Iran Digest: Week of March 11-18, 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

Second round of Iran elections set for April 29

The run-off is necessary because under Iran's election rules a member of parliament must win 25 percent of votes cast, but this only happened for 221 of the country's 290 seats.

The first round on February 26 saw allies of Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani make major gains against conservatives.

But neither group won a majority, meaning the outcome of the second round - which will involve only the top two contenders from the first vote for each seat left empty - could affect the balance of power in the legislature. (Al Arabiya)

Rouhani criticizes 'revolutionary' opponents as rift widens

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani defended his nuclear deal with world powers and his policy of detente with the West, saying on Saturday that his "revolutionary" opponents sought their own interests, not those of the people.

The remarks showed a widening rift between Rouhani and hardliners, especially the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has called himself a proud revolutionary in recent months.

"What's the use of saying I am a revolutionary ... Why don't we seek people's comfort and our country's glory?" Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on the state television. (Reuters)

Regional Politics

Saudi Arabia’s steady progress in Yemen forces Iran to take stock

On Wednesday, Iranian Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri dropped a figurative bombshell regarding the conflict in Yemen. The deputy chief of staff of the armed forces said Tehran was willing to help Houthi rebels “in any way it can, and to any level necessary" against the Saudi-led coalition. Gen Jazayeri drew parallels to his country's intervention in Syria, where Iran has sent troops and advisers.

The timing of the announcement is as important as its content, coinciding with a visit to Saudi Arabia by a Houthi delegation – the first of its kind since Riyadh and its allies launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen a year ago.

The talks resulted in a prisoner exchange, a welcome of a “state of calm" along the border, and Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir expressing his country's commitment to a political solution to the war under UN-backed peace efforts. (The National)

Iran’s “Hardliners”, “Moderates”, “Reformists”: Invasion and Intervention in Syria

During recent political campaigns, Iranian candidates from various political parties discussed the economy, inflation, unemployment, engagement with the West and the nuclear deal. The candidates came from three political camps - reformist, hardliners (including the principlists), the moderates, and some independents.

Nevertheless, there was one crucial issue missing from the political campaigns; Iran’s intervention in the Syrian civil war which has contributed in millions of refugees and a death toll of over 450,000. The public did not appear to question Iran’s role in Syria either.

Iran’s engagement in the Syrian civil war should have been a crucial issue in the election campaigns for several reasons. First of all, Shiite Iran is hemorrhaging billions of dollars on the Alawite state to keep Bashar Al-Assad in power.

The Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch the Quds Force, which operates in foreign countries, have increased the number of Iranian troops in Syria in order to dominate the political, military and security apparatuses of the Syrian government. The number has grown substantially in the last few months since Russia’s military joined the Iranian forces in support of Assad. (The Huffington Post)

Obama will make a rare trip to visit sometimes difficult ally in Saudi Arabia

President Obama will seek to strengthen a strained relationship with America's long-time ally Saudi Arabia by visiting the kingdom for a summit with Arab leaders of Persian Gulf nations on April 21.

The president will also be traveling to Germany and Britain during the trip, but his visit to Saudi Arabia is likely to draw the most attention. Obama has been a frequent critic of the Saudi monarchy and at times has seemed to question whether a government that helps to spread a harsh and rigid interpretation of Islam should be counted as a true ally of the United States. The Saudis, meanwhile, have quietly expressed unease that Obama has been too accommodating of Iran.

Last spring, Obama invited the Saudis and other Persian Gulf Arab nations to Camp David, where he pledged new American support to help them defend against Iranian missile strikes and cyberattacks. (The Washington Post)

International Trade

Iranians to splash up to $8B on overseas property: Study

Wealthy Iranians, companies and state-backed buyers will spend up to £6 billion ($8.5 billion) on overseas real estate over the next five-to-10 years following the lifting of international sanctions, a report said on Wednesday.

High-net-worth Iranians are likely to look to buy properties in London, Dubai, Switzerland, Germany or the south of France, London estate agency, Rokstone, said.

Becky Fatemi, the agency's Iran-born managing director, said London would be the location of choice, due to historical ties between the two nations. She added that wealthy Iranians tended to invest in property, jewelry and gold. (CNBC)

Iran Keen to Boost Trade Ties with Africa: Deputy FM

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Tehran is updating a strategy for its relations with Africa, stressing that a new level is set for enhancing ties with the continent in the coming years.

In a joint meeting of the Iranian official and African ambassadors to Tehran, the two sides examined ways to develop Iran-Africa ties using the atmosphere created after the recent nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) between Tehran and world powers.

Iranian and African officials also explored avenues for settling the problems and removing the barriers to bilateral trade and economic ties. (Tasnim News Agency)

Women of Iran

Controversy engulfs multiple Iran's female lawmakers

It has only been three weeks since Iran held landmark parliamentary elections, yet several controversies have already arisen over remarks made by both an incoming female lawmaker and a veteran member of parliament. Meanwhile, the qualifications of two Reformist candidates, one of them a woman, have also been challenged.

The first controversy erupted when Parvaneh Salahshouri, a sociologist who successfully ran on the Reformist ticket in Tehran, denied remarks about the mandatory Islamic veil in Iran attributed to her by Viviana Mazza, a correspondent of the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. In an interview with Mazza, Salahshouri had said, “It is our primary right to choose [whether to wear the Islamic veil] … the time will come [when women won’t have to wear it if they don’t want to]. … It is a hard process to have the right choice.” When asked whether it will one day be a choice for Iranian women to wear the Islamic veil, Salahshouri responded, “Of course, it is the process of development.” (Al Monitor)

Iran insurers to compensate women equally in road accidents

The Third Party Insurance Bill, likely to be made law in the coming weeks, will bind insurance companies to compensate victims of road accidents regardless of their gender, state broadcaster IRINN said on Monday.

The bill was approved by the Guardian Council, a 12-member Islamic body responsible for ensuring legislation conforms to Sharia (Islamic) law, which had rejected a similar measure passed by parliament in 2008.

In Iranian law, third party vehicle insurance is governed by the Koranic concept of "blood money" whereby the victim of injury, or their family in the case of death, can claim compensation from the perpetrator. (Reuters)


Release of dam water important step to save Lake Urmia, expert says

Iran, in a an attempt to save Lake Urmia from droughts, has decided to release some 40 million cubic meters of water from the Mahabad Dam to rescue the lake.

IRNA reported on March 9 that the sluices of the dam were opened a day earlier and will remain open for 25 more days. Currently, over 178 million cubic meters of water is stored behind the dam, which is 80 million more than the figure recorded in 2015.

Lake Urmia, the biggest inland Iranian lake and the third largest saltwater lake on earth, has shrunk in the past decades and is facing a critical situation. The level of water stood at over 5 billion cubic meters until 1991. It then started falling and decreased to 2.5 billion cubic meters over two decades. (Azer News)


How Khomeini lost the battle, but is winning the war

By Rohollah Faghihi

The past weeks have been pleasant for Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, in contrast to the bitter days that followed his disqualification from the Assembly of Experts elections.

Khomeini is a grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, and according to some, quite similar to late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The initial announcement of his candidacy found a warm response by moderates and Reformists, even as few expected Khomeini to step forward. It was the first time since the demise of Ayatollah Khomeini that his family would participate in politics.

Prior to his candidacy, Hassan Khomeini had always avoided running in elections and rarely discussed politics in public. He spent most of his time in the holy city of Qom doing research and teaching at the seminary.

The Guardian Council, headed by conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, barred Khomeini from competing in the Feb. 26 election. When Khomeini objected and asked that the decision be reviewed, he was disqualified once again. Khomeini appeared unsurprised. “I strongly believe that there is no unclear point about me, as I’m not an unknown person to the Guardian Council members, [in which case] they would need to investigate my identity. My perception is that my complaint won’t lead anywhere,” he said before appealing the Guardian Council’s initial disqualification.

Read the full article.