TIME Iran

Iran Says it Downs Israeli Drone Near Nuclear Site

Iran issued a statement Sunday on its website saying its forces fired a missile at the drone as it neared its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said Sunday its forces shot down an Israeli drone as it approached an Iranian nuclear site, without offering further details. Israeli officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The statement comes as Iran negotiates with world powers over its nuclear program and hard-liners press moderate President Hassan Rouhani to demand more concessions before limiting its atomic capabilities. Israel has not ruled out taking military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if its capability to build an atomic weapon progresses.

The Guards issued a statement Sunday on its website saying its forces fired a missile at the drone as it neared its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, some 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. The statement did not say when it shot down the drone, nor did it elaborate on how the Guards knew the drone was from Israel.

Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of espionage and sabotage efforts in the past. In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus temporarily disrupted operation of thousands of centrifuges, key components in nuclear fuel production, at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Iran says it and other computer virus attacks are part of a concerted effort by Israel, the U.S. and their allies to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations. Israel has never commented on the allegations but is widely believed to have been involved in the Stuxnet attack.

Since then, Iran has also said that it discovered tiny timed explosives planted on centrifuges but disabled them before they could go off. Authorities now claim the Islamic Republic is immune to cyberattacks.

Meanwhile, world powers and Iran continue to negotiate on a final deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program. A deal struck last November saw some sanctions eased in exchange for Iran limiting its uranium enrichment.

The West fears Iran may be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity and medical research.

Iran has said it captured several American drones that violated the country’s airspace in the past. In 2011, Iran said it captured an advanced CIA spy RQ-170 Sentinel drone and later reverse-engineered it.

TIME Iran

Iran’s Moderate President Loses a Minister—and Some Momentum for Reform

Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014.
Iran's Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana speaks during his impeachment in an open session of the parliament in Tehran, Aug. 20, 2014. Vahid Salemi—AP

Iranian Science Minister Reza Faraji-Dana, a close ally of President Hassan Rouhani, is impeached by hardliners who oppose reforms

In what amounts to a major blow against the moderate president Hassan Rouhani by hardliners in Iran, the Science and Research Minister Reza Faraji-Dana was impeached on Aug. 20 by the Iranian parliament. The impeachment, which followed months of intense lobbying to prevent it by conservatives and reformists alike, has dealt a major setback to the implementation of Rouhani’s campaign promises of a more tolerant policy in Iran’s universities.

Faraji-Dana, who had been accused by impeachers of appointing professors they deemed anti-revolutionary as ministry officials and university heads, was close to Rouhani. “Faraji-Dana was one of the president’s main ministers,” says Saeed Laylaz, a political analyst in Tehran “He had been tasked with one of the most important assignments in internal politics, but the president’s success in economics and the nuclear talks caused his political opponents to react by impeaching one of his most competent ministers.”

Iran’s universities have traditionally been a center for political activism, one many in Iranian society look at for guidance during elections and other major political events. The previous government of the conservative Mahmoud Ahamdinejad tried to depoliticize universities, especially after the 2009 post-election protests in Iran, by sacking professors and expelling students who were involved in the protests. Faraji-Dana allowed some of these expelled students and professors, labeled as seditionists by conservatives here, back into the universities—something he was heavily criticized for by conservative parliament members.

Rouhani, reacted swiftly to the impeachment by appointing Faraji-Dana as his advisor in science and education affairs. While he urged academicians to respect the parliament’s decision, Rouhani also expressed regret over losing a minister whom he called as a “hardworking and esteemed colleague,” according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

But the impeachment is being considered by some as motivated by more than just university politics. Many of the MPs who initiated the impeachment were from hardline political groups who had supported Rouhani’s election rival, the former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and who also oppose Rouhani’s more open foreign policy. “The success of the impeachment, which had been opposed by the main conservative faction of parliament headed by the speaker Ali Larijani, has now given the initiators the political clout to go ahead with other impeachments,” a source close to influential conservative MPs said, citing the Industry and petroleum ministers as main future targets. “Some parliamentarians also believe that the low level of interaction and communication by government officials with MPs is why some lawmakers chose to vote for the removal of the minister.”

Leylaz, who considers Rouhani’s presidency as an unprecedented historical chance for the Islamic Republic of Iran to mend deep internal rifts, expressed concern over the consequences of this impeachment. “This will create frustration among academics and students, and it will radicalize internal politics and the society.”

Others, however, believe that the debates in parliament on Aug. 20 showed a strong democratic process. “The vigorous debates between rival factions that were aired on national radio show that Iran has an open and free political process. This was democracy in action,” said Mohammad Marandi, an analyst and associate professor at Tehran University. “There won’t be a great change in the ministry policies even though the minister has been changed. What’s important is that such debates can and do happen in Iran’s politics. In the end this was just an impeachment, and I don’t think that it will cause a radicalization of the political process, nor do I think there will be a string of impeachments following it.”

Rouhani, who has three months to nominate a successor to parliament, has already appointed a caretaker for the ministry, and has explicitly told him to continue Faraji-Dana’s policies. But the president’s choice for caretaker—Mohammad Ali Najafi—will likely prove controversial, as he had been previously rejected by MPs for another cabinet post due to being considered politically too close to the same `seditionists’ that caused Faraji-Dana’s downfall. While Rouhani’s economic reforms are slowly starting to stabilize the economy, and his foreign policy still has the firm backing of Iran’s supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the events in Parliament on Aug. 20 show that the when it comes to trying to open up politics and the society, the hardliners intend to fight back every inch of the way.

TIME Iran

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014. EPA

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up

Correction appended, 8/19/14

Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.

However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

In retaliation Iran, Syria and Hezbollah reportedly ended their support for Hamas in all fields, effectively ousting it from their Axis of Resistance and cutting off one of Hamas’ most vital lifelines. “The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy, they don’t deal with you in the same old way,” the deputy political leader of Hamas Moussa Abu Marzouk in February 2012, according to the Associated Press.

When the latest battle between Hamas and Israel, called the Zionist Regime in Tehran, flared up in early July, Iran initially remained relatively quiet, though it denounced Israel for the loss of life among civilians. But the number of Palestinian casualties grew, including many children and women, attracting significant international attention and sympathy. (As of Aug. 10 nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed according to the UN, along with 66 Israelis.) For Iran, the Gaza conflict was seen as an opportunity to improve its standing in the Islamic world, which had suffered—especially among Sunnis—thanks to its steadfast support of Assad.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and to regain its position as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian militant groups battling Israel—and to reconcile with Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East—a significant number of Iranian officials have now gone on the record to voice their support for Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, over its latest battle with Israel. “We are prepared to support the Palestinian resistance in different ways,” said the commander of the revolutionary guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafaria, during a speech on Aug. 4, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “Just as until now any show of strength in Palestine which caused the defeat of Zionists has its roots in the support of the Islamic Revolution [of Iran].”

The first sign of this shift came on July 29, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the resistance against Israel in a speech, calling on the Islamic world to equip Palestinians according to his official website Khamenei.ir. Two days later Khamenei was echoed by one of Iran’s top military officers, Major General of the Guards Qasem Soleimani, who commands the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Corps. Soleimani published a rare public letter to the “Political leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the resistance,” lauding their continued efforts against Israel. The letter promised that Iran “will continue to perform our religious duty to support and help the resistance till the moment of victory when the resistance will turn the earth, the air and the sea into hell for Zionists,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

That was followed by numerous officials, MPs and military figures, all issuing statements in support of Hamas, and echoing Khamenei’s call for unity among Muslims. “In our defence of Muslims we see no difference between Sunni and Shiite,” said General Jafari, the commander of the guards, in an Aug. 4 speech. Some even promised a supply of weapons to Hamas, which has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. “You will get the weapons and ammunition you need no matter how hard it might be to do so,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the former wartime commander of the revolutionary guards in a public letter to the commander of the military wing of Hamas Mohammed Deif, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

With Iran already deeply involving in shoring up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against militant Sunni groups, it is doubtful that these promises of support and weapons for Hamas could be fulfilled anytime soon, and while the Islamic Republic is also striving to break the impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other powers, arming militant groups against Israel, America’s main ally in the region, could be potentially disruptive for those talks. But in his letter to Deif, Rezaei tried to address that doubt, writing that “Israel is mistaken in its belief that the instabilities in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the pressure on Iran from the United States’ economic blockade has given them an opportunity.”

In the meantime Iran has continued its charm offensive on Sunni Muslims. The head of the influential State Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, met with Iran’s top Sunni clerics and activists recently, and called for unity among all Muslims. Promising them that Iran intended to support and defend all Abrahamic religions and sects—Rafsanjani condemned any act that could cause divisions among Muslims. Backing up that position, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced on Aug. 3 that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels that regularly incite intolerance and hatred against other Islamic sects, especially Sunnis.

Hamas—which has been politically isolated since its last remaining backer, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power—has welcomed reconciliation with its old ally and benefactor. Hamas’ official representative to Iran, Khalid al-Qoddoumi, reportedly said on Aug. 9 that Iranians “have always been the first in line to help and support our people.” Reports from the semiofficial ISNA news agency also indicate that a long postponed visit to Iran by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, is set to happen soon. For Israel, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has had one more unexpected and unwelcome outcome: Iran and Hamas are together again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the date of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s announcement that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels was misstated. It was Aug. 3.

MONEY First-Time Dad

These Are the Countries with the Best Maternity Leaves

Luke Tepper
Mrs. Tepper took off four months to take care of this guy—and was paid dearly in smiles and dirty diapers. Ken Christensen

New dad Taylor Tepper argues that America needs to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of providing paid time off to new moms.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Tepper returned to her full-time job—almost six months after giving birth to our son Luke.

She wasn’t altogether excited about the idea of leaving Luke in the hands of someone else while she relived paler experiences like commuting. Nevertheless, Mrs. Tepper soldiered on, and we ended our four-month experiment of living in an expensive city with a new child and without the income of the chief wage earner.

Right up there with “Is it a boy or a girl?” and “What name are you going with?” is another question every new mother should be prepared to answer: “How much paid time off do get from work?” If your answer is anything longer than a few weeks, you can pretty much guarantee kind words and jealous eyes in response.

We were fortunate. Mrs. Tepper, who works as a teacher, received around two months of paid maternity leave and was allowed to take the rest of the school year off unpaid. I got two weeks paid.

Most Americans are not so lucky. The land of the free and the home of the brave is one of two of the 185 countries or territories in the world surveyed by the United Nation’s International Labor Organization that does not mandate some form of paid maternity leave for its citizens. Many are familiar with the generosity of Scandinavian nations when it comes to parents bringing new children into the world, but who would believe that we trail Iran in our support of new families?

Iran mandates that new mothers receive two-thirds of their previous earnings for 12 weeks from public funds, according to a the ILO report. In America, mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave—but only if they work for a company that has more than 50 employees, per the Family and Medical Leave Act. And, for some context, more than 21 million Americans work for businesses that employ 20 people or fewer, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

The ILO report is full of unflattering comparisons that will leave American workers feeling woozy. Georgia—the country—allows its mothers to receive 18 weeks of paid time off at 100% of what they made before. Mongolia gives its new moms 17 weeks of paid time off at 70% of previous earnings. (Mongolia’s GDP is $11.5 billion, or about a third of Vermont’s.)

Lest you think paid time off for moms is a poor-nation phenomenon, Germany’s mothers receive 14 weeks of fully paid time off, while Canadian mothers can look forward to 15 weeks of 55% of their salary.

There are pockets of help stateside. Five U.S. states provide paid maternity leave: New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, California and Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, for example, mothers receive four weeks of paid leave—ranging from $72 to $752, depending on your earnings.

Meanwhile, however, the ILO’s maternity leave standard states that all mothers across the board should be entitled to two-thirds of their previous salary for at least 14 weeks.

Look, I’m not really saying that American women should defect to Iran or Mongolia or Georgia to push out their progeny. But it defies logic that we are the only developed nation not to have a national system in place that helps new families adjust to their new lives.

The benefits of implementing some compulsory system of continuing to pay women for a defined period of time after they give birth are known. Based on California’s family leave policy, which was instituted in 2004, economists found that employment prospects for a mother nine to twelve months after childbirth improved (meaning: more moms at that stage were employed after the bill than before it). Additionally, other research has found that mothers who return later to work are less likely to be depressed.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro (both Democrats) introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act last year which, among other things, would provide new mothers with 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their previous salary up to a cap. But the Act is not yet a law.

A few years ago, Mrs. Tepper was in graduate school, and I waited tables. We made much much less than we do now and enjoyed no financial security. Often when I’m playing with Luke I find myself thinking, “What would we have done if he was born then?”

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

TIME Iran

Iranian Plane Crashes After Takeoff, Killing 39

Mideast Iran Plane Crash
Iranian Revolutionary Guards stand alert at the site of the wreckage of a passenger plane crash near the capital Tehran, Iran, Aug. 10, 2014. Vahid Salemi—AP

The crash killed 39 and injured another nine onboard, according to a senior transportation official and state media

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A regional passenger plane assembled in Iran crashed Sunday while taking off from the capital, killing 39 and injuring another nine onboard, according to a senior transportation official and state media.

The IrAn-140 operated by domestic carrier Sepahan Air crashed in a residential area near Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. State TV said the plane’s tail struck the cables of an electricity tower before it hit the ground and burst into flames. The official IRNA news agency said the plane suffered an engine failure before it went down.

Deputy Minister of Transportation Ahmad Majidi provided the casualty figures in an appearance on state TV. The channel earlier had reported that all 48 people onboard had died.

The crash happened shortly after the plane took off at 9:20 a.m. local time (0450 GMT), bound for the town of Tabas in eastern Iran.

Eyewitness Hassan Molla said he heard a roaring sound as the plane came in low overhead, one wing tilting.

“There was no smoke or anything. It was absolutely sound and in good condition” before the crash and what appeared to be multiple explosions, he said.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard worked to secure the crash site and security and rescue personnel combed the wreckage as onlookers gathered shortly after the plane went down. The plane’s mangled but largely intact tail section was torn from the fuselage and came to rest on a nearby road.

State TV said the bodies of some of the victims were so badly burned that they could not be identified. They will be handed over to relatives after DNA tests are carried out to determine their identities, it said.

The IrAn-140 is a twin-engine turboprop plane based on Ukrainian technology that is assembled under license in Iran. It is a version of the Antonov An-140 regional plane and can carry up to 52 passengers.

A similar plane crashed during a training flight in the city of Isfahan in February 2009, killing five onboard, according to a report by state-run Press TV at the time.

Lawmaker Mehrdad Lahouti suggested Sunday that the earlier accident should have been a wake-up call.

“Lawmakers visited the production site of the plane and expressed concern about its (safety),” IRNA quoted him as saying. “This company should have not been allowed to operate the plane to avoid such a bitter incident.”

An official for Sepahan Air told The Associated Press from the central city of Isfahan that the carrier is affiliated with the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, also known as HESA. The airline was set up in 2010 and has not had any previous crashes, said the official, who refused to provide his name.

HESA has ties to Iran’s Ministry of Defense and is the company that assembles the IrAn-140.

Mehrabad, located in western Tehran, is the busier of two main airports serving the capital, and primarily handles domestic flights. Most international flights use the newer Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Iran has suffered a series of airplane crashes, blamed on its aging aircraft and poor maintenance. Many of the Boeing aircraft in state-run Iran Air’s fleet were bought before the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which disrupted ties with the U.S. and Europe.

Iranian airlines, including those run by the state, are chronically strapped for cash, and maintenance has suffered, experts say. U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from updating its American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes. The country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, many of them Soviet-era planes that are harder to get parts for since the Soviet Union’s fall.

In March of this year, a small plane belonging to the State Aviation Organization crashed while on a test flight near the tourist resort of Kish Island, killing all four crew members.

The last major airliner crash in Iran happened in January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 broke to pieces on impact while trying an emergency landing in a snowstorm in northwestern Iran, killing at least 77 people.

In July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner crashed in northwest Iran shortly after taking off from the capital, killing all 168 on board. A Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran in February 2003, killing 302 people aboard.

TIME Iran

Rights Group Urges Iran to Release Detained American Journalist

Washington Post Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, right, and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, who works for the the National, an UAE newspaper, during a Foreign Ministry weekly press conference in Tehran on Sept. 10, 2013 EPA

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three others have been detained for one week at an undisclosed location

Iran should immediately free or charge the three journalists, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who were detained a week ago in Tehran, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Iran’s abysmal record on press freedom and this spate of arrests raises a red flag,” HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein said in a statement. “The burden now is on Iran’s judiciary to quickly investigate and order their release unless there is hard evidence that they have committed substantive crimes, not merely exercised their right to free speech.”

Four unidentified agents arrested Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an unnamed photojournalist and her spouse in Rezaian’s home on the night of July 22, Rezaian’s mother Mary Breme Rezaian told HRW. Three days later, the head of Tehran’s judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaeili said that Rezaian had “been detained for some questions,” offering no further explanation.

Iranian authorities have not disclosed where the four are held, allowed them access to legal counsel or permitted visits by Swiss consular officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. Rezaian’s mother says that if her son is not provided with his blood medication, his health is being compromised.

Rezaian, the photojournalist and her spouse are dual American and Iranian citizens, according to the Post, while Salehi, an Iranian journalist for United Arab Emirates–based the National, is an Iranian who has applied for U.S. permanent residency. Over the past two months, Iranian authorities have also arrested or summoned at least seven local journalists for questioning or to serve lengthy prison terms. Reporters Without Borders stated on July 25 that Iran is currently detaining “65 journalists and netizens in prison — five of them foreign nationals.”

“These latest arrests, coming hard on the heels of other cases of arrest and imprisonment of journalists, suggests that little has changed with respect to freedom of expression almost a year after President Hassan Rouhani swept to power on a promise of reform,” Goldstein said. “Rouhani may have little control over all-power security, intelligence, and judicial apparatus, but silence in the face of such repression is deafening.”

TIME Iran

Despite a Crackdown, Iranian Fashion Keeps Pushing Boundaries

Iranian fashion
Tehran fashion houses are pushing boundaries in Tehran ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

In the latest case of Iranian authorities cracking down on fashion they deem “un-Islamic,” a famous clothing design institute called “Khaneh Mode” or Mode House was shut down last week in Tehran. The fashion designer had caused a controversy last month when it held a show with models wearing coats which appeared to be made of the Iranian flag—minus its religious symbols. Nor did it help that the show had allowed men among its audience, which violates conservative Islamic taboos.

This was followed by intense reaction from conservative politicians and religious groups, who cited the show as yet another violation of Islamic mores and traditions, which in turn forced the government to react. “This fashion show did not match the regulations of the Fashion and Clothes Management Workgroup and therefore we have taken legal action,” said Hamid Ghobadi, the workgroup’s secretary according to the official ISNA news agency. “The Khaneh Mode institute has been shut down until further notice.”

The workgroup, which was created by an enactment of parliament, is tasked with organizing Iran’s emerging fashion industry and making it compatible with Islamic standards. It is headed by a deputy minister of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its members are mostly government officials, with a handful of representatives from the fashion industry. Pictures of the show first emerged on Iranian websites in late June and showed men among the audience—until recently was unheard of in the Islamic Republic. The young female models, who wore white leggings, sported loose coats in the green, white and red tricolor of the Iranian national flag.

Iran’s fledgling fashion industry has begun to evolve in recent years, with shows on the rise. Most of these shows have permissions from the authorities but also underground shows are on the rise which depict more risqué dresses and even lingerie. However, until recently all shows for female clothes were held behind closed doors with no men allowed inside. The audience was also not permitted to take pictures or film.

Following the furor of religious and conservative groups the designers, Khaneh Mode immediately tried to do damage control with a statement on their website apologizing for having inadvertently offended anyone and reaffirming their commitment to “National and Islamic values.” Nonetheless, the authorities acted a few days later and shut them down.

Javid Shirazi, the director of the fashion house, told TIME in Tehran that that “we are completely committed to working within Iran’s native and Islamic framework and we tried to observe these in our show. Inviting men to view shows is permitted since last year so long as the clothes completely cover the body of models and models do not catwalk but walk in a normal and modest manner.”

The shutting down of the fashion house is just the latest instance of an endless tug of war between authorities and women in Iran, one that has been fought since an Islamic dress code was enforced in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. This clash comes to the forefront every summer, when the latest female attire trends pick up with a tendency towards shorter and skimpier coats and ever tighter legwear, which has been epitomized this year in leggings.

The authorities react every year by escalating their “Morality Patrols.” The outcome is a cat and mouse game between more fashionably dressed women and the authorities. The results can be bizarre—women sporting trendy attire will sometimes take taxis from one side to the other side of squares and junctions just to bypass the morality police.

But over time the will of Iranian women has slowly but surely prevailed, with acceptable dress these days now far beyond the harsh codes of the first years of the revolution, when practically no makeup was tolerated and anything less than a chador—a loose robe that covers the body from head to toe—was frowned upon. And with the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last year, many hope that the authorities will relax their strict stance on what women can wear in public.

Officially there has been no relaxation, in fact the authorities have tried everything they could think of to counter it. But in practice it’s a losing battle.

“Since last year there’s been a transformation in the framework of the permits we can get and what we can do,” said Shirazi, who sounded upbeat in spite of the closing of his business. “With the great potential this country has and the great desire young Iranians have, there is a bright future for the fashion industry in Iran, and this [the shutting down of Khaneh Mode] is just necessary experience we need to gain to go ahead.”

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Iran

Washington Post Correspondent Reportedly Detained in Tehran

A Nov. 6, 2013 photo shows Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, at the newspaper in Washington Zoeann Murphy—Washington Post/AP

The motive and identities of the people responsible for detaining Jason Rezaian, his wife and two other Americans remain unclear

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi and two American citizens appear to have been detained in Iran this week, the newspaper and U.S. officials reported on Thursday.

“We are deeply troubled by this news and are concerned for the welfare of Jason, Yeganeh and two others said to have been detained with them,” said the Post’s foreign editor Douglas Jehl in a statement.

Jehl said that the newspaper had received “credible reports” that the four people were detained in Tehran on Tuesday evening, but it is unknown who did it and why.

Rezaian has been the Post’s correspondent in Tehran since 2012 and holds both American and Iranian citizenship. Yeganeh, who is a correspondent for United Arab Emirates–based the National, is an Iranian citizen who has applied for U.S. permanent residency. The two other American citizens who were detained are freelance photojournalists and haven’t yet been identified by officials.

American journalists have been detained and imprisoned in Iran before. In 2009, freelance journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted for espionage, but successfully appealed her eight-year sentence and was released after four months. The same year, freelance journalists Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were imprisoned after straying over the Iranian border when vacationing in Iraqi Kurdistan. After intense diplomacy, Shourd was released after one year, while Bauer and his friend Josh Fattal were released in 2011.

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N., told the Post in an email that Iranian diplomats are looking into the detentions of Rezaian, Yeganeh and the two photojournalists.

[Washington Post]

TIME Iran

Why Iran Believes the Militant Group ISIS Is an American Plot

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holds an ISIS flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 Reuters

Conspiracy theories are nothing new in the Middle East, but the latest to come from Tehran is a self-protecting mechanism that could ultimately backfire

Iran’s English-language daily newspaper, the Tehran Times, recently ran a front-page story describing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) June offensive in Iraq as part of a U.S.-backed plot to destabilize the region and protect Israel. The story was an English translation of a scoop by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which cited a purported interview with National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden.

According to the article, Snowden had described a joint U.S., British and Israeli effort to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, according to IRNA, was code-named Beehive — or in other translations, Hornet’s Nest — and it was devised to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to the newly manufactured regional enemy: ISIS.

The IRNA story appears to build on, or may have even started, an Internet rumor that has assumed truthlike proportions through multiple reposts and links. No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents, and even though Snowden has not publicly refuted the claim, it is safe to assume that the quoted interview never took place. (IRNA has been known to report stories from the satirical Onion newspaper as fact.) Yet Iranian government officials and independent analysts in Iran alike cited IRNA’s report as definitive proof of ISIS’s American and Israeli origins.

Back when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in power, it was not unusual to see IRNA echoing specious wild theories dreamed up by the leadership, but since the more moderate Hassan Rouhani assumed the presidency in August 2013, the security establishment’s nuttier fantasies of deranged plots against Iran have been largely reined in. That is, until ISIS spilled out of Syria and started setting up camp next door in Iraq, where Iran has tight ties with the Shi‘ite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Even before the Snowden scoop made the rounds of Iran’s media, military commanders, citing their own sources of intelligence, struck a similar theme. On June 18, Fars News Agency quoted Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, saying that ISIS “is an Israel[i] and America[n] movement for the creation of a secure border for the Zionists against the forces of resistance in the region.” That Iran’s media, along with its leaders, is focusing on ISIS’s supposed external backers — as opposed to its origins in local terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and popular discontent in both Syria and Iraq — demonstrates a concerted effort to streamline the national narrative in order to project power and preserve stability. As an example of another Western plot against Iran, ISIS can be managed — so goes Iran’s thinking. But as a new, potentially more destabilizing threat on Iran’s borders, ISIS poses challenges that the leadership is still struggling to understand and respond to. The only problem is that dismissing ISIS as a Zionist conspiracy could end up undermining Iran far more than any supposed American plot.

In its previous incarnation as an Iraqi al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIS has been responsible for thousands of Shi‘ite deaths in terrorist attacks since its formation in 2003. The group’s current success in Iraq — by some estimates it now controls a third of Iraq’s territory, including the city of Mosul — has as much to do with its considerable funding and military prowess as it does the weaknesses of the Iraqi state, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an Iranian-backed Shi‘ite who has alienated Iraq’s large Sunni minority. Now that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself the emir of a caliphate spanning the Syrian-Iraqi border, he continues to advocate violence against members of the Shi‘ite sect, whom he calls apostates, and has threatened to destroy Shi‘ite holy sites in an attempt to ignite an Islamic sectarian civil war. That would likely cause the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad to collapse, forcing Iran to send in troops and sparking a region-wide conflagration.

Yet Iranian government officials refuse to accept that there is a sectarian root to ISIS’s agenda, or that ISIS was able to advance in part because of Sunni discontent. When American leaders suggested that al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite chauvinism may have played a role in rallying Sunni support for the ISIS advance into Iraq, and suggested he step down, Iranians saw it as a direct threat to their influence. “When ISIS started advancing into Iraq, the first thing the Americans said was that Maliki should be changed,” says Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the government-owned conservative daily Kayhan. “Maliki was democratically elected, so what does he have to do with it? Nothing. The Americans wanted to cut the ties between Iran and Iraq.”

Instead Iran has declared the group a region-wide terrorist threat that funded and peopled by outsiders, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. So far Iran says it has not gotten directly involved in Iraq, though it is prepared to do so if necessary. (Official statements aside, there is significant evidence of Iranian support in the form of military weaponry, assistance and training, if not troops on the ground.) But if Iran does take a hand in the battle against ISIS, it will do so in the name of fighting terrorism — and not for the cause of supporting its Shi‘ite ally in government.

That’s a canny move that could explain, in part, the government line, says a Western diplomat in Tehran. To go in with an overtly sectarian agenda would invite a regional backlash that could harm Iranian interests and threaten the state. “It is in the best interest of Iran to present this group as terrorists, because that way no one can accuse Iran of backing Shi‘ites against a Sunni movement,” says the diplomat.

But if Iran continues to back Maliki against the will of a disgruntled, powerful and armed Sunni minority in Iraq, it could still invoke a backlash all the same. Which might explain why the government line also plays up the American and Mossad angle a familiar trope. If it all collapses, Iran can still blame the West for the debacle, says the diplomat. “If Iran can convince its people that there is a plot against the country that must be countered, while at the same time providing a narrative of counterterror to the world, they are protecting their interests and hedging their bets at the same time.”

Why IRNA had to concoct something so obviously fictional as a fake Snowden interview to bolster the narrative is still unclear. Even Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, is mystified. “I thought this interview was strange too, because all this happened after Snowden had access to those documents,” he tells TIME. Nonetheless, he ran the story on his front page as well.

— With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie / Tehran

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