July 1998, Week 4
|European Clubs Seek Iranian Players||July 30|
|Iran Arrests Newspaper Director||July 30|
|Iran's Khatami defends religious, press freedom||July 29|
|Iranian president publicly backs convicted mayor||July 27|
|Sunday's Goodwill Games Medalists||July 27|
|US Wins Goodwill Wrestling Gold||July 26|
|Iran President Faces Tough Task||July 25|
|Hardline Iran Paper Criticises Mayor Sentencing||July 25|
|Iranians at Goodwill Games for Wrestling, Not Politics||July 25|
|Tehran mayor at heart of Iran's political struggle||July 23|
|Tehran mayor sentenced to five years in prison||July 23|
|EIGHT DAYS IN IRAN!||July 22|
|Iran Lawmakers OK Moderate Minister||July 22|
|Iran to give Tehran mayor verdict on Thursday||July 22|
|Khatami reforms face tough test in Iran parliament||July 21|
European Clubs Seek Iranian Players
From:Persian Gulf Soccer|
World Cup, many European clubs have sought after Iranian players for the upcoming season. While some of the negotiations have been finalized by both the respective European
Clubs and Iranian football Federation, some of the other contracts are still being
negotiated. Iran's veteran goal keeper, who has been praised as one of the most
experienced goal keepers of France '98 World Cup by BBC and other European
sports analysts, is currently negotiating with French Club Marseilles.
Here are the player transfers to date (some have been finalized while others are pending):
Mehdi Mahdavikia Tottenham
Iran Arrests Newspaper Director
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranian police have arrested the managing director of a newspaper that printed an anonymous letter criticizing the late Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini, official media reported Wednesday. |
Mohammad-Reza Za'eri of the Khaneh newspaper was arrested for publishing ``material insulting the Islamic sanctities and the late Imam Khomeini,'' the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The letter, written by an anonymous woman, referred to the 1980-88 war with Iraq.
``When I think of Khomeini, all that comes to mind are the horrifying sounds of the midnight bombs that used to fall on Tehran, and the blood of thousands of innocent young Iranians who died in that war,'' the letter said.
The agency said Za'eri will face trial Monday.
Iran's Khatami defends religious, press freedom
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami made a ringing call on Tuesday for freedom of the press
and religion as core principles of the Islamic republic.
"These are important principles of our nation and they should be defended," Khatami was quoted as saying by state television in a ceremony at Iran's official news agency IRNA.
"We must give the public accurate and sound information. This will disarm the 'medium of rumor' and also minimize the impact of the foreign media," he said.
Khatami, who was overwhelmingly elected last year on a mandate for social reform, also defended the rights of non-Moslems in Iran.
"I am trying today to defend people's rights on the basis of religion and freedom. We must defend the rights of an individual who does not even recognize my religion. At the same time, on the basis of freedom, I will defend the religious base of society," he was quoted as saying.
The president's call for the defense of non-Moslems comes amid international protests following the alleged hanging last week of a 52-year-old man of the Bahai faith who was charged with converting a Moslem woman.
Iran denied the reported execution.
The Bahai faith is an offshoot of Islam that originated in Iran 150 years ago. It claims 6 million members worldwide, including 350,000 in Iran, where it is officially considered "a misleading and wayward sect."
It is considered heresy by Islamic fundamentalists, who have severely persecuted followers of the religion in Iran.
Khatami called for a probing, vigorous press to safeguard people's freedoms.
"Weak points must be criticized. ...The points of weakness, strength, shortcomings and problems must be presented as they are so that people's expectations match realities," he was quoted as saying by IRNA. He also called for a safe environment for reporters, who he said should be free to criticize without fear of retribution.
There have been several instances of attacks on newspaper offices in the past year and a leading pro-Khatami daily was forced to close recently after publishing what were deemed to be incendiary stories. The daily continues to publish under another name.
Khatami has liberally granted publishing licences and the Iranian media has experienced a renaissance in the past year, tackling subjects that were formerly taboo and raising public interest in newspapers and magazines.
The president, who remains widely popular nearly a year after he took office, added: "Rights are not given by governments. They are God-given. Good governments must remove all hurdles impeding these rights. It is important that people come to believe in themselves and they themselves guard their own rights."
Iranian president publicly backs convicted mayor
TEHRAN(Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami has rallied behind the mayor of Tehran, a powerful
political ally convicted last week on corruption charges,
holding out the prospect of his return soon to political life
despite a 20-year court ban.
Gholamhossein Karbaschi, veteran city manager and head of an influential bloc of technocrats and private businessmen, had proved an innovative and effective mayor in his almost nine years at the helm of the Iranian capital, Khatami said.
The president's remarks, made to members of his cabinet on Sunday, were published on Monday in Iranian newspapers. It was his first public comment on the case.
He suggested the mercy of Islamic justice may yet find a way for Karbaschi, once the darling of the revolutionary clerics but now a convicted felon, to return quickly to public service.
"As the chief executive and head of the government and without taking into account the legal...aspects of the court ruling, I express my appreciation for the services of Mr Karbaschi as an innovative public servant and manager," he said.
"I hope that in the appeal stage, by taking advantage of the generosity of the Islamic judiciary and by taking into account the comprehensive outlook expected from the higher legal authorities, the government would be able to benefit from the services of this hard-working brother and this prominent manager," the president said.
Karbaschi was convicted last week of graft and sentenced to five years in prison, directed to pay a heavy fine and banned from holding public office for 20 years. A sentence of 60 lashes was suspended.
The ruling, at the end of a politically-charged and divisive hearing, threatens to deprive Khatami of one of the strongest members of his progressive coalition made up of Islamic leftists, senior technocrats and elements of the private sector.
The president, a moderate Shi'ite cleric, was elected in a surprise landslide in May, 1997, in part through the financial backing and organisational efforts of Karbaschi. He has since clashed repeatedly with conservatives seeking to block his modest political and social reforms.Political analysts have suggested that either the appeals court or supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may yet suspend the jail term or even overturn the verdict completely.
Either outcome would allow Karbaschi to run for the next parliament, in 2000, an office apparently not covered by the trial judge's 20-year ban.
The unexpectedly harsh sentence has drawn sharp criticism from Karbaschi's political allies and from the liberal wing of the press.
On Monday, leading leftists within the Khatami government used the inauguration of the new interior minister to publicly back Karbaschi.
Former minister Abdollah Nouri, impeached last month by the conservative-led parliament, said that satisfying the needs of the people were more important than meeting the demands of the rightist judiciary.
"You see the situation for one of the strongest and most prominent managers in the country," Nouri said as the former mayor entered the interior ministry auditorium.
"It was evident from the start that such a prominent figure would face difficulties. But that is no problem because our aim is the satisfaction of God and the people. All the rest is words," Nouri, now vice-president for development and social affairs, told the audience.
His comments were echoed by his successor, Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, confirmed last week as the new minister.
An association of Islamic university students, another important element of the Khatami coalition, has planned a rally for Tuesday in defence of Karbaschi and the government in general.
A similar rally earlier this summer ended in clashes when hardline extremists attacked student demonstrators. The violence and its immediate aftermath provoked the parliament to impeach Nouri, Khatami's original interior minister.
Sunday's Goodwill Games Medalists
GOLD--Para Ferriera Souza and Guilherme Marques, Brazil
SILVER--Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson, United States
BRONZE--Esteban Martinez and Martin Conde, Argentina
GOLD--Dmitry Sautin, Russia
SILVER--Troy Dumais, United States
BRONZE--Zhou Yilin, China
GOLD--Laura Wilkinson, United States
SILVER--Cai Yuyan, China
BRONZE--Sang Xue, China
GOLD--Jie Ling and Xu Huang, China 1
SILVER--Svetlana Khorkina and Aleksei Nemov, Russia 1
BRONZE--Anna Kovalyova and Aleksei Bondarenko, Russia 2
GOLD--Behnam Taiebi, Iran
SILVER--Sam Henson, United States
BRONZE--Murat Ramazanov, Russia
GOLD--Mohammad Talaie, Iran
SILVER--Harun Dogan, Turkey
BRONZE--Tony Purler, United States
GOLD--Cary Kolat, United States
SILVER--Mehdi Kaveh, Iran
BRONZE--Magomed Azizov, Russia
GOLD--Lincoln McIlravy, United States
SILVER--Velikan Alakhverdiev, Russia
BRONZE--Adem Kaya, Turkey
GOLD--Buvaissar Saytiev, Russia
SILVER--Steve Marianetti, United States
BRONZE--Nuri Zengin, Iran
GOLD--Les Gutches, United States
SILVER--Khadjimorad Magomedov, Russia
BRONZE--Ali Ozen, Turkey
GOLD--Saghid Murtasailyev, Russia
SILVER--Melvin Douglas, United States
BRONZE--Kasif Sakiroglu, Turkey
GOLD--Andrei Shumulin, Russia
SILVER--Kerry McCoy, United States
BRONZE--Rasoul Khadem, Turkey
US Wins Goodwill Wrestling Gold
NEW YORK (AP) -- An old college trick -- and a little luck -- helped Tony Purler spark the United States to the Goodwill Games' wrestli
ng gold medal Sunday. |
Jet lag might have had a hand in it, too.
Purler, from Norman, Okla., pinned Murat Ramanazov of Russia in 27 seconds of their 128-pound match, the second of four straight wins t hat sent the American team to a 16-14 dual meet victory.
The Russians adjusted their lineup to try to combat the U.S. quickness, moving Ramazanov up from 119 pounds to face Purler.
But the strategy backfired when Purler, a 1993 NCAA champion at Nebraska, put Ramazanov on his back almost as soon as the match began.
``He got his legs crossed, I grabbed his knee and put him in a hold,'' Purler said. ``It was one of my old college moves. It was luck. You don't get many falls in international competition.''
The pin was good for four points and, added to an opening decision by Sam Hensen over Leonid Chuchunov, put the United States on track for victory.
``We made some things happen in those first two matches,'' U.S. coach John Smith said.
The home team got another boost when world champion Les Gutches scored a takedown with 50 seconds remaining to defeat Olympic champion Khadzimurad Magomedov 4-3 at 187.
Gutches, from Corvallis, Ore., said the Russians may have been fighting jet lag, having only arrived in New York Friday.
``The third day is the hardest day on your body,'' he said. ``And that may be a little evidence of what we're seeing today.''
Smith said the Goodwill gold would be a springboard for the world championships, scheduled for Iran. The Iranian team staged a brief wa lkout of its Saturday night match against the United States because of demonstrations by anti-Tehran exiles in the crowd at Madison Squ are Garden.
The American wrestlers, who competed in Tehran earlier this year, said they didn't think there'd be a payback for them when they return in September.
``I think that the Iranian Wrestling Federation and the Iranian government in particular have a lot to gain from us getting there and g etting back safe,'' Gutches said. ``I'm going there to win a world championship, I don't care if I have to sleep in a barn and set my s tuff on a bale of hay.''
Iran President Faces Tough Task
By Anwar Faruqi|
Associated Press Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- By toppling the reformist mayor of Tehran, hard-line rivals of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami have scored a telling victory. It won't be their last.
To overcome the ultra-conservatives, Khatami, a moderate cleric, must change the system that grants limited power to the popularly elected president and absolute authority to the unelected religious establishment.
He has little room to maneuver, however.
The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, controls the armed forces, the intelligence services and the broadcast network.
He also dominates the judiciary, which on Thursday sentenced Tehran's moderate mayor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, to five years in jail in what was widely seen as a political trial.
Khamenei was appointed by a 70-member Assembly of Experts, which is controlled by the hard-liners. His allies also dominate the Majlis, or parliament, and control the screening process for candidates to parliament and to the Assembly of Experts.
Khatami's only hope for significant change is to rely on his popularity and a groundswell of public pressure to do away with that screening process.
Moderates in the Majlis are expected to propose changes in the process before October's elections for the Assembly of Experts. But whether their efforts will succeed is uncertain.
Khatami's supporters have carried out several violent protests in the past year, but they have been contained by hard-liners. There are fears that a growing sense of public frustration could lead to more violence if Khatami is not allowed to implement reforms.
Meanwhile, the battle between the ultra-conservatives and moderates continues.
Besides initiating the Karbaschi trial, hard-liners recently impeached Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, another Khatami ally. They approved a different Khatami supporter to that post Wednesday in a bid to avoid an open confrontation with the president.
The mayor was convicted of corruption, but most Iranians believe that his crime was challenging a religious establishment not used to being questioned since it toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979 and established its own strict rule.
Khatami has eased the social code, allowing men and women to socialize without being harassed by police. But the impeachment of the interior minister came in retaliation.
The president has allowed political gatherings, but militants have attacked the meetings.
Press freedoms are encouraged under Khatami, but the hard-line judiciary has intensified its campaign against newspapers taking too many liberties.
Several newspaper have been fined and the daily Jameah, an outspoken paper that was testing the limits of the new freedoms, was closed.
Overtures toward the United States aimed at lessening nearly 20 years of mutual hostility have been sharply criticized. Khamenei and other hard-line leaders have vetoed any resumption of ties.
Khatami's efforts to overhaul the ailing economy are also being blocked.
Large sections of the economy are in the hands of powerful bonyads, or foundations that own everything from five-star hotels to auto plants and control nearly all trade.
They are accountable only to the supreme leader, Khamenei.
The hard-liners' stranglehold on power has been apparent from the early days of the Islamic government. Among the first to realize it was the late Mehdi Bazargan, who headed a short-lived provisional government that took over after the shah was toppled.
``They have put a knife in my hand, but it is a knife with only a handle. Others are holding the blade,'' Bazargan said shortly before resigning in November 1979.
Hardline Iran Paper Criticises Mayor Sentencing
TEHRAN (Reuters)- A hardline Iranian newspaper on Saturday criticised a tough prison
sentence and other punishments imposed by the conservative-led judiciary on Tehran's mayor after he was
found guilty on corruption charges.
The daily Jomhuri Eslami took the unexpected position in an editorial which expressed hope that a pardon could still be granted to Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, whose trial raised tensions between conservatives and moderates.
``If in issuing the verdict, providing unity among political factions was considered, the verdict would have been less heavy, bearing positive results for the system and the society,'' the daily said in its Saturday editorial.
Karbaschi was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, banned from government office for 20 years and ordered to receive 60 lashes, the latter suspended for four years.
Karbaschi, found guilty on charges including embezzlement and misconduct in government, was also directed to pay a heavy fine and return millions of dollars in looted public funds.
``There is a hope that the appeals court will reduce the sentence. Still, there are other ways to extenuate or even pardon some of the sentences, and maybe it is more expedient if one of these ways is chosen,'' the newspaper said.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the authority to pardon convicts.
Jomhuri Eslami also criticised the extremist group Ansar-e Hezbollah (Supporters of the Party of God) who on Friday demanded that the mayor be executed.
``This move is practically against the law and must be condemned,'' the newspaper said.
One of the leaders of Ansar-e Hezbollah, Hossein Allahkaram, said his group was calling for further investigations into Karbaschi's actions, and that he should then be executed.
``We respect the verdict but we believe that Karbaschi must be executed,'' he told reporters on the fringes of Friday's demonstration.
Supporters of the mayor charge that the conservative-led judiciary launched a witch hunt against Karbaschi and his senior aides and business associates. Critics say the mayor ran a corrupt political machine.
The daily newspaper Hamshahri, affiliated to the municipality, reported on Saturday that hundreds of Tehran inhabitants have said they are ready to help Karbaschi pay the the heavy fine.
The Persian-language daily Iran, published by the official news agency IRNA, reported that a bank account had been opened to receive donations by the people.
Iranians at Goodwill Games for Wrestling, Not Politics
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rasul Khadem, here to wrestle in the Goodwill Games, studied
the front page of the newspaper, particularly the lead story about Iran testing a medium-range
Khadem, a political-science student at Tehran University, was asked what he thought about that matter.
``What you see in the news is not always fact,'' he said through interpreter Hamid Kermanshah. ``After a while, you will find out the facts.''
For now, the facts are these: Iran's wrestlers are ready for their Goodwill Games competition, which begins Saturday with matches against Russia and the United States. The political implications are obvious.
Khadem, however, said his country's image was all wrong.
``If you study Iran the last 20 years, we have shown no animosity,'' he said. ``We have never invaded other countries. We were invaded. If you treat and accept us as independents, we never have animosity for other countries.
``I am here to do the best for my country and create new friendship.''
This is the latest in a recent string of sports meetings between Iran and the United States, which have not had diplomatic relations for 20 years and still deal through the political, cultural and religious fallout of the Islamic revolution.
Last month, Iran's soccer team defeated the United States 2-1 in the World Cup, a victory that filled Tehran's streets with joyful demonstrations and brought the team a hero's welcome when it returned.
Khadem, a gold medalist in the 198-pound class in the 1996 Olympics, and other members of the Iranian delegation visited Kermanshah's oriental rug gallery for a reception Thursday before beginning their competition.
They traveled by bus from their midtown hotel, looking out the windows at the sights of Manhattan, which can be daunting for any first-time visitor. American wrestler John Giura, a New Yorker who went along for the ride, said he spoke to one of the Iranians.
``I asked him how he liked New York,'' Giura said. ``He said it's like Tehran but more dangerous. I told him it's not as dangerous as it used to be.''
Giura was a member of the U.S. team that visited Iran in February for Takhti Cup competition. It was the first visit by an American team to the country in 20 years and officials said they were greeted warmly by the people. He said he did not think about the issues that have separated the two governments.
``When you are on a trip to compete, you focus on that,'' he said. ``You're there to wrestle. I was not really concerned about the other stuff.''
Giura said he took advantage of the trip to visit the bazaar in Tehran.
``I bought some pistachios but I ate them before I left the country,'' he said. ``The only thing I brought back were a few craft boxes and myself.''
He recalled being briefed by American officials, told not to shake hands with women, advised to be polite and abide by local customs.
There was one disquieting note, though.
``There was a billboard on a building across from our hotel,'' he said. ``It had the American flag with bombs falling inside the stripes.''
Khadem was asked about that.
``That flag was not hostility,'' he said. ``That flag was left over from Vietnam. The United States never bombed Iran.''
This is a return visit for the Iranian wrestlers, but one that almost did not happen. When they traveled to America in April for the World Cup competition in Stillwater, Okla., the wrestlers were detained in Chicago for fingerprinting and photos, routine for non-diplomatic visitors from their country.
They were angered by the procedure and did not want it repeated here. Officials of the Goodwill Games and the two governments worked out the details and the trip went on.
``This is important because it means opening good relations with the people of the United States,'' said Kermanshah, an Iranian who has lived in America since 1976. ``Maybe it will open a dialogue between the governments.''
Tehran mayor at heart of Iran's political struggle
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, sentenced to jail on corruption charges on Thursday, almost single-handedly lifted t
he Iranian capital out of its post-revolutionary doldrums.
The no-nonsense technocrat brought to life decades-old plans for landscaped freeways drawn up by U.S.-educated urban planners, built housing and sup ermarkets for the masses and introduced the Internet to the well-to-do.
He brought art and concerts to teeming south Tehran districts and sponsored specialty book and music shops around the city -- all paid for through a "tax" on development and other informal sources of revenue that some residents dubbed "the Karbaschi system."
Now the very system that helped transform the metropolis has caught up with the maverick mayor, who has been often accused by his critics of using t he municipality as a private political machine and enriching himself, his business associates and political cronies by looting city coffers.
His road from veteran city manager with impeccable Islamic revolutionary credentials to convicted criminal runs through the very heart of Iran's pol itical struggle between conservatives and moderates.
Karbaschi, 45, provided key financial and organizational support to moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who was elected in a surprise landslide las t year on a platform of greater social and political pluralism.
Since then, the traditionalists who still control many of the traditional levers of power, including the security forces, have clashed with Khatami supporters on a variety of issues.
The mayor's arrest by the conservative-led judiciary in April sparked an open row with the Khatami government and sent angry protesters into the str eets of Tehran in his defence.
He was released after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, interceded at the president's request.Karbaschi's supporters rejected the charges of corruption and mismanagement as politically motivated and a conservative witch hunt against the presi dent's top allies.
The judiciary denied the charges and said it was duty-bound to root out corruption wherever it led.
Karbaschi denies wrongdoing
Karbaschi repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, alleging that the case was based on false evidence collected through torture and other heavy-handed meth ods.
Born to a religious family in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Qom, Karbaschi combined a secular education with traditional religious learning in loca l seminaries before heading to Tehran University in 1972 to study mathematics.
He immediately took up with the growing anti-government student movement then sweeping the university.
He gave speeches, wrote anti-government pamphlets, distributed forbidden taped lectures of the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was to become the father of the Islamic revolution, and took part in student protests.
Karbaschi was soon arrested by the shah's security forces and in 1973 was sentenced to three years in prison. Upon his release he returned to both m athematics and political activism.
By the time Khomeini returned to Iran in triumph in February 1979, to lead the revolution, Karbaschi was recognized as an exemplary young leader.He worked in Khomeini's office for six months before taking over as ideological head of the new Islamic republic's television. In 1982 Khomeini pers onally selected him to serve as governor of the central province of Isfahan.
A successful stint there led to his promotion to mayor of Tehran in 1989, where he won plaudits from residents for beautifying the city and rebuildi ng its tired infrastructure.
Along the way he angered traditional bazaar merchants for his taxation policies, and some economists say his unorthodox methods contributed to the c apital's high rate of inflation.
More ominously, he fell afoul of the conservative establishment for his aggressive backing of Khatami, including alleged use of public funds to fina nce the moderate Shiite Muslim cleric's 1997 bid for the presidency.
Tehran mayor sentenced to five years in prison
CNN-The reformist mayor of Tehran was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison on corruption charges in a case that has riv
eted Iranians and come to reflect the growing struggle for power between reformists and hard-liners in Iran's ruling cler
In addition to the jail term, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, was banned from holding public office for 20 years and sentenced t
o 60 lashes. The court suspended the flogging because of his social standing. He was also fined $333,333.
Karbaschi, who is a powerfully ally of moderate President Mohammad Khatami, was found guilty of embezzlement, wasting pub
lic money and misconduct in government transactions. Some of the embezzled funds were allegedly used to finance the elec
tion campaign of Khatami. He was acquitted of bribery.
Karbaschi admitted to making mistakes in his financial dealings, but denied any that he ever stole any money from the gov
Karbaschi, who was not in court to hear the judgment, has 20 days to appeal the verdict. Karbaschi's lawyer said he would
appeal the verdict, which he described as harsher than expected.
Many people in Iran have said the trial, which was televised, is political, designed to punish Karbaschi for supporting K
hatami. Karbaschi ran the campaign that got Khatami elected with a landslide in the May 1997 election. Journalist Kasra
Naji, who was in the courtroom, spoke with Judge Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejaei after the trial and reported on CNN that th
e judge "absolutely rejects" any allegation of a political motive behind the trial.
The court session began with an official reading a 39-page report, repeating the charges that were heard during the trial that has gripped the country since it opened June 7. Ejaei said Karbaschi would remain free on bail until he decides whether he wants to appeal or not.
Hundreds of journalists were crammed in the court at the Imam Khomeini Judicial Complex. Outside, police and firefighters were on alert in case the verdict sparked violent protests in favor of the popular mayor. Riots broke out in Tehran when he was arrested in April.
The trial was not without drama: Karbaschi accused the judge, who is also the prosecutor, of being unfair by refusing to call witnesses he had requested. The judge frequently threatened to slap Karbaschi with contempt.
During his final address on July 11, Karbaschi broke down after telling the court that a teen-age girl had sent him two g old coins as a contribution to his defense expenses. They were her life's savings, and she had not provided her name and address, he said.
The gesture provided evidence of the considerable support that Karbaschi wields, in part because he is an ally of the hug ely popular Khatami.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that its switchboard was jammed since morning by callers eager to know about the verdict.
Khatami is trying to loosen almost two decades of social and political restrictions imposed by the clergy who took power in the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah.
But he has faced stiff opposition from the hard-liners who are backed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Besides initiating the trial against Karbaschi, the hard-liners recently impeached the interior minister, another Khatami ally. But in a bid to avoid a confrontation, they approved Wednesday another of Khatami's nominee for the post.
EIGHT DAYS IN IRAN
By Bill Heavey|
Special to The Washington Post
"Yah, Hosein!" comes the chant from hundreds of men in black shirts and pants under the brilliant sun. They are sole mnly parading double-file down a packed street in Tehran to the beat of drums and the prompting of a megaphone.
"Yah, Hosein!" After each cry, the men stop momentarily and flick themselves over the shoulder with short chains on wooden handles. Others smack their chests with their hands. The chains don't look particularly heavy; on the other h and, they aren't feather boas.
"Yah, Hosein!" They take a step, stop, switch hands with the chains and flick the opposite shoulder. Many of the men are sweat-soaked, glassy-eyed, tranced out. They have been marching for hours and will continue until the noon call to prayer, when they will kneel in the streets facing Mecca and place their foreheads against tablets of compressed dust, acknowledging that from which man arose and to which he will soon return. Toddlers too young to join in the p arade mimic their gestures from the arms of approving parents on the crowded sidewalks.
"Yah, Hosein!" The men are marking the death in battle in A.D. 680 of the grandson of the prophet and third imam, or leader, of the Shiite branch of Islam. Shiites believe that Hosein and those who died with him after three days wit hout water in the Iraqi desert went immediately to Paradise. Their marching and self-flagellation mark their devotio n to the patron saint of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the forgotten.
"Yah, Hosein!" Ordinarily, I pride myself on being an independent traveler. But the Islamic Republic of Iran is not an ordinary place. Not six hours off the plane, I have imprinted on my guide, Bahman, like a newborn duckling on its mother. It's all I can do to keep from grabbing his shirt as we thread our way through the crowd. Despite the sun, there is nobody but me wearing sunglasses.
People tend to have strong reactions when you tell them you're planning a visit to Iran. A friend in government rela tions offered to put together a hospitality pack: a fifth of Johnnie Walker, a copy of "The Satanic Verses" and a ca n of Vienna sausages. A woman at Overseas Citizens Services in the State Department adopted a schoolteacher's severe tone as she said: "We can't do much to help you out if you get in trouble since we don't have an embassy there. The Iranian government leads the world in state-sponsored terrorism. We strongly advise against travel there. But if yo u want to go, we're not going to stop you."
My father began with the assumption that I'd be taken hostage. But what really sent him over the edge was finding ou t that there are almost no dogs in Iran because Muslims consider them unclean. "You're gonna go visit a country wher e they hate dogs?" he asked, incredulous.
Well, yes, actually. The Iranian government has been quietly easing visa restrictions for American visitors for the past couple of years. Just last January, Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi went on CNN and called for the "the exch ange of writers, scholars, artists, journalists and tourists." It was the most significant overture to the United St ates since 1979, the year Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and an Islamic government hostile to the corrupt ing influence of Western culture generally--and American politics specifically--was set up. Between 1979 and 1997, p erhaps as few as 200 American tourists visited Iran. One group, Geographic Expeditions, pioneered a short-lived prog ram in 1993. Last year, it ran seven trips. Ten are planned for this year. Absolute Asia, a New York firm, is offeri ng four 15-day group trips and a number of customized tours this year. Distant Horizons in Long Beach, Calif., is pl anning 10 trips this year. Iran is suddenly back on the list of must-see countries for people who've been everywhere .
An independent traveler who hates packaged tours, I flirted with the idea of getting on a plane to Iran and going it alone. But when I called the Iranian Interests Section at the Pakistani Embassy to ask about a visa application, I was told candidly by an official there that my chances as a private tourist were no better than 50-50, and it would take at least 60 days to find out. A travel agent in New York seemed amused by my presumption.
"It's a little more involved than that. Technically, you have to be invited by the government to visit, which means you need connections in Iran." He hinted that the cab drivers, spotting a single American at the airport, would burn up most of my travel budget on the short trip from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran to any downtow n hotel. (There may be some truth to this. When I needed a new camera battery or a broken hinge fixed on my sunglass es, Bahman told me to wait outside while he went in to do the bargaining: "They will charge you three times what I p ay.") In the end, I gave in and booked a trip with Absolute Asia.
During a whirlwind week-long visit to the must-see cities of Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan, the only time I felt appreh ensive was during that parade on the first day. I often walked the streets alone in the evening. I was the subject o f curious stares (many young Iranians--nearly half the population is 15 or younger--are just now getting their first look at Western tourists) but no hostility. If anything, Americans often receive most-favored-nation status. At a c arpet shop near the spectacular Emam Mosque in Isfahan, I bargained the price of a rug down from $1,600 to $800. ("Y ou tell your customs you bought it in a duty-free zone. No problem.") When I pulled out my Visa card--there was the company's decal on the shop door--the young proprietor shook his head. "They stopped working with us a month now. So me pressures from your government. You have MasterCard?" I didn't. "Give me some in cash and you send the remainderi ng to my account number in Dubai. I do this only for Americans. Not French, not Germans. The Italians, never."
By my last day, when a group of a dozen young men approached me under the enormous gold dome of the mausoleum for Ay atollah Ruhollah Khomeini and politely asked--in English--where I was from, I felt comfortable enough to tease them a little.
"From the Great Satan," I said.
They nearly blushed. "We like American people very much," one told me. "Only we don't like your government."
I never broached the subject directly (Iranians are famous for their tact and circumspection, and after a while it r ubs off on you), but sometimes got the feeling Iranians aren't all that crazy about their government either. Most ar e obviously aware that its demonization of the United States is largely diversionary in a country where, by Western accounting and reporting, inflation has been averaging 25 percent for the last nine years and the unemployment rate is well above the official rate of 33 percent a year, where dissent is not an option and more of the middle class sl ips into poverty every day.
My guide for the week was Bahman, an English instructor at the University of Tehran who moonlights showing Western t ourists the country. He is a small, unpretentious man with a mustache who looked 10 years older than his age, 33. He accompanied me for the entire trip, picking up local guides and drivers in Shiraz and Isfahan.
The upside of a planned itinerary is efficiency. Your guides cherry-pick the best of everything for you and arrange to get you to the attractions when they're open (not as easy as it sounds in a country where, as my driver explained , "We have a saying: Policies made in the morning are often unmade in the afternoon").
The downside is that with the best of intentions, they drag you through so many museums, mosques, poets' tombs and p alaces that they all start to melt together. At one point in the incomparably beautiful city of Isfahan, I complaine d to Bahman that I had the feeling of sitting down to a wonderful meal and being asked to eat it in 30 seconds. "It' s not eating," he agreed. "It's gorging." Then he bustled me off to yet another mosque.
If I were to make the trip again, I'd dig my heels in harder and tell my hosts at the outset that I wanted to see a maximum of three attractions a day and linger a bit, instead of rushing through six. Tourism is still a new concept in post-revolutionary Iran. The people are proud of their heritage and almost desperate to show it all to you.
Iranians are not Arabs, and can get touchy when mislabled as such. They point out that the Aryans came to the countr y's vast central plateau ringed by mountains in the second millennium B.C. The region was then occupied by the Medes and the Persians until the Persian King Cyrus the Great chucked out the Medes and became ruler of the Achaemenid (P ersian) Empire. At its zenith, with the capital at the palace in Persepolis, whose fabulous ruins can be seen near S hiraz, the empire stretched from the Aegean Sea in the west to India in the east, including Egypt. (It's from Cyrus the Great that Persian history begins. The last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of t he Persian Empire at Persepolis in 1971, to which he invited all the crowned heads of the world.)
Like all empires, it fell apart. Cyrus's heirs got creamed by the Greeks at Marathon in 490 B.C. and then again at S alamis 10 years later. Alexander the Great came along in the 4th century B.C. and "accidentally" burned down Persepo lis. Part of the problem was that the country was right on the way between Asia and Europe. The Romans, then the Byz antine imperials had their way with the place. Arab Muslims took over in 641 and ruled for 600 years, before Genghis Khan rolled into Persia, leading to two centuries of bloody chaos. The Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) restored interna l order and established the Shiite form of Islam as the state religion.
The discovery of oil in the early 1900s attracted European interest. After World War I, an army officer named Reza K han came to power, changed his named to Shah Reza Pahlavi and founded the Pahlavi dynasty. It was under his rule tha t the country's name was officially changed from Persia to Iran, which had long been the popular term for the nation . In 1941, he abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The Shah is credited by Westerners with rapid modernization of the country and improved social and economic conditio ns. He gave women the right to vote, improved health care and redistributed land. But his alignment with the West (p articularly the United States), his repressive policies and moves to ban the wearing of traditional Islamic dress fo r women all angered people, particularly the clergy. Mass demonstrations ensued.
The Shah's response was swift, brutal and desperate. He declared martial law. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the streets in Tehran. U.S. support wavered when the extent of popular opposition became clear. The Shah fled the country on Jan. 16, 1979. A few weeks later, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned and quickly set up an Islamic g overnment dominated by the clergy. Banks were nationalized, Western influences--from music to booze to fashion magaz ines--were banned outright. Women returned to the chador, a traditional veiled dress. Militants took over the U.S. E mbassy in October, holding 52 hostages for 444 days. It is only now, nearly 20 years later, that the dust from those times has begun to settle.
Tehran, the hub of modern Iran, is a sprawling city of 12 million ringed by the snow-capped Elburz mountains. The ci ty is more than a thousand years old and has been the capital for 200. But an exotic Oriental crossroads it ain't. T hink Albuquerque times 10, with that special brand of air pollution you get from leaded gasoline fumes, endless low- level urban sprawl and traffic that makes the Beltway look like a driver's ed class. A lack of zoning and an influx of people from the countryside looking for work has meant development so swift and so haphazard that any building mo re than half a century old is considered historic. There's not much to be seen on the streets (unless you want to go see the vast slums in the southern part of town), and the guidebooks recommend that you get out as fast as you can.
The only thing is, there are some great things scattered across the city. You could easily spend a week at the Archa eological Museum of Iran, generally recognized as the finest museum in the country. We did it in two hours. My chief memories are a pair of tiny silver tweezers that are 3,000 years old and Bahman's explanation of a 14th-century boo k detailing the constellations. "Did you know that your English word 'disaster' comes from a combination of the word s for accident and star?" he asked. "If you could read the stars, you could foretell your fate. Kings loved this ide a. They did whatever they wanted and then invoked the zodiac to say it was all preordained."
He stopped before a marble statue of a Greek woman, thought to be Penelope, the wife of Ulysses. It dates from the t ime of Cyrus the Great, the first Achaemenid king, five centuries before Christ. "The head is missing. You see? It's maybe in some British museum."
One of the museum's most famous pieces is a larger-than-life-size bas-relief of one of Cyrus's heirs receiving subje cts. It comes from the palace at Persepolis and dates from the 5th century B.C. His subjects greet him with bowed he ads and hands covering their mouths in respect. The workmanship is flawless, down to the stylized curlicues in their hair.
There are other superb museums here: one devoted exclusively to carpets, including what is left of some woven in the 16th century, as well as masterpieces from the 18th century to the present day. There is a museum of glass and cera mics that has glassware that is 5,000 years old and ceramics twice that age. The Iranian crown jewels--including the 182-carat "Sea of Light" diamond, enough crowns for all the kings you'd care to name and the Peacock throne, encrus ted with 26,000 gems--are housed underground in the Bank Melli Iran near the German Embassy. (The museum was closed the day we went. "The Mourning," Bahman explained.)
A few miles south of town is the huge mausoleum for Ayatollah Khomeini, whose picture is in every public building. I t's hard for Americans to fathom, but he is genuinely venerated here. An outspoken critic of the Shah as early as th e 1960s, he refused to be silenced or intimidated. "There is no Revolution without Khomeini" was a sign I saw on the wall of a snack bar one day. At his funeral, it is estimated that there were 10 million mourners. Even a large forc e of the Revolutionary Guard failed to hold back the crowd. Pieces of his funeral shroud are regarded today as holy relics.
Nearby is the main cemetery for the martyrs in the Iran-Iraq War that lasted from 1981 to 1988. The number of killed and disabled on the Iranian side was more than a million. "I lost many of my childhood friends in the war," Bahman told me. "Everyone did."
In the fashionable north end of the city, you can visit the Shah's summer palace and his mother's palace, which the current regime has left as reminders of the corruption it replaced. Actually, as wretched excess goes, they're prett y tame: nicely landscaped with cedars and fountains, well-proportioned and not much bigger than the home of any firs t-round draft pick in the NBA. The Shah's palace has Czech crystal chandeliers the size of icebergs in the dining ro om, 19th-century European landscape paintings of no particular distinction and a Ric-O-Chet pinball game in the bill iard room that has been mislabeled "Gamble Room." Out front is a pair of monumental bronze cavalry boots, a symbol o f the Shah's father's days as a cavalry officer, hollow as drums.
There are people making piles of money in Iran, as evidenced by the occasional new Mercedes in the street. Iranians have something of a national flair for business, which is starting to reemerge as the dust settles from the revoluti on. In the old days you needed to be connected to the Shah. Now you need to be connected with the clergy: relatives, friends, friends of friends. Western goods--from Marlboros to Levi's--are widely available here via third-party cou ntries such as Turkey and Dubai. The car of any self-respecting person under 30 advertises its sound system with a K enwood or Pioneer decal plastered across the rear window. At a restaurant where we stopped for lunch, we saw a group of sons of the rich, a coterie of college-age boys who came sauntering in wearing Nike T-shirts, ponytails and Kurt Cobain-style sunglasses. They would have looked right at home cruising Georgetown. They all casually sported Iran's greatest status symbol--mobile phones, which have only been available for a year or so and cost $2,000. Bahman bris tled ever so slightly as they sat down and ordered steaks and Cokes all around. "They have no idea of inflation, of the lives of common people in their own country."
After lunch we drove back into town past billboards adorned with the faces of sensitive-looking young men who had ac hieved martyrdom by driving truck bombs into Israeli targets. A block over is a street named after the assassin of E gyptian President Anwar Sadat. Bahman indicated the knots of men conferring around the raised hoods of cars and said this is where people come to buy and sell automobiles. There are Peugeots, Iranian-assembled Paykans and old Americ an cars: Nash Ramblers, Chevy Bel Airs, even a Buick Electra 225, once painted blue but now blasted nearly to the me tal by the sun. It's very dry here. Cars tend to last a long time.
We passed by the infamous American Embassy, now a military school, but our driver seemed nervous. It's apparently no t a place where you should stop for more than a moment or two. You can't see much from the outside. There's a wall o n which someone has written "We Will Make America Face a Severe Defeat" in large letters. The U.S. Embassy seal is s till out front, embedded in the wall, but all the writing has been hammered off, leaving only a forlorn eagle with a rrows in one claw and olive branches in the other. Because of the religious holiday, there was almost no one in sigh t. But it felt like more than simple absence, as if some taboo still hangs over the place.
The Iranian love-hate relationship with America--we are, by turns, the Great Satan and the Great Santa--can be seen in the lobby of the Homa Hotel in the quintessentially Iranian city of Shiraz, famed for its poets, universities and gardens. Proudly displayed in the lobby is a nine-foot-long model of an Iran Air Boeing 747. On the lintel over the doors leading out to the street are foot-high gold letters that read, "DOWN WITH U.S.A." No one pays it the slighte st attention, except American tourists, who unfailingly register the moment on film.
Shiraz dates from the time of the first Persians, a nomadic tribe that filtered through the Caucasus to this area in the 7th century B.C., and is considered by many Iranians to be the most pleasant of the country's large cities. A n umber of universities are here, including the only medical school where students are lectured in English instead of Farsi. The Eram garden, set out below a 19th-century palace with tiled and mirror-encrusted arches, is a lovely plac e filled with 200-year-old cypress trees, sour orange and pomegranate trees and the scent of musk roses pervading th e walkways.
The must-see attraction in Shiraz is actually 35 miles out of town. Persepolis is the enormous palace and treasury b uilt by Darius the Great starting in the 6th century B.C. Even before you go through the first entrance gate, you se e the graffiti of those who came before you, including one left by "Stanley New York Herald 1970." Unless you go on a Friday, the Muslim sabbath, you may have the capital of the ancient Persians pretty much to yourself.
Twenty-three-foot-high stone bulls with the head of the king and eagle wings flank the entrances to Xerxes' Gateway. A bas-relief shows three rows of the known world's rulers (28 in all) bringing gifts to Darius and, literally and s ymbolically, supporting his throne. A motif repeated liberally throughout the ruins depicts a marvelously robust Dar ius hoisting a lion up by the mane while plunging his dagger into its stomach. In the little museum, an inscription from Xerxes refers to him as "Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of man."
The complex spreads across many acres and the scale of the place is immense. The roof of the hall where the king rec eived visitors, for example, was supported by 36 stone columns, each about 60 feet high. When Alexander the Great ca me to loot the treasury, he is said to have needed 3,000 animals just to haul it away. The small palace that functio ned as the royal living quarters was made of reflective black stone, supposedly so the king would always know who wa s behind him. The most impressive thing today are the bas-reliefs. Those running along some of the processional stai rcases, for example, show the figures with feet upraised. They're mounting the stairs just like you are.
The kings are nearly always depicted with a man behind the throne to swat away the flies, whose descendants are stil l here today. The local guards pluck an herb that grows freely among the stones and bruise the leaves, the odor of w hich is supposed to keep them away. Bahman asked one guard who was swatting at the flies around his head why he wasn 't using the plant. The old man shrugged, and Bahman cracked up. "He says it's not working today."
Just when I was thinking Iran has revealed the cream of its cultural riches, we landed in Isfahan, a gorgeous city o f about a million people with the greatest concentration of Islamic monuments in the country. By the 1500s, Iran had been in a long period of decline under the invading Mongols, the Ottoman Turks and others. When Shah (which is simp ly the Iranian word for "king") Abbas came to power in 1587, he pushed the occupiers out, united the country and set out to make Isfahan a showcase.
He succeeded. A famous half-rhyme from this time--"Esfahan nesf-e-jahan ("Isfahan is half the world")--was coined to reflect the city's splendor. There are several beautiful old bridges across the Zayande Rud, the river flowing thro ugh the city that's used to irrigate its gardens and supply water for the fountains outside palaces and mosques. In the arches of the Khaju Bridge are places to sit and drink tea, listen to the gurgle of the river and watch swifts c arve the evening air. It is unbelievably romantic.
Even the best-known hotel in Isfahan is distinctive. You enter the Abbasi Hotel from the street, pass through the lo bby and find yourself in what was formerly a caravanserai, now a magnificent courtyard with fountains, flowers and a tea house. At night, locals who could never afford a room come to sit and talk.
The heart of the city is one of the world's most beautiful plazas, the Meidun-e Emam. Laid out in 1612, it still has the stone polo goals set up by Shah Abbas standing at either end. Today, you are likely to find boys racing their m otorcycles up and down its stones. The square was the seat of governmental, religious and economic power in the 17th century.
Our local guide in Isfahan was a civil engineer with a poet's soul. Reza described the palace, public mosque, royal family's mosque and the entrance to the immense bazaar on its four sides and said, "You must understand. Merchants, clerics, courtiers, common people--all welcome here. The powerful would appear here spontaneously when a new high of ficial was appointed. If they liked him, they threw their rings into the fountain in approval. The beat-ing heart of the city. A keyboard for the hand of the king to play upon." Abbas would disguise himself as a commoner and go amon g the people in the square to take the heart's pulse.
The Emam Mosque on the southern end of the square rises up--its pale blue tile covering ever-changing with the light --as if completely assured of its own magnificence. Its entrance portal is more than 90 feet tall, purposely dwarfin g those who bow before Allah. The tourist in you raises your camera reflexively to your eye. But then you realize th is place will not miniaturize into a Kodak moment.
Everything looks symmetrical here--but it isn't. The nearly matching tile work has endless, subtle variations. A col umn on one side of the arch has three intertwining elements; its opposite is smooth. In the largest of the mosque's vaulted sanctuaries there are some roughened stones directly under the vast dome. Reza clapped his hands once, sharp ly. The sound echoed precisely seven times and died.
"Do that again," I said. Seven quick echoes. Silence. "Why seven?" I asked. He shrugged. "An ancient, mystical, also asymmetrical number. And because they could."
Later, as we battled the scariest traffic I've ever encountered, Reza tried to explain the engineering of it, the me chanics of the double-layer dome, the squinches and pendentives that support a dome over a square space. I nodded. I t would have been interesting stuff but for the Nissan Patrol apparently trying to run us into the shoulder while we blew past an old man on a bicycle so close I could see his long eyelashes. The Nissan powered ahead.
I asked our driver if there were any rules about who has the right of way. He thought for a moment. "In theory, yes. "
On my next-to-last night in Iran, I went out walking after bidding Bahman good night and found a tea shop with men s itting around smoking hubble bubbles, the tobacco bong that is in every self-respecting Iranian cafe. In a country w ithout alcohol (your first Islamic beer, Delster, is so sweet that it is likely to be your last), where women are re quired to cover everything but their hands, feet and face, the delivery of large amounts of nicotine has been refine d to a high art. I had two pulls on the thing, which sent the smoke so deep into my lungs that I exhaled only the fa intest blue plume and waved it away, my head reeling.
The fellow at the next table began a conversation in excellent English, and soon I found myself experiencing the str ange mix of familiarity and alienation I encountered a number of times in Iran. On the one hand, he seemed the most reasonable of companions. He praised American democracy, the idea that if you don't get the job done, you're voted o ut. "And you cannot appoint somebody to positions of power just because he is your friend? He has to have experience in the area, yes?"
I said that this was so, at least in theory, and resisted the urge to complicate things by introducing the matter of , say, Webster Hubbell. He said that in Iran, cronies of the religious leaders are often appointed to jobs in which they have no experience and stay there. Before the revolution, the clergy were humble men, he told me. Now they are the ruling class, and many are only slightly less corrupt than the sycophants surrounding the Shah. "Before, when I saw them walking by the road, I would stop to pick them up. No more. Now I go faster. Sometimes I think we have just traded one means of corruption for a new one." He also let on that he liked actor Harrison Ford ("a very great arti st").
When he asked what most Americans think of Iran, I told him the truth: The strongest image among many of a certain a ge is smoldering resentment at the takeover of the U.S. Embassy and the holding of hostages for 444 days. "This was the greatest stupidity," he said. "Most Iranians were very surprised when it happened, even though it turned out the re was a large amount of light and medium-weight weapons in your embassy. But what benefit did it get us? Nothing." I began thinking the two of us saw the world in similar ways.
But then the conversation turned to matters Islamic. Almost in passing, he noted that drugs were a great evil and th at it was only proper that people in possession of 40 grams of marijuana or two grams of heroin be executed. I wasn' t interested in getting into an argument with him, so I didn't react outwardly. It did occur to me, however, that a number of my friends and I would have been eligible for death back in our freshman year of college. A little later, I steered the conversation around to sex.
"Married people who commit adultery are generally given a chance to stop the affair," my companion said. "If they do n't, in some cases they are executed. Homosexuals can also sometimes be executed."
He went back to puffing his pipe and I found my head reeling again.
Like the great majority of educated Iranians, my companion had never been out of the country. He told me the Interne t hadn't yet arrived in Iran (actually it has, but is not widely available) but that he knew it contained pornograph y that would corrupt the people.
It was getting late. Unable to square the zealot and the rationalist strains in my companion's makeup, I said good n ight and walked back to my hotel. As in all hotel rooms in Iran, a small arrow near the ceiling pointed the way towa rd Mecca. A Koran and prayer rug lay in my bedside table. The television was playing a movie about how a small, hero ic band of Iranian commandos defeated a vast force of overfed, heavily armed Iraqi soldiers.
I wished mightily for a cold beer and reflected on what I had seen. Iran is opening its doors to what will undoubted ly be a wave of American tourists eager for a look behind its mysterious veil. It's a magnificent country--loaded wi th history and culture, full of friendly people with a long tradition of hospitality and a genuine affection for eve rything American except our foreign policy. But, of course, I came away knowing that I had been granted only a few p eeks at the country and its people. While Iran is making new efforts to find its place in the larger world, its veil will not easily fall away.
An Iranian friend in the States says you don't really understand the place until you are taken into someone's home t o meet the family. This may be true. In the meantime, it's probably good that Americans can now visit Iran and see i t in at least a superficial way. But as long as the visitor's experience is limited to the sort of high-priced, whir lwind sightseeing that a U.S. tour company can provide, Iran will remain a mystery even to the Americans who go ther e.
Bill Heavey last wrote for Travel about Western Maryland.
So, Should You Go?
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in April suggesting that Americans defer travel to Iran as a resul t of "evidence of hostility to the United States." This doesn't mean you can't go, just that conditions are still co nsidered volatile.
It's important to remember, however, that the U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with th e Islamic Republic of Iran; there's no embassy protection for Americans traveling there. So if you go and there's a problem, you're on your own.
DETAILS: Visiting Iran
GETTING THERE: At least three U.S. tour operators specializing in travel to Iran: Absolute Asia (1-800-736- 8187) in New York; Distant Horizons (1-800-333-1240) in Long Beach, Calif.; and Geographic Expeditions (1-800-777-8183) in S an Francisco. Most group tours run from 15 to 24 days, with prices that include all rooms, meals and all transportat ion, except international air fare, starting at around $3,100 per person.
Airlines serving Iran include Air France, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Austrian Air, Turkish Air and Swissair. U sually your tour company can get you the best rate.
VISAS: In theory, all you have to do is send two passport photos to the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani E mbassy here in town. In practice, you have to be invited to visit Iran--which means that, absent some unusual connec tions or professional duties, you will need to go through a tour company with connections there. They will get your visa through a third country, like Canada. Cost for this service added $100 to my trip. The American tour company co ntracts with Iranian agencies, who provide drivers, guides, hotels and everything else you need.
ACCOMMODATIONS: You will be put up in former Intercontinental, Hyatt and Sheraton hotels that have lost a little of their luster, but are quite comfortable: Touch-tone phones, wake-up calls, room service and laundry are all availabl e.
The food is surprisingly good: eggs, toast, cereal and fruit for breakfast; fresh salads, chicken, steak, lamb and s eafood for lunch and dinner. Iranians drink vast amounts of tea. Nescafe is provided for Westerners. The water in Te hran is among the best in the world. In the other cities, I drank bottled, though many people drink the tap water.
SHOPPING: There are bazaars in every Iranian city, sometimes miles of stalls housed in centuries-old brick halls. Th is is where locals go to buy everything from auto parts to spices. Tehran's and Isfahan's are considered to be among the best. The great affair here is to simply wander and soak up the sights and sounds. Iran is famous for its minia ture paintings, spices, rugs, ceramics, glassware, inlaid boxes and jewelry. In truth they are more fun to browse th an buy. Your best deals will probably come on miniature paintings, wooden boxes and anything else that requires a lo t of hand labor.
Silver and gold prices are pretty constant the world over. You won't get any deals, though if you like the workmansh ip on a particular piece, it may be a bargain.
You will, like me, probably be tempted to buy an Iranian carpet. I haggled like mad, left the store twice and finall y got a rug for $800. After getting home, I took it to my local Oriental rug shop, told the fellow it was a gift and asked its value. "Nice little rug. Worth maybe seven, eight hundred dollars." Although there is a trade embargo wit h Iran, a U.S. Customs agent at Dulles told me that American citizens may bring up to $400 worth of goods back into the country from Iran without penalty.
SOCIAL CUSTOMS: Western women can get by with a modified version of purdah, the Islamic dress code for women: a full -length skirt or trousers (including jeans) worn beneath a loose, below-the-knees coat in blue or black. Your head s hould be covered by a scarf. The only skin showing should be your face, hands and feet. No one should be able to gue ss your weight within 50 pounds. Your guide will tell you if you're not in compliance. For men, the only taboo is sh orts. Iranian men tend to wear long-sleeved shirts, but short sleeves are acceptable. By the end of the trip, I felt comfortable enough to wear T-shirts in public with no adverse consequences. Do not shake hands in public with membe rs of the opposite sex. Buses are segregated by sex, with women in the back. It's probably not a good idea to buck t he system. Do accept tea when it is offered to you in shops. It comes with no obligation and is considered common co urtesy. Iranians are extremely courteous people and generally tolerant of innocent gaffes by foreigners if your gene ral attitude is one of respect.
CRIME: Your own country should be so safe. Physical violence is extremely rare. There are reports of pickpockets wor king some of the bazaars. The better hotels have strict security. The most likely target of theft is your passport, which is worth a great deal of money on the black market. (Incidentally, thieves are generally sent to prison. The i dea that there are lots of criminal amputees walking around isn't true. There are a good many men on crutches and in wheelchairs as a result of injuries in the war with Iraq.)
MONEY: The official rate of exchange is 3,000 rials to the dollar. On the black market, you may be able to get as hi gh as 5,500, but you may also get nabbed by one arm or another of the security forces, which is not advisable. Your guide is prohibited from exchanging money for you. There is, however, a gray market, which you will discover on your own, where you can change rials at the rate of 4,000 or so. Many Iranian shops accept MasterCard. A call to the co mpany verified that MasterCard is operating in the country. Iranian merchants do not accept Visa cards from American s. A call to that company verified this. Visa says it has ceased operations in Iran in compliance with the U.S. trad e embargo. American Express does not have operations in Iran.
Iran Lawmakers OK Moderate Minister
By Afshin Valinejad|
Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's hard-line Parliament approved the nomination of a moderate cleric as interior minister today, handing reform ist President Mohammad Khatami a major victory.
Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari won a 177-67 vote in the Majlis after delivering a speech calling on the country's leaders to accept a diversity of viewpoints.
``We believe in political development, which means a government that is based on the vote of the people. The government should increase its tolerance to accept the ideas and opinions of its opponents,'' he said.
The approval of Mousavi-Lari, 44, had been seen as a major test for Khatami even though the Majlis, dominated by conservatives, had been expected to approve the appointment in deference to Khatami's popularity. Hard-line deputies feared if they fought the president on the appointment the millions of Iranians who voted him into power last year would rebel.
Conservative clerics control the armed forces, the Intelligence Ministry and state-run radio and television. But the Interior Ministry i s one of the most powerful institutions in the government. It oversees police and domestic security as well as giving the authority for political demonstrations.
In a speech to Parliament before the vote, Khatami said ``real security'' could only be achieved if the public is able to express itself . ``It is our responsibility to prepare the ground for people's participation in all the economic, political and cultural affairs of the society,'' he said.
Khatami has won wide support for his moves to ease social restrictions, encourage political freedom and end nearly 20 years of hostility with the United States. His predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani, though also a moderate, did not introduce any reforms.
But Khatami's actions have stirred up hard-liners, who recently put the mayor of Tehran, who ran Khatami's election campaign, on trial o n graft charges and closed several liberal newspapers.
Mousavi-Lari, a vice president and key ally of Khatami, was named to the interior minister's post earlier this month after Parliament im peached former Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, also a moderate, for allowing political demonstrations that rocked the country.
The majority parliament faction, Hezbollah, had said Tuesday it would not oppose Mousavi-Lari's nomination despite what it said were his shortcomings, including a lack of experience.
Iran to give Tehran mayor verdict on Thursday
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- An Iranian court will announce
its verdict on Thursday in the graft trial of Tehran's suspended
mayor, a court official said on Monday.
Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a key ally of moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, was tried on embezzlement and mismanagement charges by Iran's conservative-led judiciary. He denies the charges.
The official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted judiciary spokesman Said Nobari as saying the court will give its verdict at the Thursday session, which will be attended by judge Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, Karbaschi and his lawyers.
Karbaschi's support helped produce Khatami's landslide victory last year against presidential candidates backed by Iran's clerical establishment.
During one of the court sessions, the powerful mayor acknowledged raising funds for the election campaign of the moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric, but denied breaking any laws.
The moderates have rejected the charges against Karbaschi, saying they were politically motivated. The judiciary has rejected those accusations.The judiciary has rejected those accusations.
Khatami reforms face tough test in Iran parliament
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami's ambitious social and political reforms face a stern
test Wednesday when a sceptical parliament meets to decide
the fate of the man he is counting on to help put them into
Deputies in the Majlis, or parliament, are set to debate the nomination of trusted presidential aide Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari to head the interior ministry, a powerful post at the nexus of social and political life in the Islamic republic.
His predecessor was ousted last month by conservative deputies alarmed at what they saw as a breakdown of social discipline under cover of Khatami's campaign for a "civil society."
At the time of the vote, many in the Majlis declared their loyalty to Khatami, a moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric elected in a surprise landslide in May 1997 -- and then voted to impeach the minister he once called a "blessing" to his cabinet. This time it may not be so easy.
Already, Khatami's allies have warned their rivals that a vote against Mousavi-Lari is a vote against the president and his 70 percent electoral mandate from the Iranian people.
"This is a practical opportunity to test the Majlis' claim of support for Mr. Khatami," said the daily Salam, close to the Islamic leftists backing the president.
"If the majority in the Majlis support the vote of the people and the government which is its off-spring, they can prove this claim with a resounding vote of confidence. Otherwise, it is better for them to stand openly against policies approved by the people, instead of opposing individuals," it said.
The government further raised the stakes with publication last week in allied newspapers of the minister-designate's four-point program, spelling out his goals and policies if confirmed. It also pointedly ignored the demands of conservative deputies for consultations ahead of the nomination.
Heading Mousavi-Lari's list was "political development," the potent slogan of democratic pluralism that catapulted Khatami into office over his mainstream conservative rival.
The 44-year-old cleric, now Khatami's vice-president for legal and parliamentary affairs, also promised to expand social rights for women and to promote pluralism within Iran's Islamic system.
"The topics of these plans fit within the program of the esteemed president and seek to continue the services of the government during the past year," Mousavi-Lari said in his manifesto.
As interior minister, he would also have the power to authorise opposition political rallies, oversee elections and appoint provincial administrations -- all vital to nurturing Khatami's vision of a civil society.
As a result, the confirmation debate may hold even greater practical significance than a high-profile court session on Thursday in which a verdict will be handed down in the corruption case of the mayor of Tehran, a powerful Khatami ally and leader of Iran's expanding "technocrat" class.
Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who helped mobilize financial support for the president's election campaign, says the case has been orchestrated by a conservative-dominated judiciary out to punish him and his allies in the private sector for backing the moderate Khatami.
Wednesday's vote looks too close to call, and heavy lobbying and political horse-trading has been under way for days in the corridors of parliament.
Political analysts, however, say the government's tactics may pay off, persuading the significant number of independent deputies, and even some conservatives, that obstructing an overwhelmingly popular president would carry a heavy political price.
"No one is quite sure of the future cost of a 'No' vote," one independent analyst told Reuters. "That uncertainty could push Mousavi-Lari through."
Deep-set fears of factionalism, a legacy of the 1979 Islamic revolution and its demands for unity in the face of external threats, may also contribute to a government victory.
"The economic situation in the country and the people's expectations of the government and the president create conditions that require the cabinet be restored as soon as possible and the problems of the county be attended," urged a commentary in the labour daily Kar-va-Kargar.
"Without a doubt, giving greater priority to the benefits and interests of the country over personal and factional interests is of great importance," it said.factional interests is of great importance," it said.