IRAN FILES: Dissidents' Fate, Ahmadinejad's Future, Thieves

Mousavi in a photo from the 2009 campaign
Mousavi in a photo from the 2009 campaign
Ahmad Shayegan

Fate Of Dissidents In Rouhani Era
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has yet to release two leading dissidents, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, from house arrest, which broadcaster Deutsche Welle"s Persian-language outlet characterized as “disappointing.”

Both detainees were reformist candidates during the 2009 presidential elections and backed massive protests after incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected amid what many Iranians denounced as fraudulent voting. Authorities suppressed protests with mass arrests and the alleged torture of many detainees. Mousavi and Karrubi were also arrested as “seditious readers,” as was Mousavi’s activist wife Zahra Rahnavard.

Mousavi supporters in 2009 — Photo: mangostar

Deutsche Welle observed that citizens’ hopes were raised with Rouhani’s implicit promises to relax Iran’s repressive environment when elected on a “reformist” ticket in August 2013, and with the release of some prisoners in September.

The three “dossiers” — of the former candidates and Mousavi’s wife — were reportedly sent “three months ago” for review by the National Security Council, a consultative body Rouhani leads, with permission from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The broadcaster quoted presidential adviser Hesameddin Ashna as saying recently that their release might depend on some act of contrition or confessions. Ashna said that Mousavi “must make some decisions. If he cannot or does not wish to, things will become difficult for everyone.” He said some people in Iran did not view Mousavi and Karrubi as victims of injustice but beneficiaries of the state’s “mercy.”

Prague-based Radio Free Europe reported that the Supreme Leader’s website accused the “subversives” of committing an “unforgivable” sin — namely turning their “doubts” about election results into a “challenge against the system.” It was not immediately clear what that meant for their fate.

An Iranian legislator has asked the Judiciary Chief to stop “uttering slogans” and work to resolve the four-year controversy. “To resolve this issue, we need an independent judiciary, not one that takes orders from this … or that office or security agencies,” the conservative Jomhuri-e Eslami quoted Tehran representative Ali Mottahari as telling the Parliament.

He said “the solution” of insisting Karrubi and Mousavi publicly repent for their political choices “will lead nowhere, because while they may admit some of their faults, they consider the main culprit to be their opponent.”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s brother Hadi Khamenei told students in Tehran last week that “certain parties” had no interest in eliminating the “intimidating atmosphere” they had created in Iran, according to Prague-based Radio Farda, citing Jamaran, a reformist website. Khamenei, a mid-ranking cleric associated with reformists, wields little power and is sometimes described as estranged from his brother. “Those who create fear will not willingly reduce that fear. Their administration requires it,” he said.

A prominent theologian recently asked Rouhani to help release a liberal politician detained for over 40 days in the central city of Isfahan, apparently after publishing comments deemed threatening to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Radio France Internationale reported last week.

Abdolkarim expand=1] Soroush, who has lectured at Yale, Harvard and Princeton in recent years, noted that Rouhani himself is a former revolutionary, and he himself had “tasted detention and enjoyed freedom. Do not deprive the innocent of this pleasure.”

The liberal politician in question is Ali Asghar Gharavi, local head of the Freedom Movement of Iran, a group the regime barely tolerates. Gharavi apparently wrote recently in a local paper that the leadership of the Muslim community was not “God-given” but elective, which appeared to question the status of Iran’s Leader, deemed by supporters to be the leader of all Muslims.

Legal "noose tightening” on Ahmadinejad
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may face a dose of his country’s justice at some point, following the unusually frank criticisms made by a senior judge.

Ahmadinejad glory days, with heads of state at the 2010 Caspian Summit — Photo: Kremlin

Administrative Justice Court head Mohammad Ja'far Montazeri accused him of repeatedly breaking the law when he was president. He said Ahmadinejad “lied … and blatantly broke the law,” while “lawlessness” in his administration undermined public confidence in the state. Montazeri deplored how Ahmadinejad had appointed an “offender and a criminal” to senior positions, the conservative Jomhuri-e Eslami reported.

The man in question was likely Tehran’s former chief prosecutor Sa'id Mortazavi, apparently dismissed after the 2009 protests for his brutal interrogations, but whom Ahmadinejad later insisted on appointing head of the social security fund. More conservative papers reported Montazeri’s remarks only briefly, while reformist media gave his harsh words generous coverage — which isn’t surprising, as Mortazavi eagerly shut down newspapers as prosecutor from 2003-2009.

French daily Le Monde wrote that the “noose was tightening” around the former president.

Armed robbers should expect to die, prosecutor says
Iran Prosecutor-General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said last week that “armed thieves” may well be executed and that their “punishment can be a lesson to others,” the daily Aftab-e Yazd reported. The cleric told the press at a Tehran police station that those “especially” who robbed using knives, “blades and scimitars” could face the worst criminal charges, namely being declared an enemy of God and religion (mohareb) and “spreading corruption on earth.”

Drug traffickers are convicted and hanged on such charges. Mohseni-Ejei was informing the public of the “ongoing arrests” of a 120-member gang of thieves in Tehran.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!