• 18 August 2009
  • Posted By David Elliott
  • Events in Iran, Uncategorized

Persia House: Two Roads Diverge

Persia House, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Iran shop, has the following analysis in its latest policy brief:

Two recent developments, while not obviously related, may in fact have significant implications down the road for the Islamic Republic.
First, the velvet revolution. Based on recent statements by IRGC Commander Jafari and Basij Commander Hossein Ta’eb, it is very clear that the regime is actively shifting its priorities and resources from defending primarily against external “hard threats” to defending against “soft threats.” Long aware of the threat posed by the soft power of the West—and the United States in particular—Iran’s leadership appears to have realized the extent to which western technology and influence are already impacting Iranian society. As a result, the regime is taking steps to roll these back, including pulling the opposition out by its roots so that it has no chance to grow back. The detention and trial of a host of well known, but second tier, opposition figures may be simply the first salvo in an ongoing assault on the opposition leadership. Further, the alleged threat of a velvet revolution provides certain regime elements with a virtual blank check to enact even harsher measures. For example, given the key role played by the press, the internet and new forms of communication (YouTube, Twitter, etc), it will be very interesting to see whether the regime puts in place additional restrictions in these areas in a further attempt to restrict interaction with the outside world.

A second development is the unexpected purge within the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). Coupled with the placement of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) notable at the ministry’s helm (as we noted in Persia House News Brief 27, dated August 4, 2009), this indicates that Ahmadinejad’s agenda is broader than simply silencing the overt political opposition. Rather, he appears intent on reshaping elements of the internal checks and balances—such as the separation between the IRGC and MOIS—that have characterized the Islamic Republic since its inception.

What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that those senior MOIS officers removed appear not to have been targeted as a result of being opponents of the Revolution, or in any way enemies of the state, but because they are not sufficiently loyal to Ahmadinejad himself. It is unlikely that Ahmadinejad would have made such significant changes without the approval of Supreme Leader Khamenei, which indicates that the latter was also unhappy with aspects of their performance. Regardless, this will almost certainly raise tensions within the regime to a new level. These senior MOIS officers are hardened veterans of the Iranian security apparatus, with extensive and highly organized personal networks within the MOIS and throughout the government—resources they can bring to bear, politically or otherwise, against the President. A key question, therefore, will be whether these groups are willing to simply go quietly into the night or if they are prepared to resist this loss of prestige, power and perhaps eventually, more.

Posted By David Elliott

David Elliott is the Assistant Policy Director at the National Iranian American Council.

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Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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