Iran News Round Up
The Iran News Round Up ran from February 2009-September 2018. Visit the Iran File for the latest analysis.
Key takeaway: President Hassan Rouhani reiterated major tenets of his economic reform platform, including privatization of IRGC-controlled businesses and removal of tax-exempt status from regime- affiliated charitable foundations.
Rouhani stressed that “governmental, non-governmental, and armed forces institutions must privatize their economic businesses.” Rouhani’s comment regarding “non-governmental” institutions is likely in reference to quasi-governmental institutions such as bonyads, or charitable foundations, and Iran’s Social Security Organization. Rouhani also stated, “everybody needs to pay taxes… with no exceptions.” Many bonyads maintain a tax-exempt status despite their substantial involvement in non-charitable business activities and large ownership of property.
President Rouhani’s Center for Strategic Studies, a government-sponsored think tank, also published a report suggesting that almost half of Iranians want Iran’s mandatory hijab laws to be voluntary. The timing of the center’s release of the report is notable in light of the recent surge of protests against the mandatory wearing of the hijab in cities throughout Iran.
This Iran News Round Up predominantly covers events from February 3 - 7.
Rouhani: “Governmental, non-governmental, and armed forces institutions need to divest their economic businesses.”
President Hassan Rouhani said that “governmental, non-governmental, and armed forces institutions need to divest their economic businesses” during a press conference on February 6. Rouhani said that “all sectors of the government, especially banks, need to divest their economic businesses,” stating that “this is the only way to save the economy.” Defense Minister Amir Hatami stated on January 20 that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly ordered the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) to direct the IRGC and Artesh to “exit irrelevant economic activities” and to divest their economic holdings, although IRGC officials later denied knowledge of the Supreme Leader’s alleged order. The IRGC owns -- directly and through its numerous subsidiaries -- businesses involved in a myriad of financial sectors, such as oil and gas, mining, banking, telecommunications, construction, and automobile manufacturing.
- On the recent protests: Rouhani responded to a reporter’s question on whether he has taken any actions to resolve concerns raised during the recent widespread protests in Iran concerning inflation, high costs, and the ineffectiveness of some government officials. Rouhani stated that the “people’s complaints were not only about economics [but that] people also had a lot to say about societal, political, and foreign relations” issues.
- On cyberspace and messaging applications: Rouhani welcomed opening Iran’s access to cyberspace. Rouhani stressed that the government’s intent to strengthen homegrown networks and applications is not an attempt to monopolize cyber activities. Rouhani said that both “foreign and domestic networks, applications, and messengers [need to be] present” in Iran and that the people should utilize various options. Rouhani stated that time for shutting down and restricting messaging applications has passed and called on Iranians to become cyber-literate. Senior hardline officials have called for the state to impose harsher restrictions on social media and messenger applications since the recent widespread anti-regime protests.
- On oil revenue and taxation: Rouhani said that Iran must reduce its reliance on oil profits and instead fund the country’s budget with tax revenue. Rouhani called for an “expansion in the population of taxpayers” and stated that “everybody needs to pay taxes… with no exceptions.” Rouhani suggested that unclear and imprecise taxation practices result in unhealthy competition and can prevent “the transformation and mobility of the private sector and the people’s economy.” Many charitable foundations (bonyads), such as Astan Quds Razavi, maintain a tax-exempt status despite their involvement in a multitude of non-charitable business activities and large ownership of property. (ir)
Government releases report claiming nearly half of Iranians believe hijab-wearing should be voluntary.
President Hassan Rouhani’s Center for Strategic Studies published a report suggesting that almost half of Iranians want Iran’s mandatory hijab laws to be voluntary on February 3. The study summarized findings from four surveys conducted in 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2014. The study indicated that the percentage of those who believe that hijab-wearing should be voluntary increased from 34.7 percent in 2006 to 49.2 percent in 2014. The timing of the report’s release is notable in light of the recent surge of protests against the mandatory wearing of the hijab in cities throughout Iran. (ir) (CSS.ir) (Iran Wire) (E)
Labor protests escalate in Arak as hundreds of workers occupy city’s main square.
Labor protests escalated as hundreds of workers took to the main square of Arak, Markazi Province on February 5. The workers, many from the industrial firm Hepco, claimed that some of them have not been paid in more than 3 months. Thousands of workers lost their jobs when Hepco was privatized in 2017. Workers have claimed that police forces responded violently to previous protests at Hepco’s facilities in September 2017. (Radio Farda) (E) (Radio Farda)
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Rouhani and Zarif discuss Syria with Turkish foreign minister.
President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met separately with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss regional developments in Syria and bilateral relations on February 7 in Tehran. Rouhani accused unidentified actors of seeking to geographically divide the region, specifically in northern Syria, “after [their] failure in northern Iraq.” Rouhani reiterated Iran’s support for a unified Syria and called for increased counter-terrorism efforts in the region. Rouhani also expressed interested in facilitating bilateral trade between Iran and Turkey using local currencies and to improve banking ties between the two countries. Rouhani welcomed the presence of Turkish investors in Iran’s energy sector. Cavusoglu noted that Turkey’s recently-launched Operation Olive Branch against U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, Aleppo Governorate, Syria is temporary and only targets terrorists in the region. (IRNA) (IRNA)
Rouhani: Turkey must end Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syria.
President Hassan Rouhani discussed Turkish operations in Syria, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and Afghanistan during his press conference on February 6.
- On Operation Olive Branch: Rouhani noted that Iran maintains good relations with Russian and Turkey but stressed that “Iran’s main position is that a country’s military can [only] enter another country’s soil with the permission of that country.” Rouhani called on Turkey to end its operation in northwestern Syria. Rouhani condemned the U.S.’s presence in Syria and accused the U.S. of “very unjust regional ambitions” to “partition Syria.” Rouhani made similar comments during a separate phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 6.
- On the JCPOA: Rouhani rebuked President Donald Trump’s insistence to revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Rouhani explicitly stated that “no line will be added or removed from the JCPOA.” Rouhani also commented that the U.S.’s decision to stay in or withdraw from the JCPOA will not affect Iran’s decision on whether or not to stay in deal in the event of a U.S. unilateral withdrawal. Rouhani noted that Iran’s “main decision is based on whether the JCPOA ensures our desired interests or not.” Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) head and former senior nuclear negotiator Ali Akbar Salehi has suggested previously that if the U.S. were to unilaterally withdraw from the deal, Iran would remain committed to the JCPOA.
- On Afghanistan and counterterrorism: Rouhani said that Iran is prepared to aid the Afghan government in its counterterrorism efforts. He said Iran and Afghanistan are finalizing a prior agreement that will benefit both countries and will provide assistance and military advice whenever Afghanistan requests assistance. Rouhani also said that the presence of foreigners (a reference to U.S. nationals), in Afghanistan provides a pretext that attracts young people to participate in terrorism. Rouhani statement follows two recent Taliban attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed 125 people. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated after the attacks that the U.S. is moving ISIS to Afghanistan to justify a continued U.S. presence in the region. (ir) (President.ir)
Velayati: U.S. seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state in Syria.
Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati accused the U.S. of aiming to dissolve Syrian territories to establish an independent Kurdish state east of the Euphrates River on February 7. Velayati stated that Iran, along with Lebanese Hezbollah, the Afghan Shia Fatemiyoun Brigade, Iraqi Shia Heydariyoun militias, and the Pakistani Shia Zeinabiyoun Brigade, will support Syria and its “territorial integrity.” (IRIB News)
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Iranian Anti-Regime Protests and Security Flaws
Mike Saidi demonstrates how the recent protests highlighted weaknesses in the readiness of Iranian security forces in a dataset using videos submitted by Iranian protesters. View the dataset here and the graphics here.
Iran’s Hardliners Can Leverage the Post-Protest Space
Marie Donovan argues that Iran’s hardliners are undermining the regime’s best chance at improving Iran’s economy in the long run in, “Iran’s Hardliners Can Leverage the Post-Protest Space.”