Mullahs tighten grip as US looks to Iran
SABRE-rattling by George W Bush against Iran as the world’s primary state sponsor of terrorism has given the mullahs who run the country the opportunity to crack down on dissenting voices.
With parliament firmly in their grip, the hardliners in the Tehran theocracy have increased pressure on moderate-minded politicians, journalists, writers and internet bloggers.
But the risk of being caught has not stopped the bloggers flooding the net with complaints at the state of their country. One on-line diarist in Tehran wrote: "The people in Iran are getting sadder and sadder. You see no music or dancing outdoors. There are no discos or nightclubs in any city of Iran. All the happiness is behind the closed doors of houses - the so-called ‘underground’. Many crimes are done here in the name of God. There are no really free newspapers. All the journalists are afraid of telling the truth because they will be arrested and sent to the jail, if they are lucky enough not to killed by hard-liners.
"All books to be published must undergo a strict line-by-line reading by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to make sure there is nothing against the rules made by mullahs inside them.
"The more the government pushes people toward Islam, the more people hate both them and their version of Islam."
Yet so great is the disillusionment with the reformists in Iran that their candidate is unlikely to win in the forthcoming presidential election in June. When the present reformist president Mohammad Khatami won a stunning victory in 1997 and repeated it in 2001, there was widespread euphoria, especially among the young.
But the real power remained in the hands of the Supreme Religious Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, with the result that there was little change in Iran’s efforts to suppress democratic opposition and deny human rights and to be a prime supporter of anti-Israeli terrorism.
A crackdown followed, and Khatami was left even more isolated when reformists were barred from parliamentary elections last year, resulting in a parliament dominated by conservatives and hard-liners.
Last October, widespread anti-government protests in Tehran and other cities were met with violent repression.
Khatami is not allowed to stand for a third term as president, according to the constitution. But the reformers are split over who should be their candidate to replace him.
Khatami’s successor faces huge challenges, including the task of convincing the international community that the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme is peaceful. With Iran clearly placed with Syria on top of the Bush administration’s "to do" list, Israeli officials are watching very closely to see if the Europeans will speed up their efforts to find a diplomatic solution to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Last year Iran successfully tested the upgraded Shihab-3 missile which is now capable of striking at the heart of the Jewish state.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, told the Scotland on Sunday: "The possibility that the current Iranian regime could have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them is a clear threat to Israel’s existence and one that Israel cannot accept lightly."
Israeli security services have reported an increase in attempts by Iranian-backed militant groups such as Hizbollah to undermine efforts by Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, to end violence by militants and move towards negotiations with Israel.
The view from within the British Foreign Office remains that a negotiated solution to the Iranian problem is preferable to threats, and achievable.
Meanwhile European governments who feel vindicated in their opposition to war in Iraq, have offered Iran technological and financial support, and have hinted at a trade deal if weapons development stops.
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