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Gallup Poll: Iranians Not So Happy

            On June 3, Gallup rereleased its most recent rankings of positive emotions, with Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians reported the “highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq,” according to the study. Gallup highlighted its findings two weeks after six young Iranians – including three women without hijab – were arrested for appearing in a YouTube video singing along to Pharrell William’s “Happy.” The dancers were released one day later, after an international outcry on social media against their arrest. A tweet on President Hassan Rouhani's semi-official account may have indicated disapproval of the detention: “Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”

            The latest version of “Happy” from Iran features Pharrell William’s “puppet fans.” The following clip was posted on May 31 by animator and cartoonist Mehdi Alibeygi.
 
            The following are excerpts from Gallup’s report.
 
            Iran's leadership is right to be concerned about the country's happiness. Gallup's most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.
 
      Gallup measured negative emotions in 138 countries in 2013 by asking people whether they experienced a lot of anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry the previous day. Gallup compiles the "yes" results into a Negative Experience Index score for each country. The higher the score, the more pervasive negative emotions are in a country.
 
      Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods. Additionally, 48% of Iranians in 2013 said they would not recommend their city or area where they live to a friend or associate as a place to live.
 
 
Survey Methods
            Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2013 in 138 countries and areas. For results based on the total global sample, the margin of sampling error is less than ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. For results based on country-level samples, the margin of error ranges from a low of ±2.1 to a high of ±5.3. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

ISIS: 5 Proposals to Avoid in an Iran Deal

            Five commonly discussed proposals for an Iran nuclear deal are flawed, according to a new Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) report. They include:

• 1)increasing allowed centrifuge numbers significantly while lowering low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride (and oxide) stocks toward zero;
• 2) allowing Iran to maintain in the Arak reactor a core holding
significantly more fuel channels than required for fueling the reactor with low enriched
uranium fuel;
• 3) agreeing that Iran’s centrifuge plants can maintain installed but
non-enriching centrifuges designated as in excess under the limits of the deal;
• 4) leaving the resolution of Iran’s past and possibly ongoing nuclear
weaponization and military fuel cycle efforts until after a deal is concluded and economic and financial sanctions are loosened, if not removed; and
• 5) lack of constraints banning in a verifiable manner future Iranian
illicit nuclear procurement efforts
 
           “If accepted, these compromises would create a final agreement that would be unstable, overly reversible, and likely unverifiable,” warns David Albright, Olli Heinonen and Andrea Stricker. The following are excerpts from the report with a link to the full text.
 
Bad Compromise 1: Increasing centrifuge numbers above 2,000-4,000 IR-1 centrifuges
while lowering low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride (and oxide) stocks toward
zero.
           In addition to lowering centrifuge numbers significantly, the agreement should aim to lower Iran’s stocks of LEU and natural uranium. One modification in the ISIS model concerns 3.5 percent LEU stocks, which should be lowered further down to a 1-5 tonnes. Lowering both quantities would make it more difficult for Iran to break out and would create a more irreversible, stable agreement. However, lowering stocks without lowering centrifuge numbers is not a workable proposition.
 
            Treating these two, reinforcing steps instead as a zero-sum game leads to the first bad idea. In this scheme, the number of centrifuges would be raised substantially, to 8,000 or more IR-1 centrifuges or equivalent number of advanced ones, while lowering the stocks of 3.5 percent LEU toward zero.
 
Bad Compromise 2: Deciding that Iran can maintain significantly more fuel channels in the Arak reactor core than it requires for fueling the reactor with low enriched uranium fuel
            Despite the merits of modifying the Arak reactor, a more effective compromise remains upgrading the Arak reactor to a modern light water research reactor (LWR) which can be designed to be far more capable of making medical isotopes than the current Arak reactor design. It can also be designed to make plutonium production in targets much more difficult to accomplish than the Arak reactor or older style research reactors.
 
Bad Compromise 3: Agreeing that Iran can maintain at an enrichment plant installed but non-enriching centrifuges designated as in excess under the limits of the deal
            The extra centrifuges in excess of this limit should be removed from the centrifuge plants. If they are not removed Iran could quickly reconstitute its larger enrichment program, and thereby a sizeable breakout capability, if it decided to renege on the deal. Thus, any proposal to keep excess centrifuges installed should be rejected.
 
Bad Compromise 4: Leaving the resolution of Iran’s past and possibly ongoing nuclear weaponization and military fuel cycle efforts until after a deal is concluded and economic and financial sanctions are loosened, if not removed
            Addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs is fundamental to any long-term agreement. Although much of the debate about an agreement with Iran rightly focuses on Tehran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production capabilities, an agreement that side steps the military issues would risk being unverifiable.  Moreover, the world would not be so concerned if Iran had never conducted weaponization activities aimed at building a nuclear weapon. After all, Japan has enrichment activities but this program is not regarded with suspicion. Trust in Iran’s intentions, resting on solid verification procedures, is critical to a serious agreement.
 
Bad Compromise 5: Lack of constraints banning in a verifiable manner future Iranian
illicit nuclear procurement efforts
            The P5+1 must include in the agreement a provision that for the duration of a comprehensive agreement nations maintain some sanctions or limitations on the supply of sensitive nuclear and nuclear-related exports to Iran. This list of goods would be expected to contain additional goods not found on dual-use lists maintained under export control regimes but critical to Iran’s nuclear programs.
            An agreement will also need to allow for monitored Iranian purchases for its remaining nuclear programs and civilian industries while banning the rest. A potential way to do this is seen in the creation of the humanitarian goods channel created under the interim deal. In the case of a long term provision limiting nuclear related goods, at the beginning of the period of the comprehensive solution, a procurement channel should be established for controlled items used in Iran’s nuclear programs.
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Report: Limiting Iran’s Enrichment Capacity

            Limiting Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium may be the most challenging issue in talks between the Islamic Republic and the world’s six major powers, according to new analysis by the Arms Control Association’s Daryl Kimball. The international community is particularly concerned about Iran’s centrifuges, which can be used to enrich to both reactor grade, 3.5 percent, and weapons grade, 90 percent. The following are excerpts from the brief.

            After talks between European powers and Iran broke down in 2005, Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 300 first-generation IR-1 machines at one site to about 19,000 installed IR-1 machines at two sites. Today, about 10,200 are operating; 1,000 advanced IR-2M centrifuges are installed at the Natanz enrichment plant, but are not operational.
Iran and the P5+1 should be able to agree that Iran will limit uranium enrichment to levels of less than 5 percent, keep stocks of its enriched uranium near zero, and halt production-scale work at the smaller Fordow enrichment plant and convert it to a research-only facility.
 
            Yet, the two sides must find a formula that limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity at the Natanz site in a way that precludes an Iranian dash to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons without being detected and disrupted but allows for Iran’s “practical” civilian needs, as the Nov. 24 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 puts it.
Iran’s operating IR-1 machines, with about 9,000 separative work units (SWU) per year of combined capacity, could allow Tehran to enrich natural uranium stock into a sufficient quantity of HEU (25 kilograms) for one nuclear bomb in about six months if such an effort were not detected first.
 
             If Iran tried to build a militarily significant nuclear arsenal, it would take considerably more than a year to amass enough material for additional weapons, assemble and perhaps test a nuclear device, and mate the bombs with an effective means of delivery.
 
            An agreement that significantly reduced Iran’s present-day enrichment capacity would increase the time even further and still would provide Iran with more than sufficient capacity for its nuclear fuel needs, which are very limited for the next decade or more. Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor produces medical isotopes, and Iran already has enough material to fuel that reactor for years to come. If the Arak reactor is modified to use 3.5 percent enriched uranium fuel, it might require no more than 1,000 SWU.
 
            Negotiators can square the circle in several ways. The comprehensive agreement could allow for appropriate increases in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity in the late stages of the deal. Such adjustments could be conditioned on Iran providing sufficient information to the IAEA to show that any past experiments with possible military dimensions have been discontinued and demonstrating that it cannot obtain foreign nuclear fuel supplies for the new nuclear power reactors that it builds.
 
Click here for the full brief.
 

New Amnesty Report:Students Expelled, Jailed

            Iran’s higher education institutions no longer enjoy any meaningful degree of academic freedom, according to a wide-ranging report by Amnesty International. The security and intelligence apparatus has gradually taken control of universities, colleges and institutes since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. His administration encouraged “Islamicization” of universities. Academics who were considered too Western or secular were dismissed and student activists were expelled or suspended. “This process then accelerated and intensified in the wake of the mass peaceful protests that punctuated the second half of 2009 when millions of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June 2009,” according to the report.

      President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August 2013, has only made marginal progress in opening up higher education so far. His appointment of Ja’far Tofighi as interim minister of science allowed some banned students and academics to return to higher education. The Ministry of Science announced that 126 students were allowed to resume their studies in August 2013. But hundreds more have not seen a change in their status. The following are excerpts from the report with a link to the full text.
 
 
            Since Hassan Rouhani’s election, most media and diplomatic attention has focused on the development of international negotiations relating to Iran’s nuclear programme and their progress. As yet, it still remains uncertain whether, and to what extent, the Rouhani presidency will see a significant reduction in tension and relaxation of the international trade, financial and other sanctions that have impacted Iran’s economy, reduced living standards and Iranians’ access to imported goods. Important though these issues are, however, they should not overshadow other problems that President Rouhani must confront if his government is to overcome the legacy of social, political and economic malaise under President Ahmadinejad and address the aspirations of its burgeoning population, more than half of which is aged under 24, with more than one quarter aged under 15.
 
            One of the most pressing of these challenges is to be found in Iran’s universities and other institutions of higher education, including medical schools, institutes of technology and community colleges. These institutions have a student population that numbers several million annually, with women reportedly comprising around half or a little more than half, yet the higher education sector no longer enjoys any meaningful degree of academic freedom. Under President Ahmadinejad, any role that the universities had managed to retain as centres of independent thought and critical analysis, or to re-establish after the so-called Cultural Revolution of the early 1980s, was all but eviscerated as the authorities took measures to bring them under closer state control, particularly by the state security and intelligence apparatus.
 
            This process began soon after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected President in 2005. He embarked on a new surge of “Islamicization” of the universities, in which courses deemed “western-influenced” were expunged from the curriculum, academic staff considered “secular” were dismissed or forced to retire, and student activists were expelled or suspended. At the same time, the authorities intensified gender segregation on campuses and tightened enforcement of dress and disciplinary codes for both students and teaching staff. This process then accelerated and intensified in the wake of the mass peaceful protests that punctuated the second half of 2009 when millions of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June 2009.
 
             During the protests, in which many students and academic staff participated, the universities emerged as focal points of unrest and opposition to the re-elected President and his backers within the conservative clerical and political hierarchy, including the Supreme Leader. Clearly taken aback and unnerved by the magnitude of the protests, the authorities launched a brutal crackdown of several months’ duration. Spearheaded by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, a paramilitary force, this succeeded in crushing the unrest through the application of a range of repressive measures, including unnecessary and excessive force; widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions; beatings, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, several of whom died in custody, and a succession of grossly unfair “show trials” in which defendants were paraded before Revolutionary Courts before being sentenced to often lengthy prison terms. The trials were mostly held behind closed doors except for brief, televised sessions in which dozens of defendants, many of whom had been held incommunicado in extremely coercive conditions, were seen in humiliating conditions “confessing” to threatening national security and pleading for forgiveness. Scores received jail terms; some were released later before completing the full prison terms handed down in court.
 
            Some of the university academics and students and teaching staff had been among those who joined the protests against President Ahmadinejad’s re-election. Some had openly associated themselves with the principal “opposition” presidential candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, or joined their election campaign teams, and so were particularly targeted in the security clampdown. Others were detained during protests or while making their way to or from demonstrations.
 
            Security forces also raided university precincts and student dormitories; allegedly causing the deaths of up to five students, and the authorities banned scores of student publications and student groups; these included the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (OCU), Iran’s largest student organization, which had branches in universities. Prior to its suppression, the OCU had spoken out to demand human rights and other reforms and urged the authorities to show greater respect for the country’s Islamic Student Associations (ISA).
 
            Many students were released uncharged after the chastening experience of detention; some, however, were then barred temporarily or permanently from returning to their university studies. Others were charged with public order offences, or accused of committing more serious, often vaguely worded and broadly defined crimes, such as “spreading lies in order to disturb the public opinion”, “acting against national security by participating in illegal gatherings, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, or “insulting the President”. Some were accused of committing “moharebeh” (enmity against God), a capital offence. Those facing charges were tried before Revolutionary Courts, where they did not receive fair trials, and were sentenced to prison terms and, in some cases, flogging, when convicted.
 
            Amid this new wave of persecution, thousands of students and academics left Iran, adding to the exodus of intellectual talent that has been a recurrent by-product of state repression under the Islamic Republic. Those who remained and were able to resume their higher education, returned to universities over which the authorities now assumed much closer control and imposed stricter surveillance and disciplinary regimes designed to root out and suppress any expression of dissent.
 
            Before 2005, universities had a degree of autonomy in appointing their own deans and academic staff but the first Minister of Science appointed by President Ahmadinejad withdrew these powers from state universities and took them under the direct control of his Ministry; henceforth, the Ministry was able to ensure that not only senior level administrative positions but even junior teaching posts in the universities were made according to its own criteria, including criteria other than academic merit, such as membership of the Basij or experience within the Iranian military. With state security officials also now effectively ruling the roost, university authorities moved to chill dissent, using a system of “starring” to put student activists, and those who failed to adhere to strict dress and behaviour codes, on notice that they had were under official suspicion and under threat of disciplinary penalties, including suspension or expulsion or worse, if they should be seen to continue their perceived transgression.
Women in Higher Education
 
            The renewed “Islamicization” process initiated under President Ahmadinejad had a gender-specific impact and came about as the number of women and girls attending university and other centres of higher education in Iran had outstripped the number of male university students. The gender segregation of campuses imposed during the Cultural Revolution of the early 1980s, which appears to have led some families to see universities as safe places for their daughters to attend, combined with the later lifting of certain restrictions on the courses available to women, contributed to a steady rise in the number of female students in higher education.
 
            Women comprise around half, or slightly more than half, of all Iranian students in higher education. The “Islamicization” of the universities during the Cultural Revolution had many negative aspects and consequences but, somewhat ironically, the strict gender segregation of campuses that resulted from it appears to have had a positive impact in leading many families to conclude that the universities were places to which it was safe to send their daughters.
 
      The number of women entering higher education increased progressively during the 1980s after the authorities decided to lift partially the restrictions imposed following the 1979 Islamic Revolution on women’s access to some courses. The steady rise in the number of women in higher education continued throughout the 1990s and into the first decade of the 21st century. By the academic year 2005-2006, the first under President Ahmadinejad, women were reported to comprise more than 55 per cent of the total number of students in higher education.4 In 2007, women were reported to comprise nearly 58 per cent of all students at universities and or other institutions of higher education in Iran.
 
            Official efforts to reduce the number and proportion of female students in higher education and restore the balance in favour of men began to be implemented after President Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, although the degree to which they succeeded remains open to question. The measures included quotas which some universities imposed to limit the number of female students who could enrol on specific degree courses while other courses, such as mining engineering, which the authorities perceived as suitable only for men, were closed to female students. As well, courses such as women’s studies were reformulated away from any focus on women’s rights under international law in order to give priority attention to women’s “traditional” roles and responsibilities within the family as wives and mothers, and to emphasize “Islamic values” as the key factor determining the position of women in Iranian society, and their rules of behaviour.
 
            Female students have told Amnesty International that, in their view, the university authorities’ stricter enforcement of dress and conduct codes, coupled with the curriculum changes and quotas limiting female enrolment in particular courses, had a disproportionate, adverse impact on women and may have deterred some girls from pursuing higher education.
 
Religious Minorities
 
            Members of minority religions unrecognized by Iran’s Constitution such as Baha’is, have been largely excluded from universities since shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and thereby, in many cases, denied access to higher education. To Amnesty International’s knowledge, the Iranian authorities have never openly acknowledged such discrimination, which contravenes international law and human right treaties to which Iran is party, or sought to justify or explain it. According to unofficial sources, such discrimination is maintained under classified official guidelines.
 
            What is clear, however, is that the exclusion of Baha’is and member of certain other religious minorities fits with the broader pattern of official discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities that are considered “un-Islamic” or of uncertain loyalty to the authorities, who deny them access to jobs in government service, freedom to exercise their religious beliefs or, in the case of ethnic minorities, use their own language as a medium of instruction in schools.
 
Higher Education Under President Rouhani
 
      Against this background, the period since President Rouhani took office has seen some, albeit limited positive developments. In particular, following the appointment of Ja’far Tofighi as interim Minister of Science, the Ministry allowed some banned students and academics to return to higher education, although they had to give written undertakings as to their future conduct and activities. In September 2013, the interim Minister announced that his Ministry had established a working group that would investigate complaints from banned students and academic staff, to which he invited recently banned students to submit complaints, and said those whose complaints were upheld would be allowed to resume their studies. He said that students who had been banned before 2011 should re-take the annual university exam if they wished to return to higher education.
 
            As yet, it is not possible to determine the impact of these measures, although the Ministry of Science said in August 2013 that 126 formerly banned students had been allowed to resume their studies. For hundreds of others, however, there appears to have been no change, and they remain barred from university either because of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression or the rights to peaceful assembly and association, or because they are Baha’is or members of other officially unrecognized religious groups who continue to face discrimination.
 
            President Rouhani’s first months in office have raised hopes of a less repressive system in Iran and greater government respect both for the human rights of Iran’s people and for its obligations under international human rights law. The next months and years will be crucial to whether Iran’s universities will be liberated from arbitrary interference by the security police and their political masters and be given the opportunity to become centres of independent scholarship, free thinking and innovation. Many in Iran and from around the world will be watching to see if President Rouhani seeks to address this crisis in Iranian higher education, as his pre-election oratory as an advocate of reform suggested he may, and if so with what degree of energy, resolution and ultimate success.
 
Click here for the full text.
 

Photo credits: University of Science and Technology by Americophile (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Isfahan University graduates by gire_3pich2005 (Own work) [FAL] via Wikimedia Commons

 

Obama at West Point : On Iran Diplomacy

      On May 28, President Barack Obama cited progress in diplomacy with Iran as an example of strong American leadership in his address to West Point military academy graduates. “It has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side” during nuclear talks, he said. The following are excerpts from his speech.

 
            Skeptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong. Let me offer just two examples why.
 
            In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions. Europe and the G-7 joined with us to impose sanctions. NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies. The IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine. This mobilization of world opinion and institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda, Russian troops on the border, and armed militias. This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions; yesterday, I spoke to their next President. We don’t know how the situation will play out, and there will be grave challenges. But standing with our allies on behalf of international order has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future. 
 
            Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States, Israel, and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years. But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. Now, we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement – one that is more effective and durable than what would be achieved through the use of force. And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.
 
            This is American leadership. This is American strength. In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge. Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent them from spreading.
 
 

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