At a meeting of the High Council of Cultural Revolution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei very publicly rejected President Hassan Rouhani’s proposed cultural policies. The president recently promised the administration would interfere in cultural affairs at a “minimum level” and pass on more responsibility to those individuals active in the field.
Khamenei, however, at a meeting in which the president was seated immediately to his left, rebuked Rouhani’s position and reminded him that the administration and the government should not ignore its supervisory duties in the cultural field. He said, “Entrusting cultural issues to the people does not negate the regulatory role and guidance of the administration.”
In a recent speech, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaffari talked about Iran’s involvement in Syria in more blunt terms than many other Iranian officials have used. He also said that Iran only received a minimum of concessions in the nuclear deal and must not give up any more, and criticized the foreign minister for saying that the United States could “wipe out Iran’s entire defense system with just one bomb.”
In his speech at Imam Sadegh University, where many IRGC students graduate, Jaffari said, “We will do whatever is necessary to save the Syrian government.” He continued, “We have also stated this before, that we have special forces transferring experience and training who are doing advisory work, and this is open,” adding that this was at “the request of the official government.”
In September, video surfaced of an Iranian commander who had given an interview to an Iranian filmmaker about Iran’s involvement in Syria, mostly under the direction of the IRGC’s Quds Force division. The commander, Haj Ismail Haydari, talked about his experience training fighters from regional countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. While Iranian deaths are usually officially attributed to defending the Shrine of Zeynab in Damascus, the video revealed that those commanders are also at the front lines in Aleppo.
Jaffari also said that despite the efforts of other countries, President Bashar al-Assad’s position is strengthening in Syria, in part due to the efforts of Iran. “Now the enemy acknowledges that the only reason that they were not successful in Syria is the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran of the Syrian government,” he said. “The situation in Syria is becoming better day by day. Of course, parts of Syria are occupied by the fighters opposed to the Syrian government, but the process is such that there is no place for worry about this, and the process is going forward in favor of the Syrian government.”
The IRGC reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and since President Hassan Rouhani came into office, some have speculated that the IRGC has become more vocal about Syria, a realm it considers its responsibility, in order to pre-empt any attempts by the president to express a different or more moderate course of action. It was immediately after the elections that for the first time, a hard-line Iranian newspaper published pictures of IRGC soldiers that had been killed.
Rouhani’s administration has attempted to de-escalate tensions with both Western and regional countries. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been visiting Arab countries in the Persian Gulf that support Syria’s opposition, and has even made conciliatory remarks about resolving misunderstandings over three disputed islands with the United Arab Emirates. Though the islands are a sensitive issue for most Iranians, Zarif was attacked by hard-line media over an issue they considered a non-negotiable red line, and even suggested that negotiations over the islands will lead to negotiations over all of Iran’s territory.
Jaffari also criticized the foreign minister for saying that the United States has such a superior military capacity to Iran’s that it could take down Iran’s defense systems with one bomb. While Zarif attempted to stress that Iran’s strength comes from its people and not its military capacity, he was criticized by hard-liners in parliament as well. When asked about the comments, Jaffari said, “In no way is it like this. He has no experience and specialty in this field. Of course, we know him to be an expert diplomat, but if the enemy attacks us with thousands of missiles, maybe they can take out 20% of Iran’s military capabilities.”
Jaffari also said that in the nuclear deal, the concessions that Iran gave were the “maximum” and the concessions that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) gave were the “minimum.” While he acknowledged that Iran’s negotiators did not cross the red lines, he warned that if the P5+1 wants more concessions, “Iran must return to its previous status.”
All 18 of the parliamentary representatives from Iran’s southwest province of Khuzestan have resigned in protest over the reduction in their budget, while nine representatives from Lorestan province have threatened to join them.
Seyed Ali Taheri, spokesperson for the Iran parliament’s Culture Committee, is the latest Iranian official to speak out against the use of Facebook after attempts by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to ease access to the social-media website.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech today, Dec. 7, at Shahid Beheshti University in honor of Students’ Day, became heated after Basiji students chanted against the Green Movement. At Tehran University, Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari had a heated exchange with Reformist students after they chanted in favor of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Demonstrations also broke out across several universities in what appears to be the first Students’ Day without conflict with security forces in many years.
Rouhani’s speech was unique in that Shahid Beheshti University is not typically known to be a politically active university, and after many years, a speaker responded in harsh terms against Basiji chants, who accounted for a smaller percentage of students at the speech. They can be mostly seen in the middle left of the audience below, just behind the various school and other officials.
Most of the Reformist students, who chanted in favor of the Green Movement and an end to the “security atmosphere,” can be seen at the very back of the auditorium. Chants in favor of political leaders or about popular demands are not necessarily uncommon at Iranian universities, but they had been subdued since the 2009 elections. Many times, students will use a chant to agree or disagree with the speaker or with a particular point made by the speaker.
In response to the chants that “Nuclear energy is our inalienable right,” which appears to have been started by Basiji students but was quickly adopted by many others, Rouhani said, “Certainly, it is like this.” When he added, “The centrifuges must spin, but life too must spin,” repeating one of his campaign slogans, the crowd erupted in wild applause.
“The administration, in this promise that it gave to the people, will stand to the end,” Rouhani said, adding that there are other inalienable rights, such as progress, development and improvement in the livelihoods of the people.
Rouhani said that breaking the oppressive sanctions was also an inalienable right. To this, many Basiji students began to chant “Death to America.” As Rouhani attempted to continue, other students responded to the Basiji students with “Political prisoners must be freed,” many of whom are still under arrest after the 2009 crackdown.
As Rouhani attempted to continue the Basiji students responded with “The hypocrite seditionists must be executed.” The 2009 Green Movement was labeled “the sedition” by Iranian hard-liners and media, and many hard-liners have demanded that Karoubi and Mousavi be sentenced to death for their role in the protests. However, the pro-Reformists students then responded with “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein,” which was one of the popular chants during the 2009 protests.
Rouhani finally attempted to defuse the situation calling for unity, but added, “We have to raise the threshold of tolerance for one another.” He continued, in strong criticism toward Iran’s hard-liners and their aggressive foreign policy, “If we cannot solve a domestic issue of our own with calm, with reason and within the framework of the constitution by creating a consensus, if we cannot solve domestic issues, how can we claim we want to solve the complex issues of the region and the world?” Iran’s hard-liners not only support the country’s regional influence, but former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had strong support among Basijis, and would often talk of “world management.”
Rouhani’s comments received clashing chants, but the Basiji chants were quickly overpowered by chants in support of Mousavi and Karoubi. At a later moment, students chanted “The real basijis are Hemat and Bakeri,” two individuals who died in the Iran-Iraq war and whose families today are supporters of Reformists.
In an indirect attack, Rouhani then chastised Basiji students and hard-line clerics for receiving money from government institutions. He praised the former revolutionaries, such as Ayatollah Taleghani, Motahhari, Beheshti, along with Mehdi Bazargan and Ali Shariati, for guiding the student movements and added, “Let’s remember that the time that they had the responsibility of the student movements, they received neither a rial nor did they take orders from the government.” He added, “We have to follow the path of those dear ones.”
Rouhani continued in his criticism of today’s Basiji students, and told them, “Basij is not limited to the Basiji students. If a Basiji is someone who thinks in the way of a Basiji, who sacrifices interests of the individual and group for the interest of the nation and religion and Islam, then we have 75 million Basiji in this country.”
The head of Iran’s Medical Council, Alireza Zali, said that due to medical expenses, more Iranians than in previous years are dropping below the poverty line, particularly in Tehran, where the rate is double the national average of 7.5%.
The website for Ansar-e Hezbollah has published an op-ed attacking President Hassan Rouhani for allowing a large number of mixed-sex pop music concerts to take place and for his lax approach to Iran’s film industry, which according to the article has threatened Iran’s religious and cultural values.
At a press conference in Kuwait, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran is ready to discuss its dispute with the United Arab Emirates over Abu Musa island in the Persian Gulf.
Abu Musa, along with the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, are part of a four-decade dispute between Iran and the UAE. According to Fars News and Asr-e Iran, a website with ties to the administration, Zarif made this comment in response to a reporter’s question. The statement prompted strong reactions both from hard-line media and Iranian social-media users.
After President Hassan Rouhani’s spokesman said that the administration was working to release political prisoners, including 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hussein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative dismissed the idea, saying that “the people” would not allow their release.