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The Farda Briefing: Shopping Controversy Exposes Divisions Among Iran's Hard-Liners 


Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has been in the spotlight recently after members of his family went on a controversial shopping trip to Turkey. (file photo)

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iran's parliament speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is facing calls to step down after his family members went on a reported shopping spree in Turkey. The incident has triggered uproar in Iran, where many are struggling to make ends meet. Qalibaf has championed himself as a defender of underprivileged Iranians. But in the wake of the controversy, he has been widely accused of hypocrisy, even by his fellow political hard-liners.

Why It Matters: In the past year, Iran’s hard-liners have gained control of the presidency and parliament. But the controversy surrounding Qalibaf has exposed divisions within that political camp. Some, including Qalibaf’s supporters, have claimed that the uproar over the reported shopping trip has been orchestrated by fellow hard-liners who want to remove the parliament speaker from his powerful post. Details of the Qalibaf family’s trip to Turkey were revealed by Iranian activist Vahid Ashtari, who is reported to have ties with Saeed Jalili, an ultra-hard-liner who was Iran's top nuclear negotiator under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

What’s Next: Qalibaf has been silent on the controversy. His son, Elias, has called the trip “an unforgivable mistake” and claimed that his father had voiced opposition to it. While some hard-line political figures and media outlets have blasted him, others have defended Qalibaf. In the days ahead, Qalibaf’s rivals are likely to launch more attacks against him in a move that could fuel more infighting among hard-liners.

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  • Iran has reportedly deployed an armored division to the border with Afghanistan following clashes between Taliban fighters and Iranian border guards on April 23. There have been several border skirmishes since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August. Iranian media said the latest violence was triggered by the Taliban’s attempt to construct a road along the 900-kilometer border without prior coordination with Tehran. Taliban officials said the clashes erupted after it seized a vehicle belonging to Iranian forces that had illegally crossed the border.
  • Students at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University staged a rally on April 24 to protest the beating of a student. The demonstrators said the university was not “a military base” and that they would not allow “Stone Age ideas” to be imposed on students. The rally at the university, the scene of political protests in the past, came after reports that security forces had been stationed on campus and stricter hijab rules on female students were enforced.
  • Teachers again took to the streets of dozens of cities in Iran to demand fair wages, better labor conditions, and the release of their jailed colleagues. At least 70 protesters were reportedly detained at the protests on April 21. Most have been released. The rallies took place despite pressure by authorities, who have summoned, detained, and jailed members of the teachers’ union.

What We’re Watching

A special United Nations rapporteur, Alena Douhan, is scheduled to visit Iran from May 7 to May 18 to assess the impact of U.S. sanctions on the human rights situation in the country. Douhan, a native of Belarus whose mandate was created following a 2014 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council introduced by Iran on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, will submit her conclusions to the council in September.

Why It Matters: This is the first time that Iran has allowed a UN special rapporteur to visit the country since 2005. The reason is that Douhan’s findings could give Tehran ammunition to criticize U.S. sanctions that have crippled the economy. Iranian activists outside the country have warned that Tehran could use the trip for propaganda purposes. Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has called on the world body to postpone the trip until Tehran allows the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Javed Rahman, to travel to the country. There are also concerns that Douhan will only be allowed to meet with state-approved organizations and individuals.

Fahimeh Kherz from RFE/RL's Radio Farda won the Silver Medal at the 2022 New York Radio Festivals for her audio documentary titled The Censored Life of Shabma. The documentary was recognized in the Human Rights category.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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