Long lines for subsidized food stir controversy in Iran

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Images of Iranians standing in long lines to receive government-subsidized food have led to criticism by the domestic Iranian media both for the program’s planned and the message it sends to the world about the state of Iran’s domestic situation.

The food-subsidy handouts, which were approved by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, were designed to replace in part the cash subsidies implemented under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The plan has been criticized by some as revoking the spending discretion of the poorer classes and deemed inefficient. The public manner in which the handout was managed and the long lines that resulted in scuffles were also seen as humiliating and demeaning toward the lower economic classes. Continue reading

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Hezbollah publication in Iran suspended

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Yalasarat al-Hussein weekly, the official media outlet of Ansar-e Hezbollah, has been suspended by Iran’s Press Supervisory Board, which announced that two other hard-line publications have also received warnings. These actions come as 65 members of parliament issued a written warning to President Hassan Rouhani over his approach to media critical of his administration.

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Rouhani criticized by supporter for statement on 2009 elections

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Prominent analyst and Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani criticizing his recent statements on the 2009 elections, indirectly suggesting that instead of using the occasion to placate hard-liners, he could have focused on his campaign promise to end the house arrests of the 2009 presidential candidates and freeing political prisoners.

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Ayatollah Khamenei rejects lax cultural policy proposed by Rouhani

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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.”

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Rouhani responds to Basiji chants at Students’ day speech

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.”

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