savage killings of defenseless people of Chechnya."

Although the Russian government has resorted to imprisoning journalists, such as RFE/RL's Andrei Babitsky, information about reality in Chechnya is still getting out and sections of the Iranian media are continuing their criticism of Russian conduct. On 15 January, the "Iran News" announced "credible reports of Russian atrocities." The conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami" described the Russian Federation's acting president, Vladimir Putin, as the "butcher of Chechnya" on 6 January. "Kayhan International" reported on 22 January that Putin is prolonging the war because he fears a defeat will harm his March election bid. Even state television said on 19 July that the war was transforming from "a blitzkrieg to a war of attrition," and the Russians cannot differentiate between terrorists and ordinary people.

Tehran has stayed relatively silent on the issue from a unilateral perspective, although it is claiming otherwise. Kharrazi supposedly told visiting Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, Iranian state radio reported on 27 January, that "Continuation of the war and bloodshed is a catastrophe unacceptable to the Islamic world and it would bring an unpleasant picture from Russia to the region and the Muslim world."

Moscow did not take this as a criticism, if Kharrazi actually said it. Karasin said, "The Iranian leadership is well aware of the entire complexity of this struggle, particularly after a link between the Chechen terrorists and Afghan Taliban has manifested itself," ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January. Moscow's "Kommersant" on 28 January did not interpret Kharrazi's statement as a criticism, either, and it suggested that Tehran is interested in opposing "militant Wahhabites and organized international terrorists," also.

Meanwhile, Iranian aid for Chechen refugees continues to flow, with the sixth planeload being delivered in the first week of February. Also, the Imam Khomeini Assistance Committee launched a charity appeal for aid donations for the refugees on 20 January. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu recognized Iran as the top donor on 14 January. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," however, said the Russian Federation is diverting the aid to people other than the Chechen refugees. (Bill Samii)

RFE/RL IN IRANIAN PRESS. The Iranian press continues to quote RFE/RL's Persian Service, despite government instructions to the contrary. The 29 January issue of the conservative "Entekhab" quoted "Radio Liberty" on Iranian customs officials and free trade. On the same day, two different items in the hardline "Jebheh" quoted a "Radio Overthrowing Liberty" report about the annual commemoration of nationalist figure Mehdi Bazargan's death and "the CIA organization's radio" report about Kish Free Trade Zone. Often, Iranian newspapers quote RFE/RL interviews without citation of the original source. (Bill Samii)