FRESH AIR

Australia’s parliament does not need “parliamentary friendship” with Iran’s Majlis

Aug 4, 2020 | AIJAC staff, Tzvi Fleischer

Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Ms. Lyndall Sachs, with the Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in the Iranian parliament, Mojtaba Zolnour
Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Ms. Lyndall Sachs, with the Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in the Iranian parliament, Mojtaba Zolnour

 

On July 19, Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Ms. Lyndall Sachs, met with the Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in the Majlis (Iran’s parliament), Mojtaba Zolnour.

According to the Iranian media, Zolnour used the meeting to criticise Australia’s alignment with the US with regards to Iran’s nuclear program and aggressive activities in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, he also called for “creating parliamentary friendship groups between Iran and Australia”. Ambassador Sachs responded, according to Iranian media, by noting that “parliamentary relations are considered as a turning point for both countries’ relations.”

Expanding relations between the parliaments in Teheran and Canberra at this time would be problematic, to say the least, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Australia’s democratic legislature in Canberra should avoid giving any of stamp of democratic approval to an institution that has increasingly become a puppet of the regime, and is today led by dangerous radicals who use the Majlis as a platform to promote terrorist entities threatening both Australian forces and our allies in the region.

 

A mock parliament

The Majlis, like most “parliaments” in authoritarian societies, is nothing more than a cover kept as a pretence to legitimise an oppressive regime. Such parliaments do not represent the will of the people, because elections to choose MPs are effectively fixed, with outcomes predetermined by the ruling powers that be.

The Majlis at one time did have some genuine debate and competition between differing ideological factions, albeit within strict limits proscribed by the real ruling power in Iran, the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians which he largely appoints. However, even this is no longer true.

In the leadup to the elections to the Majlis in February 2020, the ultra-conservative Council of Guardians, presumably reflecting the wishes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who directly appoints half its members and indirectly controls the appointment of the rest, conducted an unprecedently strict purge of candidates. Only hardliner “principalists” aligned with the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were permitted to run. Nine thousand out of a potential 16,000 candidates were disqualified. Ninety serving MPs out of the 290 Majlis members were banned from running again, leaving many electorates with only one approved candidate on the ballot.

Most of the Iranian public, having recognised that parliamentary elections in Iran have become a facade for effectively appointing IRGC figureheads and their approved allies, refused to take part in this charade. Official data claimed only 42% of Iranians voted, the lowest percentage since the 1979 revolution (moreover, in Iran such data is always questionable and the real total is likely even lower). In Teheran, only around a quarter of voters bothered to turn up at the voting booths.

 

The “Yes, Khamenei” Majlis

Structurally, the theocratic “Velayat-e faqih” (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) system of government created in post-revolutionary Iran gives the Supreme Leader extensive veto power over the legislative body. However, under Khamenei, this power has been dramatically widened over the last decade.

Following the aforementioned purge in this year’s election, the 11th parliament is under almost complete control of ideologically extreme MPs who are Khamenei loyalists with direct affiliation to the IRGC. They constitute approximately 200 out of the 290 MPs in the Majlis and are carefully spread across all key roles of the parliament. There is no opposition to speak of. Hovering above the Majlis is the Council of Guardians, which not only oversees all legislation from its very earliest stages, but is now demanding the power to remove MPs at will.

 

What the IRGC stands for

A brief reminder about the nature of the IRGC, which now completely dominates the Majlis, is in order.

The IRGC is an ideologically purist anti-Western military force created to be the guardians of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. It is engaged in crushing internal dissent through its volunteer body – the Basij – while the IRGC’s Quds force is devoted to exporting terror and war to destabilise the Middle East directly or via proxies. The IRGC is reportedly in control of huge chunks of Iran’s economy, providing the Corps vast power and financial resources beyond the control of Iran’s nominal government, and a thirst for even more, as well as ample opportunities for corruption. Finally, the IRGC is entrusted with running both the regime’s illegal nuclear weapon program and the development of ballistic missiles to carry such weapons – creating one of the most serious threats to global security over recent decades. IRGC mouthpieces and commanders also spout antisemitism and threaten to destroy Israel on a regular basis. No wonder it is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government.

IRGC-linked radicals dominate almost all key positions in the Majlis. Leading the pack is the Speaker, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a retired IRGC general who has been tied to corruption scandals valued at millions of dollars. He is also no champion of human rights, with a recorded history of supporting and ordering violence against anti-regime protesters when he was at the Basij, as well as national Chief of Police and Mayor of Teheran.

Qalibaf has surrounded himself with like-minded colleagues with views that are very distant from Australian values. For example, Ahmad Amirabadi, a member of the Majlis’ 12-member presidium, which sets the parliamentary agenda, has not exactly been helpful in addressing the rampant abuse and oppression of women’s rights in his country. Instead, he is worried about growing numbers of women “unveiling”, or taking off the hijab headcover. Another presidium member, Ali Haji Deligani, notoriously objected in 2016 to Iran joining the Convention on the Rights of the Child because it might lead to problems for the IRGC-linked Basij, which enlists child soldiers into its ranks.

Meanwhile, MP Fereidoun Abbasi is the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (2011-2013). Documents uncovered by Israel from Iran’s secret nuclear archive early in 2018 prove that Abbasi was a senior manager of the secret AMAD project aimed at secretly and illegally manufacturing nuclear weapons.

 

Advocating the destruction of Israel

Mojtaba Zolnour, who met Australia’s ambassador, is a typical MP in today’s Majlis, and like many of them does not mince words when openly threatening to destroy Israel. A former IRGC general, Zolnour warned in 2018 that “the moment the [Israelis] wish to fire a missile at us, 110,000 [Hezbollah] missile launchers will fire [missiles] at them. With the first wave of missiles, nothing will be left of Israel”. A year later he said that “If the US attacks us, only half an hour will remain of Israel’s lifespan.” And while discussing a law banning Iranian athletes from competing against Israelis, he argued that “Iranian people, including our athletes, have always delivered a blow to the Zionist regime. They use any opportunity to show their anger towards a regime that kills children.”

He is of course not alone. MP Nezameddin Mousavi, former manager of the IRGC’s Fars news agency, stated in May that “Muslims and freedom-seekers in various parts of the world should always keep Palestinian causes ‘alive’ in line with accelerating the obliteration of the Zionist regime.” And the list goes on.

 

Kylie Moore-Gilbert is still not free

We should also not forget the plight of Melbourne University academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, unacceptably incarcerated in Iran on trumped-up espionage charges, and now being imprisoned in what is considered the world’s worst women’s jail – the Qarchak prison. Her release should be the top priority for Australia’s relations with Teheran, and any parliamentary niceties should be out of the question until she is freed.

But even beyond that, while parliamentary friendship groups with other democracies are useful to Australia’s foreign policy and appropriate activities for our parliament, Iran’s Majlis is not an appropriate candidate for any such relationship. Not only does the Majlis represent a cruel mockery of the Australian parliament’s democratic values, it is an institution that harbours and promotes terrorists, spreads antisemitism and calls for the violent destruction of Israel, an Australian ally. It also helps the oppressive Iranian regime violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on which Australia has always placed great store. Indeed, perhaps it is time Australia considered including the IRGC in its list of proscribed terrorist organisations instead.

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