Guess who’s back, back again?
Pragmatist Ali Larijani won a third term with 237 votes as speaker of Iran’s 290-seat Majlis (parliament). Reformist Mohammad Reza Aref of Tehran’s “List of Hope” withdrew his name after the first round of voting. Larijani’s role as speaker is seen as boost to President Hassan Rouhani’s push to open Iran to the world economy post-nuclear deal.
Two reformists of Sunni background were also elected in the parliament’s 12-member governing board. This is a first for the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
Also, here's how Iranian conservatives seized Assembly of Experts chairmanship.
Sorry, no Hajj this year
Tehran announced it wouldn’t allow Iranian citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in September. The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam. A Muslim must undertake a pilgrimage at least once in their life, unless they are financially or physically unable to fulfill this obligation.
Saeed Ohadi, the head of the Hajj and Pilgrimage organization, claimed there were a number of obstacles that hindered negotiations. This included too much time spent discussing electronic visas; the presence of Iranian flags for pilgrims to recognize their groups; restrictions on Iranian physicians accompanying the pilgrims and the amount of medicine brought; and a ban on Iranians holding any public Shiite ceremonies.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir denounced Tehran’s demands. He said, “Iran has demanded the right to organize... demonstrations and to have privileges... that would cause chaos during Hajj. This is unacceptable. This year, Iran refused to sign the memorandum. It is very negative if Iran's intention from the start was to maneuver and find excuses, in order to prevent its citizens from performing the Hajj. If it is about measures and procedures, I think we have done more than our duty to meet those needs, but it is the Iranians who have rejected things.”
Meanwhile, Iran says Saudi Arabia is the “biggest sponsor of terrorism” in Iraq and elsewhere.
A suggestion: Keeping Tehran and Riyadh from war and getting them to talk.
Big Brother is watching
Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace has given foreign messaging apps a year to transfer all data on Iranian users to servers inside the country. Since Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp are already blocked, the new rules seemed to be targeting Telegram, a popular messaging app with 20 million users in Iran.
In October 2015, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov Tweeted about growing pressure from the Iranian government: “Iranian officials want to use @telegram to spy on their citizens. We cannot and will not help them with that.”
Already many expressed their concern on social media. Even the Committee to Protect Journalists noted Telegram’s security flaws put activists and journalists at risk.
Since Oscar award-winning director Asghar Farhadi won two prizes at Cannes Film Festival for “The Salesman,” two of his stars have come under scrutiny. Iranians criticized actor Shahab Hosseini on social media for claiming he wanted to dedicate his best actor award to the 12th Shiite Imam, despite saying at Cannes it was dedicated to the Iranian people. It’s unclear whether or not he was pressured by Iranian officials.
Similarly, actress Taraneh Alidoost’s bare arm during a news conference in Tehran caught the attention of hardliners for having a ‘woman power’ tattoo. Hardliners criticized Alidoost alleging the symbolism meant she was in favor of abortion rights and against family values, despite being married and with a daughter. In a series of Tweets, Alidoost said, “Keep calm and YES I’m a feminist.” She also added, “Feminism doesn’t mean antiman or antifamily. Feminism means that each human aside from his or her gender has the right to an individuality and according to that, to choose the life that she or he wants.”