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What to Read on Iran this Week: Diplomacy, Human Rights, and Culture

This week’s political reads - in addition to the Brookings Essay on Iran by Suzanne Maloney previously mentioned on this blog, and her Foreign Affairs piece  on the flawed logic of those who urge a Syria strike in order to influence Iran, in case you missed either - included Roger Cohen of the New York Times joining in the calls for Hassan Rouhani to be viewed seriously by the United States as a “game-changer” worthy of a serious attempt at engagement.  In the Middle East Channel, Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar wrote that Iran’s attempts at diplomacy in Syria have the chance to show in earnest the seriousness of Iran’s turn to pragmatism.  And if you’re looking for some interesting reading that could inspire you to do another 500-plus pages of reading on a topic that has become taboo to discuss in Washington – living with a nuclear Iran – take a look at the Economist’s review of our colleague Kenneth Pollack’s new book, Unthinkable.

On social media, Golnaz Esfandiari of RFE/RL and Saeed Kamali Dehghan of the Guardian each looked at the reports this past week that the ministers of Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet had all joined Facebook, and the ensuing controversies over Internet freedom in Iran – Esfandiari including a brief mention of Kayhan’s critique of Javad Zarif’s Twitter etiquette.  But if you’re interested in hearing more of Zarif’s words in English on Syria and other matters (and some of those words, which he directs at the U.S. are “It takes two to tango,” he gave extensive comments to Iran’s state-run English-language PressTV.  And speaking of the media more broadly, Reza HaghighatNejad wrote on Iran Wire of the historical propensity for even the most esteemed Iranian government-affiliated media outlets to misinterpret jokes and satire as facts – even when the source is the Onion.

Ray Takeyh wrote in the Washington Post that, as the United States prepares for the possibility of greater engagement with Iran, Congress should establish a committee devoted to the status of human rights in the Islamic Republic.  Also in human rights, Nabz Iran illustrated how Iran has become a world leader in capital punishment by posting an interactive map of execution data compiled by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

This week also saw the appointment of two notable figures from the reformist era to government positions. Ali Shamkhani, defense minister under Khatami, was appointed to replace Saeed Jalili as the head of the Supreme National Security Council, prompting a profile in Al-Monitor and a revisiting of a lengthy 1998 (though written as 1988) interview with him by Robin Wright in the Iran Primer.  In addition, Massoumeh Ebtekar – known for her role as the spokesperson of the U.S. Embassy hostage takers during the revolution before becoming a prominent reformist – will reprise her work under Khatami as vice president and head of the Environmental Protection Organization.  You can read her thoughts on the appointment on her English-language blog.

This week also had some bright spots for fans of openness in sports and culture in the Islamic Republic.  In the Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan profiled  Shirin Gerami, who will become the first female triathlete to compete for Iran at the sport’s world championship after convincing the ministry of sport to sanction her participation. Also, this week marked the long-sought reopening of the House of Cinema, Iran’s independent association of filmmakers, which had been closed for two years.  Payvand collected a slideshow of images from the reopening, illustrating the relief of many figures from the Iranian film industry.

Enjoy the weekend!