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Monday 11 December 2017

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A hard-line Iranian daily is ignoring a government warning about a headline suggesting a Yemeni missile attack on Dubai.

The ultra-hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan is known for making inflammatory statements that often go against the government's official line.

When on November 6 the daily said on its front page that Dubai could become the next target of a missile attack by Yemen's Huthis after Riyadh came under attack, many thought it had gone too far.

There was criticism on social media and in the Iranian press, with many calling the daily's front-page statement foolish and unwise while warning that Iran should not provide its enemies with "an excuse" at a sensitive time.

Iran's Press Supervisory Board quickly issued a warning that the headline "Ansarollah Missile struck Riyadh, Next Target: Dubai" ran counter to Iranian national security and the country's interests.

The headline came amid a sharp escalation of tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, who in recent months have engaged in a war of words while accusing each other of destabilizing the region and promoting extremism.

Tensions skyrocketed on November 4 when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri abruptly resigned while on a visit to Saudi Arabia and criticized Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah militia for fomenting unrest in the region.

Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected Hariri's accusations and said the resignation was a plot by the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to foment tensions in Lebanon and the region.

Later, Saudi Arabia said a ballistic missile fired by Huthi rebels -- a Yemeni group with ties to Iran -- had been intercepted over Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

The Saudis said the attack could be considered an "act of war," with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman accusing Iran on November 7 of "direct military aggression" against the kingdom by supplying the Huthis with ballistic missiles.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on November 6 that Saudi Arabia was blaming Tehran for the consequences of its own "wars of aggression."

Amid the growing political tension, Kayhan remained defiant.

The daily said on its front page on November 7 that Iran's national interests were to defend "the oppressed" people of Yemen, not to "worry" about Dubai's skyscrapers.

Kayhan said it had merely reported "threats and promises" by the Huthis against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The daily had previously reflected the views of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but in recent years -- particularly since the 2015 nuclear negotiations -- observers have suggested that Kayhan has lost its link to Khamenei.

Nevertheless, it remains an important voice in the country's press.

Kayhan said it was ironic that Iran's reformists -- whose media the hard-line daily claimed were full of headlines that violate the country's national interests -- are suddenly worried about Iran's national interests.

"How can those who officially [put a false attractive face] on America and scare people with America's empty threats and admit to attempts [to give a good impression] of the 2015 nuclear deal, allow themselves to speak of national interests?" the daily asked.

Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht suggested on November 7 that the daily should face tougher action for its headline and defiant position. "This is a clear media violation and, as far as I know, judicial actions are currently being taken and we hope it will be more decisive," Nobakht said in response to a question about Kayhan.

"Nothing is more important to us than national interests," he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani presented Mansur Gholami (pictured) as his nomination for Science Minister on October 21. (file photo)

Iran's president has finally presented his nominee to lead the sensitive post of science minister to parliament.

Getting a minister approved in Iran is not a perfect science; finding the right formula for the sensitive post of science minister is particularly difficult.

More than two months after beginning his second term in office, President Hassan Rohani is still looking to complete his cabinet. The position of science minister, which has been scrutinized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in recent years, is one of the final pieces of the puzzle.

Rohani has reportedly been running the names of potential nominees by Khamenei, who is said to have expressed concerns that the position could be used to lead the country down a path of "deviation" from the principles of the Islamic Revolution. He has warned against academia being used as a soapbox for political activities, and the science minister is tasked with overseeing universities, many of which have been at the center of antiestablishment protests and political activism.

While his office technically has the right to nominate the science minister by itself, there have been suggestions that President Rohani has presented as many as 20 names to Khamenei -- all of which have reportedly been rejected.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (file photo)
Iranian President Hassan Rohani (file photo)

Now, however, there are signs that Rohani has found someone that Khamenei and Iran's camp of hard-line conservatives can live with.

Rohani on October 21 presented the name of his nominee, Mansur Gholami, to parliament.

Safe Choice

Gholami, the current head of Hamedan's Bu-Ali Sina University, appears to be a safe choice for a president who began his second term in August amid intense pressure by hard-liners, who oppose Rohani's stated goals of opening up the country and giving Iranians more freedom.

Lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi suggested on Twitter on October 17 that Rohani had proposed more than 10 names to Khamenei, but none passed muster with the man who has the last say in all state matters in the Islamic republic.

Another lawmaker, Elias Hazrati, told Etemadonline on October 22 that Gholami was number 21 on Rohani's list of candidates to lead the Science Ministry.

"The president has defined a process and steps for naming the science minister," Hazrati said, without providing more details. "The 20 other candidates who were on his list apparently did not succeed."

Universities came under intense pressure under Rohani's predecessor, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, with dozens of students being banned or suspended from studies over their political activism.

Coming after Rohani's campaign promises of more openness, the first science minister in the president's first term, Reza Faraji Dana, reinstated some of the banned students and gave students more room to roam.

But that quickly led to Dana's impeachment and dismissal by the parliament, which also accused him of nominating to senior posts individuals who were involved in the 2009 protests against Ahmadinejad's reelection, and of acting against national interests.

In July, Khamenei's website denied "rumors" that all cabinet members are selected with the approval of the supreme leader. It pointed out that such "coordination" is traditionally limited to the posts of defense minister, foreign minister, and intelligence minister, in keeping with the supreme leader's duties as outlined in the Iranian Constitution. conceded, however, that the Iranian leader is sensitive about certain ministries, including the Science Ministry and Culture Ministry, because "any deviation in those places would lead to the country's deviation as a whole."

Student Protests

Gholami isn't universally seen as the right fit, however. Gholami has been accused by some students of favoring restrictions on and outright prevention of political and media activities by pro-reform students.

Students at several universities have said that, in nominating Gholami, Rohani has gone against his campaign promises

This week, students at Tehran's Amir Kabir and Alameh Tabatabayi universities assembled for protests in which they held placards reading "Mr. Rohani, remain committed to your promises" and "We want free and independent universities."

Many have also voiced their opinions on social media, including this student from Hamedan's Bu-Ali Sina University headed by Gholami.

"Let Gholami stay with us Bu-Ali Sina students, we're used to political and security suffocation," the student posted on Twitter.

"The selection of Mansour Gholami as the nominee to lead the Science Ministry is like a [cold shower] for students who wanted change," tweeted journalist Shahrzad Hemati.

Rohani has not publicly reacted to the criticism. Parliament is due to review Gholami's nomination for science minister, along with that of the other unfilled post, energy minister, in the next few days.

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.