Highlights in the Iranian Press (February 3-8)

Highlights in the Iranian Press (February 3-8)
When examining the recent press coverage in Iran, the upcoming election is becoming increasingly prominent.
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When examining the recent press coverage in Iran, the upcoming election is becoming increasingly prominent. Newspapers have been allocating more space to analyses and news related to the elections, publishing opinions and interviews from various figures. As the election draws closer, with less than a month away, a succession of press releases has been coming forth, and analyses on the potential lists that parties might present are being conducted. On another note, news and analyses regarding Israel and Yemen continue to be frequently featured. Nonetheless, the success demonstrated by the Iranian National Football Team has shifted the public's agenda to a completely different focus, with football becoming the predominant topic throughout the week in Iran.

Performance of the Iranian National Football Team in the Asian Cup

The top agenda item in Iran last week has been the performance of the National Football Team in the Asian Cup. In the quarter-finals, facing Japan, the Iranian National Football Team fell behind with a goal at the 28th minute. However, they managed to equalize at the 55th minute with a goal by Mohammad Mohebi, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh's penalty goal during extra time secured Iran a 2-1 victory over Japan. In the semi-finals against Qatar, although Iran took an early lead with a goal, they ended up losing 3-2, thus bidding farewell to the cup. Qatar, matching up against Jordan in the final, won 3-1 to become the champions of the Asian Cup. Given the importance placed on football in Iran, the tournament has seen peak interest from both the press and the public, dominating the week's discussions.

The Upcoming Elections and the Electoral Agenda in Iran

For nearly a year now, the "issue of participation" has been a focal point of the electoral agenda in Iran. The significant emphasis on this issue had created expectations among some circles that the Guardian Council might display a more moderate stance compared to the 2020 Parliamentary and 2021 Presidential elections, potentially facilitating higher turnout through softer vetoes. However, recent disqualifications of prominent figures, such as former President Hassan Rouhani, have dashed these expectations, leading to disappointment. Notably, in the Assembly of Experts elections, the provision of a candidate count equal to the number of seats available in certain provinces has particularly drawn criticism from the reformist camp as indicative of the Guardian Council's disinterest in enhancing participation. The candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi from South Khorasan rather than Tehran and his sole endorsement by the Guardian Council have further solidified arguments supporting these criticisms. Historical electoral performances, such as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's and the current Assembly of Experts Chairman Ahmad Jannati's, contrast starkly with Raisi's in South Khorasan, highlighting these discussions in the Iranian press. Throughout the week, such critiques found space especially in reformist publications, while conservative outlets like Kayhan published counter-narratives.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, a leading figure in the reformist camp and former vice president, in an interview with Arman-e Melli, lamented the deviation from the ideals of the Revolution. Ebtekar noted that officials from Rouhani's administration opted for silence in the early days of Raisi's presidency and awaited the outcomes of the actions taken by Raisi's government. In the interview, she stressed the importance of utilizing previous administrations' knowledge and experience, indirectly criticizing the current administration's disregard for such resources.

The subtle nuances in a speech by Hassan Khomeini also garnered attention. He implied, "The people saw their ideals embodied in a jurisprudent and saintly figure [Ayatollah Khomeini] promising independence, freedom, piety, and progress. Even after 45 years, any weakening of these four ideals could undermine the fundamental roots of the Revolution and the Islamic Republic. It is crucial that none are sacrificed for another. Fortunately, today's Supreme Leader, a worthy successor of the Imam, is steering this ship, disseminating this message. However, it is imperative for everyone to constantly bear this in mind. There should be a profound fear lest any of these ideals fall behind." His comments subtly criticized the current developments.

Majid Ansari, another former vice president, was among those who expressed discontent with the vetoes. He argued, "Some individuals I know possess no less jurisprudence and fundamentals knowledge than some members of the Guardian Council, if not more. Yet, their expertise in political, social, and administrative matters, which is the Assembly of Experts' concern, definitely surpasses that of some members of the Council. Nevertheless, these individuals were either disqualified or summoned for examination. They were not given the necessary attention." Additionally, Ansari highlighted, "Due to the unfair treatment and disqualification decisions in previous Assembly of Experts elections, many have decidedly refrained from candidacy this term. These individuals did not earn their reputations lightly." His remarks shed light on why many potential candidates have chosen not to run.

An article published in Arman-e Emrooz summarized the developments leading up to the elections with less than a month to go, attempting to paint a picture of the current situation. According to the report, Sadegh Mahsouli, Secretary-General of the Steadfastness Front, commented on the election lists during a meeting, stating, "At this moment, with one month left to the elections, it is uncertain whether a unified list will emerge from the pro-Western faction. We are not limiting ourselves and are in discussions with revolutionary currents. God willing, we will make our decisions considering the election atmosphere." Meanwhile, Mansour Haghighatpour, close to Ali Larijani, responded to speculations about a Larijani-Rouhani alliance presenting a joint list, stating, "An alliance is only feasible if they manage to increase their votes. The two announced lists do not meet the essential needs of the election atmosphere and cannot make the elections more exciting and competitive. Therefore, the possibility of an alliance is non-existent."

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, also made a statement. In his remarks, he emphasized the importance of increasing participation and competition in elections, stating, "We have all decided to enter the race. The race itself and how it is conducted can be the greatest motivation for people's participation. Let's compete in a way that doesn't cause people to despise us. Our competition should lead to an increase, not a decrease, in participation." He further elaborated, "A revolutionary does not force society to choose between people, divine values, and progress. We must pursue both people and divine values together. We are following these two goals together on the revolutionary front. People expect us to preserve principles and authenticity while also pursuing progress. Today, we need to demonstrate the effectiveness of religion in governing society to protect the system, the Revolution, and Iran. At this point, people are bringing us criticisms, and they are right to do so. The vast majority of our people never wish to weaken the Islamic Republic or cause it problems. On the contrary, they expect us to be effective and responsible." His speech outlined the position he stands for.