Iran protests could hurt clerics but Rouhani has most to lose, say insiders

President Hassan Rouhani
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iran protests could hurt clerics but Rouhani has most to lose, say insiders

DUBAI: Iranian authorities are concerned that nationwide unrest will undermine the clerical establishment and want to stamp out the protests quickly, senior regime officials say. But the person with the most to lose is President Hassan Rouhani.
While several senior officials said there was concern that prolonged unrest would damage the legitimacy and influence of the country’s religious leaders, few insiders see the unrest as an existential threat to that leadership, which has ruled since the 1979 revolution and is now controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s system of dual clerical and republican rule.
The biggest loser, they say, is likely to be Rouhani, who is much more closely tied to the country’s economic policies.
“Of course, Rouhani and his government will have less power afterward, especially because his economic policy was criticized during the unrest,” said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.
“He will be a lame-duck president and Khamenei will have more power.”
Much of the protesters’ anger has focused on what Rouhani and his government have failed to deliver: An economic boom promised as the payoff for the 2015 deal that curbed Iran’s disputed nuclear program in return for world powers lifting sanctions.
Protesters are angry that Iran’s youth unemployment rate is edging toward 30 percent, want higher wages and an end to alleged graft. They have chanted slogans against all of Iran’s leaders, including the clerical elite, and attacked police vehicles, banks and mosques as the unrest widened.
“The continuation of the protests will lead to a legitimacy crisis,” said one senior official close to Rouhani, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“People have economic demands... of course these demands should be taken seriously... of course the establishment should listen to the people, but all these can be discussed in a calm atmosphere,” the official said.
Some conservatives have pushed for a hard-line approach, even though bloodshed could fuel more protests in the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide unrest in 2009.
“So far, security forces have not tried to prevent the demonstrations... but this will change if (Khamenei) calls for an end to the street protests and demonstrators defy his call,” said one former Iranian official from the reformist camp.
Even if the unrest is quelled, the demands of tens of thousands of restless working-class youths who have taken to the streets are unlikely to dissipate.
Khamenei spoke publicly for the first time about the crisis on Tuesday, accusing Iran’s enemies of stirring unrest but saying no more. A statement on his website said he would address the nation about the events “when the time is right.”
The protesters have little chance of toppling the clerical leaders, who appear to be retaining control of the military, police, and security forces and have no compunction about using them, according to one US official following the developments.
Rouhani, who was elected in 2013, is more exposed. He is seen as a pragmatist at odds with Iran’s hard-liners and has said in response to the protests that Iranians have a right to criticize the authorities.
But he has a fight on his hands because of growing resentment over high prices and allegations of corruption.
“His power is limited in Iran’s ruling system. Public discontent is increasing ... people are losing their faith in the establishment system,” a third Iranian official said. “The leaders are well aware of this fact and its dangerous consequences.”
US officials fear the likeliest outcome of the protests is discrediting what one called Rouhani’s “moderate brand of moderation” and a harsher crackdown by the clerical authorities.
“It’s an open question whether Rouhani ever intended to keep any of his promises, but he hasn’t delivered, especially on the economic front, and that means he has no popular support and is expendable to Khamenei,” said a second US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
“He’s likely to be one of the casualties, though maybe not immediately.”
Rouhani has blamed his predecessor and the US, Iran’s long-time adversary, for the economy’s shortcomings.
But his government has also backtracked on planned fuel price rises and promised more jobs.
Rouhani may need to spend more money to create more employment if he is to ease discontent and could risk antagonizing powerful interests if he tries to address allegations of corruption.
His vulnerability and the deep divisions in Iran’s hierarchy have fueled suspicions among some of his sympathizers that conservative rivals may have played a hand in the crisis.
“It was a coup against Rouhani and his achievements ... The aim was to harm Rouhani,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst close to the pro-reform movement.
But a fourth official in Tehran said the nationwide protests had united Iran’s leadership.
“At this point, it is not important whether a political faction initiated the unrest to harm the rival group,” the official said. “The unrest was hijacked by our enemies ... that is why all factions have united to protect the Islamic Republic.”


Egypt probes images of naked couple atop pyramid

Updated 11 December 2018
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Egypt probes images of naked couple atop pyramid

  • Danish photographer Andreas Hvid appears to scale the 4,500-year-old tomb on the outskirts of Cairo at night with an unidentified woman who is later seen taking off her top

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have launched an investigation into images said to show a naked couple who scaled the Great Pyramid that has sparked outrage in the conservative Muslim country, an official said Tuesday.
In a video titled “Climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza,” Danish photographer Andreas Hvid appears to scale the 4,500-year-old tomb on the outskirts of Cairo at night with an unidentified woman who is later seen taking off her top.
Hvid says the video was taken in late November but it was published on YouTube on December 8.
A photograph released by Hvid appears to show the couple completely naked on top of each other while looking in the direction of a nearby pyramid with the horizon illuminated.
“The public prosecution is investigating the incident of the Danish photographer and the authenticity of the photos and video of him climbing the pyramid,” Mostafa Waziri, the secretary general of Egypt’s supreme antiquities council, told AFP.
If the video was actually filmed at the top of the pyramid, that would make it a “very serious crime,” Waziri said.
The nearly three-minute video has taken social media by storm and has been the subject of late night talk shows. It has notched up almost three million views on YouTube alone.
“A 7,000-year-old civilization has turned into a bed sheet,” a Twitter user in Egypt lamented.
Another protested that “they want to soil the dignity and pride of Egyptians because the pyramid reflects the glory and grandeur of the Egyptian people.”
The authenticity of the images has been disputed with some arguing the photograph showing the pair naked appears to be very bright whereas the video showed them scaling the pyramid at night.
Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Enany told government newspaper Al-Ahram that the video has stirred “anger and outrage among Egyptians,” and that officials in charge of guarding the pyramids would be punished if found to have been negligent.
Hvid, 23, explained back home to the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet that he had “dreamed for many years of climbing the Great Pyramid” as well as of taking a naked photograph.
“I’m sad that so many people have got angry but I’ve also received a lot of positive responses from many Egyptians,” he said in an interview.
The young Norwegian, who runs his own YouTube channel, said he had absolutely no interest in stirring up a crisis such as that triggered by cartoons in Western newspapers of the Prophet Muhammad.
As for the girl in the video, she was not his girlfriend. “It was just a pose. We did not have sexual relations,” Hvid said.
The Great Pyramid, also known as the Khufu pyramid, is the largest in Giza, standing at 146 meters (480 feet) tall, and the only surviving structure of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
Climbing pyramids is forbidden in Egypt.
In 2016, a German tourist was barred from entering the country for life after he posted online footage of climbing one of the ancient structures.