United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Cartoonists Sketch Human Rights Abuses

            A new book on political cartoons confronts the most sensitive issues in Iran ― including censorship, electoral fraud, torture and women’s rights. Sketches of Iran: A Glimpse from the Front Lines of Human Rights, edited by Omid Memarian, depicts the pain and resiliency of Iranians who refuse to relinquish their rights.

            “These drawings depict defiance in the face of power. They are infused with a quiet determination. Their unflinching portrayal of suffering, as well as the occasional use of humor, resonates on an emotional level in a way no human rights report can,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. The following slideshow is a sampling of the 40 cartoons featured in the book.

Click here for information about the book.
Click here to read Hadi Ghaemi’s chapter on Iran’s judiciary from The Iran Primer.


Facebook in Iran: The Supreme Leader

Helia Ighani

            Iran’s supreme leader is big into social media. Over the past year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has launched a Facebook page as well as Instagram, Google Plus and YouTube accountsdespite government bans on Facebook and YouTube. He has been on Twitter since 2009.
      The supreme leader’s social media appears aimed primarily at a regional and international audience. Most of his posts are in English, with some in Arabic or Spanish.
      On each site, Khamenei’s primary message is that the Islamic Republic is a rising power in the region and that its ideology has growing influence. He credits Iran for inspiring the Arab uprisings as part of a wider “Islamic awakening” that imitates the 1979 revolution.
      Up to 30 percent of Iranians get around the official blocks through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that are connected to foreign servers, Kamal Hadianfar, then chief of Iran’s cyber police, told Mehr News in June 2012. Some 17 million Iranians had Facebook accounts by October 2011, the technology director of the Student Basij militia told Fars News. In early 2012, the U.S. State Department estimated that there are up to 14 million Facebook users in Iran.
            Yet Iranians also make heavy use of domestic social media. In April 2013, four of the top 10 sites viewed in Iran were domestic blog hosts or imitations of Western sites, according to web information company Alexa. Popular Iranian services include Aparat, Cloob and Hadinet. Cloob, or the Iranian Virtual Society, features articles, chatrooms and instant messaging, photos, shopping, classifieds—all in accordance with Islamic law. Mehr is Iran’s heavily censored alternative to YouTube. But Iranian sites often suffer from technical problems.
            Google—the number one website in Iran—hosts one of the few Western social media platforms not blocked by Tehran. The supreme leader joined Google Plus in March 2012 and has posted dozens of graphics, enhanced photographs and dramatic videos probably to enhance his reputation with Iran’s technology savvy youth. The following is a rundown of Khamenei’s websites and social media accounts.
      Khamenei’s newest foray into social media is on Facebook. The supreme leader’s office has yet to acknowledge page’s authenticity but the postings are similar to other official sites. Khamenei advertised the creation of his Facebook page in December 2012 to his Google Plus followers.

      As of April 2013, Khamenei had more than 40,500  “likes.” He has posted photos with links to transcripts of his speeches. The page also has links to audio recordings on Soundcloud, a popular German site.

Click here to view his Facebook page.
Click here to view his Soundcloud page.
            The supreme leader joined Twitter on March 31, 2009. He had more than 10,100 followers four years later in April 2013. Khamenei uses Twitter as a hub for all his social media accounts, tweeting links to his other profiles on Instagram, Google Plus, and Facebook.
            The supreme leader‘s tweets are mainly in English and Farsi. The posts appeared frequently after protests erupted following the disputed June 2009 presidential election. Up to 3 million people took to Tehran’s streets to protest official claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won in a landslide. Khamenei tweeted up to 40 times a day while protestors used social media to relay images and information about demonstrations and the government crackdown.
            Khamenei’s very first English tweets endorsed the 2009 election results. He said the election was “a political earthquake for the enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also dismissed the protestors’ complaints, claiming that “the competition between all candidates in Iranian election was transparent, free and explicit.”
            His tweets have often contained excerpts from speeches that condemn the United States and international sanctions on Iran. The tweets have frequently included inconsistent use of hashtags, typos, and poor English translations.

             Before Khamenei joined Instagram, he used to post more photos on Twitter. They documented his visits with global leaders and speeches across Iran. One twitpic summarized the “benefits of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s resistance in the nuclear issue,” with excerpts from Khamenei's 44 speeches on the nuclear program from 2004 to 2012.
      The top of the chart featured images of four nuclear scientists who were assassinated. To emphasize Tehran’s claim that its program is peaceful, the pictures are surrounded by white doves. (Click here to see the full size image).
      The supreme leader also criticized the United States after a YouTube film — produced in the United States— insulted the Prophet Mohammed. It triggered attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and beyond in September 2012. Khamenei tweeted “Nobody believes the American claim of supporting democracy.” More than a dozen other tweets defended the protests.
Click here to view his Twitter account.
Google Plus
            The supreme leader joined Google’s social media platform in March 2012. He has posted extensively on Google Plus in Farsi for his Iranian followers. In September 2012, the Iranian government banned Google extensions in response to the inflammatory video that caused anti-American riots. The ban was lifted on Gmail after one week, however, after members of parliament complained about their lost e-mail accounts. The 2009 block on YouTube, another Google extension, remained in effect.
            Khamenei’s Google Plus page has many photos of himself not published elsewhere. This page also features excerpts of his sermons. In April 2013, more than 8,000 people had added Khamenei to their circles.
Click here to view his Google Plus page.
            The supreme leader has uploaded more than a dozen videos since joining the popular video-sharing service in December 2012. The Islamic Republic banned YouTube in 2009, when protestors uploaded videos of the government crackdown on the Green Movement.
      Some YouTube clips of the Arab Spring protests are twinned with Khamenei’s speeches about the “Islamic Awakening” redefining the Middle East.
      In one particularly inflammatory video (left), a Palestinian child cries over her father’s dead body, while Israelis survey the scene. Khamenei’s channel had been viewed more than 13,000 times by April 2013.
Click here to view his YouTube channel.
            In August 2012, the supreme leader joined the fast growing photo-sharing mobile application. Despite the ban on Facebook, the Islamic Republic has not blocked Instagram, which is now owned by Facebook.
      The supreme leader has posted more than 200 photos on Instagram using the same handle as his Twitter account. As of April 2013, he had more than 2,200 followers.
      Instagram users enhance photos by using different colored lenses to add a “retro” feel to their images before sharing them. After the Non-Aligned Movement summit in August 2012, Khamenei posted a photo (left) of himself with former Cuban President Fidel Castro at the 1986 NAM summit.
      Khamenei's first postings prompted reactions from around the world, including both positive and negative comments in Hebrew, German, Spanish and English.     
      The supreme leader has used Instagram to promote the Islamic Republic’s technological and cultural achievements. One photo (left) shows Khamenei peering into a microscope at Tehran’s Royan Institute. The caption reads, “Iran is amongst 6 top countries in stem cell biology.”
      Many photos have produced critiques of Iranian policies—on women, homosexuality and support of extremist groups in the Middle East. One user wrote, “Ironic that this is being posted on an American-based app.”
      Some Instagram users have written sarcastic comments. One user commented on a photo of a little boy (left) wearing a sweater with a Disney cartoon character and a headband saying, “Khamenei, here I am [at your service].” The user wrote, “Pixar’s worst nightmare.”
Click here to view the supreme leader’s Instagram account.
Official Websites
            The supreme leader has two websites — one for his office and one as his personal website.
            The first website acts as an introductory course to Shiite Islam and the Islamic Republic’s system of government. It provides extensive information on the supreme leader's role and links to his writings and speeches.
            In a section on Islamic law, or Sharia, users send questions to Khamenei. Visitors have inquired about Islam’s view on dancing at weddings, wearing a tie, and plucking one’s eyebrows.
      The guide to fatwas, or religious decrees, covers themes such as prayer rituals, clothing, and pilgrimage. In some cases, Khamenei updates the fatwas of his predecessor.
      There is also a mobile application that monitors Khamenei’s daily activities, along with a RSS feed and newsfeed on the website.
Click here to view the Office of the Supreme Leader’s website.
The supreme leader’s personal website features an extensive archive of his publications, speeches, and photos. Most of his tweets link to information on this website.
The Persian language version of this website offers an SMS service for his subscribers who want constant updates on his events and recent statements.
Click here to view his personal website.
Click here to read the Iran Primer’s chapter on the supreme leader.
Helia Ighani is a graduate student at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


U.S. Offers Earthquake Aid to Iran, Pakistan

            On April 16, Secretary of State John Kerry offered assistance to Iran and Pakistan after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit their border. The epicenter of the quake ― Iran’s largest in more than 40 years ― was near the remote southeastern city of Khash. But the 51 mile depth of the quake reduced the impact on the surface. Iranian media outlets have reported conflicting information about the damage. The deputy governor of Sistan and Baluchistan province said that one woman was killed, and five others were injured. 

            But in Pakistan, more than 30 people were killed. Up to 150 others were injured, and hundreds of homes were damaged. Tremors were felt across the Gulf and northern India. The following is the full text of Kerry’s statement.
            The United States sends our deepest condolences for those lost in the earthquake in southeastern Iran and western Pakistan today. Our thoughts are with the families of those who were killed, those who were injured, and with those communities that have suffered damage to homes and property. We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time.



Report: Iran’s Economy Shrank in 2012

            Iran’s economy has shrunk for the first time in more than twenty years. It shrank by 1.9 percent in 2012 and could contract by 1.3 percent in 2013, according to a new report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Unemployment is also expected to rise to 13.4 percent in 2013, up from 12.5 percent in 2012.

            Iran is facing its most serious economic challenge since the 1994 debt crisis or the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Western sanctions slashed oil exports by about 50 percent in 2012. They previously provided up to 80 percent of Iran’s foreign revenue.
            But the IMF projects Iran’s economy to grow 1.1 percent in 2014. And consumer prices could also come down, according to the annual “World Economic Outlook.” The following tables are excerpts from the report, with a link to the full text at the end.
Click here for the full text.

Report: Sunni-Shiite Divide Deepens

            The Arab uprisings have deepened ethnic and religious tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, according to a new report by The Brookings Institution. The rise of sectarianism is being drive by three main factors:

      •Sunni Islamist ascendancy in Tunisia and Egypt
      •The civil war in Syria, renewed conflict in Lebanon, and unrest in Bahrain
      •Popular perceptions of outside intervention have created a “virtual proxy war” with Iran,
       Syria and Hezbollah on one side and the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on the

            The report argues that Iran may be overestimating its influence in the region, especially in Bahrain and Lebanon.  Despite Iran’s efforts to convince the world of a coming pan-Islamic awakening, “many Sunni states are seeking to further distance themselves from Tehran.” Domestic politics now drives foreign policy in countries that have undergone transitions, such as Egypt and Tunisia. The following are excerpts from Geneive Abdo’s report, with a link to the full text at the end.
            The rise of sectarianism is being driven today primarily by three factors. First, a Sunni Islamist ascendancy in Tunisia and, particularly, in Egypt has reignited the sectarian flame that has historically hovered over the Middle East. The Islamist nature of these two governments is a source of empowerment for Sunnis and a thorn in the side of the Shi‘a. Some Shi‘a see the new Sunni Islamist governments in both of these countries as a beginning to what could become a Sunni-dominated region if Asad falls to a Sunni-led government in Syria and Hizballah in turn loses power in Lebanon. And with uprisings and widespread opposition to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s government in Iraq, the Shi‘a could be in trouble there as well. As the Sunnis feel increasingly empowered by the recent challenges to authoritarian Arab regimes, the Shi‘a feel all the more threatened.
            Second, the civil war in Syria has sparked renewed conflict over Arab and Islamic identity in neighboring countries—especially in Lebanon—and even in those states untouched directly by the war, such as Bahrain and Kuwait. Not only is Asad’s likely fall a blow to a potential Shi‘a ascendance which began in Iraq with Shi‘a leader Nuri Al Maliki becoming prime minister, but the atrocities being committed against the Sunni in Syria are a glaring blight on all Shi‘a in the region.
            And third, popular perceptions of outside intervention and interference have created a virtual proxy war with Iran, Syria, and Hizballah on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Turkey on the other...
            In the eyes of many Sunni, the Arab uprisings have provided an opportunity to undercut the Iran-Hizballah-Syria axis. Yet, they still see Iran’s skilled and often mendacious hands behind every twist and turn, in particular in Tehran’s deep involvement in helping Asad cling to power. To listen to many Sunni in Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, is to perceive all Shi‘a as iron-clad Iranian loyalists. This association serves many purposes.
            First, it is an instrument with which to demonize the Shi‘a and to portray them as being in cahoots with the regional culprit, Iran, which is at odds with many Sunni  governments. No matter how much Khamenei has tried to convince the world of a coming pan-Islamic awakening, many Sunni states are seeking to further distance themselves from Tehran. Meanwhile, the Muslim street remains conflicted. In religious terms, the assertion of an Iranian connection is also an effective Sunni tactic for casting doubt on the Muslim credentials of the Shi‘a.
Click here for the full text.

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