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Five Appointed Mayors Facing A Bizarre Wait For Security Clearance

Tehran's Azadi monument.
Tehran's Azadi monument.

The final step in appointing the mayors of Tehran and four other Iranian cities is pending the issuance of security clearances by Iran's intelligence authorities, Iran’s Interior Ministry says.

A spokesman of the ministry told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Saturday, November 24 that the Intelligence Ministry has not yet officially responded to the Interior Ministry's request for issuing security clearances for the new mayors of Tehran, Mashad, Yazd, Kermanshah and Rasht.

The mayors have been appointed by reformist-dominated city councils.

Earlier reports said that the Intelligence Ministry had refused to issue security clearance for Tehran's new mayor Pirouz Hanachi because of his brother's membership in the Islamic Republic's major opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq, also known as MeK. It appears that it is Mr. Hanachi's case which has brought about a halt in processing security clearances for the other mayors.

Three Tehran city council members have objected to the interior ministry's delay in making a decision. Councillor Mahmoud Mirlohi said, "No one should be questioned for a mistake his brother has made 30 years ago." Councillor Morteza Alviri also said that the ministry's scrutiny "is unacceptable."

Meanwhile another councillor Hassan Rasouli said that "Many families have had similar problems. However, even if it is true, the case is several decades old," Negam News Website reported.

Rasouli was referring to the MeK membership of many family members of Iranian officials. These officials include most notably the powerful head of the Guardian Council Ahmad Jannati whose son and daughter-in-law were members of MeK.

The MeK is a well-organized opposition group whose members and leaders left Iran in 1981 after its leadership fell out with the establishment and many of its members were killed by the regime, while the Islamic Republic accuses them of killing many regime supporters. Tehran still views MeK as a terrorist group although they put an end to their armed struggle decades ago, and currently their activity consists of non-violent campaigns.

In another development, Tehran City Councillor Zahra Sadrazam Nouri told the media in Tehran that "Council Chairman Mohsen Hashemi has been told that security clearance for Hanachi might be issued on Monday."

Hanachi was appointed Tehran's mayor during an unusually long procedure as his predecessor had to leave his post based on new legislation that bans retirees from holding public office. The enforcement of the same law also led to the resignation of several other officials including mayors as well as Shahindokht Molaverdi, President Hassan Rouhani's assistant for citizens' rights affairs on Saturday.

The way this legislation is being enforced has been criticized by Iranian media, as some retirees are said to have been granted exemptions while in other cases new officials are only one or two years younger than the retirement age of 60. Even people who took early retirement are being forces out of public office.

The law was meant to open the door for younger people to be appointed to government posts. But so far, the results are mixed as older people get exemptions and younger officials such as Molaverdi being forced to resign.

Most Iranian officials are generally above retirement age, some like the Guardian Council Chief in their 80s or even 90s. Some officials who were around 30 years old in 1979, are now in their 70s and still in office. Critics have been lashing out at Rouhani for too many ministers over 60 and 70 in his cabinet. Last year, he appointed a Telecommunications minister in his 30s, partly because this would bring down the average age of the cabinet.

The issue of security clearance for Hanachi is questionable, as he has already been serving as deputy mayor and deputy housing minister for several years.

In the case of Tehran's all reformist City Council, the main candidate for the post of Mayor was Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, who chairs the council. But if he is chosen as mayor, prominent hardliner Mehdi Chamran who is in the waiting list to enter the council would replace him as council member and possibly chairman and this would undermine the reformist "conquest" of the Tehran City Council.

In the meantime, part of the delay in Hanachi's takeover of the mayor's office, might be the desire of hardliners at security organizations to portray reformists as incapable of running the capital, let alone the country.

Iranian analysts abroad, have also said in interviews with foreign-based media that the delay is also partly due to the rivalry between the Intelligence Ministry which is part of the Rouhani administration, and the IRGC Intelligence Organization which is dominated by Rouhani's rivals. If the former approves Hanachi's clearance and the latter rejects or questions it, this would once again effectively undermine the ministry's authority.