Recent steps by Iran's new government under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad demonstrate the rightward drift in the country's affairs that became apparent in the months preceding June's presidential election. These steps include the appointment of provincial governors-general with a security background, as well as a crackdown on social malefactors. The impact of the provincial appointments will be felt for years to come, whereas pressure in Tehran is likely to ease off.
Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said in the 14 September "Iran" that the selection of provincial governors-general will begin the next week and will only take place after consultations with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders. He said most of the officials will be replaced. "Iran" reported that definite changes include the governors from Fars, Isfahan, Khorasan Razavi, Markazi (Central), Mazandaran, Sistan va Baluchistan, and Tehran provinces. An anonymous Interior Ministry official said he had no knowledge of the possibility that individuals with links to intelligence and security agencies will be selected.
Parliamentarians' reactions to this news varied. On the one hand, an unnamed representative from Urumiyeh said in "Kayhan" of 14 September that Purmohammadi has shown his sensitivity to individuals' qualifications rather than politics in making his choices.
On the other hand, Tabriz parliamentary representative Mohammad Hussein Farhangi accused Purmohammadi of appointing former officials of intelligence and security agencies as provincial governors-general, "Iran," "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Mardom Salari" reported on 14 September. "At the present juncture, some intelligence and security personalities are among the favorites to become future governors-general," Farhangi said. He advised against this, saying: "The interior minister must heed the demands of the parliamentary deputies about not employing people with intelligence and security links and background as government officials [in the provinces], otherwise he will certainly encounter problems in the future."
The issue prompted two legislators to submit their resignations. Iranshahr parliamentary representative Golmohammad Bameri said on 14 September that he had resigned, ILNA reported. Bameri said he was protesting Purmohammadi's failure to coordinate his appointment of new governors-general with the legislature. Zahedan parliamentary representative Peyman Foruzesh resigned the same day to protest Purmohammadi's appointment of a new governor for Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Foruzesh complained that the interior minister had not fulfilled his promise to coordinate his choices with legislators and local Friday-prayer leaders.
The Interior Ministry's appointment of new governors-general will have an enduring impact. The new officials could stay in place for at least eight years -- the length of two presidential terms. The Interior Ministry runs the elections, so the new officials could have a profound influence on voting for members of the Assembly of Experts (2006 and 2014), legislature (2008 and 2012), executive branch (2009 and 2013), and municipal councils (2007 and 2011). Even though President Ahmadinejad has promised to decentralize governmental affairs, these appointments suggest an effort by the central government to exert greater influence in the periphery.
In The Capital
While events affecting the provinces are still developing, security measures in the capital are already under way. Justice Minister and judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad told reporters on 6 September that a crackdown on people who disrupt security in Tehran has begun, "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "Aftab-i Yazd," and Radio Farda reported. "This plan, which has been put together by the office of the Tehran prosecutor-general, will be implemented for a period of 20 days with the cooperation and coordination of the relevant organs, such as the Law Enforcement Force, the Intelligence Ministry, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and the Basij force.
Karimirad described the individuals who would suffer as a result of this campaign: "The elements who flex their muscles and show off their power by the use of knives and daggers; the thugs and the mob engaging in extortion and bullying; threatening actions and behaviors; attempts to create fear and tension in the society; disruption of public order and safety; acts of sabotage; those involved in selling, buying, possessing, or carrying unlawful weapons; abduction; and gang interfighting and violence." The harassment of women, sexual assaults and other sorts of lewd behavior, the establishment of brothels and gambling houses, drinking alcohol publicly or public drunkenness, and the sales or purchase of drugs are to be targeted as well.
Tehran police chief Morteza Talai described the type of criminals one encounters in the capital, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 7 September. One group carries scimitars and goes to different parts of the city to commit random acts of aggression. A second group, known as "lumpens," gets drunk in public and engages in rowdy behavior. A third group, he said, has the talent and potential for membership in the second group.
The judicial police will be tasked with maintaining public security in Tehran once they are equipped, financed, and ready to work, Radio Farda reported on 10 September. Tehran judiciary official Mahmud Mirkuhi said the force enjoys greater powers than the ordinary police. Judicial police patrols include a judge who can convict and sentence a person on the spot, and oversee his or her punishment, Radio Farda reported.
One of the security measures described by police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam is action against "joy caravans" -- cars filled with celebrating relatives driving behind a newly wed couple, Radio Farda reported on 11 September. He termed the celebrants "louts" and a traffic nuisance. Radio Farda cited Moghaddam as telling the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" that such celebrations block Tehran traffic and lead to acts of "moral corruption" like dancing and alcohol consumption.
Tehran's provincial judicial chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh told the press on 12 September that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the judiciary to give a "firm response" to "louts" and criminals, Fars reported the same day. Khamenei has ordered "God's laws" to be implemented against criminals, after reading a report on crime that he found "shocking," Fars reported. In an undated letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, Khamenei ordered authorities to combat crime "as vigorously as possible," and to give "mischievous" people "the harshest punishments set by God."
Alizadeh said he showed Khamenei's letter to a judge who recently asked him what to do with a man charged with forcibly taking money from people and cutting off someone's hand. That "criminal," Alizadeh said, must be considered a man "spreading corruption on Earth," a charge applicable to various activities and possibly punishable by death in Iran.
Just as legislators have mixed responses to possible security-related assignments in the provinces, their enthusiasm about this social crackdown is mixed.
Musa Al-Reza Servati, a member of parliament's Social Affairs Committee, has urged Iranians to show a certain "balance" when celebrating, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. "Unfortunately in Iran people go beyond accepted norms for the slightest celebration," he said, adding that the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry should define what type of celebrations is acceptable.
But Social Affairs Committee head Abdolreza Mesri said, "it is much more necessary" for police to deal with armed criminals that block city streets than with "joy caravans," according to "Aftab-i Yazd." People can wait a little for a street celebration, and "share in the joy of people around them, but waiting in traffic for hours because a man with a knife has blocked the street is impossible," "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted him as saying.
The security-related developments in Tehran will not have as enduring impact as those in the provinces. The crackdown in the capital is scheduled to last just 20 days. Furthermore, the government routinely implements such measures, especially at the beginning of the school year. Therefore, there could be an easing of pressure over time.
(Vahid Sepehri contributed to this article.)
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