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October 1998, Week 1

FarsiNet FarsiNews

Iran Reformists Meet Rejection October 7
Iran tells writers not to organize, reports say October 6
Journal: Lifting the Veil, Just a Bit, on West's Decadent Art October 5
U.S. firms attend Iranian trade fair for first time in 20 years October 5
Iran moderates, conservatives in row over election October 2

 

Iran Reformists Meet Rejection
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Most reformists who sought to run for a key assembly that chooses Iran's spiritual leader -- the country's most powerful position -- have been rejected by hard-liners.

The list of candidates, published Wednesday, is evidence of the overriding clout of the hard-liners in Iran's clerical government, where President Mohammad Khatami and a small group of moderates are struggling to ease social and political restrictions. The country's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields far more power than the popularly elected president. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, determines foreign policy and controls the state media.

The Assembly of Experts' most important job is to choose Iran's spiritual leader. Of the 396 people who applied to run in the Oct. 23 elections for the assembly, 167 were approved.

Among those eliminated by the hard-line Guardian Council were a number of advisers close to Khatami, including Deputy President Abdollah Nouri -- a former interior minister who was impeached in June by hard-line members of Parliament.

The 12-member Guardian Council also approves candidates for Parliament and the presidency.

Before he was impeached, Nouri had planned to submit a bill that would curb the council's powers and open the way for a more liberal Assembly of Experts and Parliament.

Another rejected candidate was Hadi Khamenei, Khatami's adviser for press affairs and Ayatollah Khamenei's younger brother.

On Tuesday, he led a demonstration of more than 4,000 students protesting a crackdown on press freedom and the system of preselecting candidates for the Assembly of Experts.

In recent months, hard-liners in the judiciary have shut down six publications, including two on Monday, and arrested six journalists for allegedly printing lies. All publications must obtain printing licenses from the judiciary.

Ayatollah Khamenei has called on the judiciary to deal with what he says is ``the abuse of press freedom'' by the media. On Wednesday, Khamenei renewed those calls. ``Critique and criticism of the government's policies are not bad, but, when someone attempts to undermine the foundations of the government, it is a treason and not freedom of expression,'' he told the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran tells writers not to organize, reports say
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's Islamic authorities have told a group of prominent writers to give up effo rts to re-activate an independent association of authors, Iranian literary sources said on Monday.

An Islamic revolutionary court has in the past few days repeatedly questioned several cultural activists an d writers, including the prominent novelist Houshang Golshiri, a source told Reuters.

He said the court told the writers in lengthy questioning sessions to drop plans to hold a large meeting of authors seeking to re-activate the professional association, which has been dominated by liberal and left-lean ing authors critical of the government.

The court's move was widely seen as part of a right-wing backlash against efforts by moderate President Moh ammad Khatami to ease censorship and grant more freedom to political parties and professional associations.

The measure came after several outspoken newspapers and magazines were banned last month by the conservativ e-dominated judiciary and a number of their journalists were arrested.

Newspapers, including the dailies Zan and Abrar, have carried brief reports on the action against the write rs. The reports said the group also included Ali Ashraf Darvishian, Kazem Kardevani, Mansour Koushan, Mohammad Mokhtari, and Mohammad Pouyandeh.

The writers were part of a group which recently published a call to re-activate the association which had a n active role in the movement against the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's government which was toppled by the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Golshiri was among more than 130 writers who in 1994 called for an end to censorship. Conservative clerics sharply denounced the writers, accusing them of "spreading corruption."

The pressures have prompted some writers to move abroad, where they have set up an association of Iranian a uthors in exile.

Journal: Lifting the Veil, Just a Bit, on West's Decadent Art
From:New York Times
TEHERAN, Iran -- Propaganda placards around Teheran proclaim that a woman hidden by Islamic dress codes is like "a pearl in a shell."

And, indeed, many pearls lie hidden by Iran's restrictive culture, such as a government-owned art collection shut away since the Islamic revolution of 1979 in a climate-controlled vault deep in the bowels of the Museum of Contemporary Art here.

More than 400 important paintings by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro and others are stored in that basement, and though some have been taken upstairs for brief public viewings, for nearly 20 years others have been deemed too provocative to be seen.

To reflect President Mohammad Khatami's call for greater cultural openness, a new director has won permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for a plan to put much more of the Western collection on regular display.

But, he acknowledged in an interview here, some of the treasures that were amassed in the waning days of Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi's rule will have to remain locked behind a double set of thick steel doors.

"It comes down to morality," said the director, Ali Reza Semiazar, bound by a principle that public art in Iran should imitate public life.

A good number of restrictions imposed on Iran after it was transformed into an Islamic state have gradually been eased. Some women now allow a good bit of hair to show from beneath their head scarves, something that not long ago would have risked a public berating or worse. A few even dare display painted toenails. Still, no woman yet dares to appear in public in Iran unless she is covered from head to foot.

The same restriction applies to women portrayed on television, in newspapers and magazines. And the trouble facing Semiazar is that the museum's collection includes no small number of nudes.

Since it opened in 1978, the museum has served as a kind of mirror of change in Iran. Built on a design that emulates the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, it was part of the shah's effort to establish Tehran as a cultural center, and was filled with works acquired by curators in a worldwide buying spree. In the year before the old government fell, it proudly displayed works -- clothed and unclothed -- by modern masters from Picasso to Warhol.

But once the Islamic revolution made Western culture synonymous with a cultural invasion, most of the Western works were locked away in the vault, where the first image that greets a visitor is a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian religious leader.

In the museum's many galleries, the works were replaced by kitsch revolutionary art, sober Islamic calligraphy and revolving exhibitions, like a collection of photography from around the world that is now on display. True, an Alexander Calder mobile does hang in the alcove, and a sculpture garden includes works by Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Rene Magritte. But only one small room in the museum is set aside for Western art, which can be displayed no more than a handful at a time.

That limited space has meant that many among the museum's finest paintings, including one by Max Ernst and another by Jackson Pollock, have not been put on public display in more than a decade. And what Iranian art experts call the finest of all -- a softly rendered Renoir portrait of a half-clothed young girl -- is among those that have never appeared, and, by all accounts, is not likely to emerge any time soon.

"It's a brilliant painting; it's wonderful; it's a masterpiece," Semiazar, the museum director, said before escorting a visitor into the vault to see the work, still in its heavy gilt frame but hung on a sliding metal rack. "It's just an innocent young girl."

But, he said with evident regret, the standards he was obliged to enforce by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance meant that "it shouldn't be shown."

Barring another revolution, at least a dozen others among the works that the museum acquired in its pre-opening buying spree would seem to have even less of a chance of seeing the light of day. Two are nudes in Francis Bacon's grotesque style; another, "Intersection No. 3," by the painter John Kacere, is a Photo Realistic depiction of the joining of a young girl's thighs.

In the last two decades only one among what Iranians see as the controversial works has emerged into the international art market. The painting, a 1952 nude by Willem de Kooning titled "Woman III," was quietly exchanged on the tarmac of the Vienna airport four years ago for the remnants of a 16th-century book containing miniature paintings detailing the ascension to the throne of Shah Tahmasp of Persia. Both works had been valued at $20 million.

Only with special permission have the Iranian authorities allowed foreign experts and students to view the otherwise off-limits prohibited works. That has long been a source of frustration to Iranian art lovers; Mohammed Sohofi, whom the new government replaced as museum director this year, said that during a seven-year tenure he was variously pilloried among Iran's intellectuals as being either a jailer or "a person out of the Middle Ages."

And because Iranian conservatives remain deeply suspicious both of Khatami's government and its quest for cultural openness, some people in Iran say they doubt that the museum will really carry out its plan to be a little bit more bold.

But Semiazar said that his superiors are fully behind that plan, and that dozens of Western works will be on display by early next year, including a landscape by Monet, a still life by Gauguin and a portrait by Toulouse-Lautrec.

He has also promised soon to post on the Internet images of the entire collection -- even those deemed unsuitable here. That way, he said, "people in Paris can visit our Museum of Contemporary Art in the same way that I can visit the Louvre."

U.S. firms attend Iranian trade fair for first time in 20 years
From Reporter Kasra Naji TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Several American companies are taking part in this year's international trade fair in Tehran -- the first participation by U.S. firms since the 1979 Iranian revolution that fractured relations b etween the two countries.

The companies from the United States, one of 74 countries taking part in the fair, are in Tehran despite U.S . trade sanctions still in place against Iran. "We cannot do formal business as far as making contracts for sales or shipping products to Iran. But we can make relationships," says Gene Crocker of World Business Alabama. "We can display the brochures and catalogu es of the businesses in Alabama that would wish to trade if those sanctions are lifted."

The Americans here believe that, as in China, those companies who start early developing relationships with the Iranians will do better in the long run.

"I think it would be a large market, some 70 million people," says Crocker. "Of course, there's still a lot of business in oil recovery and processing, and there are companies in Alabama, in the USA, that make equipm ent that could be used and, as I understand, is needed in that effort." Opening the trade fair, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said the presence of more than 500 companies from so many countries was the result of his government's new policy of removing tension from Iran's relations w ith the outside world.

Early this year, he appealed for efforts to bring down what he called the wall of mistrust between Iran and the United States -- efforts which have been reciprocated by the U.S. State Department's encouragement of vi sits to Iran.

The question now is whether business people from both Iran and the United States are able to encourage their own governments to move faster in mending relations -- whether trade could prove the catalyst needed to end 20 years of estrangement.

Iran moderates, conservatives in row over election
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's moderates have voiced concern over the rejection of some of their candidates to a powerful st ate assembly by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, newspapers reported on Thursday.

The Servants of Construction, a party set up by top state technocrats who support reformist policies of President Mohammad Kha tami, expressed regret in a statement over the rejection of a number of candidates for the upcoming elections of the Assembly of E xperts, newspapers said.

"Preventing a large number of competent scholars and religious personalities from running for the assembly...is contrary to th e sublime principles of the Islamic system," the leading moderate group said, warning that the move would result in a low popular turnout in the October 23 elections.

The Guardian Council, which screens candidates and oversees elections, has approved just 145 out of a total 396 hopefuls who s igned up to run, the Interior Ministry said.

The council has not announced the final list of the approved candidates yet, who by law should be senior theologians with a so lid grasp of politics.

The elections to the 86-seat assembly, which names and has the power to dismiss Iran's supreme leader, has sparked intense fac tional fighting, with moderates accusing the Guardian Council of trying to prevent many moderates from running by questioning thei r qualifications.

Newspapers said some senior moderate clerics did not attend an examination held by the Guardian Council to test the candidates ' knowledge of theology, apparently seeing it as an affront to their dignity.

Mohammad Salamati, secretary of a pro-Khatami Islamic leftist group, accused the Guardian Council of being influenced by facti onal considerations in rejecting moderate candidates.

"The members of the Guardian Council are candidates themselves, and they reject the rival candidates, which is unprecedented t hroughout the world...This problem is very dangerous and it weakens the system," the daily Hamshahri quoted Salamati as saying.

But the Guardian Council denied in a statement that it had any factional motives, saying it had observed "nothing but the exac t and committed implementation of the law" in screening candidates, newspapers reported.

Beside being the first nationwide showdown between Iran's two main political camps since moderates routed conservatives in pre sidential polls last year, the Assembly of Experts elections are significant due to recent moves by some moderates and dissidents to question the supreme leader's authority. The moderates had repeatedly urged the Guardian Council to allow women and non-clerics to run for the Assembly of Experts, whi ch consists entirely of Moslem clergymen.

But newspapers said none of the nine women who had signed up to run had been allowed to run, and it was unclear if any non-cle rics were among the approved candidates.

Moderates and left-wing Islamists, whose coalition led to Khatami's landslide victory last year, have complained that many of their candidates had been barred from running by the Guardian Council in recent parliamentary and other elections.

 

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