Finally, a plan for Syria?
Iran accepted an invite to attend multilateral talks in Vienna on the topic of the Syrian crisis. It’s the first time since the Syrian Civil War began that Tehran has been formally invited, despite the United States and Saudi Arabia saying in the past that Iran has no role in Syria’s future. Also attending are representatives from Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia, and Turkey.
With the recent deaths of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members in Syria, Iran is unable to deny how deeply imbedded it is in the country’s civil war. Journalist Robin Wright notes, “Iran has provided few details about any of the deaths. But the locations, in three different parts of Syria, offer insight into the scope of Iran’s intervention.”
This week’s death toll included IRGC commander Abdollah Baqeri Niyaraki, who once served as bodyguard to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Niyaraki was in Syria serving as a military advisor to Bashar Al-Assad’s forces when he was killed in Aleppo. The rising number of military advisers’ deaths in Syria has sparked an online debate amongst Iranians. According to one commenter on social media who claims to have been on the frontline, fighting in Syria isn’t for volunteers. He wrote, “First you should know Arabic. Second, you should know the ground in its cities, their culture, and you should master the basic principles of urban warfare in the horrible towns of Syria."
President Hassan Rouhani believes sanctions will be removed by the end of this year. His comments come a week after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei set restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, thus possibly delaying the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Iranian president also adopted a new stimulus package to improve the country’s economy. This will be the second short-term plan since becoming president in August 2013.
Deutsche Bank is expected to pay at least $200 million for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and other countries. The Federal Reserve and New York State’s financial regulator led the investigation to see whether the German bank’s New York branch processed transactions for clients in sanctioned countries. “Our agency will continue to aggressively investigate and uncover misconduct at banks meant to circumvent U.S. sanctions laws—both past and present,” said Anthony Albanese, the acting superintendent of Financial Services for the State of New York.
While Western banks struggle with past sanctions violations, Iranian banks may soon be able to reconnect to the SWIFT financial-transaction system.
Iranian shippers of iron ore are abandoning overseas sales in an effort to seek $20 billion to develop its own steel industry, which likely will get a boost after sanctions are lifted. Iran hopes to triple its steel capacity to 55 million tons over the next decade, in an effort to consume 120 million tons of the country’s ore.
In case you’re wondering, here’s what will happen if Iran joins the World Trade Organization (WTO).
I spy fighter jets
A former defense contractor employee was charged for intending to export sensitive U.S. military documents to Iran. Iranian-American Mozaffar Khazaee pleaded guilty in February for violating the Arm Export Control Act and was sentenced to over eight years in prison. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $50,000. Khazaee, whose employment included Pratt & Whitney, was accused of trying to send 600 documents with defense technology and 1,500 documents containing trade secrets—related to the Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs—while applying for positions at state-run universities in Iran.
Khazaee told the judge, “I never sold anything to anybody. Had I known that making a PowerPoint presentation to an Iranian university in my attempt to get a job was breaking the law, I never would have taken the documents at all.”
In response, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, “the sentence for Mozaffar Khazaee is totally unfair.” Tehran has said there are 19 Iranians in American custody charged with violating U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iran. It isn’t clear whether Khazaee is considered one of the nineteen.
Two Iranian poets were sentenced to a total of 20 and half years in prison for "insulting sanctities" in their writings earlier this month. Poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi were also sentenced to 99 lashes each, after shaking hands with unrelated members of the opposite sex in public. Hardliners in the Iranian government see the Iran Deal as a threat and hope to prevent further rapprochement with the west by increasing the number of arrests and convictions. “I think people thought with the nuclear deal, there would be sort of a bit of a thaw as well or a bit of an opening up," explained Karin Deutsch Karlekar, the director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. "I think the judiciary is sort of pushing back and trying to make clear that there isn't going to be that opening people were hoping for."
Interestingly, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran described this year’s report as “marginally more optimistic” than previous years. Ahmed Shaheed also said Tehran is opening to dialogue on its human rights situation. So far, Iran has executed almost 800 people this year, putting them above their 700 mark in 2014.
The wife of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini made a plea for all Iranian-Americans held in Iran to be released. Adding to the number of Americans imprisoned in Iran is businessman Siamak Namazi.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham has just been promoted as Iran’s first female ambassador since the 1979 revolution. Her first ambassadorship will be to Malaysia. Afkham will be the second female ambassador in Iran’s history. The first female Iranian ambassador was Mehrangiz Dolatshahi, who was appointed to Denmark in 1976 under the Shah. However, this won’t be the first time Afkham broke the glass ceiling in Iran. She was also the country’s first female spokesperson.
A citizenship bill was rejected, consequently continuing to deny Iranian citizenship to people born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers. Between 400,000 to one million non-citizens are denied basic rights in Iran. According to Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent Iranian lawyer and women’s and children’s rights activist, “These children and youths are deprived of educational and health facilities as well as other services that Iranian citizens benefit from, such as subsidies and the like. In a word, they have no civil rights and lack identity documents or a birth certificate.”
Iranian actress Sadaf Taherian has been banned from acting after photos emerged on Instagram of her without hejab, the Islamic head cover.
Striking while the iron is hot
Foreign investors are scrambling to Iran to cash in on a potential gold mine with sanctions expected to be lifted soon. Iranian-American Hamid Biglari, an ex-Citigroup banker, is helping the Rouhani administration by bringing Iran’s power brokers and foreign investors together. Biglari’s role hasn’t gone unnoticed by hardliners in the Iranian government who view him as an American agent. “Iran missed the golden era of globalization from the late nineties to 2008, where a rising tide lifted all boats,” said Biglari. “Iran can’t afford to miss the next wave.”
Biglari isn’t the only banker rushing to help his motherland. British-Iranian Xanyar Kamangar left his investment-banking job at Deutsche Bank to start Iran's first private-equity firm, which takes foreign investment. "The local tech players have had the opportunities in the last few years to grow in a petri dish without foreign competition," claims Kamangar. "They haven't had any proper funding from day one and have yet grown — imagine what they would do when you give them a little bit of funding, you support them, they will explode and make a giant leap."
Iran’s universities create the tech geniuses leading Silicon Valley’s start-ups. It’s also adding to the country’s already severe brain drain. Schools such as Sharif University also known as the MIT of Iran and the University of Tehran are playing a key role in creating an “internal tech ecosystem."
Hamid and Saeed Mohammadi, twin brother founders of the online retailer Digikala—Iran’s Amazon—attended the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit. In response to comments from Iran’s postal service that Iranians would soon be able to receive parcels from Alibaba, Amazon, and Ebay, Saeed explained, "Amazon and Ebay are not necessarily a threat or even a competitor to Digikala, since these major online retailers have not shown much enthusiasm to conquer the Middle Eastern market.”
In an “almost unprecedented” move, Israeli author Etgar Keret is translating his new book into Persian. He hopes the translation of The Seven Good Years “will help some of its Iranian readers to see the Israeli people as flawed human entities and not just as mortal enemies.” The book will be published in London by Aan Haft Saal-e Khoob and available in Afghanistan. There are also plans to publish the book in Kabul.
Similarly, Iranian-American author Firoozeh Dumas started a Kickstarter to translate her new book—It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel—into Persian.
Israel’s first Persian language film ‘Baba Joon’ to be submitted to the Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film. The film centers around the lives of Iranian emigrates who reside in the northern Negev.
Across the Muslim World, Shiites are commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hossein—the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad—during the holy month of Muharram. For years Ashura, the tenth day, has been known in Iran as a time for members of the opposite to mingle in what is called a ‘Hossein party’. But today, amidst the lamentations, passion plays, praying, and processions, Iranian youth are using Ashura as an excuse to debut their new hair styles and dress up in the latest fashion.
Love in a time of Ashura.
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