Neighbors / Meet the New Boss

The method is not new, but it works. When the Iranian Interior Ministry refused to issue demonstration permits to supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani announced a sermon in the mosque of Tehran University. The familiar code word drew tens of thousands to the mosque on Friday, presenting the authorities with a serious problem. After all, people cannot be barred from going to a mosque and hearing the preacher, even if he is a thorn in the side of the government.

The content of Rafsanjani's address was predictable, but the intensity of his criticism exceeded the accepted boundaries. He declared that the Islamic Republic had lost the support of the people and called for the release of all those arrested in previous demonstrations. In doing so he made himself into the axis around which the decisions of both reformists and conservatives will turn from now on.

Rafsanjani has a great deal of political power. As chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council and of the Assembly of Experts he can presents a difficult challenge to supreme leader Ali Khamenei in the religious sphere, and do the same with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the practical sphere: He is the one who decides, among other things, on the submissibility of laws that Ahmadinejad seeks to promote and on government appointments requiring parliamentary approval.

But if Rafsanjani moves too far toward the reformists this could reinforce the position of the radical clerics and create a political front that might increase Iran's inflexibility. One very real danger is the strengthening of the status of the Revolutionary Guards.

In Turkey or Egypt the military establishment can determine the character of the country. The Revolutionary Guards in Iran cannot remove politicians from the government or demand that they be tried. They operate in the framework of the rules determined by the spiritual leader. They can influence him, but not by dint of their statutory position.

But Ahmadinejad gave the Revolutionary Guards a great deal of power when he appointed former commanders to senior government positions and relied on them in his election campaigns, even bringing them to polling places to supervise the election process and the vote count. And when the large demonstrations erupted when the election results were issued, the mere threat of calling out the Revolutionary Guards, and not just the regiments of Basij volunteers, was enough to show that the guards could become Iran's de facto leaders.

While deterring the reformists, this threat is a two-edged sword for Khamanei: It is clear that his rule is increasingly dependent on cooperation with the Revolutionary Guards, and less on his status as spiritual leader. Some Iranians believe that as a result of his conduct after the elections Khamenei has in effect become hostage to the guards.

The open and profound rift between the political and religious elites will oblige Khaamenei to choose one of two options: to make the Revolutionary Guards the guardians, even unofficially, of the constitution in order to erode Rafsanjani's power; or to adopt a policy of reconciliation with the reformists. Thus Iranian politics are moving into a new stage, in which Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are only supporting actors in a process that could determine Iran's the character in the coming years, as either a military state or a semi-democratic religious state.

Not only is print journalism not dead, but "Internet journalism is destined to disappear." That is the prediction of an Aab respondent to an occasional current-events poll by the Saudi radio program "FM Panorama." The question this time was, "Do you prefer reading print or Internet journalism?" The results were surprising: 79 percent of the participants replied that they prefer "paper journalism" to the Internet.

The most common reason given was that printed material was "pleasant to the touch" and more conducive to slower and more thorough reading than its Internet equivalent. "In the field that interests me, sports, Internet journalism in Arabic is still weak and does not provide a lot of information," one respondent elaborated. Another explained that in Internet journalism there is a problem with searching the archive and that he prefers clipping articles for his own private archive.

Those who said they preferred Web journalism explained that the Internet is the only place the censor's scissors usually cannot reach, and that it enables users to participate in making the news and influencing public opinion through comments and anonymous postings.

Most of all, though, the preference for paper journalism in the Arab world seems to be linked to the rate of Internet use. According to data published by Internet World Stats, which monitors Internet usage worldwide, the rate of Internet use in the Middle East is about 21.3 percent, which translates to about 42 million users. But usage rates are not uniform: Whereas in Iran the rate of Internet penetration is about 35 percent, in Iraq it is only 0.2 percent and in Jordan 18 percent. The Internet infrastructure in many Arab countries does not reach the entire population and computers are not within the economic reach of many average families. Newspapers, on the other hand, especially those published by the government, are very inexpensive, and price is usually not a factor in their purchase.