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What to Read on Iran This Week: Diplomacy, Arts, the Youth, and Mossadegh

On the diplomatic front this week, former high-level State Department official Nicholas Burns wrote in the Boston Globe that initial signs from Rouhani hint at the possibility of creating the biggest diplomatic opening between Iran and the United States since 1979, and that Washington must try to make that a reality. On a similar note, International Crisis Group released a thoroughly researched and well-cited policy briefing looking at the meaning of Rouhani’s election and its implication for the nuclear talks. In Israel, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy criticized Benjamin Netanyahu in YNet for welcoming Rouhani’s victory with derision rather than supporting the prospect of direct U.S.-Iranian talks. 

However, in the New York Times, Ray Takeyh urged America to maintain realistic expectations, saying that diplomatic progress should be worked for but that Rouhani may be constrained in his ability to deliver major change due to the central importance of the ideology of resistance in the Islamic Republic.  Expressing skepticism on the prospects for change on another front were Angus McDowall and Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters, who described the obstacles in the way of Rouhani’s stated goal of improving ties with Saudi Arabia.

While internet freedom in Iran has been a cause celebre for a long time, there have been relatively few reports on how exactly Iranian authorities go about filtering sites they deem objectionable.  A new study by the University of Michigan’s J. Alex Haldeman and the Aryan Censorship Project looked at the specific methods used – and their piece was summarized by Timothy Lee in the Washington Post.

Not to be overlooked is the extent of Iran’s problem with widespread drug addiction – the Economist took a quick look at the issue this week, including its effects on Iranian youth.  On a less gloomy note, another article about Iranian youth, this one by Garrett Nada at the Iran Primer, focused on the rising popularity of parkour in Iran.

In cinema, Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times sat down with the controversial, taboo-breaking Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani – known in Iran for such films as Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly and Dariush Mehrjui’s banned, yet widely bootlegged, Santoori, before moving into exile in France – about her new role as an Afghan wife in Patience Stone, also reviewed by Manohla Dargis in the same paper.  Moving on to a very different kind of art, Beeta Baghoolizadeh wrote in Jadaliyya about the marriage contracts – or ketubot – of the Jewish community of 19th century Mashhad. And on the same site, Manijeh Nasrabadi reviewed a new anthology of Iranian American fiction.

Finally, 60 years ago, Iran was mired in the days of upheaval that would eventually lead to the removal of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh by military coup – though on August 16th, 1953, events looked much more likely to bring down the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah than the Mossadegh government.  First, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has posted an interesting slideshow of images from the upheaval to commemorate the events.  For the Persian speakers out there, the BBC Persian service is trying to recreate the confusion and chaotic atmosphere that reigned in Tehran by covering the events of the British and American sponsored coup in a series of real-time live-tweets, using only information that was publicly available to the exact minute 60 years prior.  Definitely worth a look for history and journalism buffs alike.

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