The Iranian opposition: fishing in muddy waters

Repression and exile have clouded the view of Iranian anti-government forces, writes Mohamad Moein in Tehran

Throughout history governments have faced opposition to their rule and the current period is no exception. These days in Iran , the opponents of the Islamic Republic are known as the opposition. In English speaking countries, the term opposition was first used in relation to the British Parliament and later became commonplace in other countries. Hence, ‘opposition’ is a new word whose academic life dates back to the early twentieth century in Western democracies. It refers to structured political groups that do not accept a government or a state and want to change it, if the majority of the people vote in their favour in free elections. In other words, the term opposition refers to a party that presents its program and alternative to society, and accepts that people accept or reject the program and their alternative.

In Iran, the governments that have come to power in recent decades have faced opposition inside and outside the country. The objective of this opposition is to overthrow the rule of those in power one way or another. During the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, the ineffectiveness of resolving the country’s internal crises through political means, by removing political freedoms, became clear. This resulted, by the end, in the participation of a wide range of people, parties and groups in protests that led to the collapse of the regime in 1979. Many hoped this collapse would result in the coming to power of a revolutionary government capable of building a better Iran, resulting in a brighter future.

But it did not take long for the new government to reveal its true nature; it not only failed to take a single step towards improving democratic rights, but on the contrary established a transition from a secular dictatorship to a religious one. In this respect the revolution ended when, having succeeded in overthrowing the old order, which was their declared aim, the people provided the arena for a new dictatorship. On the other hand, the international conditions of that era were dominated by the Cold War and the beginning of a devastating war with Iraq. All factors that helped the consolidation of dictatorship.

On this basis, the government that emerged from the revolution initially claimed to be adhering to its interpretation of democracy ‘in an Islamic framework’ but over time, with the strengthening of the foundations of state authority, all pretence of democracy disappeared and we witnessed the true nature of a totalitarian and ideological dictatorship. It was in such circumstances that individuals, groups and parties were eliminated one after another from the circles of power. It was this policy that created – and strengthened – opposition inside and outside the country. Accordingly, to date, the opposition has had an endemic and ineffective political life, inevitably strengthening those in power.

There are many explanations for this phenomenon and a variety of causes can be mentioned. But the main reasons for the opposition’s ineffectiveness against the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be classified as follows;

1) The opposition has been incapacitated in its organisational functioning, because the constitution of the Islamic Republic does not provide any status for the opposition, or any clear transparent legislation regarding the Islamic state’s relations with those holding political views opposed to its rule.

2) The second reason is reliance on verbal and theoretical opposition. Throughout these years the opposition has not produced an alternative concrete platform for solving the current problems of the country. To put it simply, the opposition does not have a proper, pragmatic alternative, and most of its programs are propagandist. It is quite clear that should they gain power, they will act just as badly as the current government.

3) The third reason is lack of courage amongst the opposition. They fear rejection and lack of popular acceptance, and as a result of this fear are incapable of providing clear and independent commentary. In other words, the opposition has not yet reached such a degree of sophistication that it can announce its official point of view about current affairs inside and outside the country, nor is it willing to discuss the consequences of its declared propagandist policies.

4) Fourth, the opposition does not have a proper analysis of the current situation and conditions inside the county. It is ignorant of internal developments. With the explanations it has, it could be said that the opposition are like spear-fishers hoping to catch fish in muddy waters.

5) Fifth, intellectual poverty and absence of political, social and economic theory have led to a situation where opposition figures duplicate and copy speeches, actions from each other, all lacking any conviction or ingenuity.

In other words, the opposition is incapable of producing original thought and theory; it continues to live and think in the past.

6) The sixth reason is the failure of the opposition to cooperate in the social dimension. Simply put, the opposition does not have the ability to work collectively: the opposition has no practice of debate and democracy, and therefore seeks only to eliminate rivals in a totalitarian manner.

7) Finally, possibly one of the most important reasons for the opposition’s ineffectiveness is their dependence on foreign money. They are at the mercy of foreign governments and often have no alternative but to express the views and positions of these governments. According to Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher, “In these times, what distinguishes the “real revolutionaries” from mere masqueraders is not only the clear vision “to know when power is lying in the street and when they can pick it up but the willingness, and moral courage to “seize power” when it is lying there, and “assume responsibility for the revolution after it had happened.” Sections of the opposition have different political outlooks which are briefly outlined below, and the reasons for their failure to engage the masses discussed.

Monarchists:

The most obvious point regarding this group is the fact that their ideas and plans are frozen in time: they believe in return to a glorious past! And in this respect their ideals are completely clear. They are seeking to revive royalty in Iran in the form of a return to power of the short-lived Pahlavi dynasty. This section of the opposition, who have been living mainly in the United States or other Western countries, hold views that have not changed much in the last forty years. Throughout their exile they have not even tried to understand the world we live in, they are ignorant of current international developments, they remain opposed to any democratic ideas. When it comes to the revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah, they believe in conspiracy theories: “The West overthrew the Shah because he was developing the country”, “it was all the fault of Jimmy Carter and his Human Rights agenda!!”…

Among the reasons for the ineffectiveness and exclusion of monarchists inside Iran are their inability to understand the current world, either the international space or the historical conditions inside Iran today, as well as the belief in re-establishing a sovereign monarchy. The ideology justifying this programme, of natural hierarchy and disbelief in the possibility of equality and non-discrimination is itself repellent to most people in Iran. From the point of view of the monarchists, the poor will always be poor and the king must be a shrewd king. But many of the people who form current Iranian society who had already overcome the kingdom in 1979, have no belief in the rule of kings or desire to return to the past, and this part of the opposition is completely rejected by the people. Inside Iran they lack support, they are ineffective. Young people in Iran don’t believe in hereditary privilege and are aware of the ignorance and incompetence of this section of the opposition. Consequently, the chances of this section in the Iranian political arena are zero or close to zero.

Mojahedin-e Khalq or People’s Mujahedin of Iran:

The crucial point about this opposition group is their contradictory history and their military aggression into Western Iran, using Iraqi tanks and artillery when Saddam Hussein supported them. This was originally an Islamic left-wing group. In the early days of the revolution it was closely linked to the Islamic state. However it fell from grace as Khomeini and his allies consolidated their share of power and as the group’s disagreements with Khomeini grew. Mojahedin members and supporters were dismissed from the circles of power and the group declared itsef for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran through armed struggle.

One of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of this group is the sharp difference between the group’s claims and its actions. We are talking of an anti-democratic secretive group with dictatorial practices within, against its own members. Many years after the death of the leader of the group (Massoud Rajavi), thought to have been killed during the second Gulf war, the group’s leadership has not acknowledged this information. Armed struggles and blind assassinations have always been amongst the reasons for ordinary Iranians rejecting this group. In addition there is confusion about the group’s goals and objectives.

However what distinguishes this group from other opposition groups, what makes them a despicable force hated by the Iranian people, is their cooperation with the enemy during the Iran-Iraq war and their participation in an effort to invade Iran, helped by Iraqi troops, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Many Iranians consider them more dangerous, far more horrific than the current Islamic Republic. So not only do they have little support in the country, any attempt at promoting them, for example by supporters and allies of Donald Trump, such as John Bolton or Giuliani backfires, strengthening the Islamic Republic. In summary the PMOI is viewed negatively in general and its recent history is considered disgusting.

The virtual opposition or quasi-opposition groups:

In recent years, we have seen a flood of unidentified opposition groups. This type of opposition, often very small groups, with fewer members than the fingers of one hand, is often composed of very young opponents of the regime. In general they are more familiar with basic concepts of democracy however their behaviour is marked by lack of experience, so they play on emotions to alarm their audience and as a result they attract some supporters amongst the young generation. On the whole such groups are more rebellious, however they remain ineffective because they lack organisation and political theory.

In addition, since Iranian society is a traditional and conservative society, the fact that such groups thrive by crossing social red lines, damages their reputation beyond their immediate supporters. But the most important reason why such groups remain ineffective is their reliance on lies and deceit, for the sake of political advancement. They believe it is permissible to use ‘fake’ information to oppose the government. From the point of view of this type of opposition, attacking other opposition groups is not just a tactic but a strategy for further development.

Free Reza Shahabi now!

ShahabiReza Shahabi – an Iranian labour activist member of the executive committee of the VAHED Bus Union – has been on hunger strike for almost 40 days in prison in Iran. According to the latest reports from Tehran, his protest is now having grave physical effects on him and he has become paralysed down the left side of his body.

Shahabi has spent the last four years in prison, accused by the Islamic state in Iran of “gathering information and colluding against state security, spreading propaganda against the system and ‘Moharebeh’” (translated as “enmity against god”). Over the last few years, his state of health has deteriorated markedly. Vindictively however, the authorities have not allowed him access to appropriate medical treatment.

Shahabi is an anti-war, anti-imperialist worker activist. In his defence, Hands Off the People of Iran is joining forces with the veteran labour activist, Ali Pichgah (a former leader of Iran’s oil workers’ strike) to call for his immediate, unconditional release.

As a matter of urgency, Reza Shahabi now needs hospital treatment. His life is being endangered by the Iranian authorities’ refusal to allow him proper medical care. We hold the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani directly responsible for Reza Shahabi’s life. This brave working class leader has taken a stand against capitalist exploitation and oppression in Iran – as well as any attack on the country by the west or Israel – and it is incumbent on all anti-imperialist/anti-war activists to support Shahabi in these extremely difficult days, when he is putting his life on the line for his beliefs.

What you can do:

  • Support the demand of Hopi and Ali Pichgah for the immediate release of Reza Shahabi! Publicise this protest widely!
  • Email your name/your organisation to Hopi at office@hopoi.info and we will add your details to the protests we are coordinating (please indicate whether personal capacity or not)
  • Invite a speaker from Hopi to a meeting of your organisation to explain our anti-war/anti-imperialist work and the situation of the working people in Iran
  • Write to the European embassy for Iran (notify us if you do):
    Ambassade de la Republique Islamique d’Iran
    4 avenue d’iena
    75116 Paris, France
  • Or email the newly opened UK embassy (copy us in): iranemb.lon@mfa.gov.ir

Shahrokh Zamani returned to Gohardasht prison

zamaniShahrokh Zamani, labour  activist and a member of  the Council of Representatives of Labour Organizations and member of the Painters Union spent over 30 days in  hunger strike. Zamani has been in prison since June 2011   charged with participating in the organisation of an illegal group against the regime,  the Democratic Workers Movement with the intention of endangering national security through activism.
While in prison he has been physically and psychologically abused, denied medication and denied access to visitors. Following his recent transfer to the notorious Ghezel Hesar prison he started a hunger strike. In the last few weeks the  campaign organised by many left wing Iranian organisations, including  Left Unity Iran  called for his return to Gohardast prison.

 

 

تغییر سیاست یا تداوم؟ مذاکرت ایالات متحده با ایران نشانه‌ ای از تغییر و تحولات در سیاست خارجی امریکا -مایک مکنر

John Kerry: Behind the scenes maneuvering
John Kerry: Behind the scenes maneuvering

ترجمه آناهیتا حسینی

در پایان به این نتیجه می‌رسیم که خطری واقعی و مداوم مبتنی بر بازگشت به سیاست تغییر رژیم در ایران و جنگ گرم وجود دارد. بیشتر تحریم‌ها، یا به عبارت روشن‌تر محاصره‌ی ایران به رهبری آمریکا ادامه پیدا خواهند کرد، حتی اگر تمام این تحریم‌ها هم لغو شوند باز هم تحمیل سیاست‌های نئو‌لیبرال، به رهبری آمریکا، که البته دولت روحانی هم مشخصا پشتیبان آن است، به کارگران و فقرای ایران ادامه خواهد داشت. بنابرین تصور نکنید که مذاکرات یا معاملات احتمالی دیگر تهدیدهای مداوم علیه مردم ایران را از میان برخواهند داشت

us-iran.pdf

us-iran.doc

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

shellLONDON: 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.

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

A Fistful of Tomans

There's money to be made in a place like this
There’s money to be made in a place like this

Kevan Harris in the London Review of Books:

A Tehran restaurant owner recently told me the advice he’d been giving his friends for the last year: ‘Sell your car. Buy dollars.’ Sound counsel, I thought. Exchanging Iranian rials for dollars at the end of 2011 and converting them back nine months later would have yielded enough profit to buy two new cars. Waiting another month would have got you a cheap motorbike too. This sort of ‘street maths’ filters into every conversation. In September a waiter told me he had just sold his stash of $10,000 for a hefty profit. A young woman took her pay cheque to the bank every month and bought dollars with it. In this unofficial currency market the value of the rial dropped nearly 70 per cent in ten months. The frenzied speculation began early last year, after the EU announced it was going to restrict imports of Iranian oil. Government attempts to stem the flight only pushed the rial’s value down further. ‘The Central Bank governor promises on Tuesday to take action, and the dollar goes up on Wednesday,’ a businessman joked. ‘So he reverses his position on Saturday, and the dollar goes up on Sunday.’

Blogger Sattar Beheshti dies in custody

Sattar Beheshti, who ran a blog critical of the Iranian regime, was arrested on October 30 for comments made on Facebook, and handed over to the ‘cyber police’. After a night in Evin prison, where he complained about threats and beatings, he was moved to an unknown location. By November 3rd he was dead, with evidence of torture all over his body.

Beheshti was apparently not well known as an activist, showing how far-reaching the regime’s clampdown on dissent has become.

More:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/sattar-beheshti-dead_n_2117945.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20259533

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/08/sattar-beheshti-dead-iran_n_2095075.html