PARIS, 8 Jul. (IPS) Ten days after his surprise election to the presidency and one month before taking office officially, Iranian president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad is experiencing his first political turbulence, with some hard line lawmakers and clerics urging him to “purify” the society from Western, un-Islamic “impurities”.
"Islamic and revolutionary cultures have been neglected in the past years", lamented Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Rahbar, a hard line cleric MM (member of the Majles) , or the Iranian Parliament Cultural Committee, quoted by the official news agency IRNA.
Iranian women are among the world’s most fashionable and glamourous.
Mr. Rahbar and other colleagues were reacting to recent declarations by Mr. Mehdi Kalhor, a former Director for cultural affairs at both the leader-controlled Voice and Visage (Radio and Television) and the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, stating that the new president was against the government and the State interfering with people’s private and intimate affairs and life, like cloth, music or using satellite dishes, that are officially banned, but tolerated.
"Even if women remove the small handkerchiefs they wear instead of a proper veil, nobody says anything", Mr. Rahbar said adding that mixing of young men and women in public also contravened the values of an Islamic society.
In a live telephone interview from Tehran with the Farsi-language “Mohajer” (Emigrant) Television based in Germany, Mr. Kalhor, described as a Cultural attaché to the 49 years-old Mayor of Tehran said Mr. Ahmadi Mezhad was “basically a very joyful man very much against the interference of the State in people’s private sphere”.
“We are against the Law enforcing forces involved with the way young girls and boys are dressed or what they do. Those are not our youngster’s problems. People’s life is already under too much of pressures. Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad want all people be happy, for we think they are not laughing from the bottom of their hearts”, he added.
He regretted that due to restrictions imposed on Iranian musicians, many of them had left the country. “Where in this world a television is prevented to show musical instruments, as does our Television? We have very talented musicians who can export their music to outside world. We have to open up the society so every one could get permission to express his talent”, Mr. Kalhor said, adding that “even Iranian musicians now living in Los Angeles should be free to perform in Iran”.
Observing that Iranian women are among the world’s most fashionable and glamourous, Mr. Kalhor said some of Iranian tribe’s dresses are so nice and trendy that they could be presented in fashion shows.
And on the use of satellite antennas, he said people must be free to have satellite. “If you impose censorship and prevent people by force, the reaction is obvious. Satellites are today an integral part of our people’s life and no body is allowed to deny them possession it”, he pointed out.
His remarks, aimed obviously at giving the austere and pious Ahmadi Nezhad, a non turbaned but an “osouli”, or “principalist” Muslim a friendly face immediately created outrage among hard line officials, expecting the president-elect enforcing strict Shari’a principles they insist were not observed by the government of the outgoing Hojjatoleslamt Mohammad Khatami, a middle rank cleric.
In fact, during his two years as Mayor of the Capital, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad had done nothing to oppose the limited social and cultural freedoms Iranians women and youngsters had obtained with their beak and nail. Though he had closed some of cultural centres and encouraged mosques, but also refrained from tearing down satellite dishes and punishing households using them to receive Western, Indian, Turkish or Arabic televisions, not speaking of the tens of Iranian radio and televisions, mostly based in Los Angeles playing forbidden Iranian shows, pop music and anti-regime political programs.
"Such remarks might cause doubts among Ahmadi Nezhad's supporters", IRNA quoted Mehdi Tabataba’i, also a hard core conservative MM, as having said.
"Even if women remove the small handkerchiefs they wear instead of a proper veil, nobody says anything.
The lawmaker was referring to the “masses” of voters who gave their ballots to the Mayor of Tehran, the son of a poor, village blacksmith who, like them, lived in simplicity, keeping his old flat in Tehran instead of moving to palaces in the posh areas situated in the northern part of the Capital where most of the officials, including senior ayatollahs, lives.
Despite a huge earning from spiraling oil price, estimated at over 40 billion US Dollars for the current Iranian year of 1384 (21 March 2005 to 21 March 2006), the gap between the poor and the rich continue to increase, with some 76 percent of the national income going to just 10 percent of the population consisted of the “nouveaux riches”, most of them high-ranking clerics, their families and friends against some 50 per cent of the population living under the poverty line, earning less than 100 USD per month, Iranian economic analysts observed.
Under growing pressures from ultra conservatives both inside and outside of the Parliament, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad was forced to dismiss his friend, tipped by some as a possible future Culture and Islamic Guidance minister.
This is Ahmadi Nezhad’s first, but also both minor and major challenge on which one can project on his course once fully in charge, being caught between the devil and the deep sea, the hard liners in the one side and the majority of young Iranians who would, at any cost, defend their freedoms on the other.
If he does nothing to please the hard liners “cleansing” the society, implementing Islamic laws of behaviour, tearing down satellite dishes etc.. in the domestic front and adopt an aggressive foreign policy to the extend of emulating North Korean example concerning the thorny nuclear issue and increase support for the radical Palestinian and Arab groups opposed to Peace Process and normalization of the situation in neighbouring Iraq, he would face a Parliament controlled by the conservatives and possible impeachment.
On the other hand, if he yields to them, he would surely met with fierce resistance from the middle class, the students, the independent press and the intelligentsia community backed by the reformists and their acolytes in the nationalist-religious and Iran Freedom Movement, all the forces that have warned against the dangers of “military fascism” symbolized by Mr. Ahmad Nezhad, but yet lost the elections, not forgetting Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man who was given by most Iranian and foreign pundits as the winner but lost the race to the former Revolutionary Guard officer thanks to obvious manipulations of the votes and “character assassination” denounced by the former president, but also the desertion of voting stations by supporters of other candidates defeated in the first round.
Does the president-elect have the abilities of a trapeze artist? Would he resist to pressures warning the extremists that if they pushes too much, he would appeal to those who voted for him, something the outgoing President refused to do, bringing upon himself and the reformists the anger of his supporters?
In his first press conference, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad played well on the rope, renewed with forgotten ideals of Grand Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution and founding father of the Islamic Republic by stating that he wants to create a “strong Islamic Iran” that would bring Islamic justice” to the entire world but make “moderation” the motto of his policies.
He also reiterated that benefiting from atomic technology is the “legitimate right” of Iran, but at the same time assured the European Troika that nuclear talks with Britain, France and Germany would continue.
The recent accusations that he was one of the students who stormed the American embassy in Tehran on November 1979, taking 55 American diplomats and staff for 444 days augurs bad for the president-elect, as some former hostages have indicated that they have formally recognised in Mr. Ahmad Nezhad one of their captors.
"This is the guy. There's no question about it", said former hostage Chuck Scott, a retired Army colonel who lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. "You could make him a blond and shave his whiskers; put him in a zoot suit and I'd still spot him."
Scott and former hostages David Roeder, William J. Daugherty and Don A. Sharer told The Associated Press on Wednesday they have no doubt Ahmadi Nezhad was one of the hostage-takers, as alleged by Iran Focus, a London-based Iranian news service, distributing an Associated Press picture showing a thickly bearded young hostage-taker leading out a blindfolded American hostage.
But some of the students who were actively involved in the attack have rebuked the allegations, saying forcefully that he was not among the students who took part in the seizure.
"Mr Ahmadi Nezhad was never one of students following the path of the imam that took the spy den (US embassy)”, confirmed Mr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, an ex-hostage taker who went on to become Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and national Security Committee at the last, reformists-controlled Majles.
“It is just impossible for an (American) hostage to recognise the captors, for the simple reason that the students, aware and afraid of the potentials of the CIA to identify them, would usually be hooded and the hostages blindfolded during lengthy interrogation and questioning periods,”, an Iranian journalist who covered the dramatic event at the time told Iran Press Service on condition of not being named.
This was also confirmed by some of the former hostages.
Sa’id Hajjarian, a former senior Intelligence Ministry’s officer turned reformist playing an important role in the victory of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami in May 1997 identified the man in the photo as Taqi Mohammadi, who died in mysterious circumstances in prison.
Mrs. Ma’soumeh Ebtekar, an Advisor to the outgoing president and one of the students “in the line of Emam (Khomeini) who stormed the American embassy and was then known as Sister Mary also stressed that the president-elect was not among them.
But more damaging for the president-elect, because more serious, are the new charges by Austrian press that he was also involved in the assassination of Dr Abdol Rahman Qasemlou, the charismatic leader of the outlawed Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan in Vienna on July 1989, at the height of fighting between Iranian army and the DPIK peshmergas, or freedom fighters.
Dr Qasemlou had travelled from Paris, where he lived, to the Austrian capital on the invitation from a fellow Iraqi Kurd who was acting on behalf of the Iranian government, then under the presidency of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, to discuss with an Iranian delegation modalities for a cease fire, but was shot dead, alongside his host and other participants by the Iranians, a special hit commando disguised as Government negotiators.
Though the Austrian authorities were alerted about the assassination, but they helped the murderers to leave Vienna for Tehran, invoking diplomatic immunity for the commando.
Austrian Green Party leader Peter Pilz told “Der Standard” newspaper of Saturday 2 July that he wants a warrant issued for the arrest of Ahmadi Nezhad, who he alleged "stands under strong suspicion of having been involved, by bringing into Vienna the weapons with which the commando shot dead the Kurdish leader and his colleagues.
But as the Austria's Interior Ministry and the public prosecutor's office said they would investigate the alleged evidence pointing to the new Iranian president's possible involvement in the attack, the Judiciary ruled against, saying the affair is closed.
This accusation is more plausible since at the time, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad is reported to have been a member of the Revolutionary Guards Qods (Jerusalem) Unit in charge of eliminating Iranians fighting from abroad the Islamic Republic.
It is interesting to note that in a meeting with Azeri members of the parliament, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad did nothing to remove the accusations, but questioned “dissemination of unfounded and baseless information by western intelligence organizations despite the best information technologies and know how they possesses?” and warned the outside world, mostly the Europeans, to avoid “misjudgments” about him.
By bringing to power a former “Islamist revolutionary” officer against the so-called “moderate and pragmatic” but also ambitious Hashemi Rafsanjani, the leader might have open the Pandora box. If, by this calculus, he is about to curtailing the hands of shadowy but powerful, ultra-conservative clerical-led groups of which he is a hostage thanks to the joined forces of the “Vox Populi” and the Revolutionary Guards, he might also paving the way for a “bonapartist” adventure, one that, under present international conditions, might lead to a foreign intervention in Iran, something few Iranians wants, hence the frightening possibility of a civil war.
Once again, the answer to all these questions is in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the “Guide” of the Islamic Republic who takes all major decisions on both domestic and international issues and who Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad says is his mentor. ENDS AHMADI NEZHAD CHALLENGED 8705