TEHRAN — One of this country's most prominent conservative clerics has chided Iranians for an array of modern "vices," including divorce and choosing to marry later, which he said could draw God's wrath on Iran. In his Friday sermon in the capital, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati also singled out Marlboro cigarettes that he said were imported by a Jewish-owned company. A cigarette vendor in Tehran — Photo: Kamshots Jannati, secretary of the Guardian Council, which must approve all legislation and elections, declared in Tehran's weekly congregational prayers, "I am warning you our situation is not good and am concerned God will make us suffer." Among the vices he enumerated were "usury, bribery, administrative corruption, the prevalence of divorce," Jaam-e Jam, the website of the state broadcaster reported. The cleric declared that there was a 1979 revolution in Iran because the people "wanted the rule of justice, spirituality and God, and this system needs piety today." Is it right, he asked, for doctors "to ask for a little something under the table," a reference to accusations of bribery in the medical field. The cleric, a firm ally of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is known for his prolific denunciations of many things inside and outside Iran. On Friday, he asked why Iran was importing Marlboro cigarettes. "A Jewish firm imports Marlboros, and they give people 12 million of these cigarettes," Jannati said. "That is not right."
TEHRAN — Sanctions or not, there are some very rich people in Iran — often engaged in business deals that benefit somebody linked to state power. Like anywhere else, the wealthy need to find ways to spend their money, and figure out how to get there. Renting luxury cars like a Porsche has become one way of ridding oneself of unwanted cash, in spite of restrictions on many imports and particularly of luxury cars, the semi-official Mehr agency reported on Oct. 30. The restrictons, it stated, were partly to "prevent fomenting class divisions" and also stop foreign currency being misspent. Yet these cars — and practically anything else money can buy — are imported into Iran and flaunted in the capital of a nation that rose in revolution 40 years back to bring the "poor and the oppressed" to power. Mehr cited emblematic streets of northern Tehran like Fereshteh, where the rich have apartments, Parkway nearby and Niavaran, where the Shah used to live, as "meeting places" of cars "that cost as much as a house." A rental agent told Mehr that for some models, customers had to leave a property deed as deposit before renting. He said "we don't rent out cars for weddings, as the flowers might damage the cars," while a network of collaborators ensured that "we can provide any car the customer asks for." Prices cited included the equivalent of around $440 dollars a day for a Porsche Boxter 2012, and about $740 for a Mercedes E350. Iranians love foreign goods, one more reason many, both inside and outside the country, are hoping negotiations this month on its nuclear program could lead to an end of UN sanctions. If that happens, who knows what could come rolling down the streets of North Tehran. — Ahmad Shayegan Photo: Komeil
Recent acid attacks on women in the central Iranian city of Isfahan have apparently begun to upset Iranian authorities, but as much for the media coverage they are prompting as for the real-life effects. Political leaders have accused both the culprits and those spreading "rumors" of the attacks of being foreign agents. Acid attacks have been an occasional problem in the past. But several incidents that have emerged over the past few weeks in Isfahan have caused a stir. Immediate suspicions were directed at religious zealots, believed to have carried out the attacks against women who were allegedly badly veiled or driving cars. The failure to arrest anyone usually feeds public suspicions that such zealots enjoy some level of protection from government authorities. There were nevertheless warnings in the media not to echo "hostile" reports or "point the finger" at a particular group, the BBC-Farsi reported on Oct. 28, citing Iranian media. A view of central Isfahan. Photo: Arad Mojtahedi Isfahan's provincial governor was quoted as saying that no attacks were reported in the provincial capital after Oct. 15, so "all the news being reported in this respect is absolutely inaccurate," before warning the public not to gather in protest. An Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei told the press in Isfahan on Tuesday that the assailants would receive "maximum penalties," but stressed that authorities "will respond to social networks threatening morals and security, like Viber and Whatsapp, which disrupt people's peace of mind with rumors." He blamed "provocations" for having impeded investigations and prevented the identification of culprits so far, the conservative daily Kayhan reported. — Ahmad Shayegan
There has been much recent speculation about Iran working with its longtime nemesis, the United States, to confront a new, common enemy: the radical Islamist organization ISIS. Indeed, the Sunni zealots of ISIS have focused some of their rhetoric directly at Tehran, the center of Shia Islam, vowing to fight what it says are Iran's goal of restoring the Safavid Empire, the much more extensive Persian state of the 17th century. In an apparent response to such claims, Iran’s conservative parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said this week that the country “does not want an empire.” Larijani told a Tehran seminar on Palestine that Iran's 1979 revolution was directed against empires, and all Iran seeks now is the "dignity" and "enlightenment" of Muslims. If it was helping “resistance forces” like the Lebanese Hezbollah, he said, in order to “end the Zionist current in the Middle East,” the semi-official ISNA agency reported. Larijani’s comments on Tuesday appeared directed at a range of critics, including the West. He cited former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's recent remarks qualifying Iran as a greater threat to Western interests than ISIS, because Iran was "an intellectual current in the Islamic world" whereas ISIS was "just a political group." Iran's regime has intermittently accused the West of fomenting conflict in Iraq and Syria and surreptitiously backing extremist Sunni groups. Yet in spite of the mutual suspicions, the country is currently negotiating its nuclear program with the West, in a bid to free itself from crippling economic sanctions. Iran’s Deputy-Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Iranian television this week that the sides had written down “about 60 to 70%” of a final nuclear deal, ahead of a meeting in New York scheduled for September 18,” the reformist Aftab-e Yazd daily reported. — Ahmad Shayegan
Tehran's city government is trying to separate male and female employees within its offices, a move parallel with moral norms favored by Iran's Islamic government but likely to irk less conservatie segments of the population. This would not be the first such move in Iran since the 1979 revolution. There have been previous attempts to separate the sexes at universities, and buses already have distinct sections for men and women — which is also the case in some other countries, including Mexico. It is unclear when the change might happen, but conservative politicians are praising Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the conservative daily Jomhuri-e Eslami reports. Tehran MP Ali Motahari wrote in a public letter to the mayor that this separation of the sexes within city offices should have happened years ago and there was "consensus" about segregation at work. "This is in contrast with the Western world, which wants to belittle chastity, and we see all the problems they face, with precarious families ... homosexuality and the degradation of women," Motahari wrote. Previous governments evaded the issue, he wrote, apparently fearing electoral consequences. "It is not clear what the opponents of this initiative are upset about," he wrote. Deputy judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi has separately said that women support the change, because "most women need an entirely suitable and calm environment so they can work better." Tehran's Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Kazemini said that "our sisters and brothers" shouldn't sit beside each other at work and "pull away the curtain of decency." He told a conference on women and religion Wednesday that "divorce figures between working people are not small, and this is of concern." Iranian authorities aren't ignorant of modern lifestyles, but they want to limit situations that could lead to sex outside of marriage. These comments about segregating the sexes came amid a more disturbing report about a Tehran school principal accused of abusing girls between the ages of 8 and 11. Judiciary official Mozaffar Alvandi recently said that it was unclear whether the abuse was "imposed" or whether the incidents between the girls and the teacher were "consenting." After his outrageous comments, Alvandi declined requests from the BBC to elaborate. He told Iran's ILNA news agency that child abuse is a problem everywhere, not just in Iran, and that "mutual attraction exists at certain age groups," and that children today are not as innocent as they were in the past. He supports "certain types of education for certain age groups" — or some form of sex education — if only to counter the influence of the "Internet and satellite dishes." — Ahmad Shayegan
TEHRAN — "Indecent dressing," or "bad hijabi" in Persian, isn't worse than before in Iran, according to a deputy-governor of the Tehran province. Shahabeddin Chavoshi, who is responsible in the capital province for social and political affairs, chided critics who accuse the government of Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani of neglecting public morals. "Studies show that the state of the hijab and modesty" isn't in a worse situation than it was eight years ago, when radical conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, said Chavoshi. Still, the Rouhani government was aware of the imperfect state of public modesty in the country, he told the reformist daily newspaper Shargh on Thursday. "Unfortunately, some stores send people onto the streets as roaming models to promote fashion, which hardly befits the dignity of our society," Chavoshi said. The deputy-governor said that Iranians needed to be educated, and respect a state of modesty that would follow "the law and the Supreme Leader's statements." Yet he didn't threaten to launch a clampdown in the Tehran province — a repression that often takes the form of periodic arrests of young people in the streets of Tehran. "Inappropriate dressing doesn't mean bad intentions," Chavoshi added. Also on Thursday, District Governor of Tehran, Isa Farhadi, complained that economic factors were forcing Iranian girls to dress improperly. "Shocking clothes are cheaper, which is why our girls and women buy them," the governor said. Tights, for instance, cost so much less than jeans in the country, he added. Farhadi urged Iranian companies to produce affordable "Islamic clothes." This Youtube video probably features the type of clothing Iranian officials are currently fretting about. "Indecent dressing" is one of the often-repeated charges conservative politicians level against reformist governments in post-revolutionary Iran. This isn't entirely insincere or politically motivated. The country has in principle strict clothing norms, particularly for women. Females in Iran are expected to wear headscarves and a body veil, or a overall, to cover their personal clothing and body shapes. — Ahmad Shayegan Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
A prominent Iranian politician has characterized Israeli operations against Gaza as the third phase of Israel's current plot to destabilize the Middle East region. Mohsen Rezai, a former Revolutionary Guards commander and current member of a state arbitrating body, said the first two phases of Israel's strategy were the civil wars provoked in Syria and Iraq. Rezai told a gathering in Tehran University on Wednesday that Israel had planned Salafist and Sunni attacks against the governments of Iraq and Syria. Its attack on Gaza "is the third phase of a large operation" — and its aim, to "recover the morale it has lost over the last 10 years" and "fully exploit" the regional mayhem, IRNA reported. In contrast with certain incendiary declarations of Iranian clerics and officials, Rezai did not accuse the West or particular states of backing international terrorism, but said certain, possibly Western states, were "unwittingly" conniving with Israel's plans. Iran is currently discussing its nuclear program with the West in a process seen in recent months as a tentative and precarious rapprochement with the international community. Rezai said "if the states accused of backing terrorism in Syria and Iraq do nothing against Israel, this is proof they are working with Israel." Arab states must force Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza he said, "otherwise they are all partners in this crime. Arab leaders [...] should know that if they remain silent, the flames of this fire will engulf them." On Thursday, as Israel continued to bomb Gaza to punish Hamas authorities for the recent killings of three Israeli teenagers, Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri told Iran's official IRNA agency that there was "no talk of a ceasefire" for now and militants had yet to use up "all their capacities to resist" Israel. Al-Masri told the agency in Gaza that there could not be talks of a ceasefire as long as Israelis were killing "families and especially children." He added, without specifying how, that the Israelis would soon pay for their actions. "The resistance has many capabilities to fight the Zionist enemy, which it has not yet used, and what it has done so far has amazed both friends and enemies." — Ahmad Shayegan
TEHRAN — When Iran's population doubled to some 60 million between the 1970s and 1980s, it was seen as a problem for a resource-poor country in the throes of a war with Iraq and social revolution at home. Leaders moved to curb this baby boom in the late 1980s by promoting contraception and sterilization. But now, things have changed again, and a plateauing population — and birth control — are seen by Iran's leaders as a threat to the nation's long-term security. Iran's rulers now see a big population as a guarantee of a strong country, and consider pollution and water shortages as lesser evils. Senior clerics including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have in recent months denounced birth control, and what Khamenei says morphs, sooner or later, into policy. Parliament approved the outlines this week of a bill to encourage population growth, including imposing prison terms of between two and five years for "permanent" obstacles to pregnancy, like vasectomy or tubectomy for women. The Tehran representative Ali Mottahari said this was a response to the "cultural" problem of population decline that is another sign of the adoption of Western lifestyles by Iranians. Sterilization options used since 1989 had gone too far, he declared, and from the average six children per family in the 1980s, the birth rate now was 1.6, the reformist daily Arman reported. Mottahari described this as below the reproductive "red line" for Iran and "well below" the world average. Some MPs voted against the outline bill, including one who said, you could not "whip" Iranians into having more children. The West's "cultural onslaught" is a frequent target in Tehran politics, with another member of Parliament Morteza Aqatehrani citing headscarves, satellite TV programs and late marriages as deplorable examples of Western habits permeating society. He urged parents to "marry your boys and girls young. Don't let them wait, that is the Western culture," the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper reported. — Ahmad Shayegan hPhoto : Roshan Norouzi/ZUMA