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Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad appears before parliament in Tehran on March 14. Was it a blow to his prestige, or did he emerge on top?
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has defended his leadership style in the first appearance by an Iranian president before parliament since the Islamic republic was founded in 1979.

Ahmadinejad was summoned on March 14 by lawmakers who are dissatisfied over his handling of the economy and political management.

Ahmadinejad, whose speech to the chamber was broadcast on state media, told legislators that if his government were judged to be "less than 100 percent, it would be unfair and cowardice."

The defiant Iranian president was asked 10 questions that were read out by one of his staunchest critics, lawmaker Ali Motahari. He responded dismissively and, at times, made jokes.

Some of the questions focused on his differences with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who has ultimate power in the Islamic republic. Ahmadinejad was asked about his refusal last year, for 11 days, to give in to a demand by Khamenei that he reinstate his fired intelligence minister.

He was also questioned about his 2010 dismissal of an ally of Khamenei, former Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, who was dismissed during a trip to Senegal. Ahmadinejad denied challenging the supreme leader and said as the president he had the right to dismiss ministers.

Ridiculing Parliament

The president deflected other questions from lawmakers who challenged him about Iran's high inflation rate, suggesting it was a result of his policies to reduce Iran's subsidies.

In tongue-in-cheek responses, Ahmadinejad denied any wrongdoing and said that price hikes had nothing to do with slashing subsidies.

He told his questioners that he had responded to their "school exam" questions fully and that if they had consulted with him, they could have come up with better questions.

Some lawmakers said Ahmadinejad had not taken the session seriously and had been disrespectful.

"The president's language was insulting during his entire speech," lawmaker Mostafa Reza Hosseini said. "He escaped answering the questions. As predicted, we did not receive any logical answers from the president."

Did Ahmadinejad Win?

That the session was held at all was seen as a blow to Ahmadinejad's standing, which already has been weakened by a power struggle with Khamenei.

But some analysts have suggested the combative president had the upper hand in the session.

"Ahmadinejad managed to diminish the importance of the questions; some of them were from a few years ago, the public is not interested in them," London-based political analyst Asghar Ramezanpour told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

"Ahmadinejad and his government have pursued a policy of gradually weakening the parliament and it seems that it [the government] has also been supported by Khamenei, because it seems he wanted Ahmadinejad to be questioned at a time when it has the least impact."

In fact, lawmakers have been threatening for the past year to summon Ahmadinejad to the parliament for questioning. Only in February did enough sign the petition necessary to summon him.

Eleven lawmakers subsequently withdrew with their signatures, leading to speculation that the motion would be canceled. But the parliament's presiding board ruled on March 13 that the questioning should go ahead.

While Ahmadinejad was being questioned, clashes between his supporters and opponents were reported outside the parliament.

The semi-official ILNA news agency reported that the police intervened to stop the scuffle.

Written by Golnaz Esfandiari, with contribution by RFE/RL Radio Farda broadcaster Babak Ghafouri
Iranian police remove satellite dishes from roofs in east Tehran in late February.
For years now, the authorities in Iran have tried to crack down on the use of satellite dishes, which give Iranians access to foreign channels. The dishes are banned in the Islamic republic. Police officers spend a considerable amount of time searching for them, dismantling them, and confiscating them. (See a YouTube video here of one such "dismantling.")

But it appears that Iran's war on satellite dishes is a losing one. Neither police raids nor stiff fines have been able to stop Iranians from watching their favorite shows.

At a recent seminar about the "harming effects" of satellite dishes, held in the city of Qom, researcher Mohammad Reza Khoshrou said that, according to the latest figures, 65 percent of Tehran residents use satellite dishes.

Khoshrou said the figure in Qom – which is home to Iran's religious seminaries -- is between 30 and 40 percent, the same as in other Iranian cities. He didn't provide details about the source of the figures.

PHOTO GALLERY: Iran's (Losing) War Against Satellite Dishes

Iranian officials have acknowledged the popularity of satellite channels on a number of occasions and warned against what they see as the negative impact of foreign channels.

In July 2011, hard-line Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami called satellite programs part of the "soft war" that Iran's enemies have launched against the country.

"Fighting against Islam, the Islamic Revolution, and the great Iranian nation" are among the major goals of satellite channels, Khatami said during an appearance at Tehran's Friday Prayers.

For many Iranians, satellite channels are the only source of uncensored news, as well as quality entertainment, which is also a rare commodity on state television.

One woman in the Iranian capital, whose satellite dish was demolished by the police several months ago, told "Persian Letters" that the first thing she did the day after her apartment complex was raided was order a new dish and receiver.

"That's the only fun we have here. There's nothing worth watching on [state television]," she said. "They can come and take my dish away. I will get a new one."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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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.


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