IRAN HIT BY WORK STOPPAGES
January 1999, Volume 2, Number 1
IRAN HIT BY WORK STOPPAGES
Starting next week, the RFE/RL Iran Report will be delivered to you on a
IRAN HIT BY WORK STOPPAGES.
In the last week of December, about 2000 employees of Karaj's Jahan
Cheet factory struck because they had not received their wages, "Aria"
and "Zan" reported on 28 December. Local authorities ordered the arrest
of the factory's leadership council. And after five months of working
without pay, workers at the Aramesh Company went on strike, report "Kar
va Kargar" and "Resalat" (28 December 1998). Employees of Rasht's Porsan
factory also demonstrated for several hours over non-payment of wages,
reports "Kayhan" (28 December 1998). This is the second time this year
they have done so. In November, 2,500 workers in a Qaem Shahr textile
mill went on strike for the same reason. Even those who do get paid do
not receive what they are owed. At the Iran Tractor Manufacturing
Company the 7500 workers receive just half of their wages, reported "The
New York Times" on 13 December.
WOMEN WILL WIN IN FEBRUARY.
Ms. Borujerdi, deputy interior minister for women's affairs, stated that
25 percent of the municipal council seats must go to women, "Aria"
reported on 28 December. So far, said Borujerdi, women have registered
as candidates in 230 towns. Two days earlier, the establishment and
licensing of the Islamic Assembly of Women was announced, according to
an Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. The group's
secretary-general, parliamentarian Fatemeh Karrubi, called on "women
thinkers" to join. The organization believes "there is a need for the
formation of women-only groups to encourage women to undertake a greater
role in social and political activities." The statement added that "in
some areas women even have surpassed men."
This positive note was echoed by Mahnaz Afkhami of the
Sisterhood is Global Institute in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian
Service on 24 December. "Iranian women -– from all classes and walks
of life -– are accomplishing wonderful and courageous things." She
went on to say that an interesting debate has emerged due to a "clash
between backward laws and a civilized and modern society." According to
Afkhami, women are at the forefront of reconsidering the fundamentalism
Iran experienced at a national level.
ULTRA-CONSERVATIVES THREATEN AND ARE THREATENED.
Quoted in the party newspaper "Shoma" on 26 December, the Islamic
Coalition Association's secretary-general, Habibollah Asghar-Owladi
Mosalman, claimed to have "a list of 15 people targeted by American
agents for assassination" on 19 January. Among the alleged targets --
other than himself -- are Ayatollah Mahdavi-Kani and Hojatoleslam
Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nouri. The Association was formed in the 1960s as a
coalition of grass-roots Islamic clubs and as a joint venture of
conservative bazaaris and clerics. It later absorbed the anti-Bahai
Hojattiyeh Society, of which Mahdavi-Kani was a member.
Asghar-Owladi also believes that under the Khatami
administration 16,000 government managers who believe completely in
"leadership of the supreme jurisprudent" have been fired. "Aban" on 29
December quoted him as saying that this made the system inefficient and
"crippled" the economy.
On the other hand, Massoud Dehnamaki, editor of "Shalamcheh,"
the Ansar-i Hizbullah biweekly, threatened, in an interview with the
"Iran Daily" on 30 December, that his group supports the principle of
"leadership of the supreme jurisprudent" and it will confront anybody
who stands in its way. The pro-Khatami Executives of Construction and
Students Following the Imam's Line, he continued, have studied
psychological warfare, launched newspapers, and combined this with their
management experience to "tarnish the atmosphere and abuse the younger
generation." He said Ansar-i Hizbullah members are "victims of a
IRANIAN NEWSPAPERS USE RFE/RL AS A SOURCE.
The initial broadcasts of RFE/RL's Persian Service encountered hostile
commentary from the Iranian press, but now Iranian newspapers are
reporting stories originally broadcast by RFE/RL. Often this is done
without attribution to RFE/RL, other times "Radio Azadi" (Radio Liberty)
On 26 December RFE/RL's Persian Service broadcast a report about
RAND Corporation analyst Graham Fuller's recent article in the journal
"Middle East Policy." Two days later, "Kar va Kargar," which is
associated with the government's "Workers House," published a few
paragraphs about Fuller's piece. On 29 December, "Khordad," a new
pro-Khatami publication started by former Interior Minister Abdullah
Nouri, referred to an earlier RFE/RL interview with publisher Mansour
THE ARREST AND TRIAL... In the third week of December a verdict on the
summer trial of Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was announced. Or
was it? After Karbaschi appealed, the sentence passed in July of 5 years
imprisonment, 60 lashes, a $330,000 fine, and a 20-year ban from public
office was reduced to two years imprisonment, $3000 instead of the
flogging, and a 10-year ban from public office. The other fine remained
unchanged. But on 28 December, the Public Relations Department of the
Office of the State Prosecutor General announced that Karbaschi's
sentence was suspended pending review of the case.
The Karbaschi affair demonstrated how Iran's conservatives are
fighting against threats to their power by manipulating state
institutions they control, such as the judiciary. But the trial also
revealed more subtle factors: corruption and influence-peddling and the
fluidity of political alliances. Finally, the trial had an impact on the
pending municipal elections.
When Karbaschi was arrested in April 1998, he was charged with
misappropriating funds (currency and gold); receiving bribes; abuse of
and illegitimate claims on public property; and illegitimate property
transfers. It seemed more likely that he was being punished by the
conservative-led judiciary for his leadership role in the Executives of
Construction Party, which in 1997 actively backed moderate presidential
candidate Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami against his conservative
opponent, Parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.
Tehran's 10 million residents had different opinions about
Karbaschi. His imposition of traffic restrictions and creation of green
spaces in the densely populated and heavily polluted city won wide
acclaim. Karbaschi was behind construction of roads and overpasses,
housing, cultural centers, and supermarkets. The mayor imposed heavy
taxes on the conservative bazaar merchants to fund such projects,
however, and this only earned their hostility. But Karbaschi’s
supporters, the same young people who helped elect Khatami, demonstrated
against his arrest until he was released.
After the sentence was passed, Khatami said he hoped that after
the mayor's appeal, "the government will be able to make use of the
services of that hard-working and outstanding manager." The government's
refusal to select a successor to Karbaschi until after the appeal was
interpreted as a sign of its support for him.
On 28 October, "Resalat" newspaper, which is linked to
conservative bazaari elements, criticized the failure to appoint a new
mayor, saying it harmed the municipal government. The same day "Keyhan,"
a hard-line daily under the direct supervision of the Leader's Office,
published a "Special Report" that Karbaschi had no position in the
Tehran municipality. The conservative "Quds" newspaper on 10 December
criticized Interior Minister Musavi-Lari for not appointing a new mayor,
saying it indicated his "strong support ... for a convicted person."
...WHAT THE TRIAL REVEALED…
Karbaschi was tried, but it was the judiciary that looked bad. When the
charges against the mayor were read, he dismissed them as "baseless
nonsense." Karbaschi questioned the court's competence and the
investigation's validity. Investigators were accused of torturing
Karbaschi and of trying to implicate him in an improper sexual
relationship with a female municipal staff member. The mayor and the
judge argued openly.
After the trial, an August letter from Executive of Construction
member and Central Bank Governor Mohsen Nourbakhsh to Khatami stated
that $11.7 million was transferred in 1995 from the judiciary to the
personal account of Tehran's judiciary chief. According to the 28
December "Khordad," Hamid Reza Jalalipour, editor of the banned
newspaper "Jameh," said that if Karbaschi is considered an embezzler for
his actions, then all of Iran's other officials are embezzlers, too.
In August, the "Kar va Kargar" newspaper reported that
Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with
Judiciary chief Mohammed Yazdi and asked that a neutral judge hear the
appeal, implying that the original was biased. In September, the "Zan"
newspaper, whose editor is Rafsanjani's daughter, reported that the case
investigator was suspended. In fact, parliamentarians like Ali Zadsar
Jirofti accused Rafsanjani not only of protecting Karbaschi, but of
actually permitting his corrupt activities.
Perhaps one of the most surprising events during the post-trial
period occurred in November, when Karbaschi was allowed to travel to
Canada and Germany. In addition to giving several lectures, he met with
Iranian political figures who had left the country for
politically-expedient medical treatment. On 29 November the violent and
conservative Ansar-i Hizbullah group announced that it was very
concerned by Karbaschi's foreign travel.
In October, Karbaschi encouraged voter participation in the Assembly of
Experts election, although very few Executives of Construction
candidates were allowed to compete. Karbaschi, the party's
secretary-general, said: "Differences of view over the choice of
candidates should not prevent our people from participating in the
elections. The main issue in this election is the strengthening of the
foundation of the system and this can be achieved through the people's
extensive presence." He delivered this message at press conferences and
at rallies in Tehran and Qazvin. Some of his supporters saw this as a
blatant attempt to curry the conservative establishment's favor to win
clemency in his judicial appeal. But in an interview with "Hamshahri" on
7 December 1998, Karbaschi denied that he had "turned to the right."
But perceptions should not be dismissed. Either to avoid
association with Karbaschi's besmirched reputation or to avoid being
seen as supporters of the status quo, many Executives of Construction
members formed a new party (RFE/RL Iran Report, Vol. 1, No. 2, 23
November 1998). The declared aim of the new Iran Islamic Participation
Party is to support Khatami, perhaps implying that the Executives of
Construction Party no longer does.
Executives of Construction member Morteza Alviri stated this
more explicitly in an interview with "Payam-i Hajar" on 17 December. He
said Rafsanjani "has a specific economic perspective," whereas Khatami
is "mainly a political-cultural figure." The population's primary
concern is the economy, according to recent surveys, so this sounds like
an endorsement of Rafsanjani.
Hamid Reza Jalalipour, publisher of the banned newspaper
"Jameh," said the Karbaschi verdict showed there is no room for real
political parties in Iran. If the Executives of Construction were more
supportive of conservative candidates in the Assembly of Experts
election, Jalalipour said, Karbaschi's verdict might have been more
lenient. Mohammad Salamati of the pro-Khatami Mujahedin of the Islamic
Revolution Organization said the verdict was an act against the
president by the judiciary.
Abbas Abdi, a founder of the Islamic Participation Party, said
Karbaschi should serve his prison sentence to prove that he is not using
political influence, according to the 27 December "Khordad." Tehran
University professor Sadiq Zibakalam told "Akhbar" that Karbaschi was
brave enough to serve his sentence rather than seek a pardon for crimes
he did not commit.
At the end of December, the weekly "Avai Shomal" from Rasht
published a cautionary tale which warned against people using influence
and favoritism to avoid punishment for their crimes.
... IMPACT ON MUNICIPAL POLITICS.
Some 704 new mayors will be appointed by the councils elected in
February, electoral supervisor Mansour Ghanizadeh said, and they will
serve four year terms unless dismissed earlier, according to "Iran" on
27 December. Registration for these elections began on 28 December.
Candidates must not have a criminal record, so if Karbaschi loses his
second appeal he will be ineligible. "Akhbar" hoped that a final verdict
would be passed in time for Karbaschi to register for the municipal
elections. When the verdict was not, a journalist quoted in "Khordad"
said the timing of the verdict was intended to prevent Karbaschi from
standing in the municipal election because he would have won.
An "Iran News" editorial on 28 October complained that because
of the trial, the Tehran municipality had become excessively
politicized. Being mayor was no longer about meeting people's needs
through technocratic processes and through good management. From now on,
the newspaper observed, mayors will be judged on their political skills.
But the impact of Karbaschi's trial was felt outside Tehran,
too. In October, "Kayhan" reported that Ramsar, for the first time ever,
advertised for a new mayor. According to later reports, nobody the city
approached wanted the job because the process was overly politicized and
there was concern over victimization.
"SWIM IN THE SEA OF DEATH SO THAT YOU MAY ARRIVE AT THE SHORE OF
SALVATION." -- Imam Ali
"Saff," a monthly journal of the Iranian armed forces, recently
commemorated Navy Day by interviewing Navy chief Rear Admiral Abbas
Mohtaj and the chief of undersea operations. Mohtaj explained that Navy
Day is celebrated on 7 Azar (28 November) to commemorate Operation
Morvarid (28 November 1980), an air and sea battle started by Iraq to
retaliate for destruction of two oil platforms, but "which resulted in
the total annihilation of the Iraqi navy." Mohtaj went on to say that
much of the success Iraq enjoyed in the war was due to Western
assistance it had received, and although Iran turned to the
international community for mediation, nothing was done. Despite such
problems, the Iranian navy kept the lines of communication open,
permitting the export of oil and the import of foodstuffs.
Mohtaj went on to say that Iran's "armed forces are
well-prepared and maintain their alertness (so) the enemy may well be
deterred." This is done through "various naval exercises and major
maneuvers, ... especially joint exercises." Training is very important,
too, with an excellent facility at the Imam Khomeini University of
Nowshahr and non-commissioned officer and technicians' training at Port
Anzali. Old hardware is being upgraded and self-sufficiency in missile
guidance systems is being achieved. Naval aviation works with the
Defense Ministry's Air Industries Organization. And, although Iran is
new to undersea warfare, Mohtaj said, the Defense Ministry's Defense
Industries Organization is now manufacturing submarine batteries.
In fact, Iran has sought a domestic submarine capability for
several years. In November 1996, the deputy chief of naval logistics,
Commodore Mohammad Reza Rahmati, said Iran would launch a locally-built
submarine soon. And in a May 1997 speech at the Armed Forces Naval
Academy Complex in Mazandaran, then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani said Iran would build modern submarines on the southern shore
of the Caspian Sea.
But batteries are an important step. The chief of undersea
operations told "Saff" that although Iran began accepting delivery of
the Soviet-made Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines in fall 1992, it
could not really begin to use them until late-1994, when Iran achieved
self-sufficiency in submarine batteries. The Iranians considered
cancellation of the third submarine delivery due to the battery
problems, according to "Jane's Defense Weekly" on 8 October 1994
Battery problems continued to immobilize the submarines occasionally in
1997, according to U.S. Navy officials as reported in "Jane's Defense
Weekly" on 20 April 1998. According to the Iranians, Tariq 901, Yunis
902, and Nuh 903 are active in various maneuvers now.
Iran wants the submarines because "the presence of naval fleets
of the superpowers in the Persian Gulf leaves a bitter taste." The
unnamed interviewee went on to say that Iran's designs are not
"aggressive," saying, "We aim to safeguard the region against alien
powers." When asked which other regional state has an undersea warfare
capability, the interviewee said Pakistan did. According to Reuters, in
February 1994 Iran and Pakistan held joint exercises, practicing "joint
submarine operations and sinking of vessels," in Pakistani waters. The
maneuvers were codenamed "Zulfaqar" after the sword of the Prophet
Mohammad's son-in-law Ali.
AGRICULTURE WEEK CELEBRATED WITH CHEAP CREDIT.
Iran marked Agriculture Week 22-29 December with state officials
attempting to show that Iran's agriculture sector is an important part
of its indigenous and independent capabilities and that the government
is deeply committed to it through investment. But news the previous week
and comments by some Iranian publications shed a different light on
these official claims.
At an Agriculture Week event, Expediency Council Chairman Ali
Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani addressed a group of farmers and said the
"eye-catching growth in the agricultural sector" was due to the
government's "sound supply and distribution of water, support for
investment, expansion of the agricultural sector and establishment of
the processing industry." Rafsanjani said several things had contributed
to the "revival and promotion of the agricultural sector," including dam
building; scientific irrigation methods; procurement of seeds,
fertilizers, pesticides and mechanized facilities; expansion of
processing industries; silo and warehouse construction; and training and
education of workers. He reiterated the government's emphasis on
investment several times during his speech.
Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari had a different message the
previous day. At a special ceremony marking the start of Agriculture
Week, Kalantari said the sector had reached an impasse. Currently,
annual investment in the agricultural sector does not exceed $200
million. If its full potential in the areas of production and job
creation are to be realized, he said, there must be changes in
investment policies. In this way, agricultural, industrial, and mineral
products can replace oil revenues.
"Iran News" took Kalantari to task for his comments: "Such clear
and negative remarks made by a minister are alarming." This is
especially so because, according to the newspaper, "the agriculture
sector appears to be one of the strongest sectors in the country." The
ministry was faulted for failing to promote agricultural activities in
the country, advised to "adopt policies to attract domestic and foreign
investments," and criticized for its lack of long-term planning.
On 24 December, "Towseh" newspaper urged increased agricultural
investment, which in turn will lead to more research and introduction of
new technologies. Without these factors, the agricultural sector will
not develop and jobs will not be created.
The next day, the Agriculture Bank of Iran announced its
preparations to fulfill investment needs. Managing Director Jalal
Rasulof said the bank would secure credit resources from the national
banking system and would offer them to farmers at lower rates. Already
this year the Agriculture Bank offered $36 million (at the official
exchange rate, or about $16 million at the free market rate) more than
it did the year before, and this exceeds the combined credits offered by
the Agriculture Ministry and the Construction Jihad. Rasulof said 51
percent of farmers' requirements are met by the Agriculture Bank, 24
percent by other banks, and 25 percent by the private sector.
Cheap credit and increased government investment are too late to
help Iranian farmers or consumers this year. Iran recently said it
expected to import 2.5 million to 3 million tons of wheat by late-March
1999. Other countries are ready to take advantage of this demand. U.S.
Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from the wheat-growing state of North
Dakota, said on 15 December that Iran wants to buy $500 million worth of
American grain. Dorgan and Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho,
hope the U.S. government will grant the appropriate export licenses
because it will help both Iran and the U.S. Said Dorgan: "We may not
like their leaders, but the ability to get U.S. food into these
countries will be helpful to us and helpful to the people who need it."
RFE/RL's Persian Service reported from Washington on 24 December
that the deal is being negotiated by Niki Trading Company and the
Government Trading Corps Of Iran. The deal was first discussed in
August, following initial contacts through the father of an Iranian
employee at Niki. A Niki spokesman expressed concern that Iran will turn
to other sources, such as Australia or Canada, if the export license is
Compiled by A. William Samii
©Copyright 1999, Radio Free Europe
Page last updated/revised 013100
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page