Iran Digest: Week of February 26-March 4, 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’s elections have given moderates a boost – but not a free hand

On 26 February, Iranians voted to elect the new members of their legislative body and the assembly of experts. While the parliament’s resultant shift to the centre does not give the president, Hassan Rouhani, a free hand, it will help him in his efforts to engage Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours.

Presidential elections are generally what draw the broader public to the polls in Iran, while parliamentary elections galvanise the Islamic Republic’s base. Candidates and camps fight for the soul of the Islamic revolution and the country’s future. This year, the struggle was more visible than usual. More than half of eligible voters showed up to the polls, and helped key reformist-backed candidates and moderates gain seats in parliament. (The Guardian)

After elections, Iran's parliament split three ways

Due to changing allegiances and loose alliances, there has been some confusion as to how to label the parliamentary elections. Reformists have been in a celebratory mood since the Feb. 26 elections. Conservative media, on the other hand, have tallied votes in a manner that shows them having an edge.

According to Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the country’s next parliament can be divided into three factions: Reformists, moderates and conservatives (Principlists). By comparison, Rahmani Fazli said the outgoing parliament can mostly be divided among two conservative groups. Although he did not say this, many observers believe the current parliament is dominated by traditional conservatives and hard-liners, who are often referred to as "Principlists" in most Iranian media. Rahmani Fazli added that the runoff elections for the remaining 69 seats will be to the advantage of one side. (Al Monitor)

Iran to Get Luxury Hotel Along Caspian Sea as Tourism Thaws

Iran, where beaches are segregated by gender and alcohol is banned, is getting its first foreign-branded seaside hotel, complete with swimming pools, bars and a spa.

Melia Hotels International SA plans to open the five-star property in a 130-meter (427-feet) tower on the Caspian Sea as early as next year, the Spanish hotel operator said in a statement on Wednesday. The announcement comes after a slew of trade sanctions on the Islamic republic were lifted in January.

"We firmly believe in Iran’s tourism potential," Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Escarrer said in a statement, which didn’t say whether alcohol will be served at the bars. "We have always been pioneers in the development of new markets." (Bloomberg)

Regional Politics

Iran says blacklisting Hezbollah may jeopardize Lebanon's stability

Iran accused Gulf Arab neighbors on Thursday of jeopardizing Lebanon's stability by blacklisting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, state television said, a move likely to stoke tensions in the regional power rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization on Wednesday, opening up the possibility of further sanctions against the group that wields influence in Lebanon and fights in Syria.

Leading Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Muslim Iran compete for influence across the region and back different factions in sectarian-riven Lebanon and in Syria's civil war. (Reuters)

Women of Iran

Iran set to elect record number of women into parliament

With reformist-backed candidates securing a sweeping victory in Tehran, and moderates leading in provinces, a record number of women are set to enter the next Iranian parliament.

Estimates based on the latest results show that as many as 20 women are likely to enter the 290-seat legislature known as the Majlis, the most ever. The previous record was set nearly 20 years ago during the fifth parliament after the 1979 revolution, when 14 women held seats. There are nine women in the current Iranian parliament.

Eight of the women elected this time were on a reformist-backed list of 30 candidates standing in the Tehran constituency known as “the list of hope”. (The Guardian)

How women, the Green Movement and an app shaped Iran’s elections

Iran’s Feb. 26 elections witnessed 60 percent voter turnout, producing significant gains for the reformists and moderates associated with President Hassan Rouhani. The results were especially striking since thousands of reformist candidates had been disqualified from running and hard-line elements of the regime had enforced a media blackout of popular reformists, such as former president Mohammad Khatami. How did the moderate bloc galvanize voter turnout in the face of these obstacles?

The reformist/moderate success was shaped by preexisting networks of people and activists, coupled with online organizing via social media platforms — mainly Instagram and Facebook — and the secure chat application, Telegram.

One key preexisting network was the women’s rights movement. Women’s organizations began organizing for the elections in November by releasing videos encouraging women to register as candidates and pushing for a 30 percent increase in seats for women, through “The Campaign for Women to Win 100 Seats.” Significantly, these efforts featured activists from across the political spectrum coming together for one goal: to gain seats for women who would fight for pro-equality gender issues. (Washington Post)

Nuclear Accord

The Nuclear Deal Pays Off In Iran’s Elections

President Obama has made his share of foreign policy mistakes, particularly in the Middle East. But it’s ironic that Republican critics now hammer him hardest over his nuclear deal with Iran, a bet that has already paid out for those who want to undermine Iran’s hard-liners. Elections for Iran’s parliament and its Assembly of Experts–which picks the nation’s Supreme Leader–were hardly free and fair. Conservatives managed to block the candidacy of almost every well-known pragmatist and reformer–yet the few who were allowed to run made stunning gains in both elections.

It’s the Iranian people, not Obama, who produced this outcome. But without the nuclear deal that Obama pushed for–and the sanctions relief and economic surge it’s about to deliver in Iran–it’s unlikely that voters would have cast ballots to endorse change in such big numbers. A hard-line approach from the West would have surely provoked a hard-line response from Iran’s clerics, with support, or at best apathy, from the vast majority of Iranians. Instead, the nuclear deal and the accompanying optimism have driven a wedge between those in Iran who want to protect the cleric-controlled status quo and those who want a more open and dynamic society. (TIME)

International Trade

Mercedes Benz and IKCO opened joint company in Tehran

Setareh Iran company was inaugurated in a formal ceremony attended by German Ambassador to Iran Michael Freiherr von Ungern as well as a group of top managers from IKCO and Mercedes Benz.

Addressing the ceremony, the CEO of Setare Iran, Ali Namakin spoke of the economically and technically feasibility studies currently underway for producing Benz motorcars in Iran, adding:”Based on the agreement signed between Germany’s Daimler AG and IKCO, the two sides will establish a joint venture through Setare Iran.”

He went on saying that the cooperation would be enhanced in future. ”Iran will import 1,500 to 2,000 Mercede Benz vehicles in next year and the customers can drive them with full confidence,” the CEO added. (Post Online Media)

South Korea, Iran strengthen trade ties

South Korea has become the latest nation to up its stake in the Iranian economy, pledging €5bn to projects in the country.

The deal follows similar agreements between Kexim – South Korea’s export credit agency – and the Iranian government worth €8bn, and according to sources in Iran, takes Korea’s exposure in Iran to over US$15bn.

South Korea is keen to invest in Iran’s auto industry, its tourism sector, as well as energy projects. South Korea already relies on energy imports and has automotive factories scattered throughout Asia, building Hyundai, Kia and other Korean-branded vehicles for local consumption. (Global Trade Review)


Drought, air pollution rise up agenda in Iran election

As Iran prepares to elect its tenth parliament since 1979’s revolution on Friday, mounting concern about environmental degradation has surprised observers of the Islamic republic.

Hundreds of candidates have signed a 15-clause green pact promising to shun damaging projects and liaise with NGOs, according to analysts at the Tehran Bureau news service. Such statements are unprecedented.

A seven-year drought is putting pressure on farmers while city-dwellers suffer from air pollution. Lake Urmia, the Middle East’s largest saltwater lake in the country’s north-west, has nearly vanished. People want change. (Climate Change News)


Who really won Iran's elections?

By Kathy Gilsinan

Who, or what, actually won the Iranian elections held last week? To hear some tell it, the vote—for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body—was a victory for the forces of moderation, a repudiation of the “hardline” anti-Western policies associated with the allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, maybe even a signal that real democracy could finally take root in the country. On the other hand, the fact that Khamenei’s allies get a veto on who can run for office in the first place invites the counter-narrative that Iran’s political moderates are actually hardliners; less hardline than the hardest hardliners, perhaps, but only at the “moderate” end of a very narrow, very conservative spectrum.

So which is it? The vote count is all but final, but the true results are still murky. Candidates on a list allied with President Hassan Rouhani—who secured a nuclear deal with Western powers, and who has pushed an opening, at least economically, to the rest of the world—swept all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital Tehran, and appear to have done well elsewhere in the country. In the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which is constitutionally charged with picking Iran’s next supreme leader once the 76-year-old Khamenei dies, two prominent “hardliners” lost their seats, leaving a more moderate majority. “If the moderates [in the Assembly of Experts] have their way,”explained Ali Akbar Dareini of the Associated Press, “the next supreme leader will favor the expansion of democratic freedoms and greater openness toward the West.”

Read the full article.