Threats over uranium enrichment aid regime

We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.
We don’t want nuclear power - we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live - we don’t live to work.

Ahmadinejad uses the ‘enemy without’ to justify increased repression, arrests and the torture of the ‘enemy within’, writes Yassamine Mather

The dramatic statements by Obama, Brown and Sarkozy about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear enrichment plant, made in a ‘breaking news’-style press conference on the first day of the G20 gathering in Pittsburgh, were clearly intended to prepare the world for a new conflict in the Middle East. The presentation of the ‘news’ and the language used in delivering the threats were reminiscent of the warnings about Iraq’s ‘45-minute’ strike capability.

According to Obama, “Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on October 1 they are going to have to come clean, and they will have to make a choice.” The alternative to sticking to ‘international rules’ on Iran’s nuclear development, would be “a path that is going to lead to confrontation”.

Yet in some ways the existence of a second uranium enrichment plant is old news. By all accounts US and UK secret services had known about this plant for at least three years – Israel and France also knew about it for some time and had delivered their finding to the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. The ‘dramatic’ disclosures came at a time when Russia was already on board regarding further sanctions. Given its billion-dollar trade with Iran, China – one of Iran’s major commercial partners – is unlikely to change its opposition to further sanctions.

So what was the main purpose of the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown show on September 25? Could it be it was directed mainly to audiences in the US, UK and France, to convince them that, at a time of economic uncertainty, western leaders have to deal with a ‘major external threat’ posed by Iran’s nuclear development?

But the elephant in that press conference room was the Israeli nuclear programme. While Iran might be approaching nuclear military capability by 2010-15 (no-one is claiming it has such capability now), another ‘religious’ state in the Middle East is exempt from IAEA regulations and possesses between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads (this according to US estimates), yet it maintains a policy of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ on whether it has nuclear weapons.

Former IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but there has been no IAEA inspection, hence the ambiguity over the number of warheads it possesses. Strictly speaking, as a beneficiary of the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, Israel is not supposed to have any. Yet every year the US congress approves billions of dollars of US military aid to Israel. For the fiscal year 2010, Obama is requesting $2.775 billion.

The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit US aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel has not.

Of course, none of this justifies the Iranian rulers’ obsession with reaching a stage where they can produce nuclear weapons. Unlike middle class nationalist Iranians, who even in their opposition to the regime, favour the government’s nuclear programme, the Iranian working class has been clear on this issue, as shown by placards on recent demonstrations: “We don’t want nuclear power – we don’t want huge salaries. We work so that we can live – we don’t live to work.”

Millions of Iranian workers have not been paid for months, while capitalists and the religious government keep telling them of Iran’s economic crisis and shortfalls in both the state and private funds, yet the Islamic regime seems to have sufficient funds to equip one more nuclear enrichment plant, paying billions – presumably to dubious sources – for black market equipment. The current escalation of the conflict also exposes the stupidity of the Iranian rulers who only admitted to the existence of this ‘secret’ plant after its existence was ‘exposed’.

Of course, Iranians have become so used to hearing total lies from the leaders of all factions of the Islamic regime that the revelation of the existence of this facility, hidden not far from the capital, did not come as a surprise. After all, this is the same government that used Photoshop to pretend a failed rocket did succesfully launch, the same government that cheated in the presidential elections, then lied about the number of people killed in the subsequent protests, and the same government whose president claims to have seen a white light descending from another world while he was addressing the UN assembly in 2007.

Further sanctions will bring more poverty for Iranian workers and it will be the Iranian people who will pay the price for the foolishness of the very leaders they have been protesting against for over two months. The US is keen on sanctions against companies exporting refined oil to Iran (which imports 60% of its requirements). It now looks like France and Germany are sceptical about such sanctions. They refer to the Iraq experience and the ease with which petrol can be smuggled across land borders.

The Iranian government has already indicated that it will cut petrol subsidies. It is blaming the west and hopes such a move will unite the country against the ‘foreign enemy’. Contrary to the pessimism of sections of the Iranian left in exile who ‘despair’ of the growth of the ‘Green’ movement or who have joined the bandwagon behind ‘reformist’ presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi, workers in oil refineries in Iran are well aware of the historic role of their class in the current situation and there have been discussions regarding strikes in this industry for the last few weeks. These workers have two valid concerns: (1) that their strike should not benefit Moussavi (he is hated by these workers, some of whom remember his time in power); and (2) that their strike should not help US efforts for regime change from above.

Western countries are also considering options including an embargo on investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, an end to loan guarantees to all companies investing in Iran, a ban on Iranian businesses trading in euros, and a ban on foreign companies insuring Iranian shipping and air transport. All of these measures will target the Iranian people, the majority of whom hate the clerical state.

UN lies

If the Iranian government lied about its nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad’s speech last week at the UN was also full of deceit. His holocaust-denial comments, repeated in every interview he gave while in the US, were a deliberate attempt to divert attention from mass protests at home and to heighten the tension with the rest of the world. This regime and this president rely on foreign crises to survive – he desperately needs enemies abroad to divert attention from problems at home, and the Obama-Brown-Sarkozy trio gave him that.

However, his speech contained other lies. The man who has printed money in an attempt to solve Iran’s economic problems told the world: “It is no longer possible to inject thousands of billions of dollars of unreal wealth into the world economy simply by printing worthless paper assets, or transfer inflation as well as social and economic problems to others through creating severe budget deficits.” He also criticised “liberal capitalism” (as opposed to clerical capitalism?). After all, this is the president of a government that is busy privatising every industry in Iran, from services in the oil industry to car plants and Iran’s national telecommunications. The telecom company was privatised and sold to the ‘revolutionary guards’ in the last week of September, although Iran’s ‘monopoly regulatory commission’ is now said to be investigating this.

However, such actions by Iran’s Sepah Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) do not imply that the country is under military capitalist rule: they are controlled by the most conservative sections of Iran’s clerical elite. The Pasdaran ownership of the telecommunication services is only another success for supreme leader Ali Khamenei, his son and the clerics around him, as this ideological military force has no life and no significance without clerical rule.

The few delegates in the UN assembly hall who heard Ahmadinejad condemn the excesses of “liberal capitalism” might have thought Iran is an egalitarian religious society. Nothing could be further from reality. After 30 years in power Iran’s Islamic regime has created one of the most unequal, corrupt societies of the region, where the gap between the rich and the poor is amongst the highest in the world. As Ahmadinejad was speaking, Iran’s car workers (amongst the best paid sections of the working class) were protesting at long shifts causing ill health and workers throughout Iran were on strike or demonstrating against non-payment of wages. While factory closures due to privatisation continue, Aryaman Motors, a Tehran-based company specialising in reproducing classic cars, launched a new series of replica vehicles based on the original design of the earliest Rolls Royce models at $120,000 each – wealthy Iranians have already pre-paid for the first models that will be finished later this year.

In his speech Ahmadinejad also referred to the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, failing to mention Iran’s role in support of US aggression in both – as leaders of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran keep reminding us! The Iranian president then referred to breaches of human rights in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Of course, it is inevitable that abuse of human rights by the ‘torch holders’ of liberal democracy in the US and the UK will be used by every tinpot leader in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere to justify the torture and execution of opponents. The Iranian president is the leader of a government that has killed at least 72 civilians and tortured hundreds in the last two months alone, yet the actions of western governments allow him to stand up in New York and give moral lectures about ‘human right abuses’. We truly live in irrational times.

Protests and divisions

The first days of the new university term in Iran saw major protests on campuses throughout the country – the largest being at Tehran University on September 27-28. Students shouted “Death to the dictator” and booed the new minister of higher education. Security forces retreated from the campus. On Tuesday September 29 students protested at Sharif University, once more causing the minister for higher education to abandon plans to speak. Meanwhile, security forces are warning football crowds not to chant political slogans at the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis on October 2.

As former president and leading ‘reformist’ Ali Akbar Rafsanjani continues his efforts to find a compromise between the regime’s warring factions, the first signs of a rift amongst ‘reformists’ has appeared. In an open letter addressed to Rafsanjani, another ‘reformist’ presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, writes: “What is your answer to the people who, under dangerous conditions, question the actions of the Assembly of Experts under your leadership? … By what measure have you preserved the ideals of the revolution in your role as chair of the Assembly of Experts, whose first duty is fighting injustice?”

Moussavi’s latest statement on September 28 is also predictably uninspiring. Its repeated references to the “wisdom” of Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, confirmed his continued allegiance to the ‘imam’s line’. But this will not gain him much support amongst young Iranians, who will not accept any solution short of the overthrow of the entire regime. Moussavi’s call on his supporters to “avoid any radical measures which could damage the achievements so far made by the opposition” expose once more his fear of radical change and his determination to save the religious state.

All this is very good news for the revolutionary forces. However, the threat of sanctions and war only strengthens Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. In the words of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, any “rush to punitive sanctions – tightened to the point where ordinary Iranians, already suffering the effects of chronic unemployment, had to endure petrol shortages or big fuel price hikes – could backfire spectacularly”.

Hands Off the People of Iran has always condemned sanctions and threats of war against Iran. We oppose them not only because we want to see imperialism defeated, but because they increase patriotism and nationalism, thus helping the reactionary regime. The government will use the ‘threat of the enemy without’ to increase repression, to arrest and torture its ‘enemy within’. Sanctions disorganise the working class, as people are forced to squander their fighting energies on day-to-day struggles to keep their jobs and feed their families – Iranian oil workers are right to be concerned about going on strike at a time when sanctions will also target ‘imported refined oil’.

The proposed US-European sanctions dramatically degrade the ability of the working people to struggle collectively on their own account, to organise and to fight. In other words, for the sake of Iranian working class we must continue our opposition to war, sanctions and regime change from above, while increasing our solidarity with the revolutionary movement inside Iran.

Azadi Stadium erupts against the regime

Fans defy calls to keep protests away from stadium
Fans defy calls to keep protests away from stadium

Imagine going to a Celtic vs Rangers derby and seeing both sides fans chant the same slogans, march together afterwards and defend each other from the police. You would probably think you have entered an alternative universe. In Iran that is what happened on October 2 at Azadi stadium when Perspolis (باشگاه فوتبال پرسپولیس) and Esteghlal (باشگاه فرهنگی ورزشی استقلال ایران) met. These clubs are the most successful clubs in Iranian football and have had a bitter rivalry on par with that of Celtic and Rangers. Fans chanted “As long as Ahmadinejad exists – this will be the result of Derby”, “Down with the dictator!”, “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” and other slogans of the opposition movement. Below are some videos of the protests:



15 Arrests at demonstration after the closure of paper Etemad Melli (National Trust)

Mehdi Karoubis Etemad-e Melli paper closed down
Mehdi Karoubi's Etemad-e Melli paper closed down

The regime has “temporarily” shut down the newspaper of defeated reformist candidate Mehdi Karoubi. has Etemad-e Melli was closed down under the orders of the prosecutor’s office and no edition appeared on the streets today (August17). It has been alleged that the paper was about to release a statement calling for further defiance.

In response to this youths and supporters of Mehdi Karoubi fought running battles with security forces at 7 Tir Square and other places in Tehran near the headquarters of the newspaper. Whilst Karoubi has been thrown into a struggle against security forces and the judiciary he and the reformist faction offer nothing but more bloodshed for the people of Iran. For the movement to be successful the people of Iran must topple both the conservative and the reformist wings of the Islamic Republic.

At this time we are aware that at least 15 people have been arrested. Below is video footage of today’s demonstrations.

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Show trials and apologetics

Protests still going strong

Just as Iranian ex-leftwingers in the west call for reconciliation between the two wings of the Islamic regime, the ruling faction clamps down on its rivals. Yassamine Mather reports


The Stalinist show trial of Saturday August 1 – when a number of prominent ‘reformists’ appeared on Iranian state TV to ‘thank their interrogators’ before repenting – was not the first such event in the Islamic republic’s history. Leaders of the ‘official communist’ Tudeh Party were similarly paraded on Iranian TV to denounce their own actions in the 1980s, while in the 1990s we had the trials of ‘rogue’ elements of the ministry of intelligence.

However, this time the Islamic leaders forgot that a precondition for the success of such show trials in terms of imposing fear and submission on the masses is total control of the press and media. What made this particular effort ineffective – indeed a mockery – was that it came at a time when the supporters of supreme leader Ali Khamenei have not yet succeeded in silencing the other factions of the regime, never mind stopping the street protests. So, instead of marking the end of the current crisis, the show trials have given the protestors fresh ammunition.

The paper of the Participation Front (the largest alliance of ‘reformist’ MPs) stated: “The case of the prosecution is such a joke that it is enough to make cooked chicken laugh.” The Participation Front was one of nine major Islamic organisations which ridiculed the prosecution claim that the ‘regime knew of the plot for a velvet revolution’ weeks before the election. Some Tehran reformist papers are asking: in that case why did the Guardian Council allow the ‘reformist’ candidates to stand in the presidential elections? Perhaps the Guardian Council itself should be put on trial!

Former president Mohammad Khatami, candidates Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi and other ‘reformist’ politicians have denounced the trial as “illegal”, yet they do not seem to realise the irony in this criticism. First of all, no-one but the ‘reformists’ within the regime has any illusions about Iran’s legal system (both civil and sharia law). Second, the time to oppose show trials was two decades ago, not when you yourself are a victim of the system and there is no-one left to defend you. It was not just in the 1980s that messrs Khatami, Moussavi, Karroubi, etc kept quiet about similar trials. As late as the 1990s, during Khatami’s own presidency, they did not exactly rebel against the show trials of the intelligence agents who ‘confessed’ to having acted alone in murdering opponents of the regime. Some of the most senior figures implicated in that scandal, a scandal that was hushed up by the Khatami government (‘for the sake of the survival of the Islamic order’) – not least current prosecutor general Saeed Mortazavi – are now in charge of the ‘velvet revolution’ dossier.

For the Iranian left the trial and ‘confessions’ have also been a reminder of the plight of thousands of comrades who probably faced similar physical and psychological torture in the regime’s dungeons in the 1980s, although only a handful of them ever made it onto TV screens – many died anonymously in the regime’s torture chambers. Of course, we do not know if the Iranian government has improved its torture techniques since those times, but some senior ‘reformist’ politicians appear to have broken down much more easily than those thousands of young leftwing prisoners.

Those ‘reformist’ leaders who are still at liberty are not doing any better. Despite facing the threat of arrest and trial themselves, they maintain their allegiance to ‘Iran’s Islamic order’, reaffirming their “commitment to the Islamic regime” (Khatami) and denouncing the slogan promoted by demonstrators, “Freedom, independence, Iranian republic”, as Moussavi did on August 2.

A couple of weeks ago there were signs that negotiations between Khamenei and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, had made some progress and once more there was the possibility that, as the two factions of the regime buried some of their differences, the mass movement could become a victim of reconciliation amongst senior clerics.

The show trials not only put an end to such illusions, but promised an unprecedented intensification of the internal conflict. But this came too late for the authors of the statement, ‘Truth and reconciliation for Iran’, signed by a number of academics and activists who are notorious apologists of the Iranian regime and published on a number of websites, including that of Monthly Review.1 The statement has one aim: to save the Islamic regime by advocating peaceful coexistence between the two warring factions or, in the words of the statement, “the vital unity of our people against foreign pressures”.

In explaining the background of the conflict with imperialism, the authors state: “… despite Iran’s cooperation in the overthrow of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, the administration of George W Bush labelled the Islamic Republic a member of the ‘axis of evil’.”2 I am not quite sure why Iran’s support for US imperialism in the terrible Afghanistan war should be put forward as an example of the regime’s reasonable and moderate behaviour by anyone who claims to be anti-war.

The statement goes on to praise the wonderful election process, failing to mention that only four candidates loyal to the regime’s factions were allowed to stand or that voting for a president of a regime headed by an unelected ‘supreme religious leader’ is a bit of a joke … But this marvellous ‘democratic election’ is used to legitimise Iran’s nuclear programme.

The statement contains some seriously false claims: “… we have advocated the human rights of individuals and democratic rights for various groups and constituencies in Iran.” I am not sure which universe they think the rest of us reside in, but until the escalation of the conflict between the two factions of the regime many of the authors of the statement were insisting that everything in Iran’s Islamic Republic was great.

According to the defenders of ‘Islamic feminism’ amongst them, Iranian women enjoy complete political and social freedom – which no doubt would have come as a shock to tens of thousands of young women who joined the protests precisely because of their opposition to draconian misogynist regulations imposed by the religious state.

Many of the signatories are associated with Campaign Iran and the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, which have made a virtue of not advocating “democratic rights” for Iranians, since that would confuse those simple-minded ‘ordinary people’ at a time when Iran is under threat. They insisted that the existence of a women-only fire brigade was proof of gender equality in Iran and the fact that the ‘crime’ of homosexuality is punishable by death is no reason to declare the regime homophobic – after all, liberal Iran has a very high rate of sex-change operations.3 The signatories are mistaken if they think they can rewrite history and portray themselves as defenders of “human rights” in Iran – we will neither forgive nor forget their disgraceful pro-regime apologetics.

Our ex-leftists clearly fail to understand the significance of the street protests: “The votes of a great portion of the Iranian society for both Ahmadinejad and Moussavi show that the best solution is negotiations for reconciliation and creation of a government of national unity from the ranks of principlists and the green movement and reformists.” While even bourgeois liberals and Moussavi supporters admit that the protests have now reached the stage where the green movement has no alternative but to tail the masses and their anti-regime slogans, the signatories’ advice to the ‘reformists’ is to ‘negotiate’ with those who have killed dozens of demonstrators, tortured hundreds and imprisoned thousands, including some of Moussavi’s allies.

When the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement tries to look at the causes of the current unrest, it gets things wrong: “However, in the view of a considerable number of Iranians who are discontented and frustrated with the restrictions on civil and political freedoms, there were various irregularities in the elections, including the suspension of reformist newspapers and mobile telephone SMS service on election day. This caused mass public demonstrations in support of nullifying the election.”

In fact both wings of the Islamic republic have made a lot of people “discontented and frustrated” and restricted “civil and political freedoms” since the day the regime came to power. There have been disputed results in at least three previous presidential elections, but what differentiates the current crisis from previous ones is ‘the economy, stupid’. Not only is the global economic crisis being felt far worse in the countries of the periphery, but the effects in Iran are compounded by a government that based its 2008-09 budget on selling oil at $140 a barrel; a government that aimed to privatise 80% of Iran’s industries by 2010, thus creating mass unemployment, a government that printed money while pursuing neoliberal economic policies; a government whose policies resulted in a 25% inflation rate, while the growing gap between rich and poor made a mockery of its populist claims to be helping the common people.

Last week I wrote about the political stance of Stalinists who, by supporting Moussavi, are advocating, as they have done throughout the last decades, a stageist approach to revolution.4 The signatories of the ‘Truth and reconciliation’ statement have taken things a step further: they do not aim for the next ‘stage’ any more, advocating instead the continuation of the religious state with peace and harmony amongst its many factions. The protests might have pushed Khatami, Moussavi and Karroubi to adopt slightly more radical positions, but they certainly have failed to influence our conciliators.

The demonstrators in Tehran shout “Death to the dictator”, but the Casmii and Campaign Iran educators condemn “extremist elements who used the opportunity to create chaos and engaged in the destruction of public property”. Anyone who knows anything about events since the election is aware that it is the state and its oppressive forces that have used violence against ordinary people. How dare these renegades condemn the victims of that violence for resisting this brutal regime?

What is truly disgusting about the statement are the pleas addressed not only to leaders of the Islamic reformist movement in Iran (to make peace with the conservatives), but also their requests to Barack Obama and other western leaders to be more accommodating to the Iranian regime. As if imperialist threats and sanctions have anything to do with the good will, or lack of it, of this or that administration. The language and tactics might change, but just as a bankrupt, corrupt and undemocratic Islamic Republic needs external threats and political crisis to survive, so US and western imperialism needs not only to offload the worst effects of the economic crisis onto the countries of the periphery, but also to threaten and occasionally instigate war. Our movement must aim to stop this lunacy, but in order to do so we need to address the democratic forces in Iran and the west rather than pleading with imperialism and Iran’s reactionary rulers.

The open support of the supreme religious leader for the conservatives has radicalised the Iranian masses. Separation of state and religion has now become a nationwide demand and we must support the demonstrators’ calls for the dismantling of the offices and expropriation of funds associated with the supreme leader and of all other religious foundations. The abolition of sharia law, of the religious police and of Islamic courts is part and parcel of such a call. Even as the show trials were being broadcast, Iranian workers were continuing their struggles against privatisation (Ahmadinejad’s first economic priority in his second term is the privatisation of oil refineries) and the non-payment of wages.

These days capitalists who say they are unable to pay their workers blame not only the world economic situation but also current events in Iran itself. Yet many of them do make profits and quickly channel them abroad. Iranian workers have been demanding representation at factory level to monitor production and sales, and calling for the total transparency of company accounts. We must support these immediate demands as part of our own anti-imperialist strategy.

At a time of crisis it is inevitable that the bourgeoisie, both in the developed world and in the countries of the periphery, will act irrationally. However, it is sad to see sections of the ‘left’ adopting a different form of irrationality. If we are to expose the warmongering endemic to contemporary capitalism, we must base our approach on the independent politics of the international working class.

That is why the idiotic, class-collaborationist ‘theories’ of Casmii, Campaign Iran and the current dominant line in Monthly Review are such a disaster for the anti-war movement.

Notes

1. Over the last few weeks Monthly Review has published a number of statements defending Ahmadinejad, which has led to resignations by some members of the board and has been condemned by socialists in the US and elsewhere.
2. ‘Truth and reconciliation’, www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/iran010809.html
3. See ‘Lies cannot stop imperialists’, www.hopoi.org/lies.html
4. ‘Out of step with the masses’, July 30.

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Out of step with the masses

outofstepWith the crisis-ridden Islamic regime wracked by divisions, what is the state of Iran’s opposition? Yassamine Mather surveys the sorry scene

Statements from some of the most senior clerics of Iran’s Islamic state has left little doubt that the Shia republic is in deep crisis.

First came the rather sad sermon of ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani at Friday prayers on July 17. His voice broke as he told the gathering he had devoted 60 years of his life to the establishment of the Islamic Republic and now he feared for the very survival of the regime. On the disputed elections, he said: “People became very hopeful. Everything was set for a glorious day. This glory was due to the people … I so very much wish that that path had been continued. But unfortunately, that was not the case.”

The hint in his call for unity was that he and he alone could save the present order from total collapse. We could almost feel sorry for the man – if we could forget the billions he and his immediate family have pocketed from dodgy deals, sanction-breaking contracts and sheer extortion.

A couple of days later the supreme leader himself, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seemed to echo Rafsanjani’s warning and he was followed by former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, whose call for a referendum (it was not clear which question this would address) caused further confusion.

Then came the predictable conflict between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ‘principlists’. His nomination of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a relative by marriage, as first (and the only significant) vice-president prompted a chorus of denunciations by ultra-conservative clerics and politicians. In 2008 Mashaei had angered the supreme leader when he said Iranians were “friends of all people in the world – including Israelis”. He was also filmed watching a belly dancer during an official visit to Turkey.

It is now clear that, after receiving Khamenei’s short letter instructing him to sack Mashaei, who is the father-in-law of Ahmadinejad’s daughter, the president battled for a whole week to keep him as vice-president. Some time during that week he lost the support of key ministers in his cabinet and on Sunday July 26 he was forced to sack a close ally, minister of intelligence ayatollah Ejhei, while the minister for Islamic guidance, Saffar Farandi, resigned his post. When Ahmadinejad refused to accept the resignation, Farandi announced he would not attend further cabinet meetings.

In fact Ahmadinejad has lost so many ministers that, in the words of the conservative deputy leader of the Islamic majles, Mohammad Bahonar, “According to article 136 of the constitution, as half of Iran’s ministerial posts are vacant, the government is, strictly speaking, illegal.” The conservative newspaper Tehran Emrouz described it as a “chaotic” day for the government, while MP Ali Motahari called on Ahmadinejad to “control his nerves” and accused him of intentionally provoking tension.

Warning

By Tuesday July 28 it became clear that Ahmadinejad had lost the support of conservative MPs in the majles. Over 200 ‘principlists’ wrote a strong letter condemning the president and warning him that a fate similar to Abolhassan Banisadr (the disgraced first president of the Islamic Republic who was forced into exile) awaited him if he continued to disobey the supreme leader.

Meanwhile, following a report by a parliamentary commission, Khamenei ordered the closure of Kahrizak detention centre, where dozens of detainees died following torture. One hundred and forty political prisoners were also released from Evin. It should be remembered that death under torture is not a new phenomenon in Iran. What is different this time is that sons and daughters of the regime’s own officials are now amongst the victims.

Of course, this crisis amongst the Islamic Republic’s rulers – and, this week, the crisis within the faction in power – is only a reflection of the continuing rebellion and protests on the streets and in the workplaces in most Iranian towns and cities. Every day, as the relatives of young Iranians are informed of the death in custody of their loved ones, people gather on the streets of Tehran in spontaneous demonstrations. Dozens of bodies have already been returned to grieving parents, hundreds of people are in custody, yet the protests continue with no end in sight. Those arrested include 36 officers who had allegedly planned to attend the July 17 ‘protest’ Friday prayer in their uniforms.

What is significant in the last few weeks is the growing gap between the slogans, demands and aspirations of the protesters, whose anger has dramatically radicalised the movement on the streets and neighbourhoods of major cities, and the limited horizons of reformist leaders and their supporters, some of whom are amongst the most discredited sections of the Iranian opposition – in particular the former Stalinist, turned Islamist, social democrats. While reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi keeps talking of “legal means” in a desperate attempt to save the Islamic regime, the demonstrators’ slogans – ‘Death to the Islamic Republic’, ‘Wait until we are armed’ – clearly show the differences between the two.

The left’s influence is still limited. However, clear examples of its efforts can be seen in the last two weeks in protests at Tehran oil refinery, continuing actions against job losses, notably in the textile industry, leaflets by workers calling for a general strike, and the successful gathering at the tomb of socialist poet Ahmad Shamloo on Friday July 24. At this political meeting, students distributed dates, as is the custom at Shia funerals, joking that this was to mark the impending death of the Islamic regime.

In addition, supporters of a number of exiled communist organisations (including Rahe Kargar and Fedayeen Minority) issued a joint statement in Tehran announcing the formation of United Supporters of Left and Communist Groups.

Sad state

Yet, at a time when ordinary Iranians, losing faith in government reformists, might be open to the ideas of the exiled opposition, one cannot avoid despairing at the sad state of the latter – as shown by the superficial slogans, leaflets and statements put out for the united actions of July 25. They proposed a multi-class, liberal, ‘green’ coalition that will unite all Iranians under the banner of “democratic Islam”.

Iranians are still paying the price of the anti-dictatorship front of 1979; yet few of those who advocate ‘unity’ of the opposition seem to realise the irony of their call. Of course, inside Iran it has been both useful and at times desirable that opponents of the regime join forces with supporters of Moussavi and take advantage of the conflict within the ranks of the leadership in order to reduce the risk of repression at the hands of the security forces. Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (‘God is great’) is a manifestation of such tactics. However, there is no justification in uniting around that slogan in front of the Iranian embassy in London or Brussels. On the contrary, repeating this slogan in Europe is a retrograde step.

So who is involved in this Islamic-green rainbow coalition in exile? Let me describe some of its components, their recent history and some of the more laughable political positions they have taken.

Islamist reformists: Some of the founding ideologues of the Islamic Republic of Iran are currently in exile, having fallen foul of the current leadership, and, together with royalists, they represent the most backward sections of the opposition. Yet they have been given unprecedented coverage by the international media, including, worst of all, sections of the Farsi-speaking media.

First we have Akbar Ganji, promoter of a New York hunger strike and a man portrayed in the US media as a “human rights activist” who talks of Islam and democracy. An ironic description for someone who founded, and was a commander of, the dreaded Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) and who played an active role in some of the worst mass executions of leftist and socialists under the Islamic regime.

Our former Pasdar is now a fully fledged supporter of western capitalism. This is what he said at a meeting in Berkeley in 2006: “A market economy allows you to create institutions separate from the government. A totalitarian regime, or a fascist regime, requires that all economic aspects of life must be controlled by the government. The communist economies have all been defeated. Once the free-market economy enters a society, the occurrence of fascism and totalitarianism become impossible.”

And in his acceptance speech for an award in Canada: “I consider western democracies to be the best option among the actually existing forms of government and ways of organising power.” Yet the Voice of America’s favourite Iranian ‘human rights activist’ has no regrets about his own past and defends everything that happened during and in the first few years after the February 1979 uprising!

The next ‘Islamist democrat’ propelled to fame on Farsi-speaking airwaves, broadcast both by the BBC Persian service and Voice of America, is the ‘philosopher’, Abdolkarim Souroush, who is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University in Washington DC. When the Islamic regime ordered the closure of all academic institutions in the early 1980s in what was called the ‘Islamic cultural revolution’, a new body was set up – the Cultural Revolution Institute – comprising seven members, appointed directly by the supreme leader. They included Soroush. Although he has now fallen out with his former allies, his anti-communist views are as strong as ever: “I was mainly interested in breaking Marxist philosophy,” he once said.

More recently he claimed that “the spectre of Popper is all over Iran”. Maybe someone should tell our Islamist friend that these days the spectre of Popper is actually riding high over Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib …

To this list we could add Ataollah Mohajerani, culture minister during Khatami’s time; former Islamic regime minister and now prominent journalist Mohsen Sazegara; and many others.

Former Stalinists: Probably the worst defenders of the green bandwagon and constant advocates of a “democratic Islamic state” are Iran’s ex-Stalinists turned social democrats.

The Fedayeen Majority and Rahe Tudeh (one of the splits from the ‘official’ communist Tudeh Party) are in the forefront of green gatherings outside Iran. They try to impose reformist slogans and ban all radical demands from their rainbow coalition. At a time when ‘Down with the Islamic Republic’ has become a regular slogan in Tehran and other Iranian cities, outside Iranian embassies in London, Paris and Amsterdam they decry this as “too radical” and “not in the interests of the movement”.

Of course, we all remember the days when the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh, following Moscow’s disastrous analysis of the Khomeini regime, were cheerleaders for the black repression of the early 1980s; we remember how they called on Iranians to vote for current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei when he became president in 1981. Throughout the last decade they defended successive incompetent Islamic reformists in power. Now they are a key force behind Moussavi and his rather discredited allies outside Iran.

Satellite TV and BBC Persian service: Around 40 TV channels broadcast into Iran. Some are from exiled groups, ranging from royalists to those claiming to represent communist organisations. Sadly, most of the programmes are so appalling (or so boring) that very few people pay any attention to them. Yet Iran’s official radio and TV news service is so unreliable that no-one takes it seriously.

In this situation, the slightly more informative BBC World Service, broadcast by satellite and on the internet, has suddenly become a main source of news and analysis for many Iranians, resulting in the supreme leader’s accusations of British involvement in the protests. In fact many Iranians consider the BBC to be too even-handed, giving too much time to supporters of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.

The reporters and editors pride themselves in presenting an “unbiased, non-ideological” programme; yet the reality is that their so-called balanced programming inevitably appeals to the centre ground of politics – and that in itself is ‘ideological’. The perceived centre ground requires giving virtually unlimited time to ‘Islamic democrats’ Soroush, Mohajerani and Kadivar. Yet, for example, Soroush can spout about the spectre of Popper over Tehran, while at the same time defending the darkest days of repression under Khomeini, but is never challenged by an experienced interviewer.

Ends and means

While this is the state of the bourgeois Iranian exiles, sections of the ‘radical’ left in exile are not much better. On the one hand, we have those who are preaching a return to armed struggle in order to “empower the working class”. On the other hand, desperate to see the end of the regime, some believe ‘the end justifies the means’ – even if the means are provided by rightwing organ-isations, Zionist peace groups or pro-imperialist trade unions.

Yet the leaflets put out by the left inside Iran are very promising. Unlike our exiled social democrat ex-Stalinists in the Fedayeen Majority and Rahe Tudeh, they call for a fully democratic and uncompromising secularism. Not only the complete separation of state and religion – a demand that can only be achieved with the overthrow of the entire Islamic republic regime – but the expropriation of all vaghf (Shia charitable wealth), all property owned by religious foundations, the abolition of the bassij and Pasdaran, the right of every citizen to bear arms, and freedom for all political prisoners.

As for the Iranian working class, its militants are putting forward demands for an end to current neoliberal economic policies, an end to ‘white’ (short-term) contracts, the right to set up independent workers’ organisations and the right to strike. Rather than supporting holocaust deniers such as Ahmadinejad or tailing reformist Islamists, the radical left in Europe and the US must do all in its power to promote these demands – not only for the sake of the Iranian working class, but because what happens in Iran will be crucial for the future of the whole region.

Moussavi to attend Friday prayers

From Reuters India:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi will attend Friday prayers this week in his first official public appearance since last month’s disputed election, a statement on his website said.

Mousavi’s statement, posted late on Wednesday, confirmed a media report earlier this week that he would attend the prayers at Tehran University to be led by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s main challenger in the June 12 presidential election, says the vote was rigged in the hardline incumbent’s favour.

The authorities reject charges of vote fraud, but the official election result sparked days of mass street protests by supporters of Mousavi and exposed deepening divisions within the Islamic Republic’s leadership.

“Since I regard as obligatory responding to the invitation of the sympathisers and supporters in the path of safeguarding legitimate rights of a free and honourable life, I will maintain a presence alongside you on Friday,” Mousavi said.

Mousavi’s website said he made the statement “in response to the public’s invitation for him to participate in Friday prayers in Tehran.” Friday prayers in Iran have the potential to reach a wide audience as they are broadcast live on radio.

On Tuesday, the Etemad newspaper said both Mousavi and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, a supporter of his, would attend the prayers, which are broadcast live.

Iran’s most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, upheld Ahmadinejad’s landslide win in his Friday sermon one week after the vote.

But Mousavi, who was prime minister in the 1980s, has said Ahmadinejad’s next government would be “illegitimate”.

He has also called on authorities to release hundreds of people detained in the turbulent aftermath of the election, including leading reformists, journalists and rights lawyers.

Rafsanjani will lead the prayers after two months of absence. Some of his relatives, including his daughter Faezeh, were arrested briefly for taking part in pro-Mousavi rallies.

State media say at least 20 people were killed as protesters clashed with riot police and members of the Basij militia, but some rights activists believe the figure is higher.

The authorities and Mousavi blame each other for the bloodshed. Hardliners have called for Mousavi to be put on trial.

Iran has accused Britain and the United States, which have criticised a crackdown on opposition protests, of interfering in its internal affairs. London and Washington reject the charge.