A new pro-government Iranian blogging competition recently came to a close. Many Iran watchers see this new promotion of blogging as an example of a double standard set by the Iranian government.
There are many thousands of blogs published from Iran
Perhaps in response to Deutsche Welle's blog awards, known as the BOBs, Iran has organized its own blogging competition, called "The Face of '89," in reference to the Persian calendar year 1389, which just ended on March 20.
However, the rules of the competition stated that blogs that are blocked within the country - typically those that criticize the Iranian government - are not eligible to participate.
"We are living in Iran and all Iranians are required to the internal laws of this country," the site said.
One well-known Iranian blogger, Sanam Dolatshahi, who now works for BBC Persian and writes from the United Kingdom under the name Khorshid Khanoom (Lady Sun), said that this move to highlight pro-regime bloggers is not surprising.
"The pro-government blogosphere has proved to be active and important not only in criticizing the opposition, but also in criticizing conservatives whenever they are in disagreement with the Supreme Leader," she wrote in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle, referring to Iran's ultimate political and religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Even Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has a blog
"DW's competition [does not represent] the conservative pro-government blogosphere, so it is not surprising to see [that Iranian government supporters] have established a competition of their own," she added.
The winner of the competition, which was announced on March 20, was Omid Hosseini, a well-known pro-government blogger, who supports the conservative president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Hosseini's most recent post, for example, was a warning to Shia in Bahrain, who are currently protesting the Sunni government in their country, to stay away from American support.
Blogging in Iran began a decade ago
Blogging first came to Iran in 2001, when Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian-Iranian, published a guide outlining how Iranians could publish online in their own language.
His own blog, "Editor: Myself," became an influential blog in Iran, and encouraged others to follow his lead. Derakhshan served as a BOBs jury member in 2005 and 2006, but was later arrested not long after his return to Iran in November 2008.
In 2005, an Iranian-British author, Nasrin Alavi, wrote a book called "We Are Iran," which translated and cited a large number of Iranian pro-reform blogs.
Hossein Derkahshan is widely credited with having pioneered Persian blogs
While Iran's opposition and Green Movement has received a lot of attention for its speaking out against the government on blogs and other types of social media, conservative, Islamic and nationalistic blogs remain a prominent force on the Iranian Internet.
In fact, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched his own blog in four languages - English, French, Arabic and Persian - in 2006. In December 2008, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced that it would be unleashing an army of 10,000 pro-government blogs.
Connection to Iranian government remains unclear
However, it is not completely clear exactly who organized this Iranian blogging competition, beyond that the site lists some Iranian blogging hosts, like MihanBlog and ParsiBlog, in addition to Weblognews.ir, a conservative news website.
"After the 2009 election, the Iranian authorities understood the effect of blogs and before that they didn't know blogs," said Amin Sabeti, an Iranian blogger who now lives in the United Kingdom, and a BOBs nominee in this year's Best Persian Blog category, in an e-mail sent to Deutsche Welle.
He added that the competition is hosted by a pro-government news websites, Weblognews.ir, however, there is no indication that it has official support from the Iranian government.
Iranian government wants to control its message online
Amin Sabeti has called Iran's support for conservative blogs "a double standard"
In recent years, the Iranian government has been co-opting many of the online tools that they themselves abhor. In the wake of the June 2009 elections, for example, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, began his own Twitter account in both Persian and English.
"The Iranian government has a double standard for social networks," Sabeti added. "They always talk TV about how these social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are part of CIA, MI6 or Mossad, but at the same time they use them. It means they understand power of these tools but they [want people to be afraid] to use them."
Other Iran watchers agreed with this sentiment.
"I have noticed there are two contradictory positions here: the Iranian government is ramping up the censorship around Green websites and blogs and to portals that are used to access info about the opposition in Iran and imprisoning bloggers," wrote Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian philosopher and professor of political science at the University of Toronto, in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle.
"On the other hand, the Iranian government is organizing a festival of bloggers who accept to collaborate with the regime. That is to say, the Iranian government is not sitting back passively and letting the Internet be an open, unrestricted forum. The Iranian government is militarizing the Internet by developing long term strategies to control information online. This is a new cyber strategy in Iran."
Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Nathan Witkop