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memri
September 24, 2009 No.
546

The Iranian Regime Faces Challenges from Within and from Without - Qods Day and the Nuclear Issue

By: A. Savyon*

Introduction

The Iranian regime faces a double challenge this month, September 2009, the height of Ramadan - one from within and one from without. Domestically, the Green Movement protests refuse to fade away, and the regime is apparently preparing for another round of unrest in advance of the annual Qods (Jerusalem) Day on September 18, traditionally a day of protests against the "Zionist regime" on the last Friday of Ramadan.

On the foreign relations front, Iran is threatened by U.S. President Barack Obama's demand that it agree to start negotiations aimed at resolving its nuclear crisis by the end of the month.

The Threat from Within: Qods Day Demonstrations and the Start of the Academic Year at Universities

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi's Green Movement have in recent days called on the public, via Internet social networking websites, to participate in the traditional mass Qods (Jerusalem) Day demonstrations, but to protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the alleged election fraud instead of against Israel.

The London Saudi daily Al-Hayat reported that the demonstrators aimed to renew calls that they voiced during the post-election protests, such as "Presidential Election Fraud," "Death to the Dictator [i.e. Ahmadinejad]," "The Revolution Has Been Hijacked," and "Coup against the [Ayatollah] Khomeini Doctrine." It further noted the public protest against Iran's aid to the Palestinians, which the protesters called a "waste of the funds of the Iranian people, which by right belong to [the Iranians]." Another prominent slogan noted by the paper is "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon - Our Soul Is Devoted to Iran." Posters show a map of Palestine and a green hand flashing a V, next to the legend, "The Biggest March in Iran's History Will Be on Jerusalem Day."

The paper also stated that the demonstrators intended to carry pictures of protest movement leaders - Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami - as well as pictures of Neda Sultan, the young woman shot to death by security forces who became a symbol of the protest. Al-Hayat quoted Mehdi Karroubi as warning, "You will again see the might of the Iranian people on Jerusalem Day." [1]

Traditionally, the official Friday sermon on Jerusalem Day is delivered by Expediency Council Secretary Hashemi Rafsanjani, who reportedly supports the leaders of the Green Movement. However, at this point it is unclear whether the regime will permit him to deliver the sermon.

It should be noted that the regime has, for the first time ever, cancelled several religious ceremonies marking Ramadan, for fear that the public would take advantage of them to protest openly against the Ahmadinejad government. The events cancelled include speeches by senior clerics in the city of Qom, and a traditional ceremony by the family of Ayatollah Khomeini at his tomb - a ceremony in which former president Mohammad Khatami had been slated to participate. [2] But the regime apparently cannot cancel Jerusalem Day, because of its centrality in the culture of the Islamic Revolution.

The Regime Responds

Iranian police commander Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam this week clarified that the demonstrations planned for Qods Day on September 18 were only for Palestinian issues and to protest against the "Zionist regime," thus warning against exploiting the occasion for other political aims. [3]

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander in Tehran Ali Fazli said that security forces were prepared for the September 23 start of the academic year at Iran's universities, and called what was happening at the universities "fire under the ashes." [4] Also, Ibrahim Kalantari, representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the universities, warned that anyone planning or intending to spark unrest at the universities would have to deal with him. [5]

The Threat From Without: Iran's Nuclear Program and Obama's Demands

The regime appears to be dealing with its nuclear issue vis-à-vis the U.S. better than it is dealing with the threat from within. Iran is determined to possess nuclear technology, and it has managed to instill in the international community the notion that it is entitled to develop nuclear technology. [6] An examination of Tehran's policy since 2003 towards the international community, particularly vis-à-vis Europe and, now, the U.S. - a policy aimed at gaining legitimacy for its nuclear activity and at remaking itself into a nuclear power - reveals that it has largely accomplished its goals. Also, when all appeared lost for Tehran, as it faced an ultimatum issued by Obama and backed by Europe, Russia, and China, it managed to continue avoiding substantive concessions by responding positively to the West's demand for dialogue while emptying this dialogue of content.

On September 9, 2009, in a public ceremony, Iran submitted its incentives package, announced months ago by Ahmadinejad, to the representatives of the 5+1 (Britain, France, China, Russia, Switzerland - which is managing the U.S.'s affairs vis-à-vis Iran - and Germany). No details were given regarding the content of the proposals, but Ahmadinejad clarified that the nuclear issue was permanently off the table, and that he was instead inviting Obama to discuss global issues. [7] This proposal was a sequel to his May 2009 statements, such as: "We continue our activities within framework of [International Atomic Energy] Agency regulations. At any rate, negotiations will be merely over world management and sustainable peace and security for entire nations..." [8]

It would appear that with this public stalling, Tehran is aiming to render Obama's ultimatum irrelevant, and to change the agenda of the dialogue, whenever it takes place, by setting another topic on which to negotiate with the West. Much can be learned about Iran's belief that this policy will succeed from the words of Iranian Army Commander Hassan Firouzabadi, who contented that on the nuclear issue, it looks like Obama is more of a "realist" than his predecessor. [9]

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Hayat (London), September 10, 2009; Mirhusein.net (Iran), September 3, 2009.

[2] Etemaad (Iran), September 7, 2009; www.islammemo.cc

[3] Etemaad (Iran), September 8, 2009.

[4] Aftab (Iran), September 9. 2009.

[5] Fars (Iran), September 10, 2009.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, September 9, 2009. See, for example, European officials' announcement that they would accept the possibility of Iran enriching uranium under full IAEA oversight, as part of a comprehensive agreement with Iran. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, September 9, 2009.

[7] Mehr, Fars (Iran), September 7, 2009. The Washington Post reported September 10, 2009, citing Ahmadinejad's top political aide Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, that Iran has proposed "a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons... and has offered to cooperate on solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism and to collaborate on oil and gas projects." The Washington Post (USA), September 10, 2009.

[8] IRNA (Iran), May 25, 2009. At a press conference in late May 2009, Ahmadinejad announced that following Iran's June 12 presidential election, talks with the U.S. would continue in the framework of the 5+1, but not on the nuclear issue, because this issue "had already been resolved." IRNA (Iran) May 25, 2009. At a May 29, 2009 meeting with Iranian academics, Ahmadinejad said: "The Americans keep sending us messages for negotiation. We are ready to (hold) talks and cooperate. Of course, we are ready to cooperate in global management, global disarmament, and resolving global problems under conditions of equality… I should say that Iran’s nuclear issue has been resolved and it is over." Tehran Times (Iran), May 31, 2009.

See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 521, "Ahmadinejad: Iran Is a Nuclear Power Ready to Participate in Running the World," June 4, 2009, Ahmadinejad: Iran Is a Nuclear Power Ready to Participate in Running the World.

[9] Press TV (Iran), September 9, 2009.