|FarsiNet News Archive
|Just click on the page of your interest|
May 99, Week 3
|Firm oil, political optimism boost Iran stocks||May 21|
|Iran to Build High-Tech City in Desert||May 20|
|Britain, Iran to Exchange Ambassadors||May 20|
|Is Iran's Rafsanjani Losing His Grip||May 18|
|Iran Minister Warns of ''Hard Year'' after Drought||May 17|
|Women in Iran, Qatar, Yemen Can Vote...||May 16|
Firm oil, political optimism boost Iran stocks
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - A rise in oil prices and optimism about Iran's
political and economic situation have fuelled a rise of more than nine percent in Iranian
stocks since March, brokers said on Wednesday.
The Tehran Stock Exchange's all-share index, which closed its trading week to Wednesday at 1,665.77 points, has made up the 6.2 percent it lost in 1998 and now stands 2.1 percent higher than at the end of 1997.
Brokers said the recent rise marked a turning point for the market, which lost 17 percent in 1997 after a three-year bull run took the index to a record 2,100 points in 1996. "The increase in oil prices is an important factor, among a range of economic factors. But there is also more optimism about political stability and the rule of law," trader Khosrow Pourmemar told Reuters from his office at the bourse.
Iran, the world's third-largest oil exporter, was badly hit by a recent slump in oil to 12-year lows. The fall in oil revenue forced the government to curb outlays, prompting a deep recession in the state-dominated economy.
The rise in oil prices since a late March agreement by Iran and other oil producers to slash global output has been a boon for Iran which sees its annual revenue rise by some $1 billion for every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of crude.
"The end of the trials and the turmoil has also helped ease investors' worries about economic security," Pourmemar said.
He was referring to a major row between moderate backers of President Mohammad Khatami and conservative opponents over the graft trial last year of Tehran's reformist mayor, a key ally of the president.
Economists and moderate officials had warned that the graft trial, which also involved powerful private developers, was creating a feeling of insecurity among investors.
The former mayor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, has since started serving a two-year prison term, despite continued protests by moderates who see his jailing as a political ploy by conservatives. Officials have sought to re-assure investors about protection for legitimate business dealings.
Brokers said a recent Central Bank decision to allow one of the rial's official exchange rates to approach the black market rate also sent the right signal to the business community.
"After the rial was allowed to slide, importers do not have to wait months to buy hard currency. The price of imports increase, but that is not all bad as it helps locally made products," said a broker, who asked to remain anonymous.
The Iranian rial has fallen to nearly 7,800 per U.S. dollar from about 6,750 in March in dealings on the bourse between importers and exporters. By comparison, the dollar fetched about 8,300 rials on Tehran's black market on Wednesday.
Businessmen often complain about Iran's strict foreign exchange controls and multi-tier officials rates. The new floating rate on the bourse was created after protests by exporters, who had earlier been forced to sell their hard currency income at the official rate of 3,000 rials per dollar.
The brokers said buying pressure ahead of the announcement of dividends at company annual meetings in the next two months also helped boost the index.
Iran's stock exchange is open to foreign investors but brokers said the lack of clear guideines for the repatriation of profits has kept them away.
Iran News daily urged officials to draw up the guidelines.
"Stock exchange officials hope to attract more than $1.5 billion in foreign capital...The real question remains the unclear investment laws which are still confusing to potential investors and hence need to be clarified by our officials," it
Iran to Build High-Tech City in Desert
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Iran is to build a new city for use
by scientists and researchers in the middle the desert, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The city, called Khodashahr or God-city, is destined to attract scientists from Iran and abroad to a site near the town of Ardestan in the country's vast central desert, Neshat daily quoted Iraj Yazdanbakhsh, a scientist involved in the project as saying.
"We agreed we should build a city enjoying all facilities, for use by scientists, thinkers and experts from various scientific and educational fields," he said.
Houses are to be built of mud and bricks, to help keep out desert heat, and with a maximum of two storeys, in contrast with cities such as Tehran, where high-rise flats have prompted public discontent.
"It's a difficult task but it's not impossible," he said about a project due to remain a private initiative in a country where the government is heavily involved in the economy. "We expect nothing from the government."
Officials have in the past considered various plans designed to make the desert bloom, and to extend living space for the country's growing population, now put at more than 60 million.
One recent proposal was to irrigate central desert lands with a canal linking the Gulf with the northern Caspian Sea. It has since been forgotten.
Britain, Iran to Exchange Ambassadors
LONDON - XINHUA - Britain and Iran announced on Tuesday that
they had agreed to exchange ambassadors.
"This step marks the end of years of dispute," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a statement.
"It opens the way for us to rebuild a healthy and mutually beneficial friendship with Iran and to work with Iran in its path of reform and renewed openness to the outside world," Cook said.
"It fulfills the agreement we secured with the Iranian government in New York in September 1998," added the Foreign Secretary.
The relationship between Britain and Iran plummeted in 1989 when Tehran issued a death edict against British writer Salman Rushdie, who wrote an novel by the name of "The Satanic Verses" which then Iranian leader said blasphemed Islam.
Nick Browne, charge d'affaires in Tehran in 1989 will be Britain's ambassador in Iran, a BBC report said.
The Iranian ambassador in London will be Gholamreza Ansari.
Is Iran's Rafsanjani Losing His Grip
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, for 20 years the
consummate insider of post-revolutionary Iranian politics, appears to be losing control of the hidden levers
of power in the Islamic Republic.
A string of recent political setbacks, on top of a legacy of grand development schemes gone sour, has badly dented the popular image of a man whose power and influence were once so awe-inspiring that ordinary Iranians dubbed him "Akbar Shah."
"Mr Rafsanjani has been a key figure in the revolution and the Islamic Republic for the past two decades," commentator Akbar Ganji told the reformist Khordad newspaper.
"In the third decade of the revolution he will no longer play the same role he played in the first two," said Ganji, in what some analysts are pointing to as the first draft of Rafsanjani's political epitaph.
Ganji and others say the former president, in office from 1989-1997, has lost the ability to shelter his political allies - including his own daughter - from the wrath of the conservative clerical establishment. At the same time, the centrist movement he founded is slipping inexorably into the reformist camp of President Mohammad Khatami.
The rules of the game have changed," said one Western political analyst. "Rafsanjani's 'insider' style no longer fits the new Iran of President Khatami."
In the two years since his landslide election, Khatami has overseen the institutionalisation of two new elements in Iranian political life: the rule of law and the power of public opinion. Neither would appear to suit Rafsanjani, a Shi'ite Moslem cleric more at home in the corridors of power than in the public arena.
But supporters say he is working furiously behind the scenes, hallmark of the Rafsanjani style of compromise and back-room deal making. If the current competition between conservatives and reformers deadlocks, they say, the centrist former president could yet emerge the winner.
On the surface at least the record is clear, providing his critics with plenty of ammunition.
Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the dynamic former mayor of Tehran and a Rafsanjani protege, was jailed earlier this month on corruption charges. In his defence, the mayor said he was simply carrying out Rafsanjani's orders to remake the capital after the devastation of the eight-year war with Iraq.
"He managed only a last-minute expression of regret after his behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent this incident came to nothing. Still, people expected more of him," said the economic daily Jahan-e Eqtesadi.
Rafsanjani, 64, also failed to defend publicly the minister of culture, once his vice president, from hardliners fearful of debasement of Iran's revolutionary values.
At the same time, the Revolutionary Court closed an influential daily run by his daughter, the MP Faezeh Hashemi, for alleged anti-Islamic activity, leaving the publisher to point helplessly at the past revolutionary contributions of the Rafsanjani family.
Most significant of all, the centrist political movement Rafsanjani inspired, the Servants of Construction, is moving rapidly to the left in order to keep its popular base after poor showings at the polls.
Elected president in 1988 with 94.5 percent of the vote on promises to reconstruct war-ravaged Iran, Rafsanjani saw his electoral strength slip to 63 percent in his 1993 victory for a second term - in the lowest turnout in a presidential poll.
Analysts say failure to deliver on pledges of greater social and political liberalisation and an easing of Iran's international isolation in part lay behind the public's discontent.
Today, many Iranians see his legacy as one of wide-spread corruption and heavy foreign borrowing to pay for ambitious development plans. That has saddled President Khatami with a moribund economy and few immediate prospects for improvement.
With the election of Khatami, Rafsanjani was widely seen as slipping into a central role behind the scenes.
He chairs a powerful council created to resolve conflicts between the legislative and executive branches of government and map out iran's economic future. Supporters are trying to get his clerical rank elevated to that of ayatollah, which would further boost his prestige.
But with the rising importance of elected office and the growing power of public opinion, say analysts, the post has lost much of the lustre it once enjoyed.
"The role of king-maker isn't what it used to be," said the Western analyst.
Iran Minister Warns of ''Hard Year'' after Drought
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Iran's agriculture minister has given a warning of a
hard year to come after a drought that is expected to destroy up to 2.5
million tonnes of wheat, a newspaper reported on Sunday.
Issa Kalantari, quoted by the daily Qods, said other crops such as cotton, maize and hay, as well as the production of sugar and meat would suffer from the drought.
"Weather conditions in the current crop year have caused the destruction of two million to 2.5 million tonnes of wheat...and major damage to other fields that depend on rainfall," Qods quoted Kalantari as saying in a seminar.
"As far as water is concerned, Iran is going through a crisis this year. The volume of water behind dams is less than 40 to 50 percent of their capacity," he said.
"The agriculture minister said we have a hard year ahead of us due to water shortage, adding that there were shortages not only in desert regions such as Yazd and Isfahan but also in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Khuzestan provinces," Qods reported.
Iran said earlier this month it might import 4.5 million tonnes of wheat in the Iranian year to March 2000, up one million tonnes on the previous year, after a severe drop in rainfall.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has forecast that Iran would import 5.5 million tonnes of wheat in 1999/2000, up sharply from this year and the second highest level on record.
The U.S. forecast follows the Clinton administration's recent decision to exempt food and medicine sales from current sanctions on Iran.
In 1996/97, Iran imported a record 7.048 million tonnes of wheat, according to Western sources.
Women in Iran, Qatar, Yemen Can Vote...
DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- One woman running for office hid behind a black veil,
spoke to male voters only by telephone and refused to show her face on television
or posters throughout her campaign.
Another faced men in person, but showed them only her eyes through a slit in her veil. A third let men see her face, but her hair and her body were swathed in a cloak and scarf.
The three candidates live in Middle Eastern countries -- Qatar, Yemen and Iran -- where women not only can vote, but can play a role in government. Yet they must do so under conditions Western women would find undemocratically restrictive.
"We live in a very conservative society ... We have to play by the rules," said Wadha al-Suwaidi, the head of Qatar University's teaching college and the candidate who refused to show her face during recent Qatari municipal elections.
Some Islamic scholars see no contradiction in the imposition of the veil and the extension of electoral rights. They maintain that Islam has always given women rights and that the veil is a privilege, because it frees women from unwanted male attention.
Other observers see a real attempt by Islamic societies to adapt to the modern world, allowing certain freedoms while retaining traditional values symbolized by dress codes.
But skeptics say the veils reveal insincerity. States that are at heart anti-democratic keep their women cloaked and allow them to vote only to gain international acceptance and perhaps money from agencies that make aid conditional on reforms and women's rights, the critics say.
"They can use the jargon of democratization and election as a way to legitimize themselves, appear to be modern and counter the claims of authoritarianism," said Shiva Balaghi, associate director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at New York University.
Such academic arguments seem of little interest to the women wearing veils and casting votes in the Middle East. Yemeni women, for instance, are more concerned with issues like jobs and illiteracy.
Yemen, with a population of 16 million, is by far the Arabian Peninsula's most democratic country, and women there, almost all of whom wear veils, have traditionally had a role in public life.
Rauffa Hassan al-Sharki, director of the women studies program at San'a University, says the veil is part of Yemeni tradition.
Modernization does not mean local customs "should vanish," she said. Yemeni women wear veils as a result of tradition and social pressures.
Women make up 28 percent of Yemeni first-year college students, but the percentage drops in later years either because women leave to marry or are forced to quit by parents who accuse them of having relationships with male classmates.
In Yemen, where a candidate in 1997 parliamentary elections campaigned in a veil that revealed only her eyes, two women sit in the 301-seat Parliament. A woman is deputy information minister and a sizable number of lawyers and professors are women.
Under the Marxist regime that governed southern Yemen after independence from Britain in 1967, women served as judges -- a role forbidden to women under most interpretations of Islamic law -- and even as leaders of the ruling party. When the north and south merged in 1990, social disruptions that followed gave women a chance to take a bigger role.
But with the victory of the conservative north in a 1994 civil war, women lost many of their gains. Today, women activists see politics as their arena of struggle.
Women have a similar outlook in Iran, separated by culture and language from the Arab states. While the majority of Arab countries are from the mainstream Sunni Muslim sect, Persian Iran is predominantly Shiite Muslim.
From beneath the long and constraining garments Iran's constitution requires, Iranian women are showing a growing determination to moderate the hard-line policies and strict social guidelines put in place by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"We are trying to give women their full Islamic rights," said Suheila Jelowdarzadeh, who campaigned and won in cloak and scarf in 1996 national elections and now is one of 13 women in the 270-member parliament. As she spoke, she constantly adjusted her black chador, a sheet-like cloak draping her from head to toes.
It was largely Iranian women's and young people's votes that in May 1997 elected moderate President Mohammad Khatami. He named a woman as one of eight vice presidents, and a few women occupy senior government posts.
In February municipal elections, where there were only 5,000 women among the 330,000 candidates, women stunned Iranians by winning seats in at least 20 cities, including three out of 13 in the capital, Tehran. In the provincial town of Zanjan, 10 of the 15 seats went to women.
"I think the Iranian state has reached a point of no return," said Balaghi, the New York University researcher.
"They have admitted enough women, enough people with more moderate views into the governmental system, that I don't think that they will be able to go back to a totally conservative authoritarian form of Islamic government again. They may have opened a Pandora's box."
Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, started his people toward democracy in March by holding his country's first democratic election and letting women vote and run for office.
Still, none of the six women candidates won seats on the Municipal Council. Qatar is a country where women themselves are usually the most outspoken advocates of restrictive customs. Although no law requires them to, almost every woman in Qatar wears the veil.
"The majority of women lack brains and are submissive," said Shoaa al-Yousuf, a female professor of biological science at Qatar University.
She faces her male classes at the university draped in a black cloak that envelops her from head to foot, with a slit for her eyes.