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Week of March 4th
NOTE: We will not be posting the week of March 11th
Special: Elections Part II
On February 26th, Iranians went to the polls to elect the country’s next 290-seat parliament and 88-seat Assembly of Experts. Here are the facts:

-- More than 32 million people of the 55 million eligible to vote—about 60 percent—participated in Friday’s elections.

-- Reformists won all 30 of Tehran’s seats in parliament from the ‘List of Hope,’ as well as 15 of 16 seats in the Assembly of Experts.

-- The Interior Ministry announced 222 parliamentary candidates won nationwide and that the second round of voting for 68 seats in several constituencies will take place in April.

-- Hardliners (principalists) Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi lost their seats in the Assembly of Experts, while Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati was at the bottom of the list.

-- A record number of Iranian women were elected in parliament, eight of which belong to the ‘List of Hope’.

-- Despite moderate wins during Iran’s elections, it isn’t changing many minds in Congress.

What does this all mean?
According to Reza Akbari of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, “Iran’s parliament does matter. Iran’s lumbering bureaucracy, built up of democratic and undemocratic bodies, works together in a clumsy, yet calculated way to form policy, practice governing, and form distinct factional identities. The recent elections in Iran demonstrate that real politics take place in the country, albeit in a constrained fashion.”

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment shares an anecdote: “I spoke to a friend of mine who has been involved in Iranian politics for three decades, and he said, of the 30 candidates who won Tehran, he was only familiar with four or five names. Among those 30 candidates, some of them actually self-identify as conservatives as well. So, I think we should have sober expectations about the nature of these reformist Parliamentarians and, frankly, the Iranian Parliament’s ability to wield change.”

“"The parliament will be split almost evenly between a pro-government camp, the [right-wing] principlists, and the independents. Each bloc has about 25 percent of the seats. Some 25 percent of the seats have gone to [run-offs in] the second round, and will probably again split between the three trends," describes analyst Saeed Barzin.

Arash Karami of Al-Monitor writes: “According to Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the country’s next parliament can be divided into three factions: Reformists, moderates and conservatives (principlists). By comparison, Rahmani Fazli said the outgoing parliament can mostly be divided among two conservative groups. Although he did not say this, many observers believe the current parliament is dominated by traditional conservatives and hardliners, who are often referred to as "principlists" in most Iranian media. Rahmani Fazli added that the runoff elections for the remaining 69 seats will be to the advantage of one side.”

How the reformists dominated Tehran
Anthropologist Narges Bajoghli explains, “The reformist/moderate success was shaped by preexisting networks of people and activists, coupled with online organizing via social media platforms—mainly Instagram and Facebook—and the secure chat application, Telegram.”
 
Iran’s election “showed that people went to give the vote emotionally out of a kind of fear, because they believed that [hardline] camp was a threat to them, to their hopes and their wishes,” notes Amir Mohebian, a conservative editor and analyst. “Maybe people don’t love–maybe they hate–the people who attacked the nuclear deal.”
 
On foreign and domestic policies
Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai write, “Last Friday’s vote of confidence in the Rouhani administration, combined with parliament’s shift to the center, will allow the government to pursue its policy of engagement with its Gulf Arab neighbors. While the moderates may differ on how far this should go, all agree that the status quo is not sustainable. As a result, [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif will likely double his efforts to travel to more friendly Gulf capitals, such as Doha, and continue to insist on dialogue with Saudi Arabia in order to tackle regional security crises.”

Journalist Hooman Majd says, “If some Western observers hope that reformists (still not a majority in the government)—even those too liberal to even qualify to run for election, those under house arrest or those languishing in prison—are looking to normalize relations with Israel, drop support of Hezbollah or the Palestinians, and join the Western bloc in demanding that Bashar Al-Assad must go from Syria, then they are delusional. If they believe that Iranians on the whole wish for those things, they are perhaps also delusional. Yes, Iranians want change. They want a betterment of their lives, they want peace with their neighbors, they want radical extremists such as the Islamic State to be defeated, they want to be part of the world community, they want to be respected, they want technology (especially a fast Internet), they want jobs and they want their kids to be more successful than they are. What they don’t want is to be told that their vote doesn’t count, or that it doesn’t matter.”

Here’s an interesting read on what goes on inside the mind of an Iranian during election season.
Iran's religious minorities also voted in the elections. Here are some images from the Yusef Abad synagogue in Tehran on Friday.
Hezbollah, terrorist organization
After Saudi Arabia cut a $4 billion aid package for Lebanon, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) decided unanimously to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Iran is the Shiite movement’s main ally. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, said in a televised speech, “[Saudi’s] problem is with Hezbollah. They want the government, political powers, and Lebanese people inside and outside Lebanon to stand in the face of Hezbollah so that it abandons its stance from Saudi, even if that requires incitements, civil war or toppling the government.”

On Thursday, Iran responded to the GCC’s labeling of Hezbollah. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian explained on Iranian state television, “Lebanon's Hezbollah is the vanguard of resistance against the Zionist regime (Israel) and Iran is proud of the group, which is also the champion of the fight against terrorism in the Middle East. Calling Hezbollah a terrorist group... will harm the unity and security of Lebanon.”
 
On Tuesday, Saudi preacher Sheikh Aed Al Qarni was severely injured in a shooting during a lecture at an Islamic religious center the Philippines. Saudi cleric Abdel Rahman Nassar accused Iran of attempting to assassinate Sheikh Al Qarn. Nassar Tweeted: "Iran does not want anyone to compete with it over the Philippines. It wants to frighten other clerics so it could Shiitize the Philippine people."



More on the Namazis imprisonment
Aforementioned, Iran’s judiciary has yet to allow the lawyer of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, UNICEF retiree Baquer Namazi, access to his clients or their files. Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei explained in an interview, “I have visited the prosecutor’s office many times, but officials refuse to answer me. But what they are doing is actually legal because a note appended to Article 48 of the Penal Code states that in cases of crimes against national security, and while the investigation is ongoing, the defendant can only choose an attorney from a list of lawyers approved by the head of the judiciary.” Despite being given power of attorney by Siamak’s mother, the head of judiciary has yet to approve Tabatabaei.

If the Iranian government doesn’t address the arbitrary arrests of its dual nationals, this will undermine international investment and dissuade the Iranian diaspora from helping develop Iran, writes Bijan Khajehpour, a colleague of Siamak Namazi.
 
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also weighed in on Baquer Namazi’s arrest. UNICEF issued a statement saying, “Current and former UNICEF colleagues are deeply concerned about the health and well-being of Baquer Namazi. We hope he will be reunited soon with his wife and loved ones.”

Meanwhile, the family of missing American Robert Levinson marks grim anniversary with few answers.
Other stories that made headlines
 
-- PEN America condemns increased fatwa bounty on novelist Salman Rushdie.

-- "Human rights activists do not have the right to lose hope," says Shirin Ebadi.

-- 
Alternative musicians in Iran sentenced to prison.

-- Freed Pastor Saeed Abedini describes his harrowing experience as a prisoner.

-- Community organizer forced into exile, fears for family's safety in Iran.

-- Palestinian Authority rejects direct Iran aid to 'intifada' families.

-- Blacklisted in Iran, gay poet seeks asylum in Israel.


-- Head of metals firm accused of illegally exporting colbalt-nickel powder to Iran.

-- Enforcing Iran sanctions still tangles Iranian-Americans in ‘spider’s web of laws’.

-- Expediency Council Sec. Mohsen Rezayee reveals ex-CIA Director's ‘visit’ to Iran.

-- Initial Navy report finds sailors captured by Iran made several errors.

-- Court says terrorism victims can collect $2.8 million judgment to Iran

-- Saudi Arabia is trying to steal Iran's biggest oil customer: China.

-- IAEA report shows Iran complying with nuclear deal.

-- Australia lifts its nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

-- Iran still faces constraints on oil exports due to cautious buyers.

-- Siemens signs energy deals with Iran's Mapna Group.

-- Mercedes Benz and IKCO opened joint company in Tehran.

-- Iran invites Boeing for talks with Iranian officials.

-- Iran to get Spanish luxury hotel chain along Caspian Sea as tourism thaws.

-- Check out this cool jazz number in Persian by FarAvaz Farvardini.

-- Instagram's famous Iranian gymnast toddler
 
-- La Toya Jackson joins Iranian singer Andy on “I’m going to Tehran”.
Events
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