Cleric Warns Against Western Influence in Elections, Culture

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“In the West, to acquire your vote they will do anything,” said influential cleric Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi. “But,” he added at a meeting with the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, “we should not do anything to acquire the votes of a deviant group.”

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi continued that “in the arena of our elections, our culture should not be like the West’s culture, with empty promises and demagoguery. The principals of Islam must be followed for [campaign] commercials and programs.”

The live televised debates of Iran’s 2009 elections saw perhaps the contentious and entertaining debates in Iranian election history. This year, live debates have been cancelled. However, the candidates have already began to use their respective websites and news outlets to promote themselves and attack their political opponents.

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi also took aim at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech. He said, “Now there are many cultural problems in the country and everyone knows that the administration has not shown any sensitivity to these cultural issues.”

Of the cultural issues facing Iran, Ayatollah Shiraz pointed to the “rates of divorce in the immediate months of after marriage, which shows that the foundation of the family is unstable.” He also said that the “decrease in age of those afflicted with addictions and financial corruption should be a warning to all of us.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi also blamed “foreign media for the spread of moral corruption.”

At a meeting with the managers and the head of the Medical Sciences department in the city of Qom for the “Week of Health,” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi said that “imitating the West has given Muslims illnesses. A prime example of this is unhealthy and non-useful food.” He said that the naming of “Health and Hygiene Week” was an important step because “a human deals first with his health and security.” He continued, “there are five blessings in life and no one but God has the power to grant these; health is the first blessing which causes a human to have the power to follow divine commands.”

Ahmadinejad is “delusional” and “unstable”

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Presidential candidate and deputy speaker of parliament Mohamad Reza Bahonar was asked by the Aria news website to name three problems of President Ahmadinejad and his administration. Bahonar replied that “although one shouldn’t ignore his positive aspects or of his administration, since you asked about his negative traits, three serious problems I see are that he is inclined toward illusions, his management is unstable and he has poor manners.”

“As far as his delusions,” Bahonar said, “we saw this from him and the people surrounding him from the very first days.” As president, Ahmadinejad has casually made repeated references about the return of the messiah. In a widely circulated video, Ahmadinejad is also seen talking about a UN speech in which he saw a halo around his head.

In regard to his management style, Bahonar said that “changes without appropriate justification have taken away both the initiative of the ministers and the ability to conduct serious planning.” Banohar also said that “the poor manners and even adventurism both domestically and outside the country cost the country and the administration greatly.” During his two terms, the president has made controversial remarks about Israel, homosexuals and 9/11, and domestically he has often resorted to name calling, most controversially after the 2009 elections, when he called the opposition protesters “dirt and dust.”

Khamenei Predicts ‘Epic’ Year Ahead

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, addressed the Iranian people yesterday with his Nowruz message. He began his speech by addressing “Iranians all across the world […] especially the dear ones who have sacrificed themselves, the families of martyrs, the veterans and their families.”

Khamenei likened the previous calendar year to life in general, in that it “had its sweet moments and bitter moments, its victories and defeats,” but he emphasized that “what is important is to get out of the valleys and take ourselves to the peaks.”

Ayatollah Khamenei reminded Iranians that “the enemies have targeted different fields, primarily in the political and economic arenas.”

He said that in the field of economics, the enemy “said that through sanctions they want to cripple the Iranian nation.” Although Khamenei said that there was “various growth” in the field of economics, ultimately “there was pressure put on the people,” which with their own “shortcomings and oversights, helped the enemy’s plans.”

In the field of politics, Khamenei said “that their plan was from one direction to isolate Iran and the other direction to create uncertainty and doubt, but the exact opposite happened.” Khamenei pointed to the fact that the 16th Summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was hosted in Tehran August 2012 as an indication that Iran has indeed not been isolated.

Khamenei said that “of what we are looking ahead to in the following year, the fields of economics and politics are of primary importance.” Khamenei reiterated the need to focus on “domestic production” and hoped that for the presidential elections, “the people, with their presence, will strive for a good future for the country and themselves.”

Ayatollah Khamenei concluded that “with this view, the next year will be named ‘The Year of Epic Politics and Epic Economics.’”

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also addressed the political and economic situation in his Nowruz speech. In regards to economics, the president said “those who want ill for Iran, in an open cooperation between those inside and outside” the country, have put Iran “under unparalleled economic and psychological pressure to distort the historical successes and achievements” of his presidency.

Amadinejad spent a considerable part of his speech on the upcoming presidential elections. He predicted the elections would be “vibrant and have a near-100% participation rate,” and with a “decisive vote” elect a president that will address “domestic, regional and international” issues in the interests of Iran.  He continued that these elections “for the people and political leaders are a determinant and historical responsibility.”

The president said that Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leaders of the Islamic Republic’s history, have both previously said that even they “only have one vote, and the right of vote belongs to the nation.” While some found this comment to be a direct attack on Khamenei, others found it ironic given that many believe Ahmadinejad’s 2009 victory was achieved primarily through vote rigging that was inspired by Khamenei’s endorsement.

Chinese Investment in Iran Said to Drop from $3 Billion to $400 Million

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Assadollah Asgaroladi, who is head of the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and Industries, warned that investment in Iran from China has dropped significantly.

To a group of reporters today, Asgaroladi, one of the most influential merchants in Iran after the revolution, said that Chinese investment in Iran in 2011 “had reached close to three billion dollars, but in 2012 this became less […] and had only reached 400 million dollars.”

The question of China arose when a reporter asked, “Under sanctions, are we not forced to sell oil for consumer goods?” Asgaroladi responded that “if we are forced to sell oil in order to buy inferior goods, then why have we built factories?”

China is one of Iran’s top customers for oil. Many Iranians blame their government for allowing Chinese companies to flood the market with cheap and inferior products, causing a strain on Iranian factories and even forcing some to close operations altogether. Asgaroladi continued that “under these conditions we must find a way to help factories bring down prices so that they can compete with imported goods.”

When asked by a reporter what could be done to address this issue, Asgaroladi said that “this is the weak point of management. The reason merchants bring in inferior goods is that we haven’t been able to produce these goods domestically ourselves.” The Iranian government has introduced economic plans such as “The Year of Economic Jihad” and “The Year of National Production” to address the overall economic problems. However, it’s difficult to ascertain how fruitful, if at all, these plans have been.

In regard to the sanctions, Asgaroladi said “we have still not been able to be free [from the effects] of sanctions. The Americans have carrots in one hand and a hammer in the other, and we don’t accept this type of politics.”

Asgaroladi predicted another difficult year for the Iranian economy due to the presidential elections in June. “Political fighting will push the issue of the economy to the side before the elections,” he said, adding that when the new government takes office, in “the first six months, the new government must specify their plan and then have their ministers approved, and this process will go until the end of the year.”

In Other News

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At the opening ceremony of a refinery plant, President Ahmadinejad said yesterday that “we cannot still say that our oil has been nationalized, and the day that we can claim our oil has been nationalized is when all of the earnings of oil is in the pockets of the Iranian nation.”

Oil in Iran was nationalized after the 1979 revolution but has had a long and contentious history, serving as a rallying cry in Iranian modern history for political parties from Islamists to secularists. Despite being one of the top oil producers in the world, Iran still needs to have much of its oil refined abroad.

At the ceremony, Ahmadinejad told the oil minister and those in charge of the refinery that “today, I want you to make a refinery that […] is completely Iranian and from now on; instead of waiting for others to do something for us, we’ll have others waiting for Iranian capabilities.”

The president stated that “we want to reach a point where we won’t export any crude oil. In this case, the refineries will at least double, and this will have a lot of benefits for our country.” Ahmadinejad believes that Iran can sell refined oil at “three to four times the price of crude oil.”

Iranian Media Clash Over Ahmadinejad’s Embrace of Chavez’s Mother

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A picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embracing the mother of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died last week from cancer, has been a major source of controversy among the Iranian media.

In the picture taken last week at Chavez’s funeral Ahamdinejad can be seen touching the hands of the grieving Elena Frias de Chavez, Chavez’s mother, under the watchful eye of his Deputy Hojat al Islam Mohammad Reza Mirtaj Aldini.

The picture immediately went viral on Facebook and Twitter. Most users either joked about his sincerity or wondered how religious circles would react back in Iran. Islamic law forbids the touching of unrelated men and women. The reaction from religious circles was swift.

Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi, member of Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, said that “in relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram) we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment.” He warned the Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates in Iran’s elections, to investigate a candidate’s religious understanding “because someone who doesn’t know religion will make what is allowed forbidden and what is forbidden allowed.” Some still question the Guardian Council’s decision to approve the then unknown Ahmadinejad’s candidacy for the president in 2005.

Conservative member of parliament Seyyed Mohammad Pourfatemi encouraged clerics and sources of emulation (marajeh) to “confront seriously and condemn the president’s latest actions and not allow him to do what as he pleases when it comes to infringing Islamic laws.” And Esfahan Friday prayer leader and Ahmadinejad critic, Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, said that the actions of the president “are far from the status of a Muslim.”

Iranian media coverage of Ahmadinejad’s embrace not only received extensive coverage but was filled with controversy and accusations of competing media outlets.

As reported by Asre Khabar, when supporters of the president noticed the publication of the photo between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother they “first contacted inside (Iranian) media […] to prevent the publication of the picture.” Unsuccessful, Shabakeye Iran, the online version of Iran Newspaper, which is under the management of the administration, quickly came to the president’s defense.

Shabakeye Iran claimed that the president had attempted to “put his hands together and raise them in the manner of people from East Asia.” The site published a series of photos of Ahmadinejad greeting different women in a similar gesture as below. This time however, according to Shabakeye Iran, Chavez’s “grieving mother, with tears coming down from her eyes, suddenly put her hands on top of his.”

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A picture soon began circulating of Ahmadinejad embracing an older man, in a similar gesture as he embraced Chavez’s mother. Conservative website Entekhab pointed out that according to an investigation by “experts” that the picture of Ahamdinejad with an older male was photoshopped from a picture of Egypt’s Mohamad El Baradei greeting with parliament chairman Ali Larijani. Entekhab accused “supporters of the government” of spreading the doctored photo of the embrace and Shabakeye Iran of giving it coverage.

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Another doctored photo of the president also began circulating across social media showing the president embracing Hugo Chavez’s daughter. Shabakeye Iran took screenshots of Hardline Iranian media reporting the story and titled the piece, “Damaging The President With Hastily Done Embellishment.” The female in the picture does not appear to be either of Chavez’s daughters and looks similar to another picture of the president holding a young man on a trip to the provinces.

Mirtaj Aldini who can be seen attempting to pull away Ahamdinejad’s hands away from Chavez’s mother in the picture below called the picture of the embrace between Ahmadinejad and Chavez’s mother a “forgery.” He said that the president only wanted to “respond the feelings of Chavez’s mother, who was crying and said that Ahmadinejad is like my own son.”

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Not all media reaction was partisan, however. Several hard-line websites ran an op-ed by Hojat al-Islam Hossein Souzanchi in which he warned against the “probable wave of useless” coverage this situation would create. Souzanchi wrote that although he “didn’t want to defend Ahmadinejad,” he wanted to note that the “problems with Khatami and Ahmadinejad are different.” In 2007 former president Mohammad Khatami was filmed shaking hands with a female in Italy. In a speech Hojat al-Islam Mohammad Reza Zaeri drew a comparison between the two situations.

Souzanchi wrote “that the problem with Khatami was that with the excuse of freedom he wanted to get away from religion having a role in interactions and decisions in the social arena and this isn’t the problem with Ahmadinejad.” He stressed that “from a religious perspective, adding fuel to this situation is not justified,” adding that it would be “playing the enemy’s game.”

Top Photo: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers his condolences to Elena Frias, mother of Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, during the funeral service at the Military Academy in Caracas, March 8, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Miraflores Palace)