All posts by y.mather

Syrian bombing: Netanyahu attempts to provoke new confrontation

Over the weekend of May 4-5 Israel launched air raids against targets in Syria. Yassamine Mather and Moshé Machover, two members of the Hands Off the People of Iran steering committee, discuss the issues raised by this latest development

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his sponsor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his sponsor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

YM: The two Israeli air raids into Syrian territory have to be looked at in the context of the current Syrian civil war and realignment of regional powers. However, there is an Iranian dimension to all this. According to some Iranian military strategists, “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to appropriate either Syria or Khuzestan [in southern Iran], the priority is that we keep Syria.”1

According to ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s most senior foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, “Syria has a very basic and key role in the region of promoting firm policies of resistance … for this reason an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran and Iran’s allies.”2

Until May 4-5, there could have been no doubt that, in the event of a military attack by US or Israeli forces, Iran’s first line of defence would be a retaliation against Israel using Hezbollah, who in turn would rely on Syrian military support. The Israeli bombings have clearly changed the situation and weakened Iran’s position considerably. What do you think? Am I right or is this a very Iran-centric analysis?

MM: You can regard these air raids as a narrow intervention in the Syria civil war, but this is not the way to understand their wider significance. If you look at it only in this way, it appears very paradoxical. If it was aimed at helping the forces opposed to president Bashar al-Assad, there was no logic to it.

First of all, it compromises the Syrian opposition, which is very heterogeneous. Some elements are genuine popular forces, others are supported from the outside by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and indirectly by the US. Those sponsors don’t mind collaborating with Israel, but the forces on the ground, even the forces supported by Qatar, the Islamists, are not happy being in a common front with Israel. In this respect, it gives Assad a means to denigrate the opposition and he has taken it. So this is not the context in which to understand the logic of these attacks.

I think that context is a wider regional one. Israel is doing everything it possibly can to widen the confrontation and there are several reasons for this. A couple of weeks ago there was a hoo-ha about weapons of mass destruction, specifically poison gas. The Israeli intelligence agency alleged that poison gas had been used, knowing that president Barack Obama had said this was a “red line” for intervention. Clearly the intention was to draw Obama into a more direct intervention in Syria: in other words, to widen the confrontation.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not working hand in hand with the Obama administration, but with some more rightwing forces in the US. The announcement about poison gas was very much welcomed by senator John McCain and various other rightwing elements. It turns out that Obama and his administration were not very keen to take up this infringement of the “red line”. (Let me add there is no serious proof about the use of poison gas: it isn’t clear how much was used and who actually used it. There are even reports that it was sections of the opposition who were responsible.)

This attempt to widen the conflict failed, so now Israel has embarked on a new adventure. Following the weekend attacks, all commentators are saying this was an attempt to stop Syria delivering missiles to Hezbollah. This may or may not be true. However, I don’t think this is the whole answer. The key point is that Israel is trying to widen the confrontation. This is expressed well by a cartoon I saw, showing Israeli planes spouting petrol over the flames of the civil war.

Why? I think there are two parts to this. First, there is an attempt to prevent a settlement both in Syria and more generally between the US and Iran. There are various attempts at arriving at a modus operandi in both the limited Syria context and with Iran. There is a long history of this and I don’t need to go into details about it. Some elements within the Obama administration would like to achieve a compromise and the same is true of elements of the Iranian regime, but the more hawkish circles in the US, with whom Netanyahu is allied, want to prevent it.

Israel wants to prevent it because for it an upgrading of relations between Iran and the US via a settlement of their conflict would mean that Israel loses its position as the unique and most reliable franchise-holder of US imperialism in the region. It would be a relative loss of status for Israel.

The other issue is more strategic. Netanyahu is doing everything he can to create a major conflagration in the region. I have conjectured several times that this is because he would like to use it to perpetrate massive ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and with a big war, win or lose (whether the Iranian regime were overthrown or not), that one thing can be achieved. The chances are improved if the war is widened sufficiently and if it creates regional upheavals; under those conditions it offers an effective smokescreen for ethnic cleansing.

I think this is his plan and for this he would be ready to accept casualties on the Israeli side – a real possibility for which there are already various estimates. For this strategic aim of securing Israel’s future as a Jewish ethnocracy, Netanyahu is prepared for sacrifices, as such a war would solve Zionism’s historical dilemma, the so-called ‘demographic peril’. Israel is holding occupied territories with a Palestinian population that is roughly the same size as the Israeli Hebrew population. Israel has done everything to prevent a Palestinian state; it wishes to annexe territories, but without a large Arab population. Logically, expelling a large part of the indigenous population in the West Bank would solve the demographic problem and a major regional conflict would present the opportunity. This is my interpretation: it is only a conjecture, but it relies on facts.

YM: Sections of the Iranian press are saying that Israel has accepted responsibility for, or at least hinted strongly that it was behind, the air raids. An unusual admission, but intended to provoke Iran into retaliation.

In fact, an Iranian retaliation seemed to be very likely and, let me stress, I am glad it did not materialise. It would have provided the perfect excuse for military attacks against Iran by the US and Israel. However, the fact that this did not happen is both a reflection of the weakness of the Iranian state and, indeed, an expression of the weakness of the supreme leader, Khamenei. There are two reasons for this: the terrible economic situation in Iran and the political chaos in the country.

Iran’s currency continues in free fall. Sanctions, combined with economic mismanagement, have crippled the economy. The US department of energy estimates that Iran’s oil exports fell by 27% from $95 billion in 2011 to $69 billion in 2012.3 Inflation is estimated by Iran’s central bank to be around 40% and there is a zero growth rate.4

The political situation is fraught. We are in the middle of a presidential election that was supposed to be a fait accompli. However, all predictions of the make-up of the future government are on hold, as the conflict within the regime widens. The supreme leader’s relationship with his former protégé, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is at an all-time low. Rumours circulate that Ahmadinejad was arrested for seven hours last week. The supreme leader is accusing him of trying to delay the elections. Until a couple of weeks ago, everyone expected the nomination of Ahmadinejad’s chosen successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, to be rejected by the Guardian Council, which would have allowed the uncontested election of a ‘principlist’ candidate loyal to the supreme leader.

This was before it became apparent that Ahmadinejad was not giving up power so easily. His determination to hold on has gone as far as threatening the very foundations of the regime. He has hinted at possession of tapes purporting to show electoral fraud in 2009 and the corruption of ‘principlist’ candidates. To add to the turmoil, in the last week before the deadline for registration of presidential candidates, two ‘reformist’ leaders, Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, issued statements indicating that one of them might stand.

Candidates have to register by May 11. Those putting forward their name will be vetted by the ultra-conservative Guardian Council and no-one expects a ‘reformist’ to win. However, it is conceivable that the Israelis are concerned that the new Iranian president, whether a reformist, a ‘principlist’ or even Ahmadinejad’s favoured candidate, will move the negotiations with the ‘P5+1’ countries forward. Even some of the supreme leader’s close supporters have made conciliatory comments about the nuclear issue.

Sanctions are destroying the country and the expectation is that the presidential elections will not solve anything. One could say that Iran’s Islamic Republic is politically and economically weak and the timing of the Israeli attacks against Syria cannot be a coincidence. And, of course, when it came to the threat of war, an important weapon in Iran’s hand was Hezbollah and the potential danger it poses to Israel. The Syrian bombings allegedly destroyed deliveries of heavy artillery from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah. This is a major blow to the Islamic Republic of Iran, making it far more vulnerable to a serious attack by Israel or the United States.

MM: Let me stress that there has not been an official Israeli admission that it was responsible for the weekend’s air raids. However, Israeli military experts and other commentators have made comments which are as good as an admission. Not that there was any doubt about it anyway.

There is a little twist to this. There were two attacks. There is good reason to believe that Israel got approval from the Obama administration for the first attack, which was relatively minor. The second was a much more powerful explosion – the ground around Damascus shook. I think Israel got the green light to attack – in fact, the announcements about the May 4 attack were first made by the US. But, as so often happens, it seems that in the second attack Israel exceeded the prior agreement.

YM: On the other hand, all the current and potential candidates in Iran’s presidential election (reformists, ‘principlists’ or Ahmadinejad’s favourite, Mashaei) are united on one issue: they all want to negotiate an end to the nuclear debacle. So the question of the timing of these bombings against Syria is very indicative.

MM: Yes this timing question is very important – why now? All bourgeois commentators are happy to look at the issues country by country – Israel versus Syria and Hezbollah, etc – but they cannot see that all the issues are linked. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, with Iran and with Hezbollah – all are interconnected; and in that context the best explanation for the timing of the attacks on Syria is the forthcoming presidential election in Iran.

First published in the Weekly Worker

Notes

1. www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2013/02/130214_nm_tayeb_syria_basij.shtm.

2. www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/26/us-syria-crisis-iran-idUSBRE90P05620130126.

3. www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2013/05/01/Irans-economy-declines-as-sanctions-bite/UPI-33591367443395/#ixzz2ScLFExa3.

4. www.uskowioniran.com/2013/04/rate-of-economic-growth-in-iran-drops.html.

HOPI STATEMENT: MAY DAY 2013 IRAN – SUPPORT WORKERS’ STRUGGLES!

Workers Portest
Workers Protest

 

Hands Off the People of Iran has consistently identified the workers of Iran as the solid anti-imperialist force in that country, a force that has shown resilience in opoposition to the religious state . This is the section of Iranian society that the anti-war movement in the west must be a partisan of and ally with. This understanding explains why we have been implacably opposed not simply to any military attack on the country, but also the so-called ‘soft war’ option of sanctions: when the working class is distracted daily by the struggle to simply keep body and soul together, its ability to intervene in national politics with its own, radical agenda for democratic change is drastically restricted.

 

We therefore enthusiastically welcome news from Iran that May Day – international workers’ day – saw workers tenaciously defy military and security forces to organise illegal gathers and protests throughout the country. In Tehran and other major cities, slogans were raised against low pay, unemployment and the non-payment of wages. In an audacious symbolic act, the largest demonstration of all gathered outside the Islamic parliament, the Majles. We send our warm congratulations to all those who participated in these inspiring May 1 actions and re-commit ourselves to aid their struggles, first though mobilising the workers’ movement in this country to take a stand against war and sanctions and, second, through the direct provision of financial and other aid where we can.

 

The potential power of the workers is not simply recognised by Hopi, however. Increasingly, forces very far from the progressive movement – frustrated by the impotence of political groups such as the reformist Greens – are taking an interest in the class that has been the most persistent and courageous opponent of the Islamic regime.

 

For instance, the US journal Foreign Policy writes: “As Iran’s economy continues to deteriorate, the labour movement is a key player to watch because of its ability to pressure the Islamic Republic through protests and strikes … And thus far, Iranian labourers have not joined the opposition green movement en masse. But the economic pains caused by the Iranian regime’s mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions have dealt serious blows to worker wages, benefits and job security – enough reason for Iranian labourers to organise and oppose the regime …”. More ominously for today’s theocracy, it goes on to draw a parallel between the repression of today and “the Shah’s treatment of Iranian workers before his overthrow, particularly in the regime’s denial of the right to organize, the quashing of protests and strikes, and its refusal to address worker’s rights.”1 

 

In the UK during the same week, The Economist published an article with the strap: “Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring”.2

 

The new, restive mood amongst the working class coincides with turmoil at the very top of the regime:

 

* Confusion is rife about who will or will not stand as a candidate in the country’s forthcoming presidential elections and whether the Guardian Council will allow Mohammad Khatami (the last ‘reformist’ president) or Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anointed successor) to participate

 

* On April 29, the Guardian wrote that according to a unconfirmed report from a source in the Revolutionary Guard’s intelligent unit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been arrested and held for seven hours. This is yet to be confirmed, but what is true is that the man had threatened to release audio tapes proving there was fraud in the 2009 presidential elections. Before he was released, Ahmadinejad was apparently warned to keep silent about matters ‘detrimental’ to the Islamic regime – like presidential vote-rigging, for instance

 

* Iran’s press and media are dominated by speculation about ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani after he announced he is not ruling himself out as a candidate in the June 14 polls

 

In this fluid situation, what is the role of activists in solidarity with the workers of Iran? Hands Off the People Iran says we must:

 

1. Step up our efforts to block any military action against Iran. The regime is already using bellicose posturing from the US and Israel to depict its opponents as a fifth column for western imperialism. An actually military attack would dramatically derail the slow recomposition of the working class movement and give the theocracy a golden opportunity to unite the people around a ‘defence of the nation’ … led by itself, of course

 

2. Fight to end the form of war that is currently being waged on Iran – sanctions. The main victim of the these is the working class and the resultant poverty and desperate struggle for the basic necessities of life effectively excludes it from the political life of the country. The oil industry and parts of the manufacturing sector are on the verge of a complete shutdown and as a result tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Others have not been paid any wages for up to two years, yet they continue going to work so that they can keep their jobs. Workers make ends meet by taking up extra part-time work – anything from driving taxis to selling goods on the pavement.

 

We say it is our internationalist duty to provide solidarity and material aid to the working people of Iran. Their struggles, though defensive in the main, should be a source of pride for us in the resilience of our class. The key problems are the barriers placed in the way of workers organising as a political force. Given this vacuum, regime change forces of the right – both green ‘reformists’ within the religious state and the US-sponsored ‘republican and royalist’ champions of regime change from above – are now trying to hitch the social power of this section of Iranian society to their stalled reactionary projects.

 

So far they have had little success. But there is no room for complacency.

 

Notes

 

1. http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/ 2013/04/22/labor_and_opposition_in_iran

 

 

2.http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21576408-though-watched-and-muzzled-independent-labour-unions-are-stirring-aya-toiling.

 

w

 

UK Government blocks Shell paying Iran oil debt in food, medicine

LONDON: Britain has blocked efforts by oil major Royal Dutch Shell to settle a $2.3 billion debt it owes Iran by paying in kind with grains or pharmaceuticals, industry sources said.

Shell has been trying for months to find a way to work around international sanctions that prevent it paying in currency for crude it bought from the National Iranian Oil Company before a European Union embargo on Iran that started last July.

The sources said the British government was reluctant to provide relief for the Iranian economy when Western powers are using sanctions to apply financial pressure on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear programme.

“The view is that doesn’t make sense to smooth the way for a payment that helps Iran when government is trying to press Iran to negotiate,” said an industry source.

A government spokesman declined comment on the Shell case but said: “The government fully backs the tough regime of EU sanctions that have been put in place against Iran.”

Talks earlier this month between Iran and six world powers including Britain failed to make progress in resolving a decade-old dispute around Iran’s nuclear progress. Another round of negotiations has been scheduled for May 21.

The industry sources said Shell in February explored with the British government the possibility of asking British pharmaceuticals maker GSK to deliver medicines to Iran in a payment-in-kind deal known as an offset agreement.

GSK said it had not been approached or held any discussions on the matter. Shell declined comment.

In October, the Anglo-Dutch oil company sought permission for an offset agreement that would have seen US agricultural trader Cargill deliver grain to Iran.

Following publication by Reuters, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans in a letter to parliament acknowledged the proposal, saying: “As in all sanctions regimes there are some carefully defined exceptions applicable for which in certain cases an exemption can be granted by national governments.”

Meetings were held with Cargill but, said the industry sources, the proposal was turned down by the British government. Cargill and Shell both declined comment at the time.

MAINTAINING IRAN RELATIONSHIP

The sources said the oil company wanted to repay its debt to NIOC to maintain cordial relations with Iran, one of the biggest producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“Politics come and go but it’s in the interests of Shell and its shareholders to pay its debts and maintain a relationship with a leading oil producer like Iran,” said one of the sources.

Shell revealed in a March filing to US regulatory authorities that it owed Tehran $2.3 billion and made a net loss of $6 million trading

Iranian oil in 2012.Unlike its rivals, Shell continued trading with Iran under a provision for pre-existing contracts close to the EU’s June 30 deadline before the embargo. The debt is for oil purchased in 2011 and 2012.

Iran’s oil revenues have fallen by about 50 percent since sanctions were imposed last year, and regional economists believe it has been forced to draw on its foreign reserves to help buy essentials like grains.

But with an estimated $100 billion of foreign reserves at the start of 2012, thanks to high oil prices, the Iranian economy is far from collapse.

The International Monetary Fund said last week that while sanctions had frozen Iran out of the international banking system, Tehran was avoiding a balance-of-payments crisis and should emerge from recession in 2014.

Food and medicine are among the humanitarian goods not barred by US and European sanctions but, isolated from international banking, Iran has been forced to pay a premium for grain imports.

Washington has tried to restrict countries like China, India, South Korea and Japan that still buy Iranian oil to paying for shipments by the barter of approved goods – including food and medicine.

US sanctions state that funds used to pay for oil must remain in a bank account in the purchasing country and can be used only for non-sanctioned, bilateral trade between that country and Iran. Any bank that repatriates the money or transfers it to a third country faces a US sanction risk.

Nevertheless, said the industry sources, it appears the British government would rather Iran be obliged to spend foreign reserves or use oil revenues to barter for essential imports than benefit from shipments of humanitarian goods paid for by Shell debt.shell

Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring

From The Economist

DURING a Persian new year’s party (in late March) at Iran’s flagship South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, where the world’s largest known gasfield is being tapped, a labourer called on Iran’s workers to unite. Behnam Khodadadi demanded better pay and conditions, and a proper trade union. Around 1,500 workers stopped security guards from detaining Mr Khodadadi. A week later he was fired from his job at Iran Industrial Networks Development, a contractor for the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company. Mr Khodadadi may have been muzzled, but disaffection is growing among Iranian workers as inflation outpaces wage rises and workers are laid off. At the same time attempts to organise labour are being suppressed in the run-up to June’s presidential elections.

“They haven’t paid us for at least four months and I have to keep borrowing money,” says Jamshid, a 32-year-old industrial worker in Tehran, the capital. Last month the minimum wage was raised by 25%, to 4.87m rials ($140) a month, but even by official criteria this is one-third of what is deemed to be a living wage in the capital. The drop in the rial’s value means that, when it comes to the imports on which Iran relies, Iranian cash is worth barely a third of what it was in 2011, before the United States imposed sanctions on the country’s financial system.

Iran does not recognise independent unions, so workers have to make do with Islamic Labour Councils, which must be approved by employers and the security services. Reckoning that these councils are in cahoots with the government, workers tend to keep their grievances to themselves for fear of being sacked as troublemakers. Labour leaders are often imprisoned.

Ali Nejati and Reza Shahabi, who led sugarcane workers’ and bus drivers’ unions respectively, were recently freed under surveillance. Mr Shahabi is now in prison again, as is Muhammad Jarahi, who stands for petrochemical workers, and Shahrokh Zamani, a painter, all of them guilty of “endangering national security”. “Not having independent workers’ unions guarantees things will stay the same,” Mr Nejati recently told an Iranian radio station based in Germany. “As a workers’ representative I complained and I went to prison for it and was fired.”

Despite the long history of Iran’s labour movement and the big part its oil workers played in deposing the shah in 1979, Iran’s workers have witnessed a steady erosion of their bargaining power. After the revolution, independent workers’ councils won rights to such things as a 40-hour week and lodging allowances. They got rid of people who had worked for the shah’s intelligence service. But during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the unions’ independence was destroyed. Under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his successor, Muhammad Khatami, imports soared while Iran’s own manufacturing industry slumped. Unions have been further weakened by the reclassification of many workers as temporary.

Last month several bakers were arrested for allegedly organising their colleagues in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj. At the same time, workers at a tractor-making company in Tabriz, in the north-west, signed a letter accusing managers of “brutal treatment, intimidation and failing to pay wages”. “Authorities who always talk about justice in the Islamic republic should know that complete injustice prevails in this system,” they wrote.

“We are at the mercy of our employers,” says Mahmud, a Tehran street sweeper on his night shift, scraping rubbish out of an open gutter with a coarse wicker brush. “We almost never get the overtime pay we are entitled to but we can’t complain because we would be fired.” A senior municipal worker admits that thousands of non-unionised street sweepers, who clean the capital by night, often go months without pay. Last year the office of Muhammad Qalibaf, Tehran’s mayor and a presidential hopeful, commissioned a film called “Those Who Wear Orange” about a brainy university graduate who becomes a street cleaner—for love of the job.

Isfahan

ISFAHAN, Iran — Protesters in the Iranian town of Varzaneh clashed with police this week after more than a month of demonstrations against the government’s diversion of water from central Isfahan Province to other regions.

Witnesses used social media to report that dozens were injured in the clashes with authorities and many were arrested.

The protesters say that a pipeline is diverting water from the Zayandehrood River and is leaving their area parched.

The protests reportedly first turned violent on February 27 after demonstrators damaged the pipeline.

 bus

Solidarity with Iranian workers!

johnm“The Labour Representation Committee is an affiliate of Hands Off the People of Iran and I call on others to support its important work. With the war drums beating again in the Middle East and the imperialist pressure on the working people of Iran growing daily, principled international solidarity is vital.
Hopi is at the forefront of that activity and deserves the backing of activists and organisations in our movement”
John McDonnell MP

Iran: Corruption, repression, fightback

Yassamine Mather reports on the chaos that is the Islamic Republic

monkey

Rial: more and more worthless

In Iran, presidential elections are looming, the economy is in freefall, the public hanging of small-time criminals is creating an atmosphere of terror, repression is worsening and workers are protesting throughout the country. There are unconfirmed reports of an explosion at the Fordo uranium enrichment plant and the infighting between factions of the regime is shown live on state-owned TV. Meanwhile, Israel has bombed a military facility in Syria, claiming it is used by Iranian Islamic guards, and civil war is breaking out in Iraq, Iran’s main Shia ally. Finally, the country’s aerospace agency has sent a monkey into space! All in all, as far as Iranians are concerned, it has been an eventful start to 2013.

A combination of sanctions and endemic economic mismanagement has resulted in a constant fall of the country’s currency, the rial. The Iranian press and media blamed “leadership confusion at Iran’s Central Bank”1 for the latest drop in the exchange rate. However, this fall is a continuation of a general trend. According to official statistics, the dollar was worth 33,000 rials on January 20, 36,250 rials on January 23 and 40,000 rials on January 31.2 As late as 2006, the exchange rate was 11,000 rials to the dollar.

Iran is failing to extract and sell sufficient amounts of oil, its major export, and sanctions are really beginning to take their toll, but the political elite are engulfed in a bitter internecine struggle, further eroding confidence in the future of the Shia Republic. The pious leaders of the religious state are busy converting their fortunes, often accumulated through corruption, into foreign currency and there is considerable speculative selling by clerics and high-ranking government officials, who see spiralling inflation devaluing their assets. The government has responded to the latest currency crisis by arresting money traders in Tehran and other major cities, but the reality is that senior ayatollahs and government officials – the main culprits, as far as the flight of capital and savings is concerned – do not use small traders: their currency exchanges are via banks and major corporations.

The governor of Iran’s Central Bank, Mahmoud Bahmani, an ally of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claimed he was investigating such transactions, when news agencies reported on January 20 that he had “resigned with immediate effect”.3 However, Ahmadinejad refused to accept the resignation and the next day Bahmani was sacked for making improper withdrawals from client accounts.4 All this was part of a major power struggle between Ahmadinejad and the ‘principlist conservatives’, both sides accusing each other of massive corruption. Allah’s first Shia government on earth has turned out to be one the most corrupt.

On February 3, German police arrested an Iranian man carrying a cheque issued by a Venezuelan bank worth €54 million. According to the weekly Bild am Sonntag, he was the former head of Iran’s Central Bank, Tahmasb Mazaheri, who was in charge until 2008.5 Only a few days later, and in retaliation for accusations against his appointees, Ahmadinejad used a live broadcast from the majles (Islamic parliament) to show a video allegedly proving the corruption of his arch-rivals, the four Larijani brothers. The Iranian president was trying to prevent the impeachment of the labour minister, claiming the majles speaker, Ali Larijani, was part of a corrupt clique. Despite the president’s efforts, MPs voted by 192 to 56 to impeach the minister for appointing Saeed Mortazavi, an Ahmadinejad supporter, as head of social security.

Mortazavi is a former prosecutor of the Revolutionary Islamic Courts who had been dismissed in 2009 following accusations of torturing prisoners. In 2010 the Iranian parliament published the findings of an investigation into the death of protestors arrested following the 2009 presidential elections. The report identified Mortazavi as responsible for the death of three political prisoners at Kahrizak detention centre and the abuse of dozens of others. By February 5 Mortazavi was in prison awaiting another trial!

While defending his temporarily rehabilitated ally, the Iranian president played a video which “showed Fazel Larijani, a younger brother of the speaker, negotiating with Mr Mortazavi over a deal to benefit from the sale of companies affiliated to the Social Security Organisation, while also asking for a 600 or 700 sq m villa.”6 Larijani senior accused Ahmadinejad of “immorality”, “mafia” behaviour and plotting to “blackmail critics”.7

The Larijani brothers are considered to be the most loyal political allies of the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and, according to rumour, Khamenei would like to see one of them as the next president. Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani is head of Iran’s judiciary, another brother was deputy foreign secretary and a fourth is a diplomat. Ahmadinejad and his supporters often refer to the Larijanis as the “smuggler brothers”.

This latest infighting between the president and the ‘principlists’ is particularly significant in that it indicates the decline in the authority of the supreme leader. Less than two weeks ago he called on both sides to stop insulting each other “at a time when the nation faces serious external threats”. The fact that his advice was so blatantly ignored by the factions of the regime is in itself an indication of the severity of the current political crisis. Khamenei showed his disapproval of Ahmadinejad’s antics by refusing to send his representative to the airport when the president flew to Cairo.

But the week was only ever going to get worse for Ahmadinejad. On February 5 in Cairo, a shoe was flung at him in a mosque and one of Sunni Islam’s most senior clerics, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, publicly criticised Shia Islam, warning the Iranian president not to interfere in the internal affairs of Sunni states. The “spread of Shi’ism in Sunni lands” must be halted.8

Devastating

As the rival factions squabble about who has stolen what from state coffers, the Iranian working class is suffering unprecedented hardship. Iran imports most of its basic food items and this weekend the price of chicken rose by 23%, while rice and eggs were 37% and 23% higher than last week. There is no doubt that sanctions are biting hard and hitting workers and the poor. The minister of industry, mines and trade, Mehdi Ghazanfari, said the aim was “to paralyse our economy and to put people under pressure and in distress”.9 In early January, MP Gholam Reza Kateb, a leading member of the national planning and budget committee, admitted the whole economy was in trouble, as oil revenues have fallen around 45% in the last nine months because of western sanctions.10 Last month, Iran was forced to stop selling fuel to a number of airlines because of shortages.

This year, those lucky enough to have a full-time job will earn wages ranging between $240 and $320 a month, yet the official poverty line is set at $800. Many economists believe the recent monthly inflation rate is around 70%. So hyperinflation, mass unemployment and low wages for the employed and underemployed have created conditions where a majority of Iranians live in misery and have great difficulty putting food on the table. Iranian officials claim there has been an unprecedented increase in crime.

A recent report by the Majles Research Commission summarises the devastating situation: production fell by 40% between October 2011 and October 2012, while employment fell by 36% in the same period. The commission was set up to investigate the effects of sanctions and found that 566 industrial and service sector companies had closed down since March 2012. According to the executive secretary of Isfahan’s labour office, “Some employers, thinking that difficulties are short-lived and will be resolved in the near future, did wait for several months before cutting down their labour force. But now the continued chaos and fluctuations mean they have to either shut down their facilities completely or decrease their workforce considerably … the rate of lay-offs in production facilities will increase daily and [become] a worrying trend in the whole society.”11

Such an economic climate allows unscrupulous employers to factor in non-payment of wages as part of their economic calculations. Many Iranian workers have not been paid for months, but in several sectors they have started protesting. In January, factory workers in Saveh resumed their strike demanding back-payment of six months wages. Steel workers also went on strike, but ended their protest after management promised to pay one month of what they were owed. The following day, these workers took their protests to the offices of the local governor. In December, thousands of workers at the Fajr Petrochemical factory in Mahshahr were on strike in protest at the lack of job security. Their banner read: “We are hungry. We haven’t been paid for 22 months.” In the same province, hundreds of miners were facing job losses, as the government failed to pay for coal it had purchased.

The government’s response to the protests has been to increase repression. Labour activists arrested in July 2012 have just been handed long prison sentences, while at least 14 journalists were detained last week after security forces raided four newspapers. Several publications based in Tehran were closed down and the homes of individual journalists were searched, as authorities claimed they were working with spies based in the BBC’s Persian service. Leftwing students have also been arrested in Tabriz, while the January 20 public hanging of two petty criminals in a Tehran park was yet another attempt by the regime to impose an atmosphere of fear. The message is clear: no dissent will be tolerated. We don’t care about basic human rights and we care even less what others think. It has not escaped the attention of Iranians that, whereas the two executed men were guilty of stealing goods worth 70,000 tomans (less than £40), the former governor of Iran’s Central Bank, who had stolen millions, was free to leave the country with his €54 million cheque.

As plans for immediate military operations against Iran are put on hold, it is clear that the United States and Israel are relying on disintegration from within, in a country gripped by political infighting and facing economic meltdown. While rightwing opponents of the regime base their hopes on imperialist intervention, amongst all this chaos our solidarity remains with all those fighting for regime change from below – the Iranian working class, student and women activists – and with all those held in prison as a result.

In this respect, there is positive news: Fariborz Raisdana, a Marxist economist who has been held in Evin prison since early summer last year, has been sending out valuable material about the living conditions of imprisoned labour activists. He has set up a political economy study group, apparently very popular with young prisoners, much to the fury of ‘reformist’ politicians who are also being held in Evin.

Meanwhile, another working class prisoner, Shahrokh Zamani, a member of the Council of Representatives of Labour Organisations, has sent an optimistic letter from Gohardasht prison, entitled ‘It is now our turn – the turn of democratic governance and workers councils’. The letter explains how, in the face of a major economic crisis, capitalism has launched an attack on workers throughout the world, and Iran is no exception to this rule. Zamani points out that the Iranian working class should have no illusions about ‘reformists’ within the Islamic regime, nor should it seek alliances with ‘liberals’ outside it. Instead workers should rely on their own strength. He ends his letter with the clarion call: “Workers have no alternative but to unite and organise. Long live the political general strike. Long live the revolution.”

Although it is difficult to share Zamani’s optimism at a time when the Iranian working class is far from being politically and organisationally strong enough to fulfil such wishes, one must admire his courage and determination for issuing such a positive call in the midst of the chaos and despair that grips Iran.

Into space

It was amidst all this chaos that Iran’s space agency reported sending a monkey into space. The US and Israel were quick to point out that this represented a worrying extension of Iran’s missile technology: “Any space-launch vehicle capable of placing an object in orbit is directly relevant to the development of long-range ballistic missiles.”12

However, on the “darker side of the internet” (to quote the phrase of a certain London professor) users noticed that the photo of the monkey launched into space did not match that of the one returning. Some speculated that the rocket had left Earth, but failed to return, while others suggested that the first monkey must have sought political asylum in outer space. Ironically help came from the ‘great Satan’ in the shape of Harvard academic Jonathan McDowell, who identified the first monkey as one who died “during a failed space mission in 2011”.

Just to add to the tragicomic news coming form Iran, Ahmadinejad proposed on February 4 (the day after his humiliating exit from parliament) that he was willing to “risk his life” and become the first human to be sent into space as part of his country’s space programme.13 Returning again to the darker side of the internet, a Facebook page – ‘In support of sending Ahmadinejad into space’ – got over 1,000 ‘likes’ within minutes of being set up. Users have posted encouraging messages, such as: “We will accompany him to the launch platform. We will even pay for the shuttle’s fuel costs”.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Notes

1. http://tehrantimes.com/politics/105052-central-bank-of-iran-governor-discharged-over-illegal-money-withdrawal.

2. www.ft.com/cms/s/0/48f23958-6e13-11e2-983d-00144feab49a.html#axzz2JvMl66c9.

3. http://tehrantimes.com/politics/105027-ahmadinejad-rejects-central-bank-chiefs-retirement-request.

4. www.iranfocus.com/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26856:iran-court-fires-central-bank-head-for-withdrawals-irna-says&catid=4:iran-general&Itemid=26.

5. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/48f23958-6e13-11e2-983d-00144feab49a.html#axzz2KD9Iqnyv

6. www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HwzpkLF-SgY.

7. www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2013/02/130202_l57_irminister_labour_impeach.shtml.

8. www.ibtimes.com/irans-president-ahmadinejad-escapes-shoe-attack-egypt-1064940.

9. www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/01/11/282953/sanctions-aim-to-paralyze-iran-economy.

10. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20942138.

11. http://iranlaborreport.com/?p=2185.

12. www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2013/02/04/was-iran-space-monkey-hoax/pa2mx4rVmTcsONdveNaXmI/story.html.

13. www.space.com/19513-iran-space-monkey-missile-concerns.html.

Hopi at Take One Film festival

On Wednesday 26th Sptember 2012 , Take One Action film festival showed the film. This is Not a Film, by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi in Edinburgh Filmhouse. Over 100 people attended the film show which was Followed by discussion with Yassamine Mather (Chair of Hands Off The People of Iran) and Film/Theatre director Jeremy Raison.

Jeremy Raison spoke passionately about his meeting with Panahi and tried to explain some of the complexities of the film, Panahi’s satirical look at his own house arrest, the frustration of facing a 6 years jail sentence, ban of twenty years from making films, directing films for his support for the protests of 2009 . The film was rated as the number one film of 2011 by Rotten Tomatoes (considered a reliable film review aggregator.

Raison explained the significance of some of the hidden messages in the film shot on Panahi’s iPhone and a cheap DV camera and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes.

Yassamine Mather responded to questions about repression in Iran and emphasised that political activists face much harsher sentences , including long prison sentences and execution however highlighting the plight of this famous director gives a glimpse of the intolerance of the Islamic regime vis a vis any dissent. She also spoke about the economic hardship facing most Iranians, not just because of the corruption and disastrous effects of neoliberal (Islamic ) economic policies of the regime but also crippling sanctions However she reminded the audience that bombing Iran will make the situation far worse , Iranians  do want regime change but they are weary of US/Israel/Eu plans for regime change form above , especially as they look at their immediate neighbours Iraq and Afghanistan , where regime change US style has made an already intolerable situation even worse.

Simon Beaston of Take one Action reminded the audience that Ken Loach , one ‘Take one Actions’ Patrons is a supporter of HOPI and reminded the audience to take one action following the film on the basis of what was discussed .

Arab Spring is the theme of this year’s Take One Action festival and the film ½ Revolution, Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim‘s was shown after Panahi’s film to a pcked audience. According to reviewers in US, 1/2 revolution is  “a visceral ersonal documentary focusing on 11 days of the 18-day revolution, captures the ground-level events with a gut-churning immediacy and veracity often missing from news reports, as well as amateur footage posted to the Internet”. In the absence of Omar Shargawi who had not been able to travel to Edinburgh, HOPI chair Yassamine Mather responded to questions about the Arab spring, She argued that most of the uprisings had economic as well as political reasons, that the West’s economic crisis is having a devastating effect in the third world. That the success of Islamic fundamentalism has two reasons : decades of severe repression by pro US regime’s against secular, democratic , socialist forces at a time when Islamist benefited from the relative freedom of using mosques, Islamic schools for political agitation. She mentioned vast sums of Saudi and Gulf money given to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria as reasons for their recent electoral and political ‘success’ . The audience applauded her interpretation of these events and HOPI gained a number of new supporter at the end of this session