Iran Digest: Week of February 12-19, 2016

Iran Digest

AIC’s Iran digest project covers the latest developments and news stories published in Iranian and international media outlets. This weekly digest is compiled by Communications Associate Alexander Benthem de Grave and Research Associate Bradford Van Arnum.

Inside Iran

Iran election campaign kicks off as reformers seek comeback

The struggle to shake up a decade of conservative dominance over Iran’s two major political institutions has kicked off in earnest, as candidates officially begin their week-long campaigns before two important elections.

Over 6,200 candidates, including 586 women, are campaigning for a place in the country’s 290-seat parliament. In the capital Tehran, over 1000 candidates are competing for just 30 seats.

Earlier this week Iran’s interior ministry finalised the full list of approved candidates for the parliamentary election, due on 26 February, after the Guardian Council blocked a significant number of reformist contenders during the vetting process. (The Guardian)

International Trade

China's Silk Road revival steams ahead as cargo train arrives in Iran

A long-distance cargo train has travelled from China to Iran as part of an attempted revival of the ancient Silk Road, a trans-Asian trade route connecting the east to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea.

The 32-container train, which arrived in Tehran on Monday, took 14 days to complete the 6,462 mile (10,399km) journey from China’s eastern Zhejiang province through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – one month less than the sea route from Shanghai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Iranian officials have indicated that the ultimate aim is to extend the rail route to Europe, positioning Iran on a key stretch to the continent. The train, which departed from Zhejiang’s trading hub Yiwu, travelled an average of more than 700 km a day. (The Guardian)

Iran trade finance resumes gradually

Iranian banks have resumed their trade finance operations, and international banks are slowly coming back to the market following years of sanctions-related paralysis.

Swift officially announced the completion of the onboarding process for delisted Iranian banks today (February 17), through a statement published on the country’s central bank’s website and verified by Reuters.

“We will continue to work with the remainder of the entities that have applied to rejoin Swift to ensure their smooth reconnection,” Swift UAE country manager Onur Ozan says in the statement. (Global Trade Review)

Oil prices get boost as Iran praises Saudi plan to freeze output

Iran has given a significant boost to oil prices by unexpectedly praising a plan put forward by Saudi Arabia and Russia to freeze production.

The cost of Brent crude soared by 6.7% to $34.35 as Iran gave its verbal support for a production ceiling, even though it avoided making any immediate commitment to rein in its own growing output.

“Iran backs any measures which help stabilise the market and improve the price of crude oil,” said Bijan Zanganeh, the Iranian oil minister, after meeting his counterparts from Iraq, Qatar and Venezuela. (The Guardian)

Regional Politics

Jafari: Saudi dares not attack Syria

Chief commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari says Saudi Arabia dares not carry out a ground attack on Syria because it is incapable of doing that.

“The Saudis dare not carry out a ground attack against Syria and will never do because they are not at the level of a ground entry into the Syrian territory and do not have the capability to act at this level,” he said in Tehran Wednesday.

Pressed by the Tasnim news agency reporter on what Iran’s reaction would be to a possible Saudi ground incursion, Jafari said, “As I said, Saudi Arabia is not capable of a ground attack.”

“As the Islamic Republic of Iran, we are giving advisory support to the Syrian people and government against terrorists and this advisory support will continue because we see ourselves alongside the Syrian government and people.” (PressTV)

Arab states are seeking nuclear weapons to counter Iran, Israel warns

Israel has picked up signs of the beginning of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as Arab states seek nuclear weapons to counter Iran, the Israeli defence minister has warned.

Moshe Ya'alon said Sunni Arab nations were not reassured by last year's nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers and were making their own preparations for nuclear weapons.

"We see signs that countries in the Arab world are preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, that they are not willing to sit quietly with Iran on brink of a nuclear or atomic bomb," Mr Ya'alon said.

The defence minister gave no evidence to backup his claims but Israel closely monitors the military activities of its Arab neighbours. (The Telegraph)

Nuclear Accord

Poll: Americans oppose Iran nuclear deal 2-1

A new poll finds that just 3 in 10 Americans approve of the Obama administration's deal signed with Iran aimed at curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of the accord that relieves international sanctions in exchange for enhanced oversight, compared to 30 percent who approve, according to the Gallup survey released Wednesday.

Republicans are much more opposed to the deal signed among Iran and six world powers, with just 9 percent supporting it and 80 percent opposed. A slim majority of Democrats approve of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration, with 51 percent saying they support it, compared to 38 percent who say they do not.

Americans are just as concerned about the threat of a nuclear Iran as they were before the deal went into effect. (The Hill)

Women of Iran

Women barred from Kish Island Open beach volleyball match despite assurances they could attend

Women in Iran have been prevented from attending the Kish Island Open leg of the Beach Volleyball World Tour, despite assurances from organisers they would be allowed in the stadium.

Several women posted on Facebook that they had been turned away from the stadium at the gates, as per Iran's law banning women from stadiums, being told by guards "it's forbidden". The women had to resort to watching the match from the roof of a nearby coffee shop, which let them in free of charge and allowed them to watch the game.

Women have been banned from football stadiums since 1979, and banned from attending volleyball matches since 2012, with no reason ever given for the ban – a low blow in a country where volleyball is very popular and stadiums were previously celebrated for their family atmosphere. (International Business Times)

Iranian, Turkish women to cooperate in fight for women's rights

An Iranian women’s group has proposed to work together with Turkish women in their fight for women’s rights, after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech on female empowerment on Feb. 8 at a conference titled “Women, Moderation and Development” in Tehran.

“How can a country talk about development and progress while ignoring women who are half of the population?” asked Rouhani at the conference.

Upon Rouhani’s remarks, Iranian group the Association of Spouses of Foreign Ministry’s Diplomats contacted the Turkish Women’s Associations Federation (TKDF) and sent a delegation to hold talks last week. (Hurriyet Daily News


Over 10,000 hybrid taxis to join Tehran’s fleet

Officials in the Iranian capital Tehran have unveiled a generation of eco-friendly taxis.

The new cars run on both electricity and gasoline and can help cut down on fuel consumption and reduce air pollution. Officials plan to make 10,000 such vehicles operational by the end of 2018.

Iran's capital is known for its poor air quality, because of an altitude ranging from 1,100-1,700 meters above sea level in a basin surrounded by mountains and also due to exhaust fumes from more than four million cars plying the roads of the city. (PressTV)


Iran’s revolutionary grandchildren

By Robin Wright

When the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died abruptly, from heart failure after surgery, in 1989, he left behind fifteen grandchildren. The fate of his heirs reflects the depth of tensions within the Islamic Republic as it marks the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Imam’s triumphant return from exile—and prepares for twin elections, on February 26th. All the Khomeini kids (eight males and seven females) are committed reformers pushing for Iran to open up at home—politically, economically, and socially—now that it has reengaged with the world. In public letters and interviews, seven have challenged the theocracy’s political rules and rigid social strictures. Since 2004, three have registered to run for office.

Hassan Khomeini is the family standard-bearer. He considered a soccer career before enrolling in a seminary, in the holy city of Qom, in his twenties. Now forty-three, he still plays the odd pickup game and goes to big matches. “I was good in defense, and if I had continued soccer I might have achieved something,” he joked at a meeting with Iran’s top players, in December. He is now more seriously employed as the caretaker of his grandfather’s legacy, at the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works. He is also a published scholar on Islam’s disparate sects. He wears a black turban, signifying that he descended from the Prophet Muhammed. He has all the right connections, too. His Instagram account, which has almost a quarter of a million followers, is loaded with images of him alongside top theocrats and politicians. In December, reformist newspapers ran front-page stories heralding him as Iran’s “Future Leader” and as a “Second Khomeini.”

Read the full article.