Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Announce You Husband and Wife!

According to Islamic law a man and a woman can say their vows themselves and be married, as simple as that, however like everywhere else marriage is no simple affair in Iran. Usually a clergy or a licensed person or sometimes a well-established judge performs the ceremony and then the marriage is registered in the official registry. In the past centuries performing marriage ceremony has been one of the sources of income for the clergies, although it never has been their monopoly.

Still in this ceremony the authority is not that of the office, but it rests with the couple. Those who perform the ceremony ask for the power of attorney first to perform the ceremony and they say their religious vows on behalf of the couple. (This is the part that a bride should wait three times to say; “yes”)

It has been a long and ancient custom to have this ceremony performed by an individual of high standing in the society and good reputation. Thus many grand ayatollahs, Sufis, men famous for their honesty or virtues are usually asked to perform this ceremony. Former President Khatami is no exception in this matter. The photo, taken from webneveshteha.com, shows him after performing the ceremony for Amir Mehdi Jouleh a screenplay writer.

What is interesting about this photo? Well in a society where wearing a tie is officially discouraged how often you see a former president with a groom who is wearing a pink tie!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The End of Socialism in Economic Policy Making

The new speaker of Majlis, Dr. Larijani, told reporters that the era of socialist economic policies is over. He emphasized the producing wealth must be encouraged since it guarantees a continuous growth.

He vowed that Majlis would not allow any law contradictory to the new interpretation of Article 44 of Iranian constitution, which allows for extensive privatization, to be passed. He also promised that new interpretation will become law very soon. This legitimizes privatizing several public enterprises and ends the government’s monopolies in several others. It seems that the economy is presumed to be the main task as hand.

On the other hand the government accepted that any further reduction of interest rate is not advisable, a victory for the head of Central Bank. While banks continue to implement a %12 interest rate, it is decided that the government pays %2 in subsidies to the industry to reduce their expenses.

Although it seems the tide is turning and after a few years of populist projects, high inflation has wised up some to their true cost. However President Ahmadinejad is still determined to go ahead with his great surgery of the economy. One only can hope, that rationalism prevails yet another time.

The era of socialism might be over, unfortunately its influence on Iranian intellegtsia and some politicians is not.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Soccer, Development and Decision Making in Iran

To contradict those who argue there is one single will in Iran one only needs to follow the news of soccer in this land of footballers. It is the most popular sport in Iran with fans from all ranks of society, all walks of life and both genders, with female fans still banned from attending the games in the stadiums and yet they go disguised as boys or behind the fences to see their favorite teams play. Its popularity is so widespread that even President goes to national team’s exercises and all of its affairs are followed very closely by most enthusiastic of fans. And may be it is because of that, its confederation IRIFF, the players and the coaches have gained a certain space of maneuverability.

While the world of soccer is watching Euro Cup 2008 Iran’s national team is going through qualification for the World Cup. After much debate Ali Daee, former team captain and Asia's best player in 2000, has become team's manager and coach. The other potential candidate Afshin Qotbi was put aside, although he led his team, Persepolis, to become the champion of Iranian league. Like any other coach Ali Daee prefers some players to the others. It is not a secret that he does not like Ali Karimi, Asia’s Best Player in 2004 and one of Iran’s most celebrated footballer.

Karimi was banned from playing in the national team after he made numerous criticisms towards the IRIFF. And obviously Ali Daee did not feel obliged to include him in the team. Figures such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of Islamic Republic intervened to have him reinstated. Although IRIFF officially has pardoned him, the coach of national team does not feel obliged to field him yet. Something odd in a country where people are supposed at least to seem that they follow the official lead.

It is interesting to notice that soccer is the first place where President Ahmadinejad found his opponents to be too formidable. Last year after a long and politically charged debate as to who should lead IRIFF he had to ask Mr. AliAbadi the chairman of Iran’s Sports Organization to step down as a candidate. FIFA had threatened to boycott Iranian teams from international competition if the government would not have withdrawn its candidate from the election for the IRIFF chairmanship, which is considered an NGO. The prospect of having Iranian teams banned from international fields proved to be too terrifying even for the current cabinet.

Looking at this example one is obliged to think that may be popular support and interest is what plans to achieve sustainable economic development lack in order to succeed in Iran.
Where soccer teams succeed to divert policies that hurt their chances to attend international competitions, Iran’s industrialists and economists fail to convince politicians of the benefits of globalization and free competition. Where national team coach exercises a free hand in choosing his players and is chosen by an NGO, Iran’s manufacturing sector is mainly run by the government appointees and its private sector has to yield to the government’s influence and interfrence from time to time. The contrast could not have been greater. May be after all what development lacks in Iran is some soccer fans!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rumor has it

Several Iranian news outlets reported yesterday that it is a strong possibility that Mr. Mazaheri, head of Central Bank of Iran, is going to be replaced by Vice President Parviz Davoudi. Should this change take place it will be the first time that a senior member of government, second only to President, trades his office for the seal of Central Bank. It would also signal Mr. Ahmadinejad’s persistence in pursuing his economic policies and projects, such as merging major public banks, despite all the criticism and objections from all parts of political spectrum in Iran.

Mr. Mazaheri has made it clear that he would not lower interest rates and he would not agree to government’s plan to merge banks. Despite the pressure from the government it seems he has been successful so far to protect banking system in Iran. Many observers believe that the first of the new Majlis is to save the economy. It is most likely that the new Majlis would not remain silent in this matter. Replacing the head of Central Bank would not be as easy as some might have thought.