13 Jan 2010

Iran’s endless crisis

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election sparked controversy inside and outside Iran. The reformist movement led by Mir-Hussein Mossavi and Mahdi Karroubi had announced that the elections were biased and the conservative forces had intervened in the election process to secure the victory of Ahmadinejad. Such claims opened the doors to criticise the whole process of the elections, it also encouraged supporters of the reformist candidates to rally in the streets calling for re-elections. Such reactions from the reformist forces put pressure on the government and led to recount some of the vote in specific areas. Such a step did not please the reformist leaders and supporters, and as a consequence, they continued to rally in the streets of Tehran and other cities. As a result, rallies and protests there have been a crackdown from the security forces, which have shown the determination of the government to put an end to reformist political activity.

The use of force initiated criticism from religious leaders who considered the reaction of the government to be too excessive. Even some figures within the conservative forces shared the same criticism. These conservative voices have also criticised the forming of a new government by Ahmadinejad, in particular the appointment of Esfandiar as the vice-president and the nomination of three women to hold ministerial positions in education, health and social development. This criticism has highlighted the divisions which exist within the conservative camp, which have arisen since the coming to power of Ahmadinejad

The repressive actions following the elections have been monitored by governments across the world. Iran has already accused these governments, especially Western authorities, of being involved with the reformists to undermine the Iranian political system. Despite concern over the internal political situation, the important question for Western governments is to grasp the impact of Iranian internal politics on its nuclear programme and regional policies.

Iran sent a positive message to the international community in September 2009 that included Iran’s contribution to regional and energy security. This proposal was presented by Iran in May 2008, and the 5+1 — the five United Nations permanent security council members plus Germany — did not pay attention to it. In October 2009, and after the Geneva meeting between Iran and the 5+1 group, the former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El-Baradei submitted his proposal to “use Iran’s low- enriched uranium for manufacturing fuel for the continued operation of the Tehran Research Reactor, which is devoted mainly to producing radioisotopes for medical purposes.” Russia and France were suggested to help. Such proposal was perceived even by Iran as a new hope to resolve the ongoing crisis over its nuclear programme. However, the high expectation from the IAEA and international community did not take into consideration the ongoing crisis inside Iran and its possible impact on the nuclear issue. The statement made by Mossavi accusing Ahmadinejad of promising of what he can deliver has taken the whole issue to the first square. As a consequence of that the United States has imposed new sanctions on oil industrial facilities in Iran.

Oil and natural gas makes the bulk of Iran’s exports to foreign nations and is its primary source of foreign exchange. By targeting this critical sector, the IRPS Act effectively aims to dissuade expansion of Iran’s drilling, transport (including pipelines) and refining capacity; while also barring the export of refined fuels to Iran. It does not however cover exports of crude oil and natural gas. The bill is expected — if ratified by the Senate — to be active by January 2010.

Iran imports some 94,000 bbl/d of refined petroleum, about 40 per cent of total consumption, while sanctioned bodies or individuals would be prohibited from foreign exchange and banking transactions with US firms and banks and barred from US-government contacts. This action by the United States does not seem to be the final one. The group 5+1 is planning to suggest new sanction resolution to be approved by the security council if Iran insists on its position regarding uranium enrichment.

Iran’s internal political dilemma is unlikely to be resolved soon. Accordingly, the crisis with the international community over the Iranian nuclear ambition seems to continue in 2010. Such prediction is based on the fact that the nuclear crisis remains between Iran and the 5+1. Any intervention from Israel may lead to real escalation or may be military confrontation.


Al-Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 978, 24 – 30 December 2009

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