Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Alan note: former beggar at Mashhad cemeteries)
By Roya Karimi, Farangis Najibullah
ABDICATION OF LEGISLATIVE POWER
Iran's parliament, the Majlis, has passed a bill that deprives the legislature of the right to check three major regulatory bodies, in a move analysts say is likely to consolidate Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's power.
Reformist politicians also say if the bill becomes law it would create unnecessary impediments to potential reformist candidates for next June's presidential election.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, under pressure due to Iran's ailing economy, and his reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami are expected to run in the election.
Iranian media reported that the bill was passed on December 16 in the conservative-dominated parliament by an overwhelming majority. The reformist opposition holds less than 25 percent of the parliament seats.
In Iran's complex bureaucracy, the Guardians Council, the Assembly of Experts, and the Expediency Council all -- in theory -- provide a regulatory function. The Guardians Council is in charge of supervising elections and vetting candidates, while the Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between parliament and the Guardians Council.
When a parliament voluntarily scraps its own authorities, it means that the parliament admits it doesn't deserve such powers. The Assembly of Experts elects the supreme leader, who controls the military, the police, state media, and has the final say in all domestic and foreign policies.
Analysts have also said the supreme leader -- with his largely sympathetic majority in parliament -- might also have an eye on CONTROLLING the parliamentary elections in 2012.
An adviser to former President Khatami, who wished to remain anonymous, tells RFE/RL that the bill is aimed at preventing a potential reformist-controlled parliament from using its rights to check the decisions of the three regulatory institutions -- and by extension the supreme leader.
Hassan Shariatmadari, a Berlin-based political analyst, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that by passing the bill, the legislators have taken away the public's right to check the country's leadership.
"When a parliament -- which is elected by the people and is supposed to act as the people's representative to check the management -- voluntarily scraps its own authorities, it means that the parliament admits it doesn't deserve such powers," Shariatmadari says.
However, even reformist politicians, speaking to Radio Farda on the condition of anonymity, admit that when they had a majority in the previous Majlis between 2000-04, reformist legislators did not challenge the supreme leader over control of the three regulatory bodies.
But Hussein Bastani, an Iranian-born political analyst in Paris, says the passing of the bill is still significant.
"In the past, the Majlis has had all those rights according the constitutions, and no one denied them. Now, they have turned it into a law. Until now, the Majlis -- as a sign of respect to the supreme leader -- would ask the leader's permission [to exercise its own rights.] Now, they have no right to check and probe and it is an important development," Bastani says.
"It would take an enormous amount of courage from someone in future parliaments to reverse this decision and reinstate the parliaments rights."To become law, the bill has still to be approved by the Guardians Council, and it is widely expected the 12-member body will endorse it in coming weeks.RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondent Roya Karimi contributed to this report
Iranians flock to Internet cafes in Tehran.
By Farangis Najibullah
The Iranian authorities, who admit to blocking access to over 5 million websites, have decided to take additional measures to restrict Internet access and crack down on bloggers.
Iranian news agencies recently quoted Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi (Alan note: responsible for the chain murders of dissenters and Canadian journalist Kazemi) as saying those behind irreligious and immoral websites would be "harshly confronted."The prosecutor's office has set up a special department to deal with Internet "crimes."
Mortazavi said a team of Internet experts along with two officials would identify and block websites that "do not follow religious principles and are immoral."RFE/RL's Radio Farda has reported that intelligence services would also take part in the campaign.
Earlier this month, Esmail Jafari, a blogger from the southwestern city of Bushehr was sentenced to five months in prison. He was found guilty of antigovernment publicity and disseminating information abroad.
According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights groups, at least two online journalists, Mojtaba Lotfi and Shahnaz Gholami, are currently being detained in Iran. Gholami, an editor of the "Azar Zan" blog, was charged with jeopardizing national security.
In October, an adviser to Iran's chief prosecutor said more than 5 million antisocial and immoral websites have been blocked and are no longer accessible in the country. Most recently, an Iranian dating website, "Hamsarchat," was fined and banned after being accused of promoting prostitution.
The popular website, which claims to be "Iran's most complete spouse-finding website," has been taken to court following a complaint from Tehran's public prosecutor.
Growing Internet Presence
With some 20 million people with access to the Internet, Iran is one of the biggest Internet users in the Middle East. And despite all the blocks, filtering, and other restrictions, blogging is becoming increasingly popular.
According to media reports, there are some 65,000 bloggers in Iran, most of whom try to stay away from political issues, focusing instead on social, art, family, and other safer topics.
But the popularity of the Internet, especially, among young people, and its impact on society is obviously a source of concern for the Iranian authorities.Some Iranian leaders have warned that the West is trying to provoke a "Velvet Revolution" in Iran using the Internet.
Alongside Iranian music, news, and political websites, they have also blocked access to popular foreign sites such as YouTube and Facebook.
However, according to Said, a blogger in Tehran, the authorities' "old method of filtering is not working anymore." Said tells Radio Farda that "with simple software or proxies, you can avoid any filter."
In the meantime, Iran's authorities and religious leaders are themselves trying to use the Internet to get their message out.From clerics in the holy city of Qom to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, they have set up personal websites to promote their ideas to the public.
UNEMPLOYMENT (Alan Note: well over 30%)
By Farangis Najibullah
It's been four months since Karim lost his job at a small carpet factory in the western Iranian city of Sanandaj. His employers told him he was one of many layoffs to cut costs in the face of lagging sales. The sole provider for his family of six, including a disabled child, Karim says he's been borrowing money from friends and relatives for food.
He gets meager handouts from charity organizations, but it's not enough to feed his family.
"I'm 47 years old, and all my adult life I've been a factory worker, producing carpets," Karim says. "I can't get jobs in other fields, and it's too late at my age to retrain myself to do something else. Besides, it seems like everybody is losing their jobs here."
Karim says he's appealed to city officials for help but has been told there are many others in similar situation.In fact, Iranian officials recently announced that the country lost 250,000 jobs in the six months to September.
Some Iranian experts say the real figure is more like half a million, (Alan note: closer to THREE million) but that the figure is kept artificially low and many other "underemployed" people fall through the cracks. Iran has a population of around 65 million.
"In most manufacturing companies, many employees work on short-term contracts and there is no guarantee their contracts will be extended," Ali Dehghan Neya, from Iran national social-security organization, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "After a month or two, many of them are out of jobs, but official statistics currently count them as employed people."
Other sectors of the economy, like the tens of thousands of vendors who hawk cigarettes and sweets in the streets, are officially considered employed although they have no social protection or insurance.
Iran's Statistics Center puts unemployment at 10.2 percent in its latest figures, although government critics reckon that it's more like 20 percent.
Labor Minister Mohammad Jahromi recently warned that the jobless rate could rise significantly in the coming years.
(Alan note: with oil dropping to $33 per barrel, the jobless rate will RISE EXPONENTIALLY in the next few months not years. Islamic iran's system is a hand-me-down where the government provides the populace money on which to live, not the people providing the government revenues and thus in control as in normal democracies )
Jahromi called on the government and parliament to take urgent action to help create new jobs and support troubled companies.
A vast number of Iran's recently lost jobs were in manufacturing, agriculture, and among small and medium-sized businesses. Thousands of pink slips have been handed out at long-running businesses like Alborz Laastic, the oldest tire manufacturer in the country, a major sugar factory in Khuzestan Province, and a textile factory in Mazandaran.
Alireza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, says the government's decision "to leave the country's doors open to cheap, foreign-made goods (Alan note: mostly poor quality Chinese items) has resulted in many domestic companies and businesses going bankrupt because they could not [prevail against] the competition with cheap, imported goods.
"President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's critics have long accused him of mishandling the economy, resulting in runaway inflation and creeping poverty. (Alan note: some prices of essential goods like dairy products often rise 50% to 100% OVERNIGHT).
Official figures put inflation above 24 percent, (Alan note: a more accurate figre is close to 45%) and the Iranian parliament's Planning and Budget Committee says one in five Iranians lives beneath the poverty line. (Alan note: again, a more accurate estimate puts this at at close to 50%).
With an election year ahead, critics warn that if the government does not take swift action to curb rising unemployment, the country will face a serious social crisis, especially within the country's disproportionately large segment of young people.
Mounting frustration "could lead to rising crime rates and a breakdown in law and order, and it could eventually end up in major social unrest," Nourizadeh says. There are signs that some of that discontent has already turned up publicly.
Roozbeh Bolhari, a Radio Farda correspondent who spent two decades covering social and economic issues for Iranian media, cites recent protests against rising unemployment in a number of Iranian cities, including a demonstration by workers at the Iran-Sadra Shipyard in Bushehr and a rally by Alborz Laastec workers in Tehran.
Isolation Doesn't Help
A Tehran-based economist who is close to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami argues that there are two major solutions to Iran's unemployment problem. "Privatization and considerable foreign investment would boost Iranian economy and create jobs," the economist, who asks to remain anonymous, tells RFE/RL.
"However, none of the solutions are achievable under the current Iranian government."
Iran's economy is largely state-owned and virtually all large-scale industries are under direct or indirect government control (Alan note: with a preponderance of ownership in the hands of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards).
Long-running U.S. sanctions and more recent economic sanctions imposed on Tehran as a result of its disputed nuclear program have kept Western investors out, for the most part. In the meantime, Karim says he has sent a letter to senior officials in Tehran and is waiting for them to hear his complaint and "save his family from their misery."
"I check job centers every day to find any kind of employment and I ask authorities to help me," Karim says, "but no one seems to care."
Alan note: Nor about the close to ONE MILLION homeless living in the streets of larger cities, consisting of Half a million children IN TEHRAN ALONE and rejected housewives thrown out of homes when their husbands find a younger bedmate.