IRAN FILES: Rafsanjani Comeback, Family Planning, World Cup Fever

Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Ahmad Shayegan

A Rafsanjani return?
The former diplomat and Tehran-based commentator Sabah Zanganeh wrote in an item published Dec. 22 in the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd that the former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, considered Iran’s great "pragmatist" politician, could help engineer a rapprochement with regional rival Saudi Arabia, for the "trust" he inspired among Iranian and Saudi officialdom.

Zanganeh was writing in response to unconfirmed reports that Rafsanjani might visit Saudi Arabia. Zanganeh wrote that "undoubtedly" relations between Iran and the Saudi monarchy had further deteriorated in recent years, after first beginning to sour with the fall of Iran’s monarchy in 1979. Clashing ideologies and interests had since fueled proxy confrontations in such countries as Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. The rise of a new generation of princes in the kingdom he added, had led the kingdom to harden its stance toward Iran. This he added, coincided with the radical Iranian governments led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005-2013.

Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani — Photo: Mesgary

Rafsanjani was generally sidelined during the Ahmadinejad presidencies and came close to a state of political impotence; it was not immediately clear however if he would make a political comeback after the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, with whom he has good working relations.

Influence on Syria, "Mischief" from America
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, another influential cleric, told the official IRNA news agency on Dec. 23 that without Iran's presence, the Geneva 2 conference to discuss peace in Syria next month would "surely fail." Khatami said it was "America's mischief" that had excluded Iran, even if the “permanent leg of any plot against Iran" was Israel. "Whether they like it or not, Islamic Iran has an extraordinary influence, not just in Syria but in other Islamic lands ... without Iran's presence there will be no progress in Syria."

Bad faith?
Following the interim deal made last month in Geneva, Iran's Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani has urged Iran's nuclear negotiators to "clarify" the scope of agreements made with Western powers and push for an unconditional end to sanctions on Iran, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd reported.

Iranian authorities were angered by the recent publication in the U.S. of firms and persons to be penalized for violating current sanctions against Iran, saying it was a sign of bad faith. Amoli-Larijani, a conservative cleric, used a public meeting on Dec. 18 in Tehran to say that Americans had "very strange interpretations of the agreement made, which no thinking person can accept," and renewing sanctions would make the Geneva accord "meaningless."

One of Iran's negotiators told the semi-official ISNA agency on Dec. 21 that the Geneva accord would allow Iran to maintain its daily crude exports at one million barrels, instead of reducing them to 800,000 as he said Western powers had previously envisaged. Hamid Ba'idinejad said "the most important part of the Geneva accord" for Iran included "release of part of Iran's oil revenues" equivalent to the cash earned for 200,000 barrels a day, which would allow Iran to purchase food, and farming and medical products, the reformist Shargh newspaper reported. Ba'idinejad cited other sectors expected to benefit from an incipient loosening of sanctions — insurance, transportation, petrochemicals and trading in gems such as diamonds.

Gas and oil fields near Ahwaz, Khuzestan province — Photo: dynamosquito

One hundred and nine former diplomats recently signed a public letter backing Iran's negotiations over the nuclear dossier, Arman newspaper reported on Dec. 22, describing the letter as an effective "order" for domestic critics of talks to "be quiet." The critics were likely the "hardliners" in Iran, although nobody could oppose talks per se, given their approval by the Supreme Leader.

Cleric deplores family planning “plot”
Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric and jurist, deplored family planning on Dec. 18 as "a plot by America and Israel" to curb Third World populations, Aftab-e Yazd reported. Iran he said had "unfortunately fallen into this trap" — referring to family-planning policies imposed after the 1980s. Modern society had no respect for the family, the ayatollah said, and "many families no longer understand each other." To curb an expected “sharp” fall in Iran’s population he said, "families must have at least three children, though five children are better. I myself have seven."

Iran enters World Cup mindset
World Cup spirit is gradually taking over Iran, whose national team is slated to play in Brazil after missing the 2010 edition in South Africa, reports the Folha de S. Paolo blogger Samy Adghirni. "Media coverage is growing bigger every week, to the point where it is difficult now to turn on the radio without stumbling on some debate over the other teams in Iran's group (Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia) or over the performance of national players."

Iranian supporters during the 2006 World Cup — Photo: asadmalek

Enthusiasm is also spreading to the streets of Tehran, where weeks ago Samsung installed dozens of green and yellow billboards announcing that anyone buying an HD television could win a trip to see Iran play in Brazil. As for those not taking chances and who want to be sure to be there, they're complaining the prices are too high. One Iranian travel agency reportedly tried to charge one fan $15,000 for a package including travel, hotel and tickets to the three games.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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