Iranian Revolutionary Guards Enjoy Resurgence
July 16, 2004
The Financial Times
Nearly four weeks after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized six British marines and two sailors on the wide river separating southern Iran and Iraq, the Iranians have still not returned the digital navigational equipment that would show whether the boats were in Iraqi or Iranian waters.
British officials at first apologised for the craft straying on to the Iranian side. But once Iran freed the eight men, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, said they had been snatched from Iraqi waters.
One British official told the FT that the boats - being delivered to Iraqi police - were in shallow water 500m from the border, which is the deepest channel of the river called Shatt al-Arab by Arabs and Arvand Rud by Iranians.
For the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the arrest of the British forces was a propaganda coup - showing their growing influence in a wider rightwing resurgence after Iran's reformists lost their parliamentary majority in February's election.
The Shatt al-Arab incident is not the only example of the IRGC flexing its muscles. In May, it used tanks to close Tehran's new international airport on its first day of operation, apparently on the "security" grounds that management had been transferred to a "foreign" Turkish-led consortium.
"Any kind of confrontation and isolation helps keeps the military faction strong," said Saeed Leylaz, a newspaper columnist and senior manager in a government-owned vehicle manufacturer.
Separate from the regular army, the 125,000-strong IRGC sees itself as the stead fast defender of the Islamic revolution and is answerable not to the government of reformist president Mohammad Khatami but to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and most powerful figure.
One reformist newspaper estimates that 90 deputies in the 290-strong parliament have a "revolutionary or military background".
The government will remain in reformist hands until at least next June's presidential election when Mr Khatami stands down. The right's growing strength is felt in a shift in the country's atmosphere. The regular early summer crackdown on women wearing "bad hijab" - coats that hug the figure or scarves showing hair - has been sharper than in recent years. A more pressing effect of the rightward trend, say analysts, is in foreign and security policy, where the IRGC and its allies are exploiting tension over Iran's nuclear programme.
After the International Atomic Energy Agency last month passed a critical resolution, Iran has threatened to resume uranium enrichment, which it suspended last year after an agreement with Germany, France and Britain.
The rise of the Iranian right is also complicating the situation in Iraq, where US and some Iraqi officials complain of Iranian "interference" and have recently alleged that Tehran's agents are retraining the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia cleric.
Other Iraqi politicians dismiss these allegations as the US Central Intelligence Agency disrupting relations between the new Iraqi government and its eastern neighbour.
But Iran's attitude to Mr Sadr is ambiguous. While many Iranian leaders dislike his Arab nationalism, the militant right and some of the conservative media portray him as a Muslim resistance figure fighting US occupation.
Some moderate conservatives argue that the influence of the military right should not be exaggerated, but are showing signs of unease. During the election, Amir Mohebian, a columnist with the conservative Resalat newspaper, expressed in print his own scepticism when the Guardian Council, an Islamic watchdog, barred more than 2,000 reformist candidates.
Analysts also detect a weakening in the position of Hassan Rowhani, head of the Supreme Council of National Security and Iran's main negotiator over last year's nuclear agreement with Europe.
Mr Rowhani has been seen as a likely candidate of the pragmatic conservatives in next June's presidential election.
Just a few days after Mr Rowhani used a rare press conference last month to welcome the sovereign Iraqi government, Ayatollah Khamenei denounced Iraq's new leaders as "lackeys".
Growing sex trade
Only democracy can free women from slavery
Donna M. Hughes
July 15, 2004
Last week, I participated in two events commemorating the July 1999 student uprising in Iran. In Washington, D.C., on July 7, the Committee in Support of Referendum in Iran sponsored a panel discussion in the U.S. Senate, and in Toronto, Canada, on July 8, the Canadian Committee for Democracy in Iran held an outdoor rally. Attached is the text of my speech.
A measure of Islamic fundamentalists' success in controlling society is the depth and totality with which they suppress the freedom and rights of women.
Earlier this year, with the assistance of Iranian democracy activists I gathered information about prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls out of Iran for sexual slavery.
It is impossible to know how many victims there are, but all sources indicate an exponential growth in prostitution in Iran. The sex trade is also international, as thousands of Iranian women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery abroad.
This criminal activity is often conducted with the knowledge and participation of the ruling mullahs. Government officials themselves are involved in trading and sexually abusing women and girls.
Many of the girls come from impoverished rural areas. Drug addiction is epidemic throughout Iran, and some addicted parents sell their children to support their habits. High unemployment - 28 percent for youth 15-29 years of age and 43 percent for women 15-20 years of age - is a serious factor in driving restless youth to accept risky offers for work.
The most popular destinations for victims of trafficking from Iran are the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. In local newspapers in Iran, a number of cases have been documented.
Police have uncovered a number of prostitution and slavery rings operating from Tehran that sent girls to France, Britain, and Turkey.
In the northeastern Iranian province of Khorasan, local police report that girls are being sold to Pakistani men as sex-slaves. The Pakistani men marry the girls, ranging in age from 12 to 20, and then sell them to brothels in Pakistan. In the southeastern border province of Sistan Baluchestan, thousands of Iranian girls reportedly have been sold to Afghani men. Their whereabouts are unknown.
One factor contributing to the increase in prostitution and the sex slave trade is the number of teen girls who are running away from home. The girls are rebelling against fundamentalist imposed restrictions on their freedom, domestic abuse, and parental drug addictions. Unfortunately, in their flight to freedom, the girls find more abuse and exploitation. Ninety percent of girls who run away from home will end up in prostitution.
In cities, shelters have been set-up to provide assistance for runaways. But there have been documented cases of corrupt officials running these shelters using the girls in their prostitution rings.
Some may think a sex slave trade and clerics acting as pimps are contradictions in a country founded and ruled by religious fundamentalists. In fact, these are not such contradictions. First, exploitation and repression are closely associated with each other and complement each other. Both exist where women, individually or collectively, are denied freedom and rights. Second, the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran are not simply conservative Muslims. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been a totalitarian terrorist state. Trafficking of women and girls is just another profitable criminal activity of corrupt officials.
Today, the two greatest threats to rights and well being of women in the world are Islamic fundamentalism and the growing sex trade. The fundamentalists in Iran are the chief sponsors of first of these threats, and leading practitioners of second.
Since I wrote an article about prostitution and the trade in women and girls in Iran, a number of people have written to me asking what can be done to stop this trade and assist the victims.
The answer is that only freedom and democracy in Iran can end slavery. Only the overthrow of the mullahs and the defeat of their theocracy will liberate women from a system based on contempt and hatred for women. Only the installation of democracy based on rule of law will rid Iran of the corruption and mafia-like control of Iran. Only individual liberty and equality between men and women will guarantee freedom for women and girls. And only courts of justice will punish the criminal perpetrators for their violence and exploitation.
Of course, we are here today to commemorate the pro-democracy student movement that has courageously demonstrated for just those values and principles. They have heroically stood up to the vicious tyranny in Iran, and many have paid an enormous price for their bravery. Many of those activists have been and are women.
Supporting the bold resistance of these women to the mullahs is the only way to defeat the slave traders and the terrorists. Their voices and lives are essential for establishing a post-terrorist democratic society. Their courage, compassion, and intellect will be needed to help lead a country out of slavery, fear, and corruption.
Those of us with freedom of speech and freedom of association, which are denied to activists in Iran, must use them to support the freedom fighters in Iran. We must work together and lobby our governmental representatives to take positions against the fascist Iranian regime and in support of democracy and freedom. We must tell them that there are no moderate, reformist mullahs in Iran, but there are millions of people who want to be free.