By Angeles Espinoza, El PAIS Correspondent in Iran
Madrid, 18 Dec. (El PAIS-IPS)
This smiling and friendly cleric is a personality in Iran. Deputy President under Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and a convinced reformist, Mohammad Ali Abtahi (Mash-had in 1959) is a pioneer of Iranian bloggers. It is now four year, when the first electronic spots had started with difficulty to invade the world, he irrupted in the web with a surprising “The one who writes is Mohammad Ali Abtahi, not the Deputy President of Iran (webneveshteha.com). Nevertheless, not only he was a member of the Government, but also a hojjatoleslam, a rank one degree bellows that of ayatollah. Many did not like his idea.
“I felt that there are many things that I like to tell, but I could not do that from an official perspective”, he explained, observing that since he started, he has received more than 35 million hits, or some 25.000 visitors a day. “I have not missed my date one single day”, he said, adding “even when, by defending some jailed bloggers, my site was attacked (in 2004), pretending that it belonged to someone outside of Iran”.
I felt that there are many things that I like to tell, but I could not do that from an official perspective
Very little has changed since. Some days ago, Abtahi returned out defending another blogger sent behind bars because of the articles in his blog.
“They don’t look at me nicely”, he said with his ordinary humour when asked if he is not fearing reprisals, but agrees that he has some advantages. “I know very well the policies of Iran, and yet, despite being well known, there are limits to what one can do and cannot do, say or not say”, he noted. “One has to be very cautious with the language one uses”, he added, with a smile.
“The conservative Government makes everything to show that my blog has no importance, that it represents nothing, even thought that all the ministers reads it regularly”, he assures, referring to the critical articles or vicious letters and diatribes he receives every day from the fundamentalists. The most radicals accuse him of irreverence and of revealing contents of private meetings But youngsters finds he is too moderate
There are limits for everyone in Iran, including Abtahi. When El PAIS asked him this interview to mark that fourth anniversary of his blog, he accepted, provided it is held at his office at the Institute for Inter-religions Dialogue. Though he did not say it explicitly, but the reason was that he did not wanted any of his enemies discovering him in a fashionable restaurant with foreigner journalists, hence, the presence of Nushin Alipour, (at the restaurant where the interview finally took place) who was translating in English, and the tete a tete becoming a ménage a trios ….
Since Mr. Abtahi launched his blog, more than 80.000 others have surfaced in Iran dealing with everything, from politics to cultural and social affairs or feminism. “One has to take into account that Iran has a very young population that has difficulty expressing itself in other means”, Mr. Abtahi observed, sitting on the top of the table and eating with much moderation, as if he has a diet ….
In another article, El PAIS say the official invitation sent to the Iranian President by the Saudi King Abdallah to pay his (main) pilgrimage to the Mecca, has “a great importance”, since it can be the result of Washington’s efforts to use its Arab friends to “create a better climate with Tehran”.
Quoting Mr. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s press relations officers, El PAIS says “this is the first time in Iran-Saudi tortuous relations that the Saudi King has officially invited an Iranian president to make this duty, the most sacred one for all Muslims”.
According to the paper’s correspondent in Tehran, the invitation can be seen as a new effort by Saudi Arabia to mediate between Iran and the United States. “Even Mr. Ahmadinejad responded negatively to a question of this newspaper to know if there are some channels between Tehran and Washington, yet, he admitted that “there are messages coming from Washington by different channels”, El PAIS said, noting that since he took office, the Iranian president has travelled four times to Saudi Arabia and visited practically all the six members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, i e Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Oman. ENDS ABTAHI 181207
Editor’s note: This interview of Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi was published on Tuesday 18 December 2007 by El PAIS, Spain’s most influential and respected newspapers.
Highlights and (free) translation are by IPS