Monday, August 25, 2008

The Hero and An anti- Family Bill

Hadi Saee has captivated the minds of Iranian youth. At the final moments of the Olympic games when Iranians had lost hope of any gold medals, he came to the rescue as a national hero. With a broken hand and an injured muscle Saee displayed his strong morale and his resilience in face of the apparently insurmountable obstacles . Sitting with Saee in the Tehran City Council , I have become familiar with his humble and very polite manners. Although he is a reformist at heart, I believe his championship should not be confiscated by any political group !

We adopted a bill to name a major circle or important location in Tehran in his name. I had a post about his gold medal on my Persian blog with many readers and comments indicating their support. I had also criticized the management of the team and the Sports Organization that had led to a sharp fall in the number of medals as compared to Athens and Sydney.

A reader had asked about my views on paragraph 23 of the Family Bill which is currently being debated in the Majlis. Legal and social activists have voiced their strong opposition to this bill which opens the way for polygamy without the consent of the first wife. There is a consensus among women across the political spectrum to stand against this paragraph . It has been dubbed as the anti family bill due to the serious challenges it poses for the future of families. There have been many articles written on this issue and many sessions held mostly criticizing the Majlis Judicial Commission for their preliminary adoption of the bill. Reformists have led the opposition but hopefully they will not be alone in this campaign for women's rights. I hope the MPs will realize the tragedy that this amendment could ignite, undermining the stability and integrity of the family which has always been so important for Iranians.

Last week I came across this inspiring picture of a poem from Hafez on the wall of a kindergarten in Europe. We need to do much more to promote understanding and love among our youth. That is, if we are looking forward to a world without war, poverty , terrorism and injustices.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ossetia, a scandal and a time to wait

The recently appointed Interior Minister , Ali Kordan now faces a serious challenge on the authenticity of a honorary Oxford university degree he flaunts. The ministry has posted a document which has numerous spelling and grammatical typos and Oxford University has denied issuing such a document. He now faces serious opposition from even his own party members. This is a serious test of moral integrity for the President and the Majlis. What has made this issue more controversial is the fact that the President brought up the issue of the Leader's support for these ministers in the confidence vote session of the Majlis. This scandal has sparked a very strong debate among political activists from all sides and political tendencies. For an Islamic Republic, ethical values should stand above all other considerations and it seems that some people have forgotten that.

In 2005 ,President Khatami delivered the government and economy to his elected successor in the most favorable economic conditions that any Iranian government had. The current government's incompetency to resolve economic woes and provide basic services such as gas and electricity to the people has caused even Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani the head of both the Expediency Council and the Experts Council to speak out on the inability of the government to manage affairs properly. Mr. Rafsanjani is considered to be a moderate voice who has now recently broken his silence by openly criticizing the government. Although some internet sites have been filtered but the issue is well covered in the press and other sites and many politicians have asked for the resignation of the Interior Minister. I also think that he should resign and the President should apologize for this big mistake he has made.

I had found time to read a historical article yesterday concerning the vast influence of Iranian civilization in the region. There was a section that surprised me with information I knew nothing about. There was a report on Ossetia and the fact that the origins of these people were from the Aryan tribes who had migrated from Iran thousands of years ago. They still call their region Ariestan and cherish Persian customs like Nowrooz and Chahrshanbe Suri. The Ossetians have strong family ties and traditions very similar to Iranians and their lifestyle is still very alike. The recent events and the claims of ethnic cleansing on both the side of the Georgians and the Russians is seriously troubling for everyone. I hope the situation is contained and the Ossetians find the opportunity to live in peace and prosperity.

Even as there are global efforts for peace and security in the world, it seems that things are not working out as they should be. This essentially means that the mismanagement of global affairs , the incompetence and lack of moral integrity among political leaders and the rising sense of insecurity in the world are all pointing to a bitter reality. We are not satisfied with the current circumstances, we are waiting for better times and for better leaders. Tomorrow is the birthday of Imam Mahdi , who is the Twelfth Imam waiting for the time to appear, he will come not to conquer through war and bloodshed as some Christian Zionist eschatologists profess; but to promote justice, love , understanding and peace among religions and cultures.

It is interesting that according to Shia traditions, Imam Mahdi is known to have a multicultural background. His father is a descendant of the Prophet of Islam, his mother is a Byzantine princess who was originally Christian, and his great grandmother is an Iranian princess. More interesting are the narrations that indicate that his reappearance will coincide with the return of Jesus Christ and that they will pray together and they will unite, for the betterment of mankind, for there is no discord or dispute in the realm of God.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Unlimited and Eternal Power

However you see or understand democracy, it starts from the roots, and like a tree grows strongly when its roots have penetrated in the soil holding firmly to the earth. In a religious society like Iran, with a long history of despotism and colonial domination you need to work patiently and continuously to ensure that democracy takes root. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic today provides ground for this discourse in Iranian society, but that alone does not suffice, particularly taking into consideration the conflicting interpretations and the obstacles facing the realization of democratic values.

As an NGO , the Center for Peace and Environment endeavored to play its share in this domain by convening a workshop on the role of environmental NGOs in promoting awareness and changing lifestyles in Iranian villages. We had invited four NGOs and experts to provide their success stories for the media and other NGO members. Education for protection of endangered species such as the cheetah, sustainable agricultural methods that would decrease pesticide and chemical fertilizer use, environmental education experiences for women's cooperatives in 30 villages throughout Iran and a project on enabling rural women to develop their potentials for sustainable resource management were discussed. Most of these projects had commenced during my tenure at the Department of the Environment and they had developed experiences worth sharing. I thanked them at the end and we gave them each an artwork of calligraphy from the Holy Quran.

On Thursday, I attended the annual congress of the Organization of the Mujjahedin of the Revolution. They are one of the major political parties in the reformist camp. All leaders and prominent members of the reform movement were present. Mr. Salamati read the Party's statement and then Dr.Hajjarian was given the floor to present his views. The audience gave him a lengthy standing ovation. After being attacked by a radical group in 1998, he now uses a walker and has difficulty in speaking. He went to the podium and announced that his speech would be read by another person.

He spoke about the necessity of containing and limiting the extent of power in any political structure. There is a tendency inherent in political power, to seek unlimited authority and to reign for an eternity. Democratic processes are in place to limit and control power and through efficient means of oversight and regulation to ensure accountability and transparency. He compared uncontrolled power to a high voltage current that can burn homes and neighbourhoods if not properly controlled to lower voltages appropriate for home appliances. He mentioned the regulatory mechanisms enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic which are not fully practiced. His speech was as usual very clear and to the point. I however, have certain doubts whether the timing of this discourse, which targets the power and leadership structures , is appropriate. We are nearing the very sensitive months before Presidential elections and the reformists should take necessary precautions.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My City Tehran

Urban and Rural Councils are a clear manifestation of the democratic processes in Iran. President Khatami made the decision during his first term to finally reinstate the law and perform the nationwide elections in which more than 300,000 Iranians were elected in local councils paving way for the implementation of the Constitution and establishment of the basics of local government and decentralization. The current Government now however, sees the Councils as its rival and competes in limiting the authority of these locally elected bodies. According to legislation passed during the previous government, the state was obliged to delegate its local authority in municipal matters to the Councils , instead they are now narrowing the role and authority of these bodies.

In the Tehran City Council we have decided to meet with the people in each district once a week. It is important for us to engage with the people at the local level and with the local authorities. In addition to a 15 person City Council , the Council has held district elections for more than 300 Friends of the Council Groups who are elected in each district for providing advice and oversight and connecting them with citizens at the local levels. This has proved to be a successful experience although there are still shortcomings and problems in terms of the authority delegated to them as well as their budget and plans. Along with some advisors and members of the Environment Committee we visited District No.One in the north of the city. Our first program was meeting with some local people. They had come to meet and speak with their representative. This is a wealthy sector of the city, and the most expensive in terms of land, rent and other daily expenses. It also has many environmental and social problems like other districts.

A large meeting with the local municipal officials had been arranged . They provided reports on environmental management schemes and waste management projects. I then spoke about the importance of environmental protection , sustainable waste management and the challenges we faced in Tehran and the whole country. I told them I hoped to bring the national and international experiences we had to the local level although, Tehran being so vast and highly populated, is a country by many standards. We then met with the members Friends of the Council . They discussed their local environmental issues and I was quite surprised to see them so well informed and sensitive about environmental standards and particularly the protection of green area and trees.

We then visited some of the projects in the city. We inspected a waste recycling center , a mountain trail managed with the assistance of a local NGO, a riverside cleanup project and some other environmental activities. We were finished about 5 in the afternoon. I felt guilty since I told all these people that we wanted to finish soon and we did not have time to stop for lunch. Yet everyone was now hungry. The delegation agreed it was the best tactic to save time.