Iran swipe at Web brings angry reply

Associated Press
FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 file photo, Iranian women use computers at an Internet cafe in central Tehran. Iran’s cyber monitors often tout their efforts to fight the West’s 'soft war' of influence through the web, but trying to ban Google’s popular Gmail may have gone too far with complaints coming even from email-starved parliament members. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

View gallery

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran's cyber monitors often tout their fight against the West's "soft war" of influence through the Web, but trying to block Google's popular Gmail appeared to be a swipe too far.

Complaints piled up — even from email-starved parliament members — and forced authorities Sunday to double down on their promises to create a parallel Web universe with Tehran as its center.

The strong backlash and the unspecific pledges for an Iran-centric Internet alternative to the Silicon Valley powers and others highlight the two sides of the Islamic Republic's ongoing battles with the Web. It's spurred another technological mobilization that fits neatly into Iran's self-crafted image as the Muslim world's showcase for science, including sending satellites into orbit, claiming advances in cloning and stem cell research and facing down the West over its nuclear program.

But there also are the hard realities of trying to reinvent the Web. Iran's highly educated and widely tech-savvy population is unlikely to warm quickly to potential clunky homegrown browsers or email services. And then there's the potential political and economic fallout of trying to close the tap on familiar sites such as Gmail.

"Some problems have emerged through the blocking of Gmail," Hussein Garrousi, a member of a parliamentary committee on industry, was quoted Sunday by the independent Aftab-e Yazd daily. What he apparently meant was that many lawmakers were angry and missing their emails.

He said that parliament would summon the minister of telecommunications for questioning if the ministry did not lift the Gmail ban, which was imposed last week in respond to clips on Google-owned YouTube of a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad that set off deadly protests across the Islamic world.

Even many newspapers close to the government complained over the email disruptions. On Saturday, the Asr-e Ertebat weekly reported that Iranians had paid a total of $4.5 million to purchase proxy services to reach blocked sites, including Facebook and YouTube, over the past month.

Iranian authorities — perhaps recognizing the risks at hand — decided against taking a symbolic twin shot at Google and cut access to the Web browser in a country with 32 million Internet users among a population of 75 million, according to official statistics.

That would rank online Iran among the world's top 20 in terms of sheer numbers of users, and equivalent to some European countries in per capita Web use at more than 40 percent, according to the private monitoring group Internet World Stats. The World Bank, however, puts Iran's Internet link rate at just 21 percent last year.

The U.S. is among the world's highest at more than 75 percent.

Iran's deputy telecoms minister, Ali Hakim Javadi, told reporters that Iranian authorities were considering lifting the Gmail ban. But he also used the opportunity to again promise development of Iran's domestic alternatives: the Fakhr ("Pride") search engine and the Fajr ("Dawn") email, Aftab-e Yazd reported.

When reporters noted the quality of Gmail services, Javadi quipped: "If there is Mercedes Benz on the street, that doesn't mean everyone drives a Mercedes."

Iran's clerical establishment has long signaled its intent to get citizens off of the international Internet — which they say promotes Western values — and onto a "national" and "clean" domestic network. Earlier this year, Iran's police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, called Google an "instrument of espionage" rather than a search engine.

But it is unclear whether Iran has the technical capacity to follow through on its ambitious plans, or is willing to risk the economic damage and the social shock waves.

The Internet has steadily become part of Iran's fabric since the first Farsi-language sites developed a decade ago by Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan, who is considered one of the founders of Iran's social media community. Derakshan, however, was detained in 2008 and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison two years later as the battles heated up between liberals seeking open access to the Web and authorities trying to erect their own version of China's "Great Firewall," the name given to Beijing's extensive filtering and censorship of the Internet.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook were pillars of the street revolts after the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The powerful Revolutionary Guard responded by recruiting and training its own cyber force to patrol the Web and, later, try to defend against virus attacks on nuclear and other sites that Iran has blamed on the West and its allies.

Some Web security experts also have raised the possibility of Iranian hackers being behind some recent high-profile computer attacks, such as disruptions at Saudi Arabia's state oil giant Saudi Aramco and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas earlier this month. Iran has denied any links.

In a video message for Iranian new year in March, President Barack Obama denounced what he called the "electronic curtain" that keeps ordinary Iranians from reaching out to Americans and the West.

A few weeks later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the creation of an Internet oversight agency that included top military, security and political figures in the country's boldest attempt yet to control the Internet. The panel is headed by Ahmadinejad and includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence chief and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

It's not Iran's first attempt to hold off what hardliners call a Western "cultural invasion." The so-called Barbie wars have gone on for more than a decade with periodic raids to confiscate the iconic American dolls from toy stores. Iran also introduced its own dolls — twins Dara and Sara — designed to promote traditional values with modest clothing and pro-family values, but it hasn't significantly dented the demand for Barbie dolls.


Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Sorry you didn't like this comment. Please provide a reason below.

Are you sure?
Rating failed. Try again.
Request failed. Try again.
We will promote constructive and witty comments to the top, so everyone sees them!
Sorry, we can’t load comments right now. Try again.

    Recommended for You

    • US: Philippines' Duterte sparking distress around the world

      MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A top American diplomat for Asia said Monday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial remarks and a "real climate of uncertainty" about his government's intentions have sparked distress in the U.S. and other countries.

      Associated Press
    • Israel's next Gaza war will be 'last' one: Lieberman

      Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday that Israel's next war with Gaza militants would be their last "because we will completely destroy them," but added he remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman, speaking in an interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, said however that he did not want another war in Gaza, which would be the fourth since 2008. The outspoken former foreign minister urged Palestinians to pressure Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, to "stop your crazy policies".

    • AP Top 25: Ohio State slips, Penn State in, Houston out

      Ohio State dropped four spots to No. 6 in The Associated Press college football poll after its first loss of the season, and Penn State moved into the rankings for the first time since 2011 after upsetting ...

      Associated Press
    • Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire

      Erdogan’s aggressive nationalism is now spilling over Turkey’s borders, grabbing land in Greece and Iraq.

      Foreign Policy Magazine
    • Bill Murray accepts humor prize after gentle roast

      In an evening filled with jokes about Bill Murray's elusiveness and quirky personality, it was David Letterman who provided the most touching moment as Murray was honored with the nation's top prize for ...

      Associated Press
    • China admonishes the U.S. for visit to disputed India-China border

      China admonished the United States on Monday for sending its ambassador in India to a contested stretch of land on the India-China border, warning that a third party's meddling would only complicate the dispute between Beijing and New Delhi. China claims more than 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) of territory disputed by India in the eastern sector of the Himalayas. Much of that forms the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet.

    • 10 pumpkin recipes that make us glad it’s autumn (10 photos)

      It’s October and supermarket shelves across the country are groaning under the weight of piles of little orange globes. Not doing Halloween chez yours this year? Then you could be forgiven for leaving them there but you’d be making a big mistake. We’ve already told you how your pumpkin leftovers can make you hotter , but guess what? They can make you healthier, too. Pumpkin flesh is packed with tummy-filling fibre, vision-boosting vitamin A, cancer-fighting beta-carotene and immunity-enhancing vitamin C. That’s before we even get onto the seeds, whose phytoestrogen and phytosterol content is credited with reducing bad cholesterol, preventing hypertension and enhancing both mood and sleep. Oh, and a single cup of pumpkin puree contains almost as much potassium as the equivalent quantity of coconut water. Meaning your homemade pumpkin spice latte is basically a sports drink. Click through to discover the simplest, tastiest and healthiest ways to squeeze maximum results from this too oft-maltreated member of the squash family.

      Samantha Simmonds, Fashion and Lifestyle Blogger
    • Victim 'tortured for days' by British murder accused in Hong Kong

      A Hong Kong court Monday heard how British banker Rurik Jutting tortured one of his victims for three days as the trial opened into the killings of two Indonesian women at his upscale apartment. The court heard Jutting filmed both women on his iPhone and jurors were warned by judge Michael Stuart-Moore that the footage was "very shocking indeed". Sumarti Ningsih and Seneng Mujiasih, both in their 20s, were found dead in Jutting's flat in the early hours of November 1, 2014, after he called police.

    • Thirteen killed, 31 injured in California tour bus crash

      A tour bus crashed into the back of a tractor-trailer on a Southern California highway before dawn on Sunday, killing 13 people and injuring 31, authorities said. The bus was traveling west on Interstate 10 when the crash occurred near Palm Springs, a city about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Chief Jim Abele told reporters. The bus driver was among the 13 killed, he said.

    • Clinton jumps to double-digit lead over Trump: poll

      Hillary Clinton has soared to a 12-point lead over Donald Trump in the race for the White House, according to a new poll released Sunday, with the real estate magnate's support tanking among key voter groups. The Republican presidential nominee has seen dismal poll numbers since a string of women came forward earlier this month to accuse him of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior in the past. Clinton, the Democratic former secretary of state, leads 50 percent to 38 percent in a four-way contest with two minor party candidates, according to a national ABC News poll.

    • US warns Philippines' Duterte over rhetoric, crime war

      Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's fiery rhetoric and deadly crime war are becoming a growing concern around the world, the top US envoy for Asia warned on Monday in Manila. US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel met the Philippines' defence and foreign ministers on Monday, after Duterte last week announced his nation's "separation" from the United States. "The succession of controversial statements, comments and a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines' intentions have created consternation in a number of countries," Russel told reporters.

    • How one drug cartel banked its cash in New York City

      NEW YORK (AP) — In the photos, Alejandra Salgado and her little brother Francisco look like ordinary tourists strolling the streets of midtown Manhattan. He carries a shopping bag. She wears a white dress, a necklace and a leather tote slung over one shoulder.

      Associated Press
    • Suspect in killings, carjackings, cop shootings on the run

      OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Authorities are hunting for a man suspected of killing his aunt and uncle, shooting two police officers, stealing a patrol car and carjacking other vehicles in a violent rampage in the Oklahoma City area, all while apparently taunting law enforcement via social media.

      Associated Press
    • 9 feminist slogan statements to wear loud and proud (9 photos)

      As Dior’s recent ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ tee proclaimed, feminism is here to stay in fashion. Although supporting equal rights should never be seen as a trend, you can still shout your views loud and proud with what you wear. From witty statements to simple sweatshirts, take a look at the best feminist designs available. And make sure to get your hands on at least one of them.     Feminism’s the word at Dior Zara wants you to flaunt your ‘Wonder Woman’ status to the world

      Lauren Sharkey
    • Babies should sleep in parents’ room to help prevent SIDS

      By Lisa Rapaport (Reuters Health) - Infants should sleep in the same bedroom as their parents for at least the first six months of their lives to minimize the risk of sleep-related deaths, according to new guidelines from U.S. pediatricians. Ideally, babies should stay in their parents’ room at night for a full year, according to recommendations released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies shouldn’t share a bed with parents, however, because that increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the guidelines stress.

    • 12 mature Halloween costumes for sophisticated children

      When it comes to Halloween costumes, most kids go dressed as something you'd expect, like a Frozen character, a superhero or the classic pumpkin. However, there are some kids who don't find it fair that adults get to have all the fun (and by fun, we mean boring, mature times). Those children have rebelled and made themselves refined, grown-up Halloween costumes. (Their parents may have had something to do with it.) SEE ALSO: 8 truly easy D.I.Y. Halloween costumes for lazy people Enjoy these 12 mature costumes that any sophisticated child would appreciate. 1. Henry the VII and Ann Boleyn in the last minutes of her life. Image: monkeygruven/imgur 2. Do kids this young even know what rotary phones are? A photo posted by Jordan Ferney (@ohhappyday) on Sep 24, 2016 at 1:21pm PDT 3. Or what cassette tapes are? A photo posted by Jordan Ferney (@ohhappyday) on Sep 21, 2016 at 6:56am PDT 4. Only a truly sophisticated youngin would appreciate classic colonial garb. Image: 5. This young grandma doesn't know the phrase "too many pearls." A photo posted by maury fletcher (@mauryfletcher) on Oct 29, 2015 at 3:52pm PDT 6. This cutie has got plenty of time before her cat lady days descend on her. Image: barbmalley/imgur 7. Here we have a child rocking Carrie's wedding look from Sex and the City , blue bird on her head and all. A photo posted by Amy Armstrong  (@amynore) on Oct 30, 2015 at 9:07am PDT 8. It's very mature for a child to have so much American pride during this scary election season. Image: 9. This tyke certainly doesn't need to wear makeup, and only the most grown-up kiddos could handle a lipstick costume. A photo posted by Jordan Ferney (@jordanferney) on Sep 16, 2016 at 10:59pm PDT 10. The Obamas couldn't get enough of this little one's pope costume. Image: Andrew Harnik/ap photo 11. Any baby who can rock Winona Ryder's Stranger Things character Joyce's look is basically an adult. A photo posted by Laura Izumikawa (@lauraiz) on Sep 19, 2016 at 11:57am PDT 12. And there may be a good 17 years before these two will get to vote, but baby Hillary Clinton and baby Donald Trump already have a strong interest in politics. A photo posted by Liz Stanley (@sayyesblog) on Sep 21, 2016 at 10:13am PDT

    • The Latest: Wagner's leaping block highlights night game

      The Latest on the seventh week of the NFL season (all times Eastern):

      Associated Press
    • Video: Oregon Officials Launch Manhunt for Missing Woman Last Seen Hiking

      Annie Schmidt, daughter of a member of The Piano Guys, was hiking near Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

      ABC News q
    • Civil rights hero from 60s takes criticism as Trump backer

      HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) — Clarence Henderson was hailed as a hero nearly 60 years ago when as a young black man he participated in a sit-in at a segregated North Carolina lunch counter.

      Associated Press
    • Vice presidential nominee shrugs off threat by WikiLeaks

      GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Tim Kaine is shrugging off any possibility that he could be embarrassed by the release of hacked emails.

      Associated Press