Religious school attacked as tensions mount in Iran

In this video grab made from a video by Nasim News Agency, a cleric speaks to a crowd of protesters in Mashhad on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 04 August 2018

Religious school attacked as tensions mount in Iran

  • Hundreds have rallied in cities across the country, including Tehran, Isfahan and Karaj
  • Iran protesters have attacked a religious school in Karaj province near Tehran

TEHRAN: Iranian protesters attacked a religious school in Karaj province near Tehran, the conservative Fars news agency reported on Saturday, as sporadic protests simmered ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions.

Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of protests in the major cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over water, the economy and wider anger at the political system.

During past unrest, conservative outlets have focused on attacks against sensitive symbols such as religious buildings as a way of tarnishing protesters.

“At 9 p.m. (1630 GMT on Friday) they attacked the school and tried to break the doors down and burn things,” Fars quoted the head of the school in the town of Ishtehad, Hojatoleslam Hindiani, as saying, giving only his clerical rank and no first name.

“They were about 500 people and they chanted against the system but they were dispersed by the riot police and some have been arrested,” Hindiani said.

Fars acknowledged protests have taken place in “five or six cities” since Tuesday over water shortages, rising prices and joblessness, with “about 1,000 or 2,000 people” taking part.

It said this was part of a pre-planned plot by foreign powers to exploit economic tensions inside Iran. 

Because foreign media are barred from observing “unauthorized” protests, it has been impossible to verify any of these claims or the videos of protests spreading on social media.

With tensions high ahead of the return of US sanctions on Tuesday, the government of President Hassan Rouhani also faces opposition from conservatives and religious leaders, who have long disliked his outreach to the West and accuse him of governing only for the rich.

The conservative Qom News published a video of a protest in Mashhad after Friday prayers, in which a cleric tells the crowd: “Most of your representatives don’t care about people’s problems.

“Most have two passports and their families are abroad. The judiciary should find these people and arrest them,” the cleric said, to chants of “Allahu akbar” (“God is the greatest”) from the crowd.

Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has fallen out with the conservative establishment since leaving office in 2013, has tried to ride this wave of anger.

So far, social media reports suggest the current protests are far from the scale of the unrest seen in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.

There were allegations at the time that they had been sparked by conservative opponents of Rouhani in Mashhad before quickly spiraling out of hand. But all Iranians are concerned about the struggling economy, especially since the US walked out of the nuclear deal in May and announced it would reimpose full sanctions in two stages.

The first phase hits on Tuesday with blocks on financial transactions and imports of raw materials, as well as sanctions on Iran’s automotive sector and commercial aircraft purchases.

IranAir announced it would take delivery of five ATR aircraft from the French-Italian firm on Sunday, sneaking under the wire before the sanctions return.

Iran’s Aseman Airlines was ordered to ground its fleet of ATR planes in February after one of them crashed in the Zagros mountains, killing all 66 people onboard.

Remaining sanctions — including on Iran’s oil and gas sector and central bank — will resume on Nov. 5.

Although smaller foreign firms have vowed to work around the US measures, multinationals such as France’s Total and Peugeot, and Germany’s Siemens have already said they will have to pull out.

It is not yet clear how all this will affect ordinary Iranians, but a European diplomat in Tehran who monitors the economy said prices of basic foods were already creeping up.

She said the collapse in the rial, which has lost more than half its value since April, was driven by people rushing to secure their savings in dollars because they lack faith in the government.

“There is a massive loss of confidence in the financial system and the government’s ability to control things and withstand sanctions,” she told AFP.


Grand Egyptian Museum symbol of Japan cooperation

Updated 54 min 44 sec ago

Grand Egyptian Museum symbol of Japan cooperation

  • The museum will house thousands of monuments and artifacts including mummies

CAIRO: The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), set to open in 2022, is already a beacon for future Egyptian prosperity.

Built to showcase Egypt’s civilization and heritage, the museum will house thousands of monuments and artifacts including mummies, as well as housing a very important restoration center which will help in preserving Egyptian Pharaonic heritage.

It is hoped the GEM will boost tourism, and act as beacon of a new, forward-facing nation in the aftermath of several years of political upheaval, and centuries of losing its treasures overseas.

Egypt began work on the museum in 2008 at a cost of approximately $550 million, with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities funding $100 million, with the remainder facilitated through a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in addition to local and international donations.

Covering the third phase of the build, Japanese support was not limited to the loan, but extended to the financial and technical support of the museum’s preservation and conservation center. 

Moreover, Japan currently supports the museum’s archaeological database and the team chosen to cultivate and manage it. 

The JICA also organizes a program that holds several restoration training sessions in both Egypt and Japan, in partnership with the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. 

Egypt’s Ambassador to Japan Ayman Kamel talked about the details of Japan’s participation in constructing the GEM.

“This project, which was launched years ago, is a success story in Egyptian-Japanese bilateral relations,” Kamel said.

BACKGROUND

It is hoped the Grand Egyptian Museum will boost tourism, and act as beacon of a new, forward-facing nation in the aftermath of several years of political upheaval, and centuries of losing its treasures overseas.

He added that Japan contributed in supporting one of the Egyptian centers specializing in monument restoration, providing “unmatched” Japanese eco-friendly materials and technology. 

Kamel predicted that following its inauguration, the GEM would be a source of pride not only for Egypt and Japan but also for the whole world.

“The final inauguration will take place in 2022 when all construction operations are completed.”

Japan’s Ambassador to Egypt Masaki Noke said the GEM was a “huge project that transfers heritage to the coming generations” and hailed Egypt for carrying out “this huge archaeological project.” 

Noke added that the Japanese were very happy to participate in this huge achievement which he considered of paramount importance “not only on the economic level but also on the human level in general.”

Around 42,000 Japanese tourists visited Egypt in 2018, adding to an increasingly large community of Japanese residents, and a sizable presence of archaeological missions working in the country.  

Egyptian archaeological expert Ahmed Kadry told Arab News that there are currently 10 Japanese archaeological missions in Egypt with universities and institutions.

Kadry said that the GEM’s inauguration in 2022 will change the perspective of museum tourism the world over, and hailed to work of Japanese and Egyptian archaeologists for their work in the field of diagnostic examination of monuments by using hand-held devices called XRFs, a primary examination machine using X-rays.

He added the results of such examinations provided useful information regarding the preparation of painted layers “which help in not only deepening the understanding of the condition of murals once they are restored but also in conducting more research to gain more knowledge in the field of archaeology.”

In July 2018, Dr. Tadayuki Hara, an associate professor and senior research fellow at the Institute for Tourism Studies, gave a lecture on how to improve the value of touristic assets in Egypt at the Japanese Embassy in Cairo, where he cited the importance of the GEM in Egypt’s future.

“Revenues can be created through great memories,” Dr. Hara said. “That can be achieved through the GEM, the project that Japan is taking part in constructing.”