Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

Iranian women in Tehran wave their country’s flags during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1 elections for parliament and Assembly of Experts. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Many in Iran are frustrated over unrest, poor economy

  • Parliament vote could see a low turnout ­— a constant feature of past elections

DUBAI: Iran is holding parliamentary elections this Friday, yet the real question may not be who gets elected but how many people actually turn out to vote.

Widespread discontent over the cratering economy, years of mass protests rocking the country, and tensions with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program and Iran’s support for Russia in its war on Ukraine have many people quietly saying they won’t vote in this election.

Officials have urged people to cast ballots but tellingly, no information has been released this year from the state-owned polling center ISPA about expected turnout — a constant feature of past elections. Of 21 Iranians interviewed recently by The Associated Press, only five said they would vote. Thirteen said they won’t and three said they were undecided.

“If I protest about some shortcoming, many police and security agents will try to stop me,” said Amin, a 21-year-old university student who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals. “But if I die from hunger on the corner of one of the main streets, they will show no reaction.”

Over 15,000 candidates are vying for a seat in the 290-member parliament, formally known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Terms run for four years and five seats are reserved for Iran’s religious minorities.

Under the law, the parliament has oversight over the executive branch, votes on treaties and handles other issues. In practice, absolute power in Iran rests with its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hard-liners have controlled the parliament for the past two decades — with chants of “Death to America” often heard from the floor.

Under parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guard general who supported a violent crackdown on Iranian university students in 1999, the legislature pushed forward a bill in 2020 that greatly curtailed Tehran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That followed then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 — an act that sparked years of tensions in the Middle East and saw Iran enrich enough uranium at record-breaking purity to have enough fuel for “several” nuclear weapons if it chose.

More recently, the parliament has focused on issues surrounding Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab, for women after the 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked nationwide protests. The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed over 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Calls for an election boycott have spread in recent weeks, including from imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women’s right activist, who called them a “sham.”

“The Islamic Republic, with its ruthless and brutal suppression, the killing of young people on the streets, the executions and the imprisonment and torture of men and women, deserves national sanctions and global disgrace,” Mohammadi said in a statement.

The boycott calls have put the government under renewed pressure — since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s theocracy has based its legitimacy in part on turnout in elections.

On Wednesday, Khamenei himself urged people to vote, describing it as a national duty. “There is no reasoning behind not voting,” he said. “It does not solve any problem of the country.”

He also said “those who express a lack of interest in the election and encourage others not to participate should think some more.”

“If the election is weak, all face harm,” he added.

Though ISPA, the polling agency, conducted election surveys in October, its results have not been made public. Figures from politicians and other media outlets suggest a turnout of around 30 percent.

In the 2021 presidential election that brought hardliner Ebrahim Raisi to power, the turnout was 49 percent — the lowest on record for a presidential vote. Millions of ballots were declared void, likely from those who felt obligated to vote but did not want to cast a ballot.

The 2019 parliament race saw a 42 percent turnout.

Separately, Iranians will also vote on Friday for members of the country’s 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an eight-year term on a panel that will appoint the country’s next supreme leader after Khamenei, 84.

Barred from that race is former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate under whose term Iran struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Some said Iran’s economic woes were the reason they are staying away from the polls. Inflation is reportedly at around 50 percent, with unemployment around 20 percent for young Iranians.

“I will not vote,” said Hashem Amani, a 55-year-old fruit merchant in southern Tehran. “In 2021, I voted for Raisi to become president in hope that similar people in the government can work together and make a better life for me. What I got in return was rocketing prices for everything.”


At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

Updated 4 sec ago
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At least 6 Egyptian women die after vehicle slides off ferry and plunges into Nile River

CAIRO: At least six Egyptian women died Tuesday after a vehicle carrying about two dozen people slid off a ferry and plunged into the Nile River just outside Cairo, authorities said.
The accident, which happened in Monshat el-Kanater town in Giza province, also injured nine other passengers, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Giza is one of three provinces forming Greater Cairo.
The ministry said six of the injured were treated at the site while three others were transferred to hospitals. It didn’t elaborate on their injuries.
Giza provincial Gov. Ahmed Rashed said the microbus was retrieved from the Nile, and rescue efforts were still underway as of midday Tuesday.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
According to the state-owned Akhbar daily, about two dozen passengers, mostly women, were in the vehicle heading to work when the accident occurred.
Ferry, railway and road accidents are common in Egypt mainly because of poor maintenance and lack of regulations. In February, a ferry carrying day laborers sank in the Nile in Giza, killing at least 10 of the 15 people on board.

Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

Updated 21 May 2024
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Syrian first lady Asma Assad has leukemia, presidency says

  • Statement stated that Asma would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate

DUBAI: Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, has been diagnosed with leukemia, the Syrian presidency said on Tuesday, almost five years after she announced she had fully recovered from breast cancer.
The statement said Asma, 48, would undergo a special treatment protocol that would require her to isolate, and that she would step away from public engagements as a result.
In August 2019, Asma said she had fully recovered from breast cancer that she said had been discovered early.
Since Syria plunged into war in 2011, the British-born former investment banker has taken on the public role of leading charity efforts and meeting families of killed soldiers, but has also become hated by the opposition.
She runs the Syria Trust for Development, a large NGO that acts as an umbrella organization for many of the aid and development operations in Syria.
Last year, she accompanied her husband, President Bashar Assad ,on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, her first known official trip abroad with him since 2011. She met Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Emirati president’s mother, during a trip seen as a public signal of her growing role in public affairs.


Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

Updated 21 May 2024
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Yemen’s Houthis say they downed US drone over Al-Bayda province

  • The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb

DUBAI: Yemen’s Houthis downed a US MQ9 drone over Al-Bayda province in southern Yemen, the Iran-aligned group’s military spokesperson said in a televised statement on Tuesday.

Yahya Saree said the drone was targeted with a locally made surface-to-air missile and that videos to support the claim would be released.

The Houthis said last Friday they downed another US MQ9 drone over the southeastern province of Maareb.

The group, which controls Yemen’s capital and most populous areas of the Arabian Peninsula state, has attacked international shipping in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas militants, drawing US and British retaliatory strikes since February.


Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

Updated 21 May 2024
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Iranians pay last respects to President Ebrahim Raisi

  • Mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz
  • Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declares five days of national mourning

TEHRAN: Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered Tuesday to mourn president Ebrahim Raisi and seven members of his entourage who were killed in a helicopter crash on a fog-shrouded mountainside in the northwest.

Waving Iranian flags and portraits of the late president, mourners set off from a central square in the northwestern city of Tabriz, where Raisi was headed when his helicopter crashed on Sunday.

They walked behind a lorry carrying the coffins of Raisi and his seven aides.

Their helicopter lost communications while it was on its way back to Tabriz after Raisi attended the inauguration of a joint dam project on the Aras river, which forms part of the border with Azerbaijan, in a ceremony with his counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

A massive search and rescue operation was launched on Sunday when two other helicopters flying alongside Raisi’s lost contact with his aircraft in bad weather.

State television announced his death in a report early on Monday, saying “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom,” showing pictures of him as a voice recited the Qur’an.

Killed alongside the Iranian president were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, provincial officials and members of his security team.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered an investigation into the cause of the crash as Iranians in cities nationwide gathered to mourn Raisi and his entourage.

Tens of thousands gathered in the capital’s Valiasr Square on Monday.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate authority in Iran, declared five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a presidential election can be held.

State media later announced that the election would will be held on June 28.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, who served as deputy to Amir-Abdollahian, was named acting foreign minister.

From Tabriz, Raisi’s body will be flown to the Shiite clerical center of Qom on Tuesday before being moved to Tehran that evening.

Processions will be held in in the capital on Wednesday morning before Khamenei leads prayers at a farewell ceremony.

Raisi’s body will then be flown to his home city of Mashhad, in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening after funeral rites.

Raisi, 63, had been in office since 2021. The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

Raisi succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

Condolence messages flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including the Syrian government, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

It was an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel that sparked the devastating war in Gaza, now in its eighth month, and soaring tensions between Israel and the “resistance axis” led by Iran.

Israel’s killing of seven Revolutionary Guards in a drone strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 triggered Iran’s first ever direct attack on Israel, involving hundreds of missiles and drones.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi underlined Iran’s support for the Palestinians, a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Palestinian flags were raised alongside Iranian flags at ceremonies held for the late president.


Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

Updated 21 May 2024
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Israeli army raids West Bank’s Jenin, Palestinians say seven killed

  • Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said

JENIN: Israeli forces raided Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday in an operation that the Palestinian health ministry said killed seven Palestinians, including a doctor, and left nine others wounded.
The army said it was an operation against militants and that a number of Palestinian gunmen were shot. There was no immediate word of any Israeli casualties.
The health ministry account of the casualties was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Among the Palestinians killed was a surgical doctor, the head of the Jenin Governmental Hospital said. He was killed in the vicinity of the hospital, the director said.
The West Bank is among territories Israel seized in a 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians want it to be the core of an independent Palestinian state. US-sponsored talks on a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict broke down in 2014.