Thursday, December 31, 2009

Regime's 'million man march' in Karaj - Thursday, 31 December 2009

The regime rallied its supporters in Karaj on Thursday, December 31. Karaj is a city in the northwestern suburbs of Tehran and has a population of over 1.25 million people.

View Karaj, Iran in a larger map

The following footage of the pro-regime demonstration in Karaj is provided with translations of the cameraman's remarks:

Cameraman:
'The spontaneous demonstration of Khamenei's supporters... They weren't able to come up with 200 people. They even picked them up with buses in front of their homes.'


Cameraman:
'Thursday, 10 Mehr, Karaj. (NB The cameraman mistakenly says Mehr instead of Dey)'

Chant master:
'Our people are awake and up in arms about Mousavi. Our people are awake and up in arms about Karroubi. Death to Khatami! Death to Mousavi! Death to Karroubi!'

Cameraman:
'Death to Khamenei! Death to Khomeini! You're looking at all of the regime's supporters in Karaj. You can hear that the Islamic Republic's lackeys have been reduced to hurling insults (NB The chant masters words are not audible) And here are the she-wolves of the Islamic Republic (NB As chador-clad women walk past). They had access to every means possible... with buses, closed schools, closed offices... And this is the crowd they managed to come up with, as you fellow countrymen can see. Death to the occupation regime of the Islamic Republic!'


For footage of the regime's 'million man march' in Kermanshah on Wednesday, please click here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Makhmalbaf: Secrets of Khamenei's life - part 2 - His entourage and Household operations

This is part 2 of a 4-part series.
For part 1 - His interests, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, internationally renowned filmmaker and the Iranian opposition's main spokesman abroad since the disputed presidential election, posted an article, entitled 'The secrets of Khamenei's life,' on his web site on Monday, December 28, 2009. Makhmalbaf has been living in exile in Paris. The original article in Farsi can be read here.

The following is a translation of the second part of the article. My notes are in italics.

Note: The term 'beyteh rahbari' has been translated as the Leader's Household in the broadest sense, which includes Ali Khamenei's personal office and inner circle.


The Secrets of Khamenei's Life - Part 2

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

I compiled this text which is based on information relayed to me by former staff members of the Leader's Household and the Intelligence Ministry who have escaped abroad.

Khamenei's relationship with his wife and children
Khamenei's wife is called Khojasteh. She is very much under Khamenei's thumb, but she is also dominated by her brothers. The oil company's hospital was once closed off so Khojasteh could have liposuction performed on her stomach. She was twice operated in London for an inflammation of the large intestine. Mojtaba, Khamenei's second son, has great influence on his father, but he can count on his mother's support if there are any shortcomings in that regard.

L to R, Massoud, Mojtaba, unknown, Mostafa, Meysam
Khojasta is about 67 years old. One of her brothers was linked to the Mojahedin Khalgh (NB Also known as the MKO, an armed resistance group which is broadly disliked by Iranians because of its collaboration with the Saddam government during the Iran-Iraq War) and has escaped to Sweden. Apart from the exiled brother, she has three other brothers who are involved in very large business operations. Khojasteh's brother Hassan has the run of the Islamic Republic's television broadcaster. He has a monopoly on commissions from the sale of Sony cameras and monitors. Iranian television's total purchases of Sony equipmenet, from cameras to editing systems, do not represent a large figure: about $50 to $60 million per year. But the people buy about $500 to $600 million of Sony equipment a year, of which 7% goes to Hassan, Khojasteh's brother. An Iranian in Dubai initially had the exclusive license to sell Sony equipment in Iran, but he was threatened and he gave up his license out of fear. Despite a prosperous lifestyle, Khojasteh is constantly worried that their life may appear too simple to outside observers. She has three ladies-in-waiting. She never goes to beauty salons outside of the house and has hairdressers brought to their home. She likes massages and a Korean woman is her masseuse.

Batool, [Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's wife, really disliked [Khojasteh] and believed that she was arrogant like her husband and that [Khojasteh] considered herself to be Leader of Iranian women ever since Khamenei had become Leader.

Khojasteh used to cook, but it has been seven or eight years since she has been able to carry out that task. An old man called Seyed is in charge of cooking now.

Khojasteh is in charge of choosing husbands and wives in Khamenei's home. She first selects families close to the Leader's Household or top clerics and gets to know them by socializing. Her investigations are completed by the Intelligence Ministry, special division. Then the Khamenei daughters and sons make their choice among the candidates selected by their mother and approved by the Leader. These marriages sometimes encounter serious problems. The fact that Mojtaba's wife (Haddad Adel's daughter (NB Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a regime apologist in academic circles and a former Speaker of the Majlis)) had difficulty getting pregnant almost led to divorce. In Massoud's case (married to Ayatollah Kharrazi's daughter), political differences have split the couple and Soussan Kharrazi has returned to her father's home in order to obtain a divorce.

Appearances within the family are strictly maintained in the presence of outsiders. For example, the children refer to their father as Agha (NB Sir, mister, or gentleman), Leader, or His Excellency the Ayatollah. Khamenei also employs honorifics when calling his children. He usually says, Agha Mostafa, Agha Mojtaba, Agha Massoud, or Agha Meysam. His daughters' names rarely come up in such encounters, except in family reunions. On such occasions, he refers to them as Boshra Khanoum or Boshra Sadat, Hoda Khanoum or Hoda Sadat.

If the topic of conversation turns to Mr. Khamanei's election [as Leader] by the [Assembly of] Experts, the children, especially Mojtaba say, 'The Experts did not elect Mr. Khamanei, but rather discovered him. He is the surrogate of the Imam Zaman (NB The Messiah figure in Shiism, the Hidden Imam who will return at an undisclosed time) and God endowed the Muslim scholars and Experts with the ability to discover him.'

This form of respect is maintained by the executives and employees of the Leader's Household. Whenever an individual comes out of an audience with Mr. Khamenei, these executives and employees tell the person, 'May your pilgrimage be accepted [by God]' (NB Ziarat ghaboul, in Farsi. Pilgrimage is used in the sense of visiting a sacred place). No one in Mr. Khamenei's office is allowed to say he is going to meet Mr. Khamenei or has a meeting with him. Rather, he must say, 'I am going to be honored' or 'I am going on a pilgrimage.' More than anyone, Hejazi (his chief of staff (NB Asghar Hejazi)) insists on this form of respect.

Communal prayer at the Leader's Household
(NB Communal prayer or namazeh jamaat takes place when an imam stands in front of a group of worshippers and leads them in any one of the five daily prayers.)
Communal prayers are performed at the Household three to four times a week. About 15 people have the honor of being led in these prayers. Ten of them, executives in the Leader's Household, are regulars and five to four people are guests. The guest slots have a price. The bazaar merchants who have problems to resolve participate in the Agha's (NB Khamenei's) prayers and seek his advice, and their business picks up. They are willing to pay the 'lease' on the guest slots, about 500 million toumans (NB About $500,000), to Hejazi or Mohammadi Golpayegani (NB Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani). These prayer followers make back their payment of 500 million toumans severalfold through the Agha's advice. Therefore customers of the Agha's communal prayer are usually bazaar merchants. Those within the security apparatus who seek promotion are also frequent worshippers at the communal prayer.

Khamanei's relation with his devotees
When Mr. Khamanei visits Mashhad and takes a sugar cube out of a sugar bowl, that bowl becomes sacred for his devotees. When he walks past a place on his way to a pilgrimage, his followers kiss the ground he has walked on. Videos of devotees kissing Khamanei's footprints are available on YouTube. It is unclear how shocked these dovotees would be if they found out about Khamenei's gadehs (NB Explained in part 1 of this article) and how Mullah Rashed's vulgar jokes have him in stitches. Would they consider the leftover sugar cubes from his tea to be as sacred?

Khamenei's catchphrase for the past twenty years has been, 'Do this, but don't let the people find out' or 'Do that, but make sure no one finds out.' And those who hear this phrase know that all the power of the Leader's Household depends on keeping the people ignorant of the secrets of Mr. Khamenei's life and the behind-the-curtains activities of the Leader's office.

Until the Friday Prayer that took place a week after the election (NB June 19, when Khamenei led Tehran's Friday Prayer and cast his lot with Ahmadinejad in a fiery speech against the opposition), Khamenei never took responsibility for anything and people believed that he played the role of an arbiter who maintained a balance of power between the various factions. But that Friday Prayer suddenly revealed everything and showed Khamenei's biased role in politics and his guilt in the oppression.

Those in charge of Khamenei's protection
[Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's protection team consisted of 200 people, but 10,000 individuals guard Khamenei (reminiscent of the Shah's Javidan Guard (NB The Immortals) whose numbers never diminished). The two key players are Din Shoari and Hossein Jabari, who stand guard outside his door at night and are the only individuals allowed to be armed around Khamenei. They have been Khamenei's main bodyguards for thirty years. But the individuals in charge of Khamenei's protection team over the years have been the following:
1. Khosro Vafa (head of the Janbazan unit)
2. Asgharzadeh (Majlis representative)
3. Motevalian (Sepah (NB Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps))
4. Ramezani (Sepah intelligence)
5. Nejat (Security Council (NB Supreme National Security Council))
6. Cheyzari (He is the current head of the protection team)

The close guards, who consist of 200 individuals and who witness the trips and the life in the palaces, each possess a home which is worth at least one billion toumans (NB about $1 million). Those who consider Khamenei to be pious and who lead austere lives themselves are not permitted to enter the first ring of guards, lest they become conflicted. These selfless guards are not allowed to marry the daughters of senior bodyguards, even if they fall in love. Marriages are organized within the senior political families or clergy. But those who kiss the ground Khamenei has walked on, steal sugar cubes from sugar bowls rendered sacred by Khamenei, and are prepared to sacrifice themselves for him have never been considered worthy enough to marry the daughter of a senior figure.

500 individuals guard the family members. (The extended family of 40 is guarded: The daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, daughters, sons, brothers, brothers-in-law, and even some of the children of the brothers and brothers-in-law.)

Entering the bodyguard team requires passing three security clearances and takes a very long time. The monthly salary of bodyguards is at least $1,000 and at most $12,000. When someone enters the bodyguard team, he is helped to purchase a residence. The individuals also have access to an official residence in the place where they are stationed.

About 1,000 of the 10,000 bodyguards are women and usually no one knows that they are bodyguards.

Khamenei's medical care
Former health minister Dr. Marandi is Khamenei's medical coordinator (NB Professor Alireza Marandi. Alireza Marandi's son is Seyed Mohammad Marandi, professor of North American Studies at Tehran University, a vocal supporter of the regime and one of the few people in Tehran who has no problem obtaining a satellite feed to be interviewed by foreign news outlets. In July, CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked Seyed Mohammad Marandi if he had any problem appearing like 'a mouthpiece for a dying repressive regime:')


Marandi chooses the team of doctors and brings them to him when necessary. The Leader's Household has an underground hospital with four doctors on duty 24 hours a day. A mobile hospital follows Khamenei during his land trips. A bus-hospital with an operating room also follows Khamanei on his land journeys. An airplane hospital with two operating rooms is available for long-haul trips. Khamenei has been operated three times in the past thirty years: on his hand after the explosion in the early days of the revolution (NB A failed assassination attempt in 1981 paralyzed his right hand), on his small intestine, and on his prostate.

Whenever Khamenei is ill, differences boil to the surface at the Leader's Household. People who have committed crimes and fear that the people will take revenge on them when Khamenei dies become worried about their future. But as soon as Khamenei's health improves, everything is quickly forgotten.

A lady who is the sister of Deputy Defense Minister Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi and is a gynecologist is the personal physician of Khamenei's wife, daughters, and daughters-in-law. (NB This sentence appears to indicate that Makhmalbaf prepared at least this section of the report in the summer. The 'lady' in question is Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi who was confirmed by the Majlis as the new Health Minister on September 3, 2009.)

Depression
Khamenei has suffered from depression for years. Some doctors believe it is caused by his habit of listening to recordings before bed. Given that only recordings of people speaking against Khamanei are considered noteworthy, Khamenei is constantly listening to recordings of remarks against himself. In order to preserve his system, Khamenei usually listens to 20 minutes of recorded conversations against himself, between opponents or even officials, every night before sleeping. This contributes to his depression. Every night before sleeping, he reaches the conclusion that no one loves him and the next morning he opens his eyes onto people who plead their loyalty in order to attain power and wealth or in order to avoid his rage.

[His wife] Khojasteh, who has sometimes listened to these recordings, has little patience for the daily groveling of many people. More than anyone, she says that the Iranian people are fawning liars and traitors.

Khamenei sometimes gets a massage from an Iranian physiotherapist. The massages initially focused on the hand that was disabled in the explosion, but later and on the recommendation of physicians, it became a part of the weekly schedule.

The system of recordings
Once Khamenei became Leader, Ahmad Ghadirian was responsible for the recordings for a period of two years. But Taeb has been in charge of this task for 15 years now (NB Possibly referring to Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, former head of the Basij and currently in charge of the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards). The recordings are divided into three parts: recordings of senior officials, recordings of security officials, and recordings of the people. Even the bedrooms of security officials are tapped in order to keep an eye on any possible treachery. The conversations of ordinary people are recorded to understand the climate in the country and allow Khamenei to confront it. This third type of recording is a form of poll.

Two main centers are tasked with the recordings, one in Tochal and the other at the telecommunications center. A team which is based behind Khamenei's residence on Pasteur Street compiles the recordings related to Khamenei into a 20-minute segment and prepares a two-page report. Five minutes of the recordings concern the society's morality. All of Khamenei's meetings are openly recorded and he even tells the attendees that they are being recorded. For example, he records all of his meetings with [Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council chief] Hashemi Rafsanjani, [former President Mohammad] Khatami, [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, and other officials. The main people in chargeof the recordings are Taeb and Engineer Hamid, Vahid Haghanian's brother.

In this way, Khamenei possesses secret files on all officials and knows their strengths and weaknesses. But very few people know about Khamenei, except Reyshahri (who in Khomeini's time was responsible for investigating all officials, including Khamenei), and in recent years Hejazi (NB Asghar Hejazi, chief of staff) and Mohammadi Golpayegani, who know all the secrets. (NB Ayatollah Mohammadi Reyshahri, aka Mohammad Mohammadi Nik, former Intelligence Minister).

Reyshahri wanted to become the trustee of the town of Rey (NB His birthplace and the reason he has the alias Reyshahri, which means from the town of Rey), and even though he opposed this, Khamenei gave him the town as a bribe. In Khomeini's time, Reyshahri would investigate the sexual, financial, and political background of all officials, including Khamenei.

In the political field: When [current opposition leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi was the prime minister (NB 1981 to 1989) and Khomeini supported his economic policies, Khamenei was president but did not legally have the same power as Mousavi within the goverment. Khamenei would criticize Khomeini's support for Mousavi in private.

In the financial field: Khamenei's interference in commisions from oil sales was under question.

In the sexual field: Khamenei's two temporary wives in Mashhad had been discovered (NB Sigheh. Explained in greater detail in part 1).

Of course, none of these issues dispelled Khomeini's trust in Khamenei. But if the story of his two sigheh women in Mashhad, which took place when he was young, had been divulged, his reputation may have suffered. There have been no reported cases of his womanizing after the revolution.

Khamenei's travels
Khamenei travels about 100 days out of the year. He resides in the palace he has built in Mashhad (NB His birthplace) for one month in the summer, one week for the Nowrouz holiday (NB Iranian new year's day, first day of spring), and one week in the winter. Also around Nowrouz, he spends a week in the Dezfoul air force base in Khuzestan province, which enjoys a good climate in that time of the year. He also spends a month along the Caspian Sea, usually in Ziba Kenar, Sari, Ramsar, or Bisheh Kenar. He spends every Thursday and Friday (NB The Iranian weekend) in Niavaran Palace, Jamshidiyeh Palace, or Lavasanat Palace. When Khamenei is traveling, a plane carries officials back and forth once a day. Three protective rings are set up around his place of residence. All of his close guard and the second circle of bodyguards, 1,200 individuals in all, must travel with him. Consequently, every day of his travels costs a minimum of 50 million toumans (NB About $50,000).

When he is in Mashhad, an A330 airplane usually transports his and Mojtaba's favorite horses and various articles of furniture.

Khamenei sometimes wants to travel like ordinary people. To this end, a special bullet-proof bus was built at a cost of 500 million toumans ($500,000). The bus is equipped with two bedrooms, a lavatory, and a bathroom. It also has a small kitchen, in which Seyed, the Agha's trusted cook, prepares meals. The Agha's escort secretly precedes and follows the bus.

This is part 2 of a series.
For part 1 - His interests, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Makhmalbaf: Secrets of Khamenei's life - part 1 - His interests

This is part 1 of a 4-part series.
For part 2 - His entourage and Household operations, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.


Mohsen Makhmalbaf, internationally renowned filmmaker and the Iranian opposition's main spokesman abroad since the disputed presidential election, posted an article, entitled 'The secrets of Khamenei's life,' on his web site on Monday, December 28, 2009. Makhmalbaf has been living in exile in Paris. The original article in Farsi can be read here.

The following is a translation of the first part of the article. My notes are in italics.

Note: The term 'beyteh rahbari' has been translated as the Leader's Household in the broadest sense, which includes Ali Khamenei's personal office and inner circle.


The Secrets of Khamenei's Life

Mohsen Makhmalbaf

I compiled this text which is based on information relayed to me by former staff members of the Leader's Household and the Intelligence Ministry who have escaped abroad.

Introduction
After the Shah and Khomeini, Khamenei is the individual who has most affected the public and private lives of Iranians in the past several decades. He is the person who more than any other knows about the lives of this or that individual through his intelligence apparatus. But very few people know the details about his home, family, connections, interests, or work habits. This excessive secretiveness has been a deliberate choice made by him and his system. By being shrouded in secrecy, he has derived a religious charisma among his followers and a sinister quality among the people.

This article aims to reveal the truth about Khamenei through first-hand sources. This disclosure is free of the constant expressions of hatred of these past days or the infatuation of his fanatical supporters.

His daily schedule
4:00 AM rises from sleep and engages in prayer
6:00 to 6:30 AM meeting with Hejazi (his chief of staff) (NB Asghar Hejazi)
6:30 to 7:00 AM meeting with Vahid (executive deputy of the Leader's Household)
7:00 to 8:00 AM meeting with Mojtaba (his second son), three times a week. (Mojtaba teaches at the Ghom seminaries about 150 days a year, but on all other days meets with his father every morning.)
8:00 to 10:30 AM reviews intelligence, political, and economic reports.
10:30 to 12:00 PM midday nap and rest
12:00 to 1:00 PM communal prayer and lunch
1:00 to 3:00 PM indispensable meetings (which vary and mostly concern the resolution of unexpected crises)
3:00 to 5:00 PM personal matters
5:00 to 8:00 PM special meetings (these encounters are described in the weekly and monthly schedules)
8:00 to 8:30 PM dinner
8:30 to 9:00 PM listens to the latest recordings
9:00 PM prepares for bed

Khamenei's weekly schedule
(NB The Iranian workweek is Saturday to Wednesday, and the weekend is Thursday to Friday)
1. Sunday afternoons, meetings with military commanders (NB This could be a typo and may refer to Saturday afternoons)
2. Sunday afternoons, meetings with Sepah (NB Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) commanders
3. Monday dinners, meetings with the president
4. Tuesday morning, meetings with officials about his own financial matters (Hassan Khamenei (his brother), Mir Mohammadi, Mojtaba Khamenei, and Commerce Minister Shariatmadar (NB Possibly referring to Mohammad Shariatmadar, former commerce minister of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Shariatmadar was a member of Khamenei's representative office for Hajj pilgrimage affairs from 1991.)
5. Tuesday dinners, meetings with [Assembly of Experts and Expediency Council chief] Hashemi Rafsanjani.
6. Wednesday afternoons, meetings with members of the Guardian Council.
7. Wednesday nights, dinner with Jannati (NB Head of the Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati)

Monthly schedule
1. Meeting with the head of the Majlis (NB Ali Larijani)
2. Meeting with the head of the judiciary (NB Sadegh Larijani)
3. Meetings with religious advisers (individuals who come from Ghom, like Moghtadeie and Yazdi (NB Possibly referring to Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadeie, head of the conservative Teachers' Association of Ghom Seminaries, and Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, ultra-conservative head of the Imam Khomeini Research Center in Ghom and a spiritual mentor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad))
4. Meetings with other advisers

Khamenei's personal interests

Food
Doctors advised him to eat caviar and trout from the Lar river. In time, these two foods became personal favorites. Caviar is sent from Rasht by the city's Friday Prayer leader (NB Ayatollah Zeinolabedine Ghorbani, also Khamenei's representative in Gilan province). Pheasant meat is sent from Shiraz by Mr. Haeri (NB Possibly referring to Shiraz Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi). He also consumes quail and ostrich meat (to avoid cholesterol).

A $500,000 device has been bought from the United States to check Khamenei's food and make sure it is not poisoned. The food is tested after a certain substance is added to it. The cook must taste the food before anyone else, in the presence of bodyguards.

Sports
Hiking in the mountains and horse riding. In 1999, Khamenei fell from a horse because he rides with only one hand and broke his hand. (NB Khamenei's right hand has been disabled since an assassination attempt in 1981. A bomb hidden inside a tape recorder blew up as he gave a Friday Prayer sermon.) On long trips within Iran, for example to Mashhad, Khamenei and Mojtaba's personal horses are taken to the destination inside an A330 airplane. Three specially-equipped trucks are used for transporting horses on shorter hauls.

Horses
There are about 100 horses, whose estimated total value is $40 million. The most expensive horse is worth $7 million and is called Zuljanah (NB The white stallion of Imam Hossein. Imam Hossein's martyrdom in 680 AD is commemorated on Ashura.) Mojtaba's horse is called Sahand. The horses are kept in two stables, one in the Malek Abad estate in Mashhad which measures 10,000 square meters and houses 70 horses, and another in Lavasanat (NB North of Tehran), measuring 3,000 square meters and housing 30 horses.

View Malek Abad - Mashhad in a larger map

Gadeh (NB A corresponding English word does not exist. Gadehs are rowdy gatherings of clerics where everything but religion is discussed.)
Karim Shireyi, left, circa 1890
He sometimes engages in gadeh with Rashed Yazdi (A mullah who tells vulgar jokes) (NB Possibly Hojjatoleslam Rashed Yazdi, affiliated with the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad). Khamenei gets a good laugh out of these gatherings. (something that Karim Shireyi did for Nassereddine Shah (NB Karim Shireyi was the favorite court jester of Nassereddine Shah, a 19th-century king of the Ghajar dynasty. He was allowed to say anything about anyone, including the shah, in a particularly closed climate.)). Also by listening to the vulgar jokes which are a form of mental release, he takes the pulse of the country. Mohammadi Golpayegani and Vahid Haghanian also take part in these gadehs. (NB Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, head of the Leader's office). Sometimes [Guardian Council chief] Jannati is also invited and on those occasions he is usually mocked by Rashed. Mojtaba hates Khamenei's gadehs because he has no influence there and, in his absence, Rashed Yazdi can give economic and political advice and gain favors for this or that person.

Reading
Beyond reports and the press, Khamenei has very little time to read books. From the time he was president (NB 1981 - 1989), he has told people on numerous occasions that the disadvantage of the presidency is that it takes away the possibility to read. However, he does study some books on presidents and world leaders. More than anything, he is interested in the Ghajar period, especially during Nassereddine Shah's reign. He has read all books written about himself as well as those on the Shah (NB Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was deposed in the Islamic Revolution) and his family.

Pipe collection
Mashhad 1978, courtesy Abbas
Khamenei was initially a cigarette smoker. He quit cigarettes at the beginning of his presidency because it did not conform to the office's prestige. He did not want any photos of him with a cigarette to be published. During that time when he was still close to Prime Minister Mousavi (NB the current opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi), they both decided to quit smoking cigarettes at the same time and have not touched cigarettes since. But he still smokes a pipe. A photo of him with a pipe in his mouth was once published. A special pipe tobacco is prepared for him. He has about 200 pipes in his collection. All rumors about him smoking opium are lies. But he has ordered that poets close to him, such as Ali Moallem (NB Mohammad Ali Moallem Damghani, who was recently designated as Mir Hossein Mousavi's successor at the head of the Academy of Arts), Shahriar, and Sabzevari, to be allowed to indulge in their opium habits. He even ordered that opium be delivered to Shahriar's home as a gift from the Agha (NB Term which means sir and refers to Ali Khamenei). His pipes are estimated to be worth $2 million. Most of the pipes were given to him as presents. The most expensive pipe is worth $300,000 and is 300 years old. The stem of this pipe is gold-plated and encrusted with jewels. Some of the pipes were given to him as gifts by presidents and world leaders. The pipe-holders bear the names of the people who offered them.

Ring collection
There are about 300 rings in Khamenei's collection. Three were given to him by the Imam Reza Shrine authorities. The most expensive ring is worth $500,000 and boasts the oldest agate in the world. The collection is kept in the Leader's Household.

Cane collection
A few years ago, there were 170 antique canes in Khamenei's collection which was estimated at $1.2 million. The most expensive cane is worth $200,000. It is 170 years old and jewel-encrusted. On special occasions, he will give a cane, ring, or clerical cloak to someone as a present. Before the last presidential election in which Mir Hossein Mousavi was a candidate, he visited Mousavi's father and gave him a cane. Some people thought this was a sign that he agreed with [Mousavi's] candidacy. After [Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah] Khomeini's death, and at the beginning of his leadership, he sent a clerical cloak to Mr. Taheri, then Friday Prayer leader of Isfahan, because Taheri had been quoted as saying that when Khomeini had seen Khamenei on television during Khamenei's visit to India, he had said that Khamenei would make a good Leader. This same quote convinced the [Assembly of] Experts to vote for Khamenei. The footage of the Experts and the recital of this quote are available on YouTube.

He ususally gives gold coins as gifts to artists and poets who support him. He sometimes sends a check from the Leader's office. On occasion, some literary figures who flatter the regime are invited to the Household and are given prizes after reading their poems. (This tradition was common in the Ghajar courts, particularly that of Nassereddine Shah.)

Clerical cloak collection
There are about 120 cloaks worth about $400,000 in Khamenei's collection. The most expensive is worth $30,000. His favorite is a white cloak that he wears from time to time. The cloaks are made of camel hair.

Other interests
Rumors that he played the tar or sitar in his youth are false. But he was interested in music as a young man and listened to classical Iranian music. He used to like Shajarian's voice, but he dislikes him now because of Shajarian's political positions (NB Master Mohammad Reza Shajarian is one of the most acclaimed traditional Iranian singers. He has clearly sided with the opposition and openly demanded that the state media stop playing his songs). After becoming leader, and in particular in recent years, he has become increasingly opposed to music. He has spoken against music numerous times on television. This year, he ordered state radio-television to decrease its musical content in order to please his more religious followers.

In his youth, and perhaps simply because of his young age, he bought a red Volkswagen. He probably could not believe that years later during his own rule, some people would be held accountable simply because of the color of their automobiles.

In the report on Khamenei's past that Reyshahri prepared for Khomeini, references are made to two women who were temporarily wed to Khamenei (NB The term sigheh or temporary marriage refers to a form of prostitution allowed by Islam). These two women live in Mashhad.

Poetry
Khamenei's interest in poetry began at a young age and has been maintained till today. He spent long hours at the poetry association of Mashhad. He has written some poems. He is delighted when poets write poetry about him and expresses his satisfaction through gifts to the poets. Sabzevari and Ali Moallem, who are among the fawning Muslim poets, are constantly corresponding with him. It is through them that he is informed of the problems of artists affiliated with the regime. At the start of his Leadership, he received the poet Mir Shakak, who was a manic depressive, several times. Khamenei became very proud of himself when Mir Shakak upon saying goodbye would say, 'Seyed zat ziad' (Meaning 'the honor is great', which is a colloquial prayer). Khamenei invites poets to his Household several times a year so that they may recite poems in his presence.

At the beginning of his presidency, he asked Akhavan Saless, whom he knew very well, to write a flattering poem for the revolution. Akhavan Saless (NB Mehdi Akhavan Saless, also known as M. Omid) responded, 'We artists are above the government, not with it.' Khamenei was so incensed by this answer that he ordered that he stop being paid. (NB Akhavan Saless worked at the Academy of Artists and Writers). Akhavan Saless became unemployed after that. Gheysar Aminpour has referred to this event in his article on Akhavan.

Khamenei intensely disliked Shamlou (NB Ahmad Shamlou, one of the most prominent Iranian poets of the last century) and referred to him with hatred. But he never dared arrest and punish him, because he feared tainting his own name in history. He has read much about kings who mistreated poets. In his speeches, he has often cited Lenin's phrase that if an ideology is not supported by art it will die. He loves poetry so much that if he had not become active in religion and politics, he would probably have turned to poetry and literature. However, because of his busy schedule, he sometimes makes glaring mistakes [in this regard]. Despite claiming to be knowledgeable about verse, when a young poet recited a poem in his presence, he asked him, 'Is this poem by you?' To which the poet responded, 'No, it is by Sohrab Sepehri.' (Any schoolchild knows Sepehri's work). 

This is part 1 of a series.
For part 2 - His entourage and Household operations, please click here.
For part 3 - His wealth, please click here.

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 10 - Provisional list of dead protesters: death toll now at 8

(Updated Tuesday,29 December 2009)

The opposition has released a provisional list of protesters killed in today's demonstrations in Tehran. This is only a preliminary list and only concerns the day of Ashura, December 27, in the capital. A woman was allegedly shot and killed in Sirjan during protests yesterday, but she is not among these victims. According to Jonbesheh Raheh Sabz, they are:

- Mehdi Farhadinia, 34, Mehdi Farhadirad according to the Islamic Republic Police News Service
- Mohammad Ali Rasekhinia, 40
- Amir Arshadi, 30
- Shahram Faraji, 30
- Seyed Ali Habibi Mousavi (nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi), 42
- Jahanbakht Pazooki, 50
- According to the Islamic Republic Police News Service, an unidentified woman, 43, and man, 31 were also killed. It is unclear how the police could be so precise on their ages and not have their names. 

Please provide additional confirmed information you may have in the comments section or by email to me.

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wave of arrests after a bloody Ashura: Night of the long knives redux?

The Islamic regime has embarked on a broad campaign of arrests following the massive protests on Ashura, December 27, according to a number of official and opposition news sites.

The arrests have not been restricted to Tehran. Ayatollah Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, the head of the Association of Teachers and Researchers of the Ghom Seminaries, was arrested last night, according to the Borna news site, close to the regime. The clerical organization has supported the opposition movement's calls for freedom and reform. Borna reported that Mousavi Tabrizi was arrested in Ghom as 'the [association] sought to create unrest on the occasion of Imam Hossein's shameh ghariban' (NB a gathering, usually around a meal, to remember those who are absent). The detention of the well-known ayatollah may have been the hasty decision of a local security official since Borna's report has since been removed from the site and Fars news issued a succint article in which an anonymous source denied Mousavi Tabrizi had been arrested. Fars news did not explain why Mousavi Tabrizi himself had not been sought for a confirmation or denial.

Ebrahim Yazdi, 76, secretary general of the Freedom Movement of Iran and a former foreign minister in the post-revolutionary period, was arrested at his home at 3 AM on Monday, December 28, by intelligence agents, per Radio Farda. Yazdi had already been detained on June 17 while undergoing medical tests for a cancer, shortly after the disputed presidential election, but had been released later that month. The opposition Jonbesheh Raheh Sabz news site reported that Leila Tavasoli, Yazdi's niece, was also taken away from her home by security agents at 1:30 AM.

Emadeddine Baghi, prominent human rights activist and the founder of the Committee for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, was taken into custody this morning. Baghi, who was jailed in Evin prison last year, had been threatened by intelligence agents during Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's funeral last week. His wife and children were insulted while his house was searched and he was arrested, according to Advar news, the news site of the national alumni association. The news site reported that Baghi told his children that he would 'stand strong in prison' as he was taken away. At that point, one of the agents turned to the family and said, 'He won't live long enough to stand strong.' Baghi won the Martin Ennals Award, one of the most prestigious human rights prizes in the world, in 2009. He was also awarded the 2008 prize for International Journalist of the Year by the British press.

The news service of the United Student Front reported the arrest of prominent political figure Heshmatollah Tabarzadi around noon on Monday. Yesterday evening Tabarzadi, a former student leader and political activist, participated by telephone in a program on the Voice of America and denounced the regime's use of force against protesters. He called on the opposition to remain peaceful despite the regime's provocations. He was released from prison in May 2008 after serving a seven-year sentence for founding the Democratic Front, insulting the Supreme Leader, and propagating against the state.

Various sources also speak of the arrests of individuals in opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's inner circle. According to these reports, Mohammad Bagherian, Mousavi's senior adviser, and Ghorban Behzadian Nejad, the head of his campaign staff, were detained earlier today. There has also been conflicting information about the possible arrest of Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, no relation to Alireza Beheshti, who ran the Kalemeh web site, the news service of Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Parleman news reported that security agents took Morteza Haji, director of the Baran Foundation and former minister of higher education, and Hassan Rasouli, his deputy and a former governor of Khorasan province, into custody this morning. Security agents sealed and confiscated the foundation's documents. The Baran Foundation was created by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and its motto is 'Freedom, growth, and prosperity for Iran.'

Abolfazl Ghadiani, a senior member of the opposition Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution party, was also arrested hours ago. The same security agents then went to the residence of the party's spokesman, Mohsen Armin, but failed to take him into custody because of he was not at home.

Mohammad Sadegh Rabani, a senior member of the Iranian Peace Council, was picked up by a Basiji patrol on the corner of Ostad Nejatollahi and Taleghani streets in Tehran at approximately 1:30 PM yesterday, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. Rabani is the brother of the late Ayatollah Haj Mehdi Rabani, the Prosecutor General of the country under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Reza Al Basha, a Syrian journalist working for Dubai TV, has been missing since yesterday. According to Tabnak, the news site of former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, efforts by the Islamic Guidance Ministry and the police to locate Al Basha have been fruitless thus far. Tabnak wrote that the reporter 'did not have any camera and was present in the areas of unrest out of curiosity. He had no intention to produce a television or news report.'

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 9 - Regime employs extreme violence

Demonstrators had expected that the regime would refrain from using excessive force because of the peaceful nature of the holy month of Moharram. But footage and photos coming out of Iran indicate that the opposite occurred and that security forces resorted to violence that had been unseen since the deadly protests of this summer.

The regime has denied anyone was killed in the protests today. The following pictures tell another story. I will add more as they come in:


A man shot in the head, according to various reports (courtesy AP):



This footage shows a young man shot in the back. Some reports claim this protester is Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew:




Taken at Vali Asr Square. The young man at the end of the video is close to death. Protesters say that he was run over by a security vehicle:

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 8 - The people fight back

Reports, photos, and footage from Iran signal a renewed vigor among protesters who have not shied from directly confronting security forces. 

Protesters smash a police van and pull out the policemen as others shout 'Don't hit them!'


'I'll kill the one who has killed my brother...' Protesters set security motorcycles on fire and attack regime agents, while others tell them to let the men go:


Barricade in Tehran:

The building of the Basij of the national oil company, corner of Somayeh and Hafez streets in Tehran, is set on fire:


Protesters attack police in anti-riot gear:


'Death to Khamenei' as blazes rage around the protesters:


Demonstrators heckle security forces on motorcycles:


People charge a group of security troops attempting to arrest protesters:


'Death to Khamenei' as smoke rises over a rock-strewn street:

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 7 - Eyewitness to BBC Persian


View Ashura - Tehran - Corner of Roudaki and Azadi streets in a larger map

Male caller to BBC Persian:
It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. We were at the corner of Roudaki and Azadi streets. There was a huge crowd and the special guard was attacking us from all sides. They showed no mercy. Old, young, man, woman... they beat everyone without holding back. A few of us were left behind and the security forces converged on them and started hitting them with such savagery. My friend was among those protesters and we couldn't do anything to help. He was beaten to a pulp and we couldn't take him anywhere. We were afraid to take him to a hospital. We called private clinics and they refused to treat our friend. We had to bring him to our home. At normal hospitals, they arrest anyone who may have been injured during protests. (voice is breaking) We don't know what to do. We think that our friend may have become blind. Security forces are all over the place. The sound of motorcycles has new meaning for us. They entered people's homes and arrested protesters who were taking shelter there. The people have become radicalized, both their slogans and the way they stand up to the security forces now. I don't think the people will surrender.

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 6 - Police station set on fire

The following footage shows security forces had completely abandoned Vali Asr Square. The police station is set on fire by protesters. At the end of the video, a seriously injured protester, close to death, is laid down on the ground. The remarks of the surrounding protesters indicate that the man was run over by a car driven by security forces:


(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 5 - Mousavi's nephew allegedly killed

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew was killed during today's protests, according to Parleman News, the news site of the Imam Line faction of the Majlis.

Parleman News reports that Seyed Ali Mousavi, 35, the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, was shot in the heart at Tehran's Enghelab (Revolution) Square at noon.

Mousavi's nephew was transferred to Sina Hospital in the Sadeghiyeh district, where he was declared dead.

According to Parleman News, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his relatives are currently at the hospital. Seyed Ali Mousavi was the son of Mir Hossein Mousavi's sister.

This news has been confirmed by an opposition figure who spoke to Radio Farda and wished to remain anonymous. Several other sources, including Iran expert Alireza Nourizadeh and opposition spokesman and award-winning filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, have also confirmed this information. Makhmalbaf has provided the following photograph of Seyed Ali Mousavi with his uncle:

(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 4 - Live rounds used by security forces

The use of live rounds appears to have been particularly heavy-handed for the first time since the deadly protests of this summer. Radio Farda reports at least four dead in Tehran.

The following photo released AFP shows a severely injured protester lying on the street:



The following footage shows demonstrators carrying an injured protester at University Crossroads, Tehran:


Protester severely injured:


(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 3 - Heightened violence

The preliminary death toll, according to various sources, is between four and seven in Tehran.

Regime forces take cover near several burning motorcycles (courtesy AFP):


Protesters clash with security forces:


An injured member of the security forces is helped as fires blaze behind the group (courtesy AP):


A police car on fire:


Southwest of 7th Tir Square, Hafez Street, a burning garbage container is pushed through the crowd:


(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - part 2 - Keshavarz Boulevard

The cameraman gives the date and location of his footage: 'Keshavarz Boulevard (NB North of Tehran University), 10th of Moharram (NB December 27).

Protesters chant 'Death to this leadership!' before heckling a helicopter flying overhead. Then 'Yazid will be overthrown. This is the month of blood.' Ashura is the commemoration of Imam Hossein's martyrdom at the hands of Yazid, the second caliph of the Umayid dynasty.



(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Ashura - 27 December 2009 - Khamenei dead end

The symbolism of this footage is wonderful. Protesters trample a street sign which reads 'Khamanei Dead End':



(More reports from Ashura, December 27, 2009, click here)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ahmadinejad continues to deny facts in Channel 4 interview

Shiraz, earlier this week
Appearing before the shrine of the beloved 14th-century poet Hafez in the city of Shiraz, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to questions put to him by Channel 4's Jon Snow. Ahmadinejad visited Shiraz earlier this week and was met with the same half-hearted reception he had received during official trips to Tabriz and Isfahan.

The interview was broadcast yesterday in Britain. Ahmadinejad's song-and-dance appears increasingly removed from reality as many of his answers indicate:

Iran regime bans mourning

The Islamic regime has been posting banners across Iran in an attempt to prevent mourning ceremonies for the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri who passed away in the early hours of Sunday.

On Tuesday, Ayatollah Khorasani managed to organize a ceremony at Kashan's Shamkhi Mosque, but in order to overcome security measures, the hour and location were announced at the last moment. The next day, another larger event was organized at the city's Hossein Mosque, but this time the regime's forces were forewarned. Attendants who arrived at the mosque saw the following banner hoisted over the entrance:



The banner reads, 'According to an announcement of the Supreme National Security Council, any gathering for Mr. Montazeri is forbidden anywhere in the country except in Ghom and Najafabad.'

The use of such banners have also been reported in Zanjan, where they were disregarded today. Mourners at the event set up by Ayatollah Zanjani were attacked by plainclothesmen and security forces.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Twitter homepage hacked by 'Iranian Cyber Army'

The homepage of the microblogging service Twitter was briefly compromised by a pro-regime group or individual calling itself or himself the Iranian Cyber Army in the early hours (GMT) of Friday, December 18. Normal service was restored within an hour.

The same individual or group had hacked the homepage of the opposition news site Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi two days ago as mentioned on this blog yesterday. The news site created alternate homepage URLs and continues to post news articles. As of this writing, Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi's usual homepage is still defaced.

Visitors to Twitter were greeted with a defaced homepage proclaiming, 'This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army,' followed by a gmail address. The hacked page contained an image of a green flag and the following English text, which was not posted when Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi was hacked:
'U.S.A. Think They Controlling And Managing Internet By Their Access, But THey Don’t, We Control And Manage Internet By Our Power, So Do Not Try To Stimulation Iranian Peoples To….
NOW WHICH COUNTRY IN EMBARGO LIST? IRAN? USA?
WE PUSH THEM IN EMBARGO LIST ;)
Take Care.'

The green flag which adorned the center of the page bore Arabic text in red. Fox News incorrectly stated, 'On the flag, in red Arabic writing: "Yassin" (an Arabic name written in bold) then in smaller Arabic print "the feast of peace."'

The red text on the green flag in fact reads, 'O Hossein, peace be upon him,' referring to Imam Hossein, a key figure in Islam and the 3rd Imam of Shiites. Today is the first day of the Islamic month of Moharram, second only to the month of Ramadan in holiness. The first ten days of Moharram, daheyeh Moharram, are a period of mourning culminating in Ashura, December 27, which is the commemoration of Hossein's martyrdom in 680 AD. Mourners traditionally march through the streets, dressed in black and bearing green banners with Imam Hossein's name written on them. The Iranian opposition has stated that it will again exploit these official events to stage anti-regime protests from December 18 to 27. The fact that the opposition's color is green and the first name of the main opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is also Hossein will allow protesters to mingle in official ceremonies more easily.

The light blue text over the flag is also in Arabic and means, 'Then surely Hezbollah shall be triumphant.' Hezbollah in this case does not necessarily refer to the Lebanese Hezbollah and is probably used in the more generic sense of 'party of Allah,' even though this Arabic text does appear at the top of the official yellow flag of the Lebanese Hezbollah (to the right).

Below the flag is an unfamiliar poem in Farsi:
If the Leader (NB Ali Khamenei) gives the order we will charge,
If he asks us, we will give our lives,
If he asks us to be patient and come to order,
We shall sit and burn [in silence] and compromise.

Tech Crunch was one of the first news sites to report the hack around 10 PM PST on Thursday. One of its readers sent a screen capture of a Google search for Twitter which produced the following result:

The text below the result returned for Twitter is also in Farsi and reads, 'In the name of God, as an Iranian, in response to this service's trouble-making interference at the request of the American authorities in my country's affairs...' The word God is the Farsi khoda and not the Arabic Allah. The text implies that the perpetrator is alone.

After the June 12 post-election unrest, the US State Department asked Twitter to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown in order to allow demonstrators to continue sending information out of Iran.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New URL for Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi news site

The address of opposition news site Mowjeh sabzeh Azadi (http://www.mowjcamp.com/) has been taken over by regime goons, but the site's server is intact and has not been hacked.

To access Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi, you can go to http://www.mowjcamp.ws/ or http://174.129.25.248/

Please distribute this information as widely as possible. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'I am Majid' and the politics of the hijab: Defiance and humor as regime's attempt to humiliate student leader backfires

The Islamic regime's attempt to humiliate a jailed student leader by photographing him in women's clothes has backfired as a defiant campaign featuring Iranian men with their heads covered continues to gain strength and triggers a debate on gender equality. Opposition web sites have also reported that men will cover their heads at key moments during the upcoming mass rallies planned for the first ten days of the holy month of Moharram, December 18 to 27.

Majid Tavakoli, a prominent student leader, was arrested after giving a speech at Amir Kabir University in Tehran on Student Day, December 7, which was marked by protests across Iran. Tavakoli had taken Leader Ali Khamenei personally to task in his address to the thousands of students amassed in the campus. This blog published news of the arrest, which had been witnessed by dozens of demonstrators, minutes after it occurred.

Less than two hours later, the semi-official Fars news agency, close to the Revolutionary Guards, reported that Tavakoli had been captured in the men's lavatory of his university while shaving, putting on make-up, and preparing to wear women's clothes. This report has been removed from the news service's web site. Fars subsequently posted an article claiming that Tavakoli had been arrested in women's clothes as he attempted to escape security forces stationed around Amir Kabir University, one of the country's top engineering schools.

Late Tuesday, December 8, the Fars news service, along with other state media outlets like the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), published mug shots of the student leader wearing an Islamic headscarf and a chador, a head-to-toe cloth, in a ham-fisted attempt to ridicule Tavakoli and, by extension, dishearten the opposition movement. (NB This blog has not, and will not, publish the propaganda photos of the Islamic regime.) Tavakoli is known in university circles as the 'dignity of the student movement' (sharafeh jonbesheh daneshjouyi).

The regime first imprisoned Tavakoli in 2007. In early May of that year, the Intelligence Ministry distributed forged copies of student publications which insulted the regime and the Leader Ali Khamenei, and then blamed and arrested student leaders. Tavakoli spent 14 months in prison and was subjected to torture and mistreatment, including severe beatings, interrogations which lasted over 24 hours, threats of execution, and being lashed with electrical cables, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He was released on August 8, 2008. He was arrested again in February 2009 for attending a ceremony commemorating the death of Mehdi Bazargan, the first post-revoilutionary prime minister of Iran. He was released on June 3, 2009, just before the ill-fated presidential election. He was allowed to continue his education, but only in the city of Bandar Abbas. He had been studying there since the beginning of the academic year and had only made the trip to Tehran to participate in the protest ceremony at his former university.

Far from cowing the opposition, the regime's latest effort to ridicule Tavakoli was met with outraged defiance.

By Wednesday, a new slogan was added to the long and creative list of protest chants: 'Ba chador, bi chador, marg bar dictator!' (With or without a chador, death to the dictator!'). The Islamic Association of Amir Kabir University (NB Student associations in universities are called Islamic associations) published a statement in support of Tavakoli and other jailed students on the same day. 'The magnificent and widespread protests of Iran's struggling students have dazed the country's decrepit oppressors to such a degree that the only response they have found is to dress Majid Tavakoli in a disguise and take photos of him,' the statement said. 'They do not understand that Majid Tavakoli has been and will remain the pride of the student movement, whether with women's clothes or men's clothes.' Photoshopped images of the regime's officials wearing headscarves began appearing on the Internet.

But then the protests took a turn. Iranian men started taking photos of themselves with hijabs and posted the pictures on blogs and community web sites like Facebook. It is unclear who initiated this movement which has become known as the 'I am Majid' or 'Men with headscarves' campaign, but it has raged through cyberspace. By Friday, December 11, there was even a Wikipedia page in Farsi devoted to the phenomenon.

The following video was posted on YouTube on Thursday, December 10, and shows a compilation of some of the photos of men with headscarves and chadors. The text read by a woman at the beginning of the footage comes from opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's 14th statement, published on November 1. Mousavi spoke of 'humiliating clothes' in a figurative manner at the time, but his statement now appears prophetic: 'The system can arrest our children like criminals and dress them in humiliating clothes, and the people can, by the way they look upon them, turn them into heroes and take pride in them. In this confrontation, who is the winner?'


Another video shows the movement spreading around the world, as men pose with chadors in Paris:


Although the tone of the movement was initially whimsical, it touched on more profound issues related to gender equality almost immediately. On Wednesday, December 9, one call to action on Facebook said, 'The regime is trying to put pressure on the students' struggle and the green movement of the people of Iran. But this is also an effort to belittle Iranian women. In order to prove that we are all Majid Tavakolis, in order to say that women's clothes are not bad, but that it is obligatory hijabs which are wrong, and in order to make them understand that we are all together, please post photos of yourselves with a hijab.'

Pahlevans,turn of century
Iranian men, famous and unknown, responded in large numbers. By Thursday morning, Radio Farda counted at least 250 such photos on Facebook alone. Among the men posing with headscarves and implying that there is nothing wrong with being a woman was a strange volunteer : Babak Takhti. Babak is the son of Gholamreza Takhti, universally known as Jahan Pahlavan Takhti, possibly the most beloved and popular Iranian athlete of the 20th century. It is difficult to describe Gholamreza Takhti's position in the Iranian pantheon and his appeal to Iranians of all classes. Pahlevans are semi-mythical figures in the country's culture, heroes who are capable of physical prowess, often in the wrestling arena, but who also possess rare chivalrous and sportsmanlike qualities. Jahan Pahlevan is an honorific meaning a pahlevan of world stature. Takhti died at the age of 38 in 1968 and it is widely believed that the Shah's secret police, SAVAK, had a hand in his reported suicide. Babak Takhti's presence among 'men in headscarves' is a strong indication that the concept of respect for women has gone far beyond the patriarchal esteem for a 'weaker sex' which must be protected by males and has entered the realm of gender equality.

Hadi Khorsandi, a well-known satirist and poet who left Iran for Britain in the early 1980s after criticizing the regime, published a poem entitled 'For Majid Tavakoli and his headscarf' in the London edition of Ettelaat newspaper. The poem began, 'This nation of fellow sufferers is not divided into women and men. It wears no other pain on its body but longing for the homeland.'

This group of young Iranians took the campaign one step farther as the girls posed with mustaches before the clip launched into a Farsi-language rock song. 'I say to my brothers who support the Supreme Leader that I have no problem wearing a hijab,' says the first young man. 'I think that if there should be any obligation, it should apply to everyone. I feel like a pearl inside a shell now,' he continues, referring to the tired justification that the hijab protects the exalted jewel that is womanhood:


A man in Hamburg also noted the broader gender issues at stake in the 'I am Majid' campaign (translation follows footage):

'Why are you dressed this way?'
'Out of solidarity with student leader Majid Tavakoli, whom the regime forced to wear a headscarf, thinking it was humiliating him. I'm wearing my mother's headscarf. I am proud that Iranian women, with or without hijabs, have humiliated this coup d'├ętat regime. We are proud of our mothers, sisters, and daughters -- with or without headscarves -- who have belittled this oppressive regime and, through their beautiful and impressive resistance, have shown to the world that we Iranians support peace. We have attained a glorious unity. We recognize all views and, in doing so, we have reached this beautiful unity. It is the regime which is riddled with fissures and discord.'

Iranian women have been at the forefront of the opposition in Iran. The Campaign for One Million Signatures, a grassroots movement to abrogate gender-discriminatory laws, preceded the mass post-election demonstrations by years. Women's rights activists have been harassed and jailed by the regime simply for seeking signatures on petitions.(For a slide show explaining the campaign, please click here, for FAQ click here)

Footage, photos, and reports coming out of Iran since the disputed June 12 election have shown women on the front lines of every street protest and, as such, the favored target of security forces with a perverse grudge against women. As previously reported on this blog, even a pro-regime web site, Beheshteh Khouban, grudgingly remarked on this fact after the mass anti-regime rallies of November 4: 'I feel that the security forces want to give a bad image of the regime to the people. I was there today. They left the rioters alone, but as soon as they came across passersby, especially women, they would beat them wherever they could. Is this the manly thing to do? I will not forget a mother who was struck in front of her eight-year-old in that way and whose face was injured.' In just one of many reports filed from Iran for the New York Times, Roger Cohen wrote, 'From Day 1, Iran’s women stood in the vanguard. Their voices from rooftops were loudest, and their defiance in the streets boldest. [...] Images assail me: a slender woman clutching her stomach outside Tehran University after the blow; a tall woman gesticulating to the men behind her to advance on the shiny-shirted Basij militia; women shedding tears of distilled indignation; and that young woman who screamed, “We are all so angry. Will they kill us all?”'

At a ceremony marking Human Rights Day, December 10, at George Washington University, Ahmad Batebi, a student leader who spent close to nine years in the Islamic regime's prisons before escaping the country, spoke of the central role of women in Iranian society and how the imposition of the hijab has become a symbol of the regime's broader discrimination of women. 'The Islamic Republic wanted to humiliate Majid Tavakoli with a feminine identity. It had that patriarchal view. But the young generation has changed the parameters with the hijab campaign that it has started,' said Batebi. 'I wore this headscarf for two reasons. First, my mother who is a religious person chose to wear this headscarf. That is why this headscarf is sacred to me. But secondly, when my sister, who is a secular individual and does not believe in the hijab, took this headscarf off her head, she was arrested by the regime and accused of being loose. I put this on my head in support of the right of women to choose. I have no worries about being called feminine. I am proud to wear it before you. I leave judgment in the hands of public opinion. The Islamic Republic placed a headscarf on Majid Tavakoli's head to humiliate him. I will wear it now. We'll see if public opinion humiliates me or encourages me.' Footage of the event follows:


Perhaps no one expressed the complex and contradictory sentiments raised by the hijab better than Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He wrote his thoughts under the headscarved photo he posted on Thursday, December 10. 'Proud to wear my late mother's rusari (headscarf, literally something placed on the head), the very rusari that was forced on my wife in Iran, the very rusari for which my sisters are humiliated if they choose to wear it in Europe, and the very rusari that the backward banality that now rules Iran thinks will humiliate Majid Tavakoli if it is put on him,' wrote Dabashi. 'He is dearer and nobler to us today than he ever was. We are all Majid Tavakoli -- and we Iranian men are late doing this. If we [had done] this when the rusari was forced on those among our sisters who did not wish to wear it 30 years ago, we would [...] perhaps not [be] here today.'


Dabashi refers to imposition of the hijab on all Iranian women by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's government, shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. (Ironically, Reza Shah had tried to ban the hijab and chador in the early 1930s, creating equally disastrous tension within the society.) The following is footage of Iranian women demonstrating against the obligatory hijab in 1979


The 'men in headscarves' campaign and the gender debate, never far from the surface in Iranian society, are not going away soon. The greens have promised to stage protests during the first ten days of the holy month of Moharram, a period of mourning which begins on Friday, December 18. Opposition web sites have already announced that men will wear shawls on their shoulders and that they will cover their heads with the shawls at key moments during their rallies.

The ten-day period culminates in Ashura, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, a key figure in Shiism. It is customary during mourning marches to carry green banners and flags with the name 'Hossein' written on them. That green is now the color of the opposition and that Hossein also happens to be the first name of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi had already spelled headaches to come for the regime.

But gender-twisting men with headscarves marching down the street during a month when violence is particularly prohibited in Islam may be the bitterest pill yet for the Islamic Republic.