Iran’s Guards using Trump victory to claw back power -Reuters

Standard

This article makes a common argument. Hardliners on one side of a rivalry are good thing for the hardliners on the other side -at least as long as things don’t get totally out of hand. Although I don’t think the IRGC lost quite as much power after the nuclear deal as this article suggests, I do agree with its basic premise:

“Trump and the Islamic State militants were gifts from God to the IRGC,” said a senior official within the Iranian government, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity like other figures contacted within Iran.

“If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the deal, hard-liners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from it,” a former reformist official said.

This article also marks the creation of a new tag on this blog: “Trump”….

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-politics-guards-idUSKBN13G1NB

Khamenei’s Plan For Succession In Iran -Huffington Post

Standard

This article looks at who might succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s Supreme Leader, or  rahbar-e mo’azzam. Although Khamenei’s health is not particularly poor at this point in time, he is old (77), and he has recently undergone prostate surgery. Succession is therefore no longer an abstract problem, but something that needs to be prepared for. The transition will be a difficult one for the Islamic Republic.

“All the above mentioned are potential candidates and there could be more, yet it’s clear that none of them has the charm of being one of the first revolutionaries, the legitimacy of being part of Khomeini’s team, or the honor of being a “Khomeini disciple”, except for Hasan Rouhani. This poses serious challenges in a system built originally on spirituality. The future leader will fall into the system built by his predecessor making it easier for the regime to cope with the change, and harder for the new comer to leave a mark quickly.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-hashem/khameneis-plan-for-succes_b_12599372.html

Moreover, the political situation is somewhat more complex now than it was in 1989, when Khomeini passed away. Its not that things were easier for the Islamic Republic then, they weren’t. As it does now, Iran faced foreign threats, a crumbling economy and the regime was plagued by intense factional competition. However, the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) was less independent actor and power was centralized in the hands of the Clergy at the end of the 1980s. The IRGC has its own interests and its own factional divisions. It’s mandate is to protect the revolution, so it would be difficult for the IRGC to directly challenge the position of the clergy after Khamenei is dead, but the growing power of the institution does ad several extra levels of complexity to the dynamics of succession.

Public support for the regime was also probably higher then as well. There has been a generational change in Iran and growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Part of that dissatisfaction has played out in support for the Green Movement and reform oriented politicians. However, part of it has also been drawn to Ahmadinejad and the Iranian neo-conservative movement. Not only did Ahmadinejad oppose the Green Movement, he clashed with traditional conservatives like Speaker of the Majlis (parliament) Ali Larinjani. He even bumped heads with Khamenei on occasion and is clearly on the outs with the Rahbar at this time.

The exact events of the 2009 elections will never be known. However, it did appear that Ahmadinejad had a significant degree of popular support. While Ahmadinejad is out of power and has been in some respects neutralized (he will not run for the President’s office next year) he still also has powerful friends, allies and ideological fellow-travelers in the clergy, the institutions of the state and in the IRGC. He does not have the religious credentials to make a claim on Khamenei’s position, but he probably has strong ideas about who he would like to see in that office. Perhaps he is pulling for someone like his one time ally, hard-line cleric, Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.

In 1989 Khomeini laid the ground work for succession by marginalizing several key figures in the regime, such as his one time heir-apparent Ayatollah Montezeri. The Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani worked out a compromise wherein Khamenei became the Rhabar and Rafsanjani was effectively given the presidency. It will likely be harder to pull of such a neat little trick this time around.

Rapid Increase of Diabetes Strains Middle East’s Health Agencies -New York Times

Standard

With all of the violence and ideological strife, issues of health and poverty are often overlooked in the Middle East. They may seem mundane in comparison, but they are no less important. Thanks to Shaelee M. for pointing this article out to me.

  • “Six countries in the region are among the top 10 globally with the highest prevalence of diabetes. They include the United Arab Emirates, showing the second-highest rate in the world — behind only the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru — followed by Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
  • The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 26.6 million adults in the Middle East and North Africa currently have diabetes, accounting for 9.3 percent of the world’s adults with the disease. The region spends $5.5 billion annually on diabetes, accounting for 14 percent of its total health care expenditure. In Qatar, expenditure is as high as $2,960 per person.
  • The figures are already worrying, but the foundation predicts worse to come. It says that over the next 20 years the number of people with diabetes in the region will almost double, reaching 51.7 million by 2030.”

Eight unprecedented hours with “Mr. Everything,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman. -Bloomberg

Standard

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has already been discussed here, see:

https://jtdevinemta.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/saudi-arabias-vision-2030-various/

However, this article, based on a lengthy interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s 31 year old Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister, provides an unusually candid look at the Kingdom’s economic problems:

  • “Saudi Arabia’s economy will probably expand 1.5 percent in 2016, the slowest pace since the global financial crisis, according to a Bloomberg survey, as government spending—the engine that powers the economy—declines for the first time in more than a decade. The state still employs two-thirds of Saudi workers, while foreigners account for nearly 80 percent of the private-sector payroll.”
  • “During the oil boom from 2010 to 2014, Saudi spending went berserk. Prior requirements that the king approve all contracts over 100 million riyals ($26.7 million) got looser and looser—first to 200 million, then to 300 million, then to 500 million, and then, Al-Sheikh says, the government suspended the rule altogether.”
  • “there was roughly between 80 to 100 billion dollars of inefficient spending” every year, about a quarter of the entire Saudi budget.”
  • “Last year there was near-panic among the prince’s advisers as they discovered Saudi Arabia was burning through its foreign reserves faster than anyone knew, with insolvency only two years away. Plummeting oil revenue had resulted in an almost $200 billion budget shortfall—a preview of a future in which the Saudis’ only viable export can no longer pay the bills, whether because of shale oil flooding the market or climate change policies. Historically, the kingdom has relied on the petroleum sector for 90 percent of the state budget, almost all its export earnings, and more than half its gross domestic product.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-04-21/the-2-trillion-project-to-get-saudi-arabia-s-economy-off-oil

For more on the state of the Saudi economy, see: Can Saudi Arabia’s bold reforms cure growing financial woes? By Michael Stephens

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37516495?SThisFB

 

 

Shimon Peres -Various

Standard

Shimon Peres died at age 93 this week. He was one of the founding fathers of the Israel state and held virtually every key government post at one time or another, President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister and the list goes on. There are links to two articles below, one positive from the Globe and Mail, and one negative written by Robert Fisk. They are not included in an effort to produce balance. More so, they are included to provide a glimpse into the man’s complex and at times contradictory career. He has been one of Israel’s most consistent advocates for a political solution to Israel’s conflict with the Arabs and the Palestinians. He is also widely praised for his role in the 1990s peace process and he was critical of the violence that followed its failure. However, his views were ‘hawkish’ when he was young and he supported the settlement project in the 1970s. He also ordered the 1996 invasion of Southern Lebanon (Operation Grapes of Wrath) and presided over the shelling of civilians in the UN compound of Qana. Observers tend to focus on on dimension of his career or the other, but both sides were integral to who he was.

Shimon Peres, guiding hand behind Israel-PLO peace pact, dies at 93

“…the middling politician and accidental prime minister was a true champion in another arena that shaped the history of modern Israel. Mr. Peres was the guiding hand behind the historic peace agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1993. And while that agreement so far has failed to lead to an independent Palestinian state and a peace treaty between it and Israel, the Oslo Accords, as it is known, remains the starting point for any two-state solution to this long-standing conflict.”

“As early as 1980, his “Gaza first” solution proposed returning the Gaza Strip to Arab control. And he had conceived a grand outline that would see the Middle East remodelled on the European Community, complete with a common market.

He also recognized that in the early 1990s, following the Gulf War, there was a real opening. In his book The New Middle East, he wrote: “We had reached one of those rare critical junctures that enable discerning statesmen to make a quantum leap in their thinking – and perhaps turn the tide of history.”…”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/former-israeli-pm-shimon-peres-dies-at-93/article32097484/

 

Shimon Peres was no peacemaker. I’ll never forget the sight of pouring blood and burning bodies at Qana

“When the world heard that Shimon Peres had died, it shouted “Peacemaker!” But when I heard that Peres was dead, I thought of blood and fire and slaughter.

I saw the results: babies torn apart, shrieking refugees, smouldering bodies. It was a place called Qana and most of the 106 bodies – half of them children – now lie beneath the UN camp where they were torn to pieces by Israeli shells in 1996. I had been on a UN aid convoy just outside the south Lebanese village. Those shells swished right over our heads and into the refugees packed below us. It lasted for 17 minutes.

Shimon Peres, standing for election as Israel’s prime minister – a post he inherited when his predecessor Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated – decided to increase his military credentials before polling day by assaulting Lebanon. The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/shimon-peres-dies-israel-qana-massacre-never-forget-no-peacemaker-robert-fisk-a7334656.html

The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan -ROAR

Standard

The PKK was once animated by a misture of nationalism and Marxist/Leninism. However, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan adopted a form anarchism while in prison, Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. This article provides a detailed discussion and analysis of this ideology and how it fits with the PKK’s agenda:

“That day (minus the pacifism) might not be far off. The PKK/KCK appear to be following Bookchin’s social ecology to the book, with almost everything up to and including their contradictory participation in the state apparatus through elections, just as prescribed in the literature.

As Joost Jongerden and Ahmed Akkaya write, “Bookchin’s work differentiates between two ideas of politics, the Hellenic model and the Roman,” that is, direct and representative democracy. Bookchin sees his form of neo-anarchism as a practical revival of the ancient Athenian revolution. The “Athens model exists as a counter- and under-ground current, finding expression in the Paris Commune of 1871, the councils (soviets) in the spring-time of the revolution in Russia in 1917, and the Spanish Revolution in 1936.”

Bookchin’s communalism contains a five-step approach:

  1. Empowering existing municipalities through law in an attempt to localize decision-making power.
  2. Democratize those municipalities through grassroots assemblies.
  3. Unite municipalities “in regional networks and wider confederations … working to gradually replace nation-states with municipal confederations”, whilst insuring that “’higher’ levels of confederation have mainly coordinative and administrative functions.”
  4. “Unite progressive social movements” to strengthen civil society and establish “a common focal point for all citizens’ initiatives and movements”: the assemblies. This cooperation is “not [perused] because we expect to see always a harmonious consensus, but — on the contrary — because we believe in disagreement and deliberation. Society develops through debate and conflict.” In addition, the assemblies are to be secular, “fight[ing] against religious influences on politics and government,” and an “arena for class struggle.”
  5. In order to achieve their vision of a “classless society, based on collective political control over the socially important means of production,” the “municipalization of the economy,” and a “confederal allocation of resources to ensure balance between regions” is called for. In layman’s terms, this equates to a combination of worker self-management and participatory planning to meet social needs: classical anarchist economics.”

 

https://roarmag.org/essays/pkk-kurdish-struggle-autonomy/

Two Weeks in January: America’s secret engagement with Khomeini -BBC

Standard

The BBC has published an article detailing direct secret talks between the US, under the Carter administration, and representatives of Ayatollah Khomeini as the Shah’s regime was crumbling. Neither the US or the Iranian government wanted the meetings public, and the Iranian government is dismissing the article as a fabrication.

The talks were initiated by the US in order to establish contacts between the Shah’s military and Khomeini’s representatives so that some sort of transition could be arranged and a full blown civil war avoided.

  • “Secretary Vance informed the French government that Washington urgently needed to be in direct contact with Khomeini’s group. The reason: to obtain Khomeini’s support for secret talks in Tehran between Beheshti, and the Shah’s military and intelligence chiefs.”

The meetings are interesting in and of themselves. However, perhaps more interesting is the perspective the article gives us on how revolutions unfold and the circumstances under which strategic choices are made by key actors. The US was operating with little information and had to make a choice between allies who no longer appeared politically viable, and an opposition they did not understand or trust. This is not just a history lesson. The Shah fell in 1979, but the same type of scenarios played themselves out during the Arab Spring and the same type of calculations had to be made.

For more details see:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36431160