The honeymoon with the new government is over. Iranians are coming back from their New Year holidays to see their utility bills go up, some by 24%. Petrol prices are also due to rise, a move that usually prompts discontent and triggers inflation.
Starved of cash, President Hassan Rouhani’s government has no choice but to cut state subsidies for fuel and energy. “It’s like squeezing juice out of a crushed fruit. My finances are already pushed to the limit,” says Gholamreza, complaining over the phone from Tehran about this week’s 20% increase in household gas prices.
The Iranian New Year started on 20 March, and with it came a hike in utility prices. Electricity bills have gone up by 24% and those for water by 20%. Gholamreza, who lives in a religious district of south Tehran and prefers to use only his first name, is worried about the impending rise in the price of petrol.
“If the cost of transport goes up, I would only be able to commute by bus,” says the 40-year old, who works as the caretaker of an office block in affluent north Tehran.
Within the small community of minority Arabs where he lived in southwest Iran, Hashem Shaabani was known as a teacher, an advocate for civil rights and a poet. But to the Islamic Republic he was seen as a threat.
Shaabani, 32, was arrested in February 2011 and accused of belonging to an armed separatist group. His family had minimal contact with him after his arrest, and in late January this year they received shocking news: Shaabani had been executed.
“It made me question why we live in a society where something like this can happen,” said a friend who asked not to be identified for personal security reasons. “It also made me think that we have a long road ahead before we can reach democracy and freedom.”
Since president Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in Iran, took office last August, there has been a surge in executions: at least 537 people have been executed in the past eight months, nearly 200 of them since the beginning of this year, according to figures compiled by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. That compares with a total for 2013 of 624, according to data gathered by the United Nations.
Bijan Zanganeh returns this week to the same Vienna hotel suite he last occupied eight years ago as Iranian oil minister, ready to prepare OPEC for what Tehran hopes will mark its return as the cartel’s second biggest producer.
Emboldened by its nuclear deal with the West, Iranian oil negotiators led again by industry veteran Zanganeh, will seek to reassert Tehran’s authority in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at a Wednesday meeting.
Western sanctions imposed in 2012 on Iran for its nuclear program have cost it dearly, losing it billions of dollars in oil revenues and market share in OPEC – largely to its main regional political rival Saudi Arabia, and neighbor Iraq.
A multi-billion dollar organization controlled by Iran’s supreme leader shook up the management of its charity division, appointing as its new chief a man involved in the confiscation of thousands of properties from Iranian citizens.
Aref Norozi was named director general of the Barakat Foundation, Iran’s state news agency reported on Wednesday. The foundation is a unit of a massive business empire controlled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that is known as Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam.
The report by the Islamic Republic News Agency stated that Setad’s president, Mohammad Mokhber, had ordered the appointment of Norozi, who once headed Setad’s real-estate division and served on the boards of several Setad-linked companies.
Iran’s supreme leader gave strong backing on Sunday to his president’s push for nuclear negotiations, warning hardliners not to accuse Hassan Rouhani of compromising with the old enemy America.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments will help shield Rouhani, who has sought to thaw relations with the West since his surprise election in June, from accusations of being soft on the United States, often characterized in the Islamic Republic as the “Great Satan”.
Iran will resume negotiations with six world powers, including the United States, in Geneva on Thursday, talks aimed at ending a standoff over its nuclear work that Tehran denies is weapons-related.
Rouhani hopes a deal there will mean an end to sanctions that have cut the OPEC country’s oil exports and hurt the wider economy, but any concession that looks like Iran is compromising on what it sees as its sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology will be strongly resisted by conservatives.
“No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers,” Khamenei said in a speech, a day before the November 4 anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a pivotal event in U.S.-Iranian relations, the ISNA news agency reported.
“They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work,” said Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran’s dual clerical-republic system, including over the nuclear program.
ENEMY WHO SMILES
Hardline factions, who oppose any thaw in relations with the United States, have criticized Rouhani’s negotiating team for not releasing details of the proposal they made to world powers at a previous round of talks in Geneva last month.
They have also resisted calls from moderate Iranian newspapers and prominent figures including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to drop the “Death to America” chant, often heard at Friday prayers throughout Iran.
Khamenei reiterated previous statements that he is not optimistic about the outcome of nuclear talks but said he saw no downside to holding the negotiations.
“With God’s permission, we will not be harmed by these negotiations … if the negotiations reach a conclusion then all the better, but if they don’t it will mean that the country must stand on its own feet,” Khamenei said.
He also criticized the United States for continuing to impose sanctions and threatening possible military action. Both Washington and its ally Israel say the military option to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons is something they do not rule out.
“We should not trust an enemy who smiles,” Khamenei said. “From one side the Americans smile and express a desire to negotiate, and from another side they immediately say all options are on the table.”
In September, U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the United States would “take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran.”
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
In July, Iran lost one of its most acclaimed playwrights and directors when Mahmoud Ostad-Mohammad passed away in Tehran at the age of 62.
Scores of relatives, friends, and theater lovers attended his funeral ceremony that was adorned with pictures of Ostad-Mohammad — his trademark mustache and playful smile on display. Some wept while embracing copies of his famous screenplays.
Among the mourners was Ostad-Mohammad’s daughter, Mana, who is convinced that Western sanctions against Iran were partly to blame for his father’s passing.
“This was the doctor’s testimony,” said Mana Ostad-Mohammad. “This is based on my father’s medical tests.”
Experts from Iran and six world powers will meet in Vienna on October 30-31 to prepare the next round of high-level talks on the contested Iranian nuclear program with hopes of a breakthrough rising thanks to a diplomatic opening from Tehran.
Western diplomats say the meeting, scheduled to take place a week before the next round of negotiations in Geneva in November, could be instrumental in defining the contours of any preliminary agreement on Iran’s uranium enrichment campaign.
After years of diplomatic paralysis and increasingly confrontational rhetoric, the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, has opened windows to a deal that would head off the risk of a new Middle East war.