Opposition to the clerical dictatorship continues to grow, both from inside the leadership, and at the grassroots. An increasing number of senior clerics are openly criticizing the "Islamic Police State" that has become increasingly harsh in the way it suppresses real, or imagined, opposition. Many senior clerics are aghast at the growing corruption among the clerics who run the government, and the pretense of democracy, with elections rigged so that only pro-dictatorship candidates can even run. At the grassroots, most young Iranians are fed up with the dictatorship. It offers no jobs for the poor, and few opportunities for the educated and ambitious. Most worrisome to the clerics is the growing number of young Iranians who are giving up on Islam. Many of these kids are saying that Islam is "un-Iranian" and that everyone should return to the pre-Islam Iranian religion. The odd thing is that Christianity was never really big in Iran. Irans pre-Christian religion, Zoroastrianism, survived until it was largely replaced by Islam 1,400 years ago, after dominating the country for about 1,500 years. The government has been blocking Farsi language sites about Zoroastrianism, which have been growing in popularity over the last few years, apparently in response to the seemingly dreadful impact of Islam. Many Zoroastrianism customs survived the arrival of Islam, much to the chagrin of Moslem clerics. Efforts to stamp out these customs only makes them more popular. The only surviving Zoroastrians (about 150,000) are found mainly in India (about half of them), with small communities in Pakistan and other Central Asian nations. There are also thousands living in the West. There are believed to be over 10,000 still in Iran, where they maintain a very low profile. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion (worship of only one God) that appeared about the same time as Judaism, in a period when monotheism was rare. The oldest major religion is Hinduism, which is polytheistic (with thousands of Gods).
Many clerics believe that the current government is not only ruining the nation with their corruption and bad management, but also with their effort to develop nuclear weapons. This is seen as putting the nation at greater risk of nuclear attack. But developing these weapons is very popular with most Iranians, who believe that Iran, which has been the local superpower for thousands of years, needs nukes in order to regain the respect they have been denied for the last century (as Western nations came to dominate this part of the planet.)
The UN officially recognizes Iran has a human rights disaster, where freedom of speech, religion, and just about everything, is severely restricted. Iran believes this is all part of a Western plot to bring down the Islamic Republic in Iran.
The student protest movement in Iran is still functioning, despite months of aggressive efforts by the government to destroy it. More large demonstrations are being planned.
The government insists that the U.S. and Britain is behind the recent Islamic terror attack that killed over three dozen Revolutionary Guard personnel. The attack was carried out by Pakistani based Baluchi tribesmen belonging to the Jundallah group. Pakistan said that the Jundallah leaders had fled to Afghanistan. The Baluchi tribes have provided refuge for al Qaeda personnel for the last eight years, and helped the Baluchis form Jundallah. The Baluchis are not much interested in the Taliban war in Afghanistan, but assisting fellow Baluchi in Iran is another matter. Iran has long accused the U.S. and Britain of being behind Jundallah, but has never been able to provide any proof. There has been official U.S. support for Iranian pro-democracy groups. But leftist politicians in the U.S. and Europe has succeeded in cutting off a lot of that funding, because it annoys the Iranian government. Many in the West believe that the Islamic clerics that run Iran can be reasoned with, and that it's best not to annoy them in the meantime.
In the U.S., a recent poll showed that 88 percent of Americans believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Some 78 percent believe direct negotiations with Iran are necessary to deal with this problem, while 77 percent favor economic sanctions to motivate the Iranians to halt their nuclear weapons program. Finally, 54 percent favor a military strike, if all else fails.
Iran has rejected a proposal, whereby it would ship its uranium to Russia for processing into reactor fuel. Currently, Iran has enriched its nuclear material to about five percent, and moving to raise that higher. Russia is willing to enrich it high enough for fuel, but not for nuclear weapons. For weapons, you need to increase the content of Uranium 235 in uranium ore to 54 percent (producing uranium that contains that percentage of the more volatile U-235 form of the nuclear material). This is far above the 5-10 percent minimum needed for nuclear power plants. Normally, Uranium ore is only about .7 percent U-235. Anything over 20 percent enriched can be used for a nuclear bomb. But the most effective and reliable nuclear weapons use 80 percent enriched nuclear material. Iran wants to do the enriching itself, and believes that depending on other nations to do it would be "unreliable."
A growing number of the pilgrims headed for the annual pilgrimage (the "Haj") are being arrested for taking illegal drugs with them. Last year, 336 pilgrims were caught with a total of seven kilograms (245 ounces) of opium or heroin. So far this year, about a thousand have been arrested, and were carrying twice as much. Saudi police arrested 160 Iranian pilgrims so far this year, for drug trafficking. Iran is the biggest consumer of opium on the planet, despite having only about two million addicts. Nearly all the opium comes from Afghanistan, and is cheap enough for even petty criminals, or working class Iranians, to support a drug habit. Saudi Arabia has asked Iran to do more about stopping the drugs coming in with Haj pilgrims. But the drugs are popular, and fetch much higher prices, in Saudi Arabia, so the temptation is always there. The Saudis also warned the Iranians to stop sending political agitators with the nearly 800,000 pilgrims Iran is allowed each year. Many Iranian clericals are talking openly about how Iran should be running the Islamic holy places, not Saudi Arabia. This sort of talk does not go down well with the Saudis, who see an Iranian government conspiracy to cause trouble during the Haj, to make the Saudis look bad.
October 26, 2009: Eleven Revolutionary Guards crossed into Pakistan, were detected and arrested. It was a navigation error by the troops, and they were released within 24 hours. Off the coast of Yemen, a small Iranian cargo ship, and its seven man crew, were seized by Yemeni navy. The Iranian ship was loaded with weapons, which, it was suspected, were destined for Shia rebels in northern Iran. Yemeni officials later claimed they had proof that the weapons were meant for the rebellious Shia tribesmen in northern Yemen.
October 23, 2009: Russia announced that it will continue to sell "defensive weapons" to Iran, and that it not shipped S300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. Not yet, but maybe eventually, as Russia declares these to be defensive weapons.
October 19, 2009: Iranian military officials called their Pakistani counterparts and demanded that those responsible for the recent suicide bombing in Iran (that killed 40 Revolutionary Guard commanders and troops) be arrested. Iran blames the attack on Islamic terror group Jundallah, which is composed of Baluchi tribesmen fighting back against Iranian oppression of Baluchis living in Iran. Most Baluchis live in southwest Pakistan ("Baluchistan") and are Sunni Moslems. Most Iranians are Shia and consider Baluchis a bunch of tribal troublemakers who pray the wrong way. There has never been much love between Iranians and Baluchis.