Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Bassiouni Commission Report

The international experts who were appointed to investigated cases of human rights violations, torture, and purges of Shia employees from government ministries and hospitals have issued a 500-page report.

The 500-page report by Mr Bassiouni’s commission outlines all of abuses during and after the protests. But most importantly, the report did not find any evidence of Iranian government’s involvement in provoking the protests. The Bahraini government has been screaming about Iran’s role in the civil disturbances, the report raises the question of why the Bahraini government officials have resorted to blaming Iran for the domestic protests that have rocked the country ?

The Iranophobia politics of the Gulf countries is meant to distract their own population from their internal problems, and the Iranian government’s poor image marked by its intransigence on the Nuclear issue provides them with a no-cost strategy

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Text messages offer Iranians outlet for dissent

Financial Times
November 28, 2011 3:00 pm
By Monovar Khalaj

The first thing Shiva, a 39-year-old Iranian housewife, does every morning is check her mobile telephone. Rather than looking for messages from family or scanning news headlines, Shiva is looking for the latest satirical text messages on the Islamic Republic’s social, political and economic woes.

She then forwards the short messages to relatives and friends, accessing a social network of mobile users which has expanded beyond internet networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

“These satirical texts are passed on like the verses of a holy book,”Shiva says. “I quickly resend whatever I receive so that my family and friends can also have a laugh at our difficulties.”

One of the latest revolves around an alleged banking scandal involving a missing $2.8bn, which has created a national uproar. At the same time, many Iranians believe that their government is wasting precious national assets by providing financial support to Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups.

The text says: “Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah [leader of Lebanon’s Hizbollah] and Ismail Haniyeh [Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Palestine] have announced that they are earnestly investigating the embezzlement in Iran – to take back the rights of Palestinian and Lebanese nations from the corrupt Iranians.”

The text messages function like a thermometer measuring social trends and public concerns, reflecting the preoccupations of a repressed and conservative society.

The number of internet users in Iran now stands at about 36m out of a population of 75m. But internet access is confined mainly to those who can afford a computer.

The number of mobile phone users in contrast has risen to more than 56m people which means that coverage is extended beyond an elite to include the less-elevated members of society.

Many Iranians could not afford mobile phones until about five years ago, before which a sim card cost about $1,000.

Thanks to cheap rechargeable sim cards priced at IR100,000 ($9.50), mobile phones have now become part of people’s daily lives. Phones have thus become a powerful mechanism for quickly disseminating public reaction to political and economic developments.

The content of the text messages can be robust, trading in sexual and racial innuendo. Maryam, another enthusiast, says one of the best sarcastic messages she has received recently concerns the alleged senility of Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog which is responsible for supervising national elections.

The opposition considers Mr Jannati partly responsible for the allegedly rigged presidential elections of 2009 and has called on the 84-year-old hardline cleric to step down because of his age.

The texting found its protest function two years ago during that campaign as an easily accessible medium to organise anti-government campaigns before the disputed presidential election in 2009.

Not surprisingly, the government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad shut down the SMS communication networks for months to head off post-election unrest.

Although street rallies of the opposition Green Movement came to a halt following a brutal crackdown, analysts say the protests are continuing in other forms and that mobile telephony is playing a critical role.

Hamid-Reza Jalaeipour, a sociologist, says Iranian society prefers for the time being to steer clear of demonstrations which can be costly.

“But people do resist and protest in other ways such as texting political and non-political jokes or excessively watching [opposition] satellite channels,” Mr Jalaeipour says.

Is Democracy coming to Egypt after decades of dictatorship ? Will the Military keep its promise of handing over power ?

Nine months after a historical revolution in Egypt, millions of Egyptians went to the streets to vote for the Egyptian parliamentary elections. More than 4,000 candidates from 40 parties competed for the elections. Independent candidates were running for one-third of parliament's 498 seats, and two-thirds of seats were reserved for winning party lists. To make easier for the voters, "each candidate and party has a symbol to help people identify them on the ballot papers: a key, a butterfly, an apple, a mango, a knife, a fork, a screwdriver, a megaphone, an electric blender, a camera, a motorcycle, a car, a ship, a train, a firetruck, a light bulb, a chandelier, a lighthouse, a lantern, a sunflower, a gold bar, a basketball hoop, a football, a cactus, a guitar, a violin, a ruby." Wendell Steavenson's blog in the New Yorker is a great source of information.

Although multiple rounds of voting will continue for weeks, everyone knows who is the winner: The Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood re-branded itself as the Justice and Freedom Party ( following the Turkish model), and has fielded thousands of candidates. The central question on everyone's mind is whether the military will keep its promise of handing over power should the Islamist parties win ?

Egypt's bicameral parliament comprises two legislative chambers: The People's Assembly with 498 members, 488 directly elected while the remaining 10 are appointed by the President for five-year term. The Shura Council has 264-members with 174 directly elected and the 88 appointed by the President for six-year terms. The Council's legislative powers are limited, the Assembly has the last word on all legislative actions. Presidential elections are scheduled for in 2012.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ahmadinejad’s Battle with the Clerics

While the Obama administration and Congress are arguing over how to increase pressures on Iran, the factional battles within the ruling conservatives are pushing the country toward a major showdown between the clerics and anti-clerical technocratic forces who are determined to push out the clerics from the operational and institutional apparatus of the Islamic Republic. Unlike previous parliamentary elections, March 2012 parliamentary elections in Iran will have far reaching impact on the operations of the Islamic Republic, as well as its constitutional structures.

Despite the fact that many experts predicted that the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 as an important transition that will finally consolidate the “organized chaos” structure of the Islamic Republic’s political system into a more homogenous system controlled by the conservatives, Ahmadinejad has been anything but a “unifier.” His relationship with his once conservative supporters, including the Supreme Leader who steadfastly supported him during the disputed 2009 elections, has deteriorated to such a point that the Supreme Leader is now calling for the abolishing of the institution of the Presidency. But there is more to this conflict than a battle between two determined and ambitious individuals.

The disillusioning experience of clerical despotism since the revolution of 1979, corruption, gross mismanagement of Iran’s faltering economy, harsh suppression of dissent, and an even harsher version of criminal justice codified as Islamic Penal Code have provoked increasing alienation and anticlericalism in Iran. Ahmadinejad and his supporters, such as chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, have recognized this and are trying to capitalize on it by portraying themselves as nationalists, and directly challenging the clerical authorities by claiming to be in direct contact with the 12th Shia Imam, the Mahdi. In response, clerics have called Mashai the leader of a “current of deviancy ” endangering Islam and the people’s faith in their religious leaders.

The socio-political landscape of Iran today favors anti-clerical expressions, and if voters’ preferences are any indication, the number of clerics in the Iranian parliament has dropped from 148 clerics in 1984 to 42 in the current parliament. There is only one cleric in Ahmadinejad’s government today, the Minister of Intelligence Haydar Moslehi who was imposed on him by Khamenei in April 2011.

News of corrupt sons and relatives of prominent clerics of the regime is now covered regularly by Iranian media. A former speaker of parliament’s son-in-law has been implicated in a $2.8 billion bank embezzlement that has shocked the country. Rafsanjani’s family members have enriched themselves with front companies including a major airline. The Larijani brothers in the parliament and the Judiciary have benefitted from lucrative land deals and overseas business operations.

Although Ahmadinjead has not been able to keep corruption out of his administration, his vocal anti-corruption campaign against prominent clerics has gave him the upper hand in the coming parliamentary elections in March 2012. He has bolstered his position by threatening to reveal the corruption files of more than 300 officials.

It is rumored that during his conflict with Khamenei over the firing of the Intelligence minister in April 2011, Ahmadinejad aids took out volumes of files on corruption by various officials. In his speech in the parliament defending his Finance minister, Ahmadinejad threatened to reveal the files of parliamentarians who were pushing for the impeachment. Not surprisingly, the impeachment efforts were dropped !!

As the Economist put it, “while the Arab spring unfolds all round them, the (mostly Persian) citizens of Iran seem condemned to a lonely purgatory. Their 1979 revolution promised refuge from the Shah’s roller-coaster rule, but the Islamic Republic that replaced it is beset by an equally secular malaise. A soaring murder rate (the country’s top weightlifter was a recent victim), family breakdown and chronic levels of personal debt are standard topics of conversation in homes and on buses that ply the capital. The country’s most accomplished film-maker depicts a society that is built on deception and mired in strife. At a middle-class dinner party, a female guest talks casually of driving her car off a cliff.” But this lonely purgatory strengthens the Persian identity in Iran, driving it more towards an anticlerical perspective that is conditioned by decades of clerical mismanagement and corruption of religious identity. Obviously, Ahmadinejad and Mashai are counting on this to help him place their candidates in the next parliament.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Richard Norton & Emile Nakhleh

 Emile Nakhleh and Augustus R. Norton have written a very informative piece about the parliamentary elections in Egypt.    In  Islamists and democracy can mix,  they remind us of Muslim Brotherhood's pragmatic postures in previous parliaments,  and how Western powers should not fear their participation in these elections.  

Tom Friedman has a very good article on Syria,  and how important it is to have a democratic transition in that country.  It will be a disaster for Syria and  its neighbors if Syria explodes in a civil war. As he put,  so far we have had implosions in Libya, Tunsia, Egypt, and Yemen,  but in the case of Syria,  we may witness an explosion.

In the Arab World, It’s the Past vs. the Future.