Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Iran's Game of Thrones, Part 3: The Guardian (Small) Council's Decision and the Iranian Vote

[Scroll down to last post for highlights from San Francisco's "Behind Bars" Rally]

There is no provision in Iran's election law for candidates to appeal the Guardian Council's decisions.

The Guardian Council (like the Small Council, which consists only of the royal family and its most trusted advisors) does not need to explain its decisions.

Even a previous president, himself a founder of the Islamic Republic, can be disqualified.

Women need not apply.

The Guardian Council's disqualifications of both Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (Lord Eddard Stark) and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (The Red Priestess Melisandre) went unchallenged by both rejected candidates. It's not clear quite yet if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will still disrupt the transfer of power at the end of his term—as he threatened to delay the vote, if his close friend Mashaei wasn't allowed to run—but all the Mashaei-Ahmadinejad camp has done in response is make an appeal to the wisdom of the Supreme Leader directly, to overrule the Guardian Council's decision [because, remember, the Supreme Leader of Iran (King of Westeros) can do anything.]

[You'll also remember from Parts 1 and 2 that unlike presidents of normal democracies, Iran's president (who is more like Hand of the King) has no say over the nation's military, nuclear policy, or foreign policy. In Iran's power structure, the ruling clerics (Lannisters) and the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard who protect them (the King's Guard) both have more authority than the country's only elected high office, the presidency. And above them all looms the Supreme Leader (King), who sits on Iran's true seat of power (the Iron Throne).]

... But Supreme Leader Khamenei (King Joffrey) didn't reverse Mashaei's disqualification—probably because he's the one who instructed the Guardian Council (Small Council) to block Mashaei in the first place, a man he and his fellow conservative clerics consider a "sorcerer." When the Guardian Council barred Mashaei from even running (preempted Stannis's landing at Blackwater Bay), they prevented the occupation of Tehran (King's Landing) by this dynamic duo. Iran's strongheaded, unlikeable President Ahmadinejad (Stannis Baratheon) has been left adrift, forced to abandon his plan to claim power thru his friend (the Red Priestess Melisandre) by tag-teaming the presidency with him (her).

But Ahmadinejad remains in office, and who knows what desperate magic he may attempt. As we say, "the apple takes a thousand turns before it hits the ground."

As for Rafsanjani, his camp reacted even more mildly, tho Rafsanjani's (Lord Stark's) conscience did compel him to say something about the ruling clerics' (Lannisters') governance, something to the effect of "This country's being run by morons who couldn't worse job if they planned it together on a donkey ride," something you'd normally get your head chopped off for.

And Rafsanjani's head has kind of been chopped off. Rafsanjani has joined Iran's other former president, Mohammad Khatami, in backing Hassan Fereydoun Rouhani. Rouhani (the new Lord Stark) calls himself a moderate, but he now has the spirit of two powerful Reformists (Starks) behind him... and a whole lot more Iranians (including Northerners and Wildings) showing up to his rallies.

UPDATE: This week Rafsanjani publicly theorized that he was barred from running because he would have won by a landslide. This motive—to cut the old Reformist off at the neck, so to speak—was almost certainly being attributed to the Supreme Leader himself, since everyone knows it is his (majesty's) point of view that everyone who doesn't think like him is a threat to the Republic, and that he probably guided the Guardian (Small) Council's decision.

Maybe for Ahmadinejad (Stannis) it was being pulled out of his car a few weeks ago [see recent post] and being warned not to "interfere" with the presidential election... Or maybe it was his suspicious helicopter "accident" last week... that has convinced him to not to inspire a revolt, quite yet. But he is still president, and we have yet to see if he will produce more proof of corruption among the ruling clerics, even if just to spite them before he leaves office. But the disqualification of Rafsanjani, in particular, has already damaged what remains of the ruling clergy's legitimacy.

Even members of the conservative camp, or "Principlists", who are very close to Khameini (like Serce is to her son) disagreed with Rafsanjani's elimination (much like Serce disagreed with Lord Eddard's execution, even tho she had to sit there while the decision was carried out). This most recent division is inside the Principlist camp (Lannister loyalists), many of whom wonder what point there is of pretending to have a democracy if Rafsanjani—a founder of the Islamic Republic, and the man responsible for making Khameini Supreme Leader!—is not allowed to run.

 (It's like how the Lannister family members all silently agree on their disapproval of the king's behavior.)

 And if these divinely ordained (highborn) clerics don't really personally believe in democracy, they surely see the danger of not keeping up the facade of fairness, if only to soothe an angry and disillusioned people. It is a crack that has opened up between Principlists (Lannisters), at the very top of the Islamic Republic...

... And runs down to the very bottom: Out of nowhere, as if they know it may be there only chance for survival (of a coming long winter of depression and starvation), the Green Movement (Wildlings) have come out of hiding (over the Wall), and are showing up at rallies for Rouhani, along with large numbers of Reform-minded Iranians (Northerners) chanting for Mousavi—the Reformist candidate who many believe received the most votes in the 2009 election. It has to be the boldness of the opposition types that worries Khamenei (Joffrey) the most, however: At a recent funeral for Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri, the crowd erupted in a chant that hasn't been heard in public since 2009:

[SIDE NOTE: Taheri was a real ayatollah, meaning he studied Islamic theology and law for decades. He also happened to be a strong critic of the regime. Supreme Leader "Ayatollah" Khamenei isn't really an ayatollah (just like King Joffrey isn't really a king) and sometimes one wonders whether thence his insecurity comes.]

About two years ago, Khameini (Joffrey) threatened to do away with the office of president altogether, because the highest elected office in Iran's democracy was just irritating him. In the past couple weeks, altho all of Iran watched, there was no meaningful exchange between the candidates until the third and final debate. This is because—until the candidates themselves complained—the debates offered little speaking time, and the moderator asked lots of yes-no questions that candidates weren't allowed to elaborate on (the kind of format an adolescent control freak might design.)

Yesterday, Rafsanjani backed former nuclear negotiator Hassan Fereydoun Rouhani (Robb Stark) to lead the Reformist charge (Stark army) against the conservative—or "Principlist"—camp of Iran's hardline conservative clergy (Lannisters)Hassan Rouhani is also a cleric, but like (Eddard Stark) Rafsanjani, the Reformists' new hope (King of the North) follows a more moderate version of Shi'a Islam (the Old Gods) rather than the conservative clerics' version, which has charmed mosque attendance down to under 2%.

This is a good example of how the Supreme Leader's (sociopathic) commands backfire. The only serious candidates other than the sudden leader of the Reformists (young wolf) Rouhani, is the mayor of Tehran (King's Landing), Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Tywin Lannister, who as we know would make a perfectly competent Hand of the King), a man my father describes as "having a military style and wanting to be a Reza Shah." But because the Supreme Leader ended up feeling betrayed by President-till-August Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is concerned the next president could bring the clergy problems too, if he cannot be strictly controlled.

Ghalibaf, who is know for being a pragmatist (like Tywin) is not entirely trusted by the ruling clerics, especially the Supreme Leader (Joffrey), who senses the old veteran doesn't respect his position, and that as president (Hand of the King) he would more interested in what will work (for the family) than Khameini's (Joffrey's) opinion.

The preferred candidate and favorite pet of the Supreme Leader and Principlist clerics is (the demon monkey) Saeed Jalili (who like Tyrion Lannister may make a competent Hand of the King, but totally lacks the respect of the people). He will lose to both the moderate cleric and the military mayor by millions of votes. Even Khamenei's repeating that Jalili is a "living martyr" because of the leg he lost in the Iran-Iraq War (which most people see like Tyrion's facial scar, more as proof that he can't fight than evidence he is single-handedly responsible for keeping the family's enemies at bay) is backfiring, with many Iranians perceiving Khamenei's apparent support as proof that Jalili wouldn't do anything independently if elected.

And as tho the selection process and the format of the debates weren't telling enough, Khomeini (Joffrey) has been running around using every speaking opportunity to tell Iranians that "every vote is a vote for Islamic Republic," no matter which candidate you vote for!

Is that not the most self-unaware admission that he is wants people to vote just to grant legitimacy to his government?

He added (being fond of settling his insecurities by crossbow) that every vote is like "an arrow to the heart of the US," in the same week that he went out of his way to say he is in favor of the presidency being "a small office" ! (But he's not tired. He doesn't need to go to bed.)

So each time the clerics flex their power, the illusion of democracy shrinks, and more people lose respect for Iran's theocratic form of governance. The ruling clerics blame the 2009 uprising on "foreign influence," but the mass demonstrations that went on for months after the last election were more a protest against Iran's system of government than against that one rigged election. Now demonstrations are erupting spontaneously, in demographic groups that may not have even participated in the protests four years ago.

People are tired of the clerics' (Lannisters') undemocratic methods (incest) of keeping power to themselves. Right now 500 political prisoners, mostly activists and journalists, are being held in prison so Khameini (Joffrey) feels assured that this election—or rather, this transfer of power—happens smoothly.

[BTW, scroll down to last post for highlights from San Francisco's Behind Bars Rally, a global action for solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Iran]

And just as the Supreme Leader's methods of control keep backfiring, his push to get voters to the polls, to validate Iran's claim that it's a democracy, is backfiring as I write this. Voters are surging, in unexpected numbers today, but the sudden interest in voting is probably more because of shared videos of opposition chants at Rouhani rallies. Many reform-hungry Iranians' (Northerners) are now convinced that voting for Rouhani is the best way to express their dissatisfaction with the system.

Iranian and Western media have been saying that no one is ahead in the polls. According to my own sources, Rouhani is way ahead in polls, especially since inheriting the Reformist mantle (like Robb Stark inherited the role of King of the North from his father's death.)

There are no politics like Iranian politics! Look at what has happened: The opposition that was crushed after 2009, which wants an end to Islamic rule altogether, once blended into demonstrations that supporters of 2009 Reformist candidates held to protest, specifically, a rigged election. This time, not only are the opposition (Wildlings) re-emerging and even working with the Reformists (Starks), but both repressed groups have suddenly merged to support of a moderate candidate! And a cleric!

The more Khamenei (Joffrey) tries to squelch dissent, the louder and closer it gets.

... A five-hour extension on voting time has just ended. And so we wait...

Things have been brewing a long time. The divisions in Iran's government could not get deeper. No matter the results of the vote, the foundation of the Islamic Republic has been shaken.

... Rouhani's website, which was counting the votes for Rouhani, was just blocked...

If the Interior Ministry announces that the votes for Ghalibaf and Rouhani were close, they are probably lying, and most people will presume they are setting up a runoff vote between the two, which would be easier to rig in favor of Ghalibaf.

... Rouhani's campaign headquarters was just shut down...

 I believe the (Small Council's) decision, to bar Mashaei and Rafsanjani from running, is a prelude to truly unprecedented conflict inside Iran.

Stay tuned for the election results and aftermath... Will it be another one of the Lannisters' arranged marriages, or a Red Wedding?

(Scroll down for Iran's Game of Thrones: Parts 1 and 2)

#gameofthrones #iranelections

Monday, June 10, 2013

San Francisco's "Behind Bars" Rally was a hit! #IranBehindBars #IranElections

Thank you to everyone who came out to the rally! It warmed my heart to see such a great crowd, and when those little kids came up on stage to release me, it almost burst.

Kamran Tondar, Violinist Pourya Khademi, Revolution of the Mind, and Mohamad Talani from KIOSK all performed! And Sarah Shourd sang after her speech!

Here is a video of highlights

We achieved media exposure too, which is growing across the web as I write this: We were covered by ABC, NBC, and CBS, and KCBS, which did an in-depth interview with Sarah Shourd. I was interviewed by ABC and NBC (before Masoud and the other "Basij" grabbed me and threw me in jail :) ). The event got picked up in newsfeeds all over the country, including by the Wall Street Journal. Other news outlets are still spreading the story.

Being interviewed by NBC before being thrown in the cell   PHOTO: STEVE RHODES

I'll keep posting coverage and footage as we get clips of it. For now, here's a rough home video of the first part of the NBC News story. (You'll have to turn it all the way up, but you can see me in the cage, and hear United4Iran's Firuzeh Mahmoudi nailing it!)


And could we have picked a more beautiful place for the rally? Thank you, everyone. We will send this out to so many places that even the regime's censors won't be able to stop Iranians from seeing it. Please keep sending me links!

Overhead of stone stage at Justin Herman Plaza (from Parks & Rec website) Beautiful, right?

Here are photojournalist Steve Rhodes' photos of the rally (with captions)

The team, the musicians, and a cutout of Zahra—our candidate for president!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sunday, June 9th: San Francisco "Behind Bars" Rally in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in Iran

Dear Readers, please pardon the delay on Iran's Game of Thrones: Part 3. I'm working on a rally that I'm performing at in San Francisco, but I'll get it Part 3 out before the election I promise!

Come check out Behind Bars: San Francisco this Sunday, June 9th from 11am to 2pm, at Justin Herman Plaza (one block north of the Embarcadero BART station). Behind Bars is a rally for freedom of expression in Iran, but also a solidarity action with political prisoners and all those who have suffered for basic human rights and democracy there.

I will be arrested early in the rally—while speaking about the plight of political prisoners—and locked in a jail cell onstage. Then, Iranian exiles and Americans like Sara Schmidt of Amnesty International—with their own connection to the oppression in Iran—will speak about their experiences. In between the speeches, some truly great Iranian-American musicians are going to perform, including the Persian violin master Pourya Khademi and guitarist Mohamad Tallani from KIOSK!

Sarah Shourd, the American hiker who spent over a year in Evin Prison, will speak about her ordeal and the inspiration she received from the other prisoners in Sector 209 (my father likes to hang out there a lot too.)

Sarah will then free me from the jail cell to perform a piece about freedom of expression. (It'll be in the same court poetry style that I started at Symphony Hall, but a little longer.) If you're in the Bay, and whether you're Iranian or not, you should really come check out this event. It's definitely going to be the most artful rally I've ever been a part of :) and probably the most fun.

Behind Bars is sponsored by Amnesty International, United4Iran, and the Zahra Campaign.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Iran's Game of Thrones, Part 2: The Red Priestess Mashaei

Your introduction to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the Red Priestess Melisandre of Iranian politics:

Maybe even more surprising than Rafsanjani's application to run for president, was Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei's. That's because Mashaei's closest ally, barely-still-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was warned by higher-ups not to back his mysterious magician friend, a man conservative clerics call "a sorceror."

(The Red Priestess Melisandre) Mashaei entered the story when Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, in what most Iranians consider to be Iran's first obviously rigged election. [Well... When Iran was declared to be an Islamic Republic on April Fools' Day in 1979, it was based on a voter referendum in which there was only one choice on the ballot: for Islamic governance... So it depends on how far back you go.]

But during the presidential election of 2009, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the lack of democracy (that's the one thing everyone could agree on, even the Wildlings), it became clear that Khameini and his like-minded conservative clerics, or "Principlists" (Lannisters), had consolidated enough power that they no longer felt the need to pretend to be openminded. The crackdown was severe, and included making sure that Iran's president (Hand of the King) stayed in his place.

(While the Lannisters sent the King's Guard out to crush dissent in the street, and hired spies to seek out troublemakers, King Joffrey) Khameini forced Ahmadinejad not to appoint his close friend, and maybe his only friend, the slippery smooth Mashaei, to be his 1st Vice President. But in one of Ahmadinejad's earlier acts of defiance, the freshly re-"elected" president appointed Mashaei to a different cabinet office, Chief of Staff.

Since then, the Red Priestess of Iranian politics has worked his way even closer to the gullible, uncharismatic Ahmadinejad (Stannis Baratheon). Mashaei (Melisandre) represents a new religion in Iran—at least as far as the ruling clerics are concerned. Some have said that Mashaei controls Ahmadinejad's mind (the same way some say the Red Priestess has a spell on Stannis.) As president, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly ignored or outright criticized the Supreme Leader's word (as Stannis mocks Joffrey's claim to the Iron Throne), and many believe it is because of Mashaei's influence on Ahmadinejad, who used to literally kiss up to his king. Mashaei himself has...

watched women dancing in public, in Turkey...

and after being criticized for that, hosted an event where another group of females danced in public (but carrying Korans, cuz that makes it kosher);

stated that Iran was a friend to Israel (not kosher), in direct contradiction of the Supreme Leader's (King's) wishes, and when he was criticized by the conservative clerics for saying it, the bold magician said it again;

been accused of being the source of a "deviant current" of Islam,

been accused of "controlling the president's mind with witchcraft" [This is the real-life part] and "practicing sorcery";

openly joked about decisions made by the ruling clerics, including some made by the Supreme Leader.

Mashaei, whose strange charisma has convinced many Iranians who want no part of a clerical government—even if they were Reformist clerics, like Rafsanjani—to vote for the weird, rebellious, but still religious Ahmadinejad-Mashaei camp (the Brotherhood without Banners).

Before you go cheering for this anti-clerical populist, I should tell you that my father, who works to preserve ancient sites in Iran, once filed charges against Mashaei for intentional endangerment of pre-Islamic-era Iranian history.

[SKIPPABLE RANT: Under the Islamic Republic every part of Iran's culture, especially from eras before Islam, has suffered. From Zoroastrian shrines and Mithran artifacts (think dragon eggs, or blades from the First Men), to millenia-old structures that are allowed to be flooded, to centuries-old mosaic tilework shaken apart by modern transportation routes constructed suspiciously right by them, members of this regime seem to encourage the destruction of Iran's ancient, patiently crafted buildings...  Sigh...]

So, in a twisted projection typical of an insular family with too much power, Khameini's Principlist camp (Lannisters) has accused Ahmadinejad's camp (Brotherhood without Banners) of "having designs for the election." Days before the registration, Ahmadinejad was pulled out of his car [see two posts ago] and questioned for hours in the office of the commander of intelligence for the Revolutionary Guard (the King's Guard. Remember? The commanders of the Guard are paid well, and considered Lannister Loyalists). Most presume that Ahmadinejad was warned to stop threatening the nice, calm, smooth election that King Joffrey Khameini and the other ruling clerics were planning (the same way the Lannisters might want an arranged wedding to go smoothly: even tho it is a farce, it increases their power.)

So you can imagine the frustration of the ruling clerics (Lannisters) who have been busy (killing bastard babies) rounding up organizers and anyone who might stir up trouble during the election, when Mashei entered his application for candidacy anyway. And imagine the lion's fury when Ahmadinejad arrived with Mashaei, arm in arm, giving the clear impression that he was backing the snake-tongued sorcerer's run for the presidency, and signaling a populist (Brotherhood) and egalitarian (Wildling) challenge to the current form of government (rule by incest.)

[By the way, the rounding up of bastard troublemakers included mass arrests of dozens of journalists earlier this year—who will probably continue to sit behind bars until after June 14th]

Non-clerical populists (lost their faith in the Seven, you could say) will vote for Mashaei, especially if they are Muslims who think the clerics are doing a bad job—of representing both Iran and Islam. Mashaei represents a heretical belief that Iranians can have Islam without the clerical hierarchy. This third version of Iran's terminally political Islam says Muslims can have a direct relationship with the divine (imagine certain members of the Brotherhood directly healing the wounded and raising the dead). According to Mashaei's version of God (The Lord of Light), Iran doesn't need a bunch of middlemen, especially in the country that he says "has the truth of Islam."

The candidates still have to be cleared to run by the Guardian Council (Small Council), but what is the Council to do?

If they bar Mashaei from running, the desperate, spellbound, I'm-still-President Ahmadinejad may produce more of his secret evidence of corruption in the government. He has already sworn to delay the election if Mashaei is not approved, and many believe he has video hidden somewhere that proves his own re-election in 2009 was rigged!

[Ain't no politics like Iranian politics. I should mention by the way that my father has predicted Ahmadinejad will be arrested by the end of June, and given the death sentence.]

If the Guardian Council allows Mashaei to run, the Principlists will look very weak, because according to the Supreme Leader, Mashaei isn't even fit to be a vice president.

If they bar Mashaei and but allow Rafsanjani to run, Lord Rafsanjani will draw the vote of every dissatisfied Iranian in the realm, and win.

And if the Council bars both of them, the government would look weak, like they consider any real election a threat to their power.

They're damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Tune in soon for the Small Council's decision.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Iran's Game of Thrones, Part 1: Lord Eddard Stark Rafsanjani

The crowd of tired journalists covering the 5-day registration period for Iran's presidential candidates broke into cheers last Saturday, when popular reformist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani showed up in the last ten minutes of the registration period to apply to run.

Others outside the registration place were chanting and singing the name of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaeianother last-minute candidate who arrived arm-in-arm with Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to put in Mashaei's own application for candidacy. Rafsanjani's team seemed genuinely surprised to look down the registration table and see Mashaei and Ahmadinejad there.

But this kind of sudden shift is expected now in Iranian politics, which has had more power plays and intrigue in the past year than Game of Thrones...

The realm is unstable. Politicians openly accuse each other of corruption (and they're all guilty of it.) A total of over US$300 billion in public funds has been stolen. Hidden stashes of guns were found in the Arab region of the country and, recently, just outside Tehran (King's Landing). With the surprise entry of these two controversial politicians, the tension between Iran's rival houses may break into all-out war, even if the Council of Guardians in charge of clearing presidential candidates (think Small Council) does not approve them to run.

Let me explain why, starting with Rafsanjani—Iran's Lord Stark:

Having already served as president from '89 to '97, when Rafsanjani grew the economy more than anyone in the history of the Islamic Republic, the 78-year-old cleric is considered a father of the Islamic Republic. Even with bastard moves in his past, Rafsanjani's long record of service has earned him the loyalty of reform-minded Iranians (Northerners).

Understandably, this has shaken Supreme Leader Khamenei (King Joffrey) and the conservative clerics closely allied with him (think Lannister Loyalists), who wanted to run only members of their own "Principlist" camp for the office of president (Hand), and who have always been nervous about Iran's "Reformist" camp of politicians (the Starks).

Lord Eddard Stark Rafsanjani is one of the most powerful people in Iran, and is perceived as a threat to the Supreme Leader's power because of his wide popularity. In fact Rafsanjani is considered one of the fathers of the Islamic Revolution, and even used to support Khamenei (similar to how Ned Stark started out loyal to the throne, regardless of who sat on it.)

But in 2005, Rafsanjani lost an election that most Iranians think was rigged for Ahmadinejad. Many think Khameini (King Joffrey) ordered the vote rigged, because he and the other conservative clerics did not want a Reformist as president (Hand of the King). Some say the Supreme Leader and Rafsanjani have been on a collision course ever since that 2005 election.

Then in 2009, when the clearly rigged re-election of President Ahmadinejad led to mass demonstrations and widespread violence in the streets, Rafsanjani criticized the government crackdown on protestors and directly challenged the Supreme Leader's authority by siding with the demonstrators (like questioning Joffrey's rule, and not having your head cut off for it)

Kourosh Zaim, a senior political analyst with Iran's secular democracy party, tells me Rafsanjani would draw the votes of military and security personnel if he gets approved to run, "regardless of who their corrupt commanders swear allegiance to." The commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard (think King's Guard) had their loyalty purchased long ago, and are considered part of Iran's ruling elite, along with the Supreme Leader and other conservative clerics (the Lannisters).

But Rafsanjani will get the vote of rank-and-file Guard, partly for having been a commander during the Iran-Iraq War, and partly for favoring Iran's military in economic restructuring during his presidency.

He really is like Ned Stark in that way, having fought the war that put the Baratheons in power, even supported the king before holding the office of Hand.

But we all know what would happen if Ned Stark goes around asking too many questions. The ruling elite (Lannisters) in Iran are worried about an intention they see growing in Rafsanjani: to clean up corruption, which is rampant in Tehran (King's Landing). Many clerics know they might stand trial for that corruption. Remember: The equivalent of hundreds of billions of US dollars has gone missing over the course of the last few years, and all from public funds. Yeah.

Because Rafsanjani is an advocate for Iran's private sector (merchants and slave traders), he'll draw Iran's business vote, to add to the military and security personnel's vote. If he can also rally the millions of reform-minded Iranians (call the banners), he'll win. Other Reformists, who registered to run before Rafsanjani's surprise entry, are already stepping back to unify behind their strongest Reformist candidate (King of the North).

So now the conservatives around Khamenei, who call themselves Principlists—for their supposed adherence to the principles of the Islamic revolution—are scrambling to pick one of their own candidates to rally around. They just don't have anyone with the leadership experience, or the popular respect, of Lord Rafsanjani. That means if the Guardian Council approves Rafsanjani to run, the Principlists will probably have to deal with a Reformist president again, which may hurt their plan to keep all the power in the family.

But if the Guardian Council disqualifies Rafsanjani from running, it would call into question the very legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. Imagine, if possibly the most respected name in the land; a revolutionary warrior who helped found the Republic itself, and then defend it from enemies; who even supported the unqualified, not-even-really-an-ayatollah Khameini when he replaced Supreme Leader Khameini (as Lord Stark at first supported the inbred Joffrey's illegitimate replacing of Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne); and a man who has held every high office in Iran except for that Iron Throne, is not even allowed to run. Would the Principlists risk lopping this man's head off, when it would mean war, a cracking open of the rift within the clergy, between the conservative Khamenei loyalists and everyone else?

And remember... a third force has entered this old feud between the Principlists and the Reformists...
(Stay tuned for Part 2, when we learn about the mysterious candidate sailing into Blackwater Bay, claiming the throne from both the Lannisters and the Starks, and bringing a new and dangerous god to Westeros.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Haj Interrupted: Ahmadinejad Pulled out of Car on His Way to Qom

In a mob-style move appropriate to Iranian politics, agents of the Supreme Leader surrounded Ahmadinejad's car yesterday on the highway toward Qom (Ghom), and pulled the president out to question him at the office of the head of the Revolutionary Guard's intelligence. It's safe to assume they were warning him not to continue his disruptive antics, or as it has been officially described, his "interfering with the election process."

Is a president "interfering", just by pumping his guy and accusing competitors of corruption?

And why the president was on his way to Qom in the first place? Was he visiting the holy city to court some kind of clerical favor, having fallen out with all the mullahs in office? I wonder if the Khameini loyalists who stopped him suspected that he was, or if they were just waiting to arrest him somewhere there wouldn't be spectators. In either case, I don't believe the official report in Iranian media, that the clerics in power are only concerned that Ahmadinejad might display evidence that the 2009 elections were engineered. I think they suspect Ahmadinejad has even more evidence, of illicit dealmaking by high-ranking mullahs, members of the conservative clergy that Ahmadinejad and his people have repeatedly challenged.

It's too bad the Western press doesn't follow these power plays inside Iran. There's a myth that whoever is elected president won't make a difference to the nuclear issue, because an Iranian president has no say over the nuclear program (or the military, or many affairs of state in which we assume presidents have influence.) That's true, and the regime has stated repeatedly that whoever wins the presidency will make no difference to the nuclear talks, but they're lying. Whoever wins the election could have a tremendous effect, because he may change the game entirely, shaking up the structure of the regime and forcing a new attitude toward the West, and toward nuclear inspectors.

Which is why the elite didn't want anyone knowing about their warning. All cracks in the facade must be kept secret. Khameini loyalists try to present a unified government while although everyone in Iran knows things are devolving into a Game of Thrones-style free-for-all. The usually slanted state TV has become even more vague and unreliable in its coverage of this election, so Iran's domestic media consumption has been redirected toward the fighting factions' personal media outlets—websites, radio shows, etc. These private, partisan channels are turning out to be a lot more reliable than the official news. Iranians are keeping up on the real presidential race by reading blogs from each of the three main camps (Principlist, Reformist, and Ahmadinejad's "deviant current" of younger revolutionaries) and discussing them with each other.

It says something about Persian culture, or maybe about Iranians in general, that they have adapted to the recent cyber-censorship the same way that strict Islamic censorship has forced them to adapt their film, art, and poetry. Even with as much VPN-blocking, proxy-interruption, and web monitoring now as China, the Iranian population per capita remains the most blogging-est and most web-savvy in the world, and maybe one of the most informed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Updates on Iran's Internet Censorship, 2013

LATEST UPDATE: Samsung will be blocking Iranians' access to their app store starting May 22nd, another gift to the regime, which wants as few cellphone-based abilities in the hands of domestic activists as possible.

Here is Project Ainita's report on Iran's recent thwarting of the use of SSL proxies, a commonly used tool for bypassing Iran's internet censors. The Islamic Republic's Supreme Council of Cyberspace has also been shutting down virtual private networks since late February, see below.

(Virtual Private Networks can be used to make computers pretend they are logging in from IP addresses outside the country. They are the most commonly used tool for circumventing internet censors that affect computers inside Iran.)

The Supreme Council of Cyberspace is part of Iran's new cyber police state that has been developed mainly in response to the 2009 election—which ignited major demonstrations that were recorded and uploaded of videos of those demonstrations—and the sophisticated Stuxnet virus that struck the nuclear facility at Natanz in 2010. According to official announcements, businesses and universities will be able to register VPNs with the government, so that they can be spied on by Iran's National Cyberspace Center...

Actually, what they said was that these new legal VPNs will provide easy access to the Internet, and that eventually "some individuals will be able to apply for them as well".

So here's what will happen: with the government's new VPNs, businesses and individuals will surrender detailed private information upon registration, and then access the web thru, and only thru, an individualized network that allows each of the computers using it to be followed around in cyberspace by National Cyberspace Center monitors, and to have all its data accessed in realtime.

Combined with the blocking of popular service sites like Facebook and Skype (in effect now), all online activity will eventually be automatically tracked and easily monitored.

UPDATES, Late February: This is the antidote for Iran's current blocks from Project Ainita, a hacktivist NGO that follows and fights Iran's online censorship (their site is in both English and Persian):

Project Ainita's two-program fix

By using both these free programs at the same time, Ainita says the whole web will be accessible. My reports are that the fix works. The problem I'm hearing tho, is that even if you manage to get online the connection speed is too slow to do anything. Everyone in Iran believes the government is intentionally making connection speed slow, even tho it is slowing commerce in a depressed economy.


It is clear that it is more important to the regime to stop any reports, pictures, and video from getting out to the rest of the world (if there is another uprising during the fast approaching presidential election in June) than it is to avoid slowing down of domestic business and university research that requires web access. In mid-February, when Secretary of Supreme Council on Cyberspace Behbahani announced in interviews Iran's intention to shut down the VPN ports, he made sure to mention that what once filters are put into place that filter content rather than URLs, domestic websites will be made to load much faster than foreign ones:

"We will regulate bandwidth for domestic datacenters and for international traffic, so people lose interest to see foreign news websites with much slower speed and have an incentive to see domestic news agencies with high speed"

How's that for unabashed traffic manipulation? So forget net neutrality in Iran. Behbahadi also mentioned they will remove much of the filtering and "even allow some journalists" to apply for access to the entire web, uncensored... Uh-huh.

I am highly doubtful that any real journalists will be granted such access. In actuality, in anticipation of the election a bunch of journalists were recently rounded up and put in jail, where they are now. My guess is that they'll be there until after June 14th.

This year, the UN agreed with what Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been warning for years: Iran's rate of executions and number of human rights violations have increased every year since 2009. Technically they are off the charts, because neither the UN Special Rapporteur nor any NGO can operate freely enough in Iran to monitor violations properly, and there is plenty of proof that executions occur unreported, with families of the executed intimidated into silence about their losses. What we do know is that both executions and human rights violations keep increasing—at least the ones we can count.

The regime has also been promising to launch their own version of the internet for Iran. They say it will take three more years to complete its construction. Iranians I know don't believe it will be up and running by then, but things are definitely going in the wrong direction. The Islamic Republic is becoming even more like North Korea and China, places where the alarming level of human rights abuses cannot even be fully measured, because no one can see them happening.

UPDATES, Early March: Okay, I can't Skype my family anymore. We managed to get an audio-only connection in late February after about ten tries, but now everything runs way too slow. Skype and Viber have just been successfully blocked.

Google and Facebook remain inaccessible.

Oovoo may still be unblocked, but again the connection is far too slow to function. As far as the internet goes, Iranians may be cut off from the rest of the world by June.

A decent overview of the state of Iran's internet:

For those of you who want to see who's in charge of Iran's growing Big Brother, here is a flowchart of their cyber departments' convoluted bureaucracy: