• 14 March 2012
  • Posted By Angie Ahmadi
  • Events in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Cross-posted from Huffington Post:

Last Friday, Iran held its first elections since the controversial 2009 presidential contest, after which millions of voters poured into streets of Tehran. Unrest following the announced re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in mass detention, torture and the death of many protesters. It also led to the near-elimination of pro-reform political forces in the Islamic Republic. For this very reason, the parliamentary vote last week should be viewed as an unrepresentative sham — nothing more than a selection process amongst the ruling conservative elite.

As the dispute between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad runs deeper, this election is widely interpreted as a battle between these two political heavyweights. With the ballot boxes now counted, the outcome categorically declares Khamenei as the winner — as was broadly anticipated. But placing Iran’s future policy trajectory in its proper context requires caution against reaching hasty conclusions. The results clearly show that candidates openly associated with Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie failed to enter the parliament. However, the Islamic Revolution Durability Front, backed by ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and fairly close to Ahmadinejad, performed relatively well, thereby lessening the possibility of a solid opposition to the president emerging in the new parliament.

A cursory glance at the election results shows that three main conservative factions triumphed: the United Fundamentalist Front, a coalition of traditional conservatives backed by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani; the aforementioned Durability Front; and the Resistance Front, composed of moderate conservatives supported by former IRGC chief commander and ex-presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie. However, a closer look at the outcome reveals few candidates from Rezaei’s list winning seats; the already-marginalized reformist bloc further shrinking in parliament; and the number of moderate conservative and independent lawmakers dwindling to new lows. In direct contrast, the two prominent conservative factions — backed by Khamenei and Mesbah Yazdi, respectively — captured approximately 70% of the seats. Given that the Durability Front either had no representatives in many small towns or shared its representatives with the United Coalition Front, the latter emerged victorious throughout rural Iran. But in bigger cities, the balance of power between these two prominent factions remains intact. In Tehran — where candidate lists from these two factions have the least amount of overlap, due to the highly politicized atmosphere of the capital — three out of five candidates who secured seats were on both lists. The same pattern applies to those candidates who will be competing for the remaining 25 seats in a runoff election in the coming weeks.

This runoff vote must be concluded before a concrete picture of the new parliaments’ composition emerges. Nevertheless, factional orientations of those candidates who managed to secure their seats in the first round of voting have clarified the makeup of the next parliament to a considerable extent.

The future of Iran’s parliament is of greater significance to Khamenei than Ahmadinejad, whose second term will end in 2013. The state-propagated monolithic image of the conservative camp is misleading, and the root cause of factional infighting amongst conservatives is less ideological and more a struggle for political and economic power. Maintaining the balance of power between the two main conservative factions — and keeping them well short of a majority in parliament — has created a feeble legislature that does not pose a risk to Khamenei’s dominance of the system.

To that end, one key development demonstrates the regime’s attempts to emasculate the parliament: almost a third of the sitting parliamentarians, both conservatives and reformists, failed to secure seats — many of whom were among the 79 signatories to a motion calling Ahmadinejad to parliament for questioning. Although a number of current lawmakers will be taking part in the runoff election, the new parliament will include many new faces, which may exacerbate its weakness for at least its first two years in session. Eliminating a large number of Ahmadinejad’s critics further confirms that Khamenei prefers to avoid issues that may have a destabilizing effect on the system, such as impeachment of the president.

For the very same reason, Khamenei has publicly floated the idea of abolishing the post of a directly elected president, and shifting to a parliamentary system with the prime minister appointed by parliament. Should Khamenei decide to proceed accordingly, the political makeup of the new parliament thus far suits such a purpose, regardless of the factional-orientation of its speaker. The current speaker Ali Larjinai, an influential conservative politician and a former chief nuclear negotiator; Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel, a former Majles speaker and father-in-law to Khamenei’s son; and Morteza Agha-Tehrani, Ayatollah Mesbah’s disciple and close to Ahmadinejad, enjoy the highest chance of obtaining the leadership post. Most importantly, none of them would pose a challenge to the Supreme Leader’s decision-making authority.

If the system decides to retain the presidency, the outcome of the parliamentary election provides little opportunity for Ahmadinejad and his controversial confidant Mashaie, but does provide political opportunity to moderate conservative forces such as Ali Motahari, who managed to muster enough support in the parliamentary vote to go into a runoff despite being abandoned by the main conservative coalitions.

Within this larger trend of power consolidation by Khamenei, what happens next is largely his choice and very difficult to predict. But this parliamentary vote has made it clear that the parliament has become an unlikely source of defiance vis-a-vis the Supreme Leader.

Posted By Angie Ahmadi

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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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