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Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Gover... - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

The Other Regional Counter-Revolution: Iran's Role in the Shifting Political Landscape ... - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabia’s role as a counter-revolutionary force in the Middle East is widely understood and thoroughly documented. Historian Rosie Bsheer calls the Saudi kingdom “a counter-revolutionary state par excellence,” indeed one that was “consolidated as such.”[2] The Saudi monarchy has gone into counter-revolutionary overdrive since the onset of the Arab uprisings, scrambling to thwart popular movements and keep the region’s dictators in power — from Egypt and Bahrain to Yemen and Sudan (and beyond)
  • less understood is the counter-revolutionary role that Iran plays in the region’s politics
  • Iran as a “revolutionary” state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East
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  • The defining slogan of Lebanon’s uprising — “all of them means all of them” (kellon yani kellon) — called out the country’s entire ruling class, which includes Hezbollah. One pointed variation on the slogan was “All of them means all of them, and Nasrallah is one of them.”
  • Hezbollah’s attacks on the demonstrators were not only physical but rhetorical, framing the popular revolt as part of a foreign plot against Hezbollah and its regional allies in the “Axis of Resistance” — accusations that were “met with ridicule
  • Hezbollah is “now viewed by many demonstrators as part of the corrupt and morally bankrupt political establishment that must be replaced,”
  • The Lebanese writer and podcaster Joey Ayoub captures the Orwellian upside-down-ness of this ideological sleight of hand in his formulation “Hezbollah’s Resistance™ against resistance.”[33] Hezbollah, he shows, tries to have it both ways: on the one hand, defending the status quo and maintaining Lebanon’s “sectarian-capitalist structures,” while at the same time banking on its membership in the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” That is, posturing as a force for “resistance” — a zombie category amid Lebanon’s current political landscape — while attacking people engaged in actual resistance to the ruling system and undermining progressive social movements.
  • Tehran also intervened politically, maneuvering to keep Iraqi Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi in power in the face of demands from protesters that he step down.[66] (Mahdi eventually did resign, in late November 2019 — a major victory for the protest movement that Tehran endeavored to circumvent.)
  • The protests that erupted in Iraq in October 2019 were arguably the “biggest grassroots socio-political mobilization” in the country’s history.[37] At root, that mobilization was “about the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized demanding a new system,” notes the Iraqi sociologist Zahra Ali.[38] The Tishreen (October) uprising, as it came to be known, quickly spread to “cities and towns across central and southern Iraq”[39] and eventually “engulfed virtually the whole country (though they were most concentrated in Baghdad and the Shia-dominated southern governorates).”
  • the 2019 protests represented “the most serious challenge yet to the post-2003 political order,” the Iraq scholar Fanar Haddad observes
  • the movement “classified itself as a ‘revolution’ in terms of discourse, demands, and objectives.” “[E]ven if the current movement fails to achieve a political revolution,” Haddad argues, “and even if it is not a revolution, it is undoubtedly a revolutionary movement that has already achieved a cultural revolution.”
  • As Berman, Clarke, and Majed note: A movement demanding wholesale political change represented a real threat to the system of cronyism and rapaciousness that has enriched Iraq’s politicians over the last two decades, and these elites quickly mobilized an array of state and non-state security agents in an attempt to quash this challenge.[54] Mohammad al Basri, a figure affiliated with Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, expressed this mindset with rare bluntness: “Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood.”
  • Iran is deeply implicated in this counter-revolutionary repression — both indirectly, as the chief political ally and patron of the Iraqi government over the last 15 years, and directly, through the web of militias and paramilitary forces coordinated by the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which have opened fire on protesters
  • The parallels between the Iraqi and Lebanese revolts are manifold, starting with their timing: mass protests engulfed both countries starting in October 2019. Iraqi and Lebanese protesters were conscious of the connections between their struggles: “in the different protest squares people are shouting: ‘One revolution, from Baghdad to Beirut,’” notes Sami Adnan, an activist in Baghdad with the group Workers Against Sectarianism.[34] It’s also important to see the two upheavals in their wider regional context, as part of the “second wave” of Arab uprisings that also included momentous popular movements in Algeria and Sudan — or, as some argue, the uprisings that have been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010.
  • Iraqi protesters weren’t just rebelling against Iran’s local allies, but against Iran itself. Protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square smashed banners of Khamenei with their shoes.[67] Others put up a white banner with red Xs drawn through photographs of Khamenei and Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional policy.[68] “Images of Ayatollah Khomeini were removed from cities like Najaf, and pro-Iran political parties with prominent militias that were involved in the violence against the protesters had their branch offices attacked and burned,” Alkinani notes.[69] Most spectacularly, protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Karbala and Najaf amid chants of “Iran out of Iraq”.[70]
  • in the face of popular uprisings expressing emancipatory demands, Iran sides not with the protesters but with the ruling establishments they’re protesting against
  • Iran’s official narrative is that its role in Syria is all about fighting terrorism — specifically Al Qaeda and ISIS. But this is a classic case of reading history backwards. In fact, Iran rushed to the defense of the Assad regime as soon as the uprising began — when there was no Al Qaeda or ISIS presence whatsoever (the only jihadists were the ones the regime intentionally let out of its prisons as part of its jihadization strategy).[78] “From the very moment Assad faced popular protests, the Quds Force and Tehran were ready to do all they could to save the rule of the Baath Party,” notes Arash Azizi. Indeed, the Islamic Republic’s emissaries “were pushing on Assad to suppress the uprising mercilessly.”[79] And that is precisely what the regime did
  • The Islamic Republic’s “first reaction” to the demonstrations in Syria “was to open its own playbook and show Assad pages from the post-election protests in 2009,” he observes. “Decision-makers appear to have hoped that Assad would use enough brute force — arrests, beatings, and a limited amount of killings — to spread fear and quickly re-establish control.”
  • Iran helped flip the script and present the Syrian protests not as part of the wave of Arab uprisings — which it decidedly was — but as a foreign-inspired terrorist plot. This rhetorical framing was awkward for the Islamic Republic, which had voiced support for other Arab uprisings — those in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya. This put Tehran in a bind, praising the people of the region for rising up against the dictators that oppressed them but siding with the dictator in Syria.[84] Amin Saikal characterizes this Syrian exception as “an intervention that ran counter to Tehran’s declared rhetoric of supporting the downtrodden masses.”
  • the Islamic Republic intensified its support for the Assad regime in 2011 but its stalwart support for the dynastic dictatorship in Damascus goes back several decades — and while the Assad regime exponentially heightened its level of repression in 2011, violence has been at the very core of its rule throughout
  • “[t]he ‘revolutionary’ slogans of Iran’s ‘resistance’ are empty rhetoric that merely back whatever policies benefit the corrupt ruling elite in Tehran.”
  • the so-called Axis of Resistance, “ostensibly dedicated to furthering the emancipatory aspirations of the Arab and Muslim masses,” has in reality “played a critical role in containing regional revolution and preventing the emergence of a more democratically oriented regional order.”
  • The Islamic Republic “sounds more and more like those same sclerotic rulers it once railed against,” Daragahi observes — “suspicious of any new development that threatens the status quo it dominates.”
  • We need to retire zombie categories — like that of Iran as a “revolutionary” force in the Middle East, and the fiction of the “Axis of Resistance”
  • Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region.
Ed Webb

From Iraq to Lebanon, Iran Is Facing a Backlash - 0 views

  • Since the outbreak of the protests in early October, various security forces, including Iranian-backed Shiite militias, have killed more than 400 Iraqis and wounded some 20,000 others. Not only is there good reason to believe that much of the brutality has taken place at the behest of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, but the available evidence seems to confirm it. Aware of the anti-Iranian mood on the Iraqi streets—exemplified by protesters beating their shoes against portraits of Khamenei, just as they had done with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003—an unnerved Khamenei did not hesitate to intervene.
  • Suleimani called for a heavy-handed approach to deal with people on the streets, reportedly saying, “we in Iran know how to deal with protests,” an implicit reference to prior violent suppressions of peaceful demonstrations in Iran and, more aggressively, in Syria. The death toll in Iraq surpassed 100 the day after his departure, confirming the power of Iran’s word.
  • Tehran has invested heavily in hard and soft power tools to expand its influence in Iraq. This investment has eventually paid dividends. Some of the most prominent individuals in Iraq today—including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Amiri, former government officials and leaders of the most powerful Iranian-backed militias—were initially recruited by the IRGC in the early 1980s to spread the Islamic Revolution into Iraq
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  • Tehran planned to replicate its “Hezbollah model” in Iraq: nurturing militancy to gain control of territory, while encouraging these militants to take advantage of a newly created democracy as a way to penetrate political institutions. These efforts were bolstered by close cross-border clerical and personal relationships.
  • Leaked Iranian intelligence cables shed light on the scale and nature of Iran’s systematic and deep-rooted interference in Iraq, from its network of militant agents to its oversight of political institutions. The cables confirm what protesters already knew: Tehran has been committing enormous resources to imposing a command-and-control structure on Baghdad. Viewed within the broader context of worsening economic conditions and unresponsive, corrupt governance, protesters see Iran as the source of their grievances, fuelling anti-Iranian sentiment on the streets.
  • The protests in Lebanon, which have been uniquely secular despite the fragile sectarian composition of its population, are driven by charges of corruption and a desire to replace a rigid and unresponsive establishment—of which Hezbollah has become an intrinsic part.
  • A recent Asda’a BCW survey suggests that two-thirds of young Arabs consider Iran an enemy of their country.
  • The soaring levels of public discontent in Iran have been consistently overlooked by policymakers and commentators. The most recent protests in Iran, which were brutally repressed by the regime, caught many in the West off guard—but signs of widespread discontent have been in place for many years.
  • In 2009, there was a genuine belief that the Islamic Republic could be reformed, expressed primarily in the demand that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist presidential candidate, be installed as president. Now, the moderate pro-reform slogans that were heard on Iranian streets in 2009 have been replaced with more hostile chants, such as “Death to Khamenei” and “Mullahs have to get lost”—signaling a broader rejection of the entire Islamic revolutionary system.
  • as protesters in Iraq chant, “Iran out, Baghdad free,” in Iran they cry, “no to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran”—reflecting a growing desire in both countries for governments that put domestic interests above regional considerations
  • The IRGC and Iran’s Shiite proxies will not stand down without a fight. While the combination of pressure in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran may help weaken the regime in Tehran, it will probably be a deadly affair.
Ed Webb

As PMU gets involved in Iraqi protests, rumors about military coup spread - 0 views

  • With anti-Iranian sentiments growing, the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) have gotten involved in the protests, accusing the West and its regional and local allies of being behind the unrest.
  • A high-ranking security figure who attended the meeting with Soleimani told Al-Monitor that he advised the attendees to not show any weakness to the protesters, otherwise they would not stop taking to the streets. Referring to the Green Movement's protests in 2009, he said, “In Iran we know how to deal with protesters; we found ourselves in that situation before and succeeded in overcoming it.”
  • As both the protesters and the government are unwilling to reduce the tension and reach an agreement, it seems the situation in Iraq could escalate further in the next few weeks. This would trigger more violence and cause the country further damage, and open up an opportunity for the PMU to take the security dossier into its hands and deepen its influence in the Iraqi state.
Ed Webb

Is Iran expanding its influence in Iraq? - 0 views

  • Well-known Iranian activist and journalist Roohollah Zam was captured Oct. 14 in Iraq and deported to Iran. The details surrounding his arrest and deportation have raised questions about the magnitude of Iran’s influence in Iraq. BBC Persian, Saudi-funded Alarabiya and many other Persian and Arabic media outlets reported that Zam had been captured by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service on an arriving flight from France at the Baghdad airport and immediately handed to Iranian agents, who sent him to Tehran the same day.
  • the Iraqi National Intelligence Service has been widely known for being independent from Tehran's influence in Iraq
  • Al-Monitor has learned from a senior adviser for the Iraqi National Security Council that Zam was actually arrested by Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, a pro-Iranian Shiite military faction in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and handed to the Iranians at the Baghdad airport. The source said the Iraqi National Security Council had been in contact with Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iranians about the arrest and had facilitated the operation for Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq. Zam, who has been critical of Iran in his journalistic works, was kept in the airplane until all the passengers had disembarked and then transferred to another airplane for transport to Tehran. It would appear that Persian and Arabic media were incorrect in attributing the Zam operation to the Iraqi National Intelligence Service instead of the Iraqi National Security Council.
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  • The Zam arrest indicates that Iranian influence now extends beyond the pro-Iranian militias and parliamentary blocs and has established a foothold in the security organizations of the Iraqi government. It also seems that there is a clear conflict between bodies in the Iraqi government that are pro-Iran and others seeking to remain independent of Iranian influence.
  • Anti-Iran slogans were prevalent at the latest protests.
  • Iraqi President Barham Salih has expressed support for the protesters and criticized the forces that have targeted demonstrators and that have arrested journalists and activists. Salih described these forces — which he did not specifically identify — as “enemies of Iraq” and outlaws. He said the Iraqi government has not ordered its forces to shoot protesters
  • Reuters has quoted anonymous Iraqi security officers supporting the position of Salih and Sistani that the snipers belong to a militia close to Iran, working under the PMU umbrella but acting separately from the Iraqi government. The PMU consists of a number of military factions, including pro-Iranian militias, that are supposed to be under the command of the prime minister.
  • All this suggests that Iranian influence has penetrated deep inside the Iraqi government, which is still confronting challenges in the institutions established under the US occupation, including the army and the Counter-Terrorism Service. The dismissal of popular Counter-Terrorism Service commander Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi was one of the factors that ignited the protests. It appears what are supposed to be independent Iraqi bodies are being targeted and weakened by and in favor of Iranian proxies behind the scenes.
Ed Webb

Iranian protesters strike at the heart of the regime's revolutionary legitimacy - 0 views

  • If the unofficial reports of dead and wounded are anywhere near accurate, this might be the most deadly uprising since the 1979 revolution.
  • Iran’s turmoil is not driven by U.S. policies, nor is it merely some circumstantial spasm. The protests are the latest salvo in the Iranian struggle for accountable government that stretches back more than a century. And the fury and desperation of the Iranians on the streets this week strikes at the heart of the legitimacy of the revolutionary system.
  • After the monarchy was ousted, collective action — both spontaneous and opportunistic — was a primary mechanism for gaining advantage in the chaotic struggle for power.
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  • Most infamously, this led to a student-led seizure of the American embassy in Tehran 40 years ago this month, an action that toppled Iran’s liberal-leaning provisional government and permanently escalated tensions between Washington and Tehran.
  • Over the course of the past 40 years, Iran has routinely witnessed all varieties of rallies and riots; sit-ins by families of political prisoners; labor strikes by teachers, truckers, and factory workers; student demonstrations over everything from free speech to dormitory conditions and cafeteria food; soccer riots; and marches and sit-ins sparked by localized grievances. These manifestations have never been limited by geography or class.
  • The durability of the Islamic Republic is perhaps the most important legacy of 1979 revolution. None of the extraordinary developments within or around Iran over the course of the past 40 years has managed to significantly alter it — not the considerable evolution of Iranian society, nor the country’s steady reengagement with the world, nor the incremental reforms advanced by various factions within the establishment. In many respects, the structure of power in the Islamic Republic seems even more firmly embedded today than it was at any point since its precarious creation.
  • if war, internal upheaval, regional turmoil, natural disasters, crippling economic sanctions, and near-constant infighting among the political establishment have failed to weaken theocratic authority, perhaps any hope for change is simply futile
  • Iran’s “lost generation” is now approaching the age of the revolution itself, and the absence of a promising political or economic horizon has become painfully acute — and not simply for elites, but for the larger population of Iran’s post-revolutionary youth. These Iranians have benefited from the revolution’s dramatic expansion of educational opportunities and broader social welfare infrastructure. That legacy and the regime’s populist promises have shaped their expectations for a better life and sense of political entitlement to a functioning, responsive government.
  • The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center recorded more than 1,200 labor actions related to non-payment of wages between January 2017 and November 2018. The apex came in the final days of 2017 and early 2018, when what apparently began as a provincial political stunt quickly flared into a spasm of furious demonstrations. Within 48 hours, protests were convulsing in at least 80 cities, and the refrains of the demonstrators had catapulted from economic grievances to explicit denunciations of the system and the entirety of its leadership
  • It is clear from Tehran’s reaction to the latest eruption of protests that the leadership is unnerved, and for good reasons: the rapid progression from mundane, localized demands to radical rejection of the system as a whole; the transmission and coordination of protests via social media rather than mediated through the more manageable traditional press; the engagement of the government’s core constituency, the rising middle class; and the near-instantaneous dispersion from local to national.
  • In each of Iran’s most significant turning points over the past 150 years — the Tobacco Revolt, the Constitutional Revolution, the oil nationalization crisis, the 1979 revolution — financial pressures intensified and expedited the political challenge to the status quo.
  • Tehran today is facing an epic, interconnected set of crises: the crisis of unmet expectations, which feeds a crisis of legitimacy for a system whose waning ideological legitimacy has been supplanted by reliance on a more prosaic emphasis on state performance and living standards. Iran’s predicament is exacerbated by the uncertainties surrounding leadership succession, both with respect to the position of the supreme leader, who marked his 80th birthday earlier this year, and the legions of senior officials from the same generation who helped shape the post-revolutionary state from its inception.
  • Eventually, as happened 40 years ago in Iran, even the most well-fortified regime will shatter.
Ed Webb

Tehran strikes Kurdish opponents in Iraq as protests over Mahsa Amini's death convulse ... - 0 views

  • Iran unleashed a wave of missiles and drones on the headquarters of three separate Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan today, killing at least nine people and wounding 32 others, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq’s Ministry of Health said, adding that it expected the death toll to rise.
  • An estimated 10 million Kurds, mainly Sunnis, who make up around a tenth of Iran’s population have long been denied political and cultural rights. At least 1,500 Kurdish activists were arrested in the last days’ tumult. The Kurdish majority areas in the country’s northwest, alongside Balochistan in the southwest, are among the least developed. The demonstrations over Amini’s murder first erupted in Tehran but rapidly spread to Iranian Kurdistan.
  • Iraq’s Foreign Ministry and the KRG condemned Iran over its actions, as did the United States, Germany, the UK and the United Nations. “Attacks on opposition group’s through the Islamic Republic of Iran’s missiles, under any pretext, is an incorrect stance that promotes a misleading interpretation of the course of events,” the KRG stated in an oblique reference to Iran’s efforts to scapegoat the Iranian Kurds for the mass protests inside its own borders.
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  • Persian demonstrators are chanting “Kurdistan is the eyes and the light of Iran,” Mohtadi noted. “The Kurds, instead of being perceived as the usual suspects, are now hailed as being at the vanguard of popular protests. It’s unprecedented,”
  • Lawk Ghafuri, a KRG spokesman, told Al-Monitor that media reports suggesting that Iran had also targeted the PKK’s Iranian branch known as The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, had come under any Iranian fire were inaccurate. The party is mostly shunned by other Iranian Kurdish groups because of its links to the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union but has broader global reach than any other Kurdish group in the world. At least 12 Kurdish prisoners were executed in Iran in June alone, according to the Paris-based Kurdish Human Rights Network — one of them over alleged connections to the PKK.
  • The regime is under mounting pressure. They fear for many reasons that Kurdistan could be a point of departure for the liberation for the rest of Iran,” said Asso Hassan Zadeh, an Iranian Kurdish analyst and former deputy leader of the KDPI. “We have more connections with the rest of the world than other parts of Iran, and the role played by the Kurds in the current protests helps explain the reaction,”
Ed Webb

Here's the Movie That Egyptians Just Stormed the U.S. Embassy Over - Max Fisher - The A... - 1 views

  • protesters in Cairo are gathered at the U.S. embassy compound, where some have scaled the walls and pulled down the American flag
  • protesting an American film that insults Prophet Mohammed
  • The movie is called Mohammed Nabi al-Muslimin, or Mohammed, Prophet of the Muslims. If you've never heard of it, that's because the few clips circulating online are dubbed in Arabic. The above clip, which is allegedly from the film (I haven't been able to confirm this) is one of the only in English. That's also because it's allegedly produced by Florida Pastor Terry Jones (yes, the asshole who burnt the Koran despite Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' pleas) and two Egyptians living in the U.S., according to Egyptian press accounts. The Egyptians are allegedly Coptic, the Christian minority that makes up about a tenth of Egypt
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  • some members of Egypt's sometimes-raucous, often rumor-heavy media have been playing highly offensive clips from the highly offensive film, stressing its U.S. and Coptic connections
  • an American-Coptic plot
  • it appears to compare Mohammed to a goat and Muslims, according to one translation, to "child-lovers."
  • The movie, like Terry Jones himself and his earlier Koran-burning stunt, have received attention far beyond their reach, which would be modest if not for obsessively outraged media. And yet, here the movie is, not just offending apparently significant numbers of people, but producing real-world damage. That damage is apparently limited to one American flag (CNN at one point reported that it had been torn, rumors continue to circulate that it was burned) and presumably the evenings of the U.S. embassy staff, but the U.S.-Egypt relationship is tense enough, and Muslim-Coptic mistrust has already produced scant but horrifying violence against the Christian minority. That doesn't mean this incident will become anything more than a bizarre moment of cross-cultural misunderstanding (the protesters seem to assume that, as in Egypt, movies must secure the state's approval), but that it could go so far is yet another reminder of the tensions jsut beneath the surface in Egypt.
Ed Webb

Can Cairo stave off discontent over soaring prices? - 0 views

  • As pressure builds on Egyptian livelihoods following the devaluation of the pound and the slashing of fuel subsidies in November, some analysts are wondering if another uprising is looming on the horizon for Egypt. They warn that a new wave of unrest would be bloodier than the 2011 uprising and could spell disaster for the country, still reeling from the turbulent post-revolution transition.
  • Prices of basic food items, medicine, transport and housing have soared, prompting Egyptians to cut spending to make ends meet. The prices of some basic food items have shot up by up to 40%, according to CAPMAS, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics
  • protests broke out in at least four Egyptian provinces March 7. The demonstrations were triggered by bread shortages in some bakeries after Supply Minister Aly Moselhy announced a new bread subsidies system that he defended as “necessary to curb waste and corruption.” Hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and cut railways in Alexandria, Giza, Kafr El Sheikh and Minya in protest at the minister’s abrupt decision to reduce the share of bread allotted to holders of paper ration cards to 500 loaves per bakery a day from the original 1,000 and 4,000 loaves (depending on the number of consumers in the bakery’s vicinity.)
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  • The decision to implement the new system was quickly reversed, however, over fears that the simmering bread crisis could provoke wider tumult. Seeking to allay citizens’ concerns that the move was a prelude to a reduction in their quotas of subsidized bread, Moselhy held a televised press conference on the day of the protests, apologizing to “all citizens who had not received bread” and asserting that their quotas would remain untouched. Promising to resolve the crisis within 48 hours, he blamed bakery owners for the crisis, hinting they were making profits off the subsidized flour they received from the government.
  • In the last six years, government spending on food and fuel subsidies has represented more than a quarter of annual government expenditure (more than the country spends on education and health services combined)
  • a thriving black market for the subsidized wheat, which is often resold by the bakeries at a profit rather than turned into bread
  • “The patience of Egyptians is wearing thin,” Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa told Al-Monitor. “Despite the economic pressures they are facing, citizens have so far restrained themselves from protesting because they are weary after two revolutions. They also fear further turmoil as they see the civil wars in some of the neighboring Arab countries. But if people are hungry and if their basic needs are not met, there is likely to be another rebellion,” he warned, adding that if that happens, “It would be messy and bloody.”
  • Tensions have been simmering since the pound’s depreciation — a key requirement by the International Monetary Fund for Egypt to secure a $12 billion loan needed to finance the country’s budget deficit and shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves. Economists and analysts have lauded the flotation as “a much-needed reform that would restore investors’ confidence in the economy, helping foster growth and job creation.”
  • shrinking middle class was already struggling with flat wages, high inflation and mounting unemployment
  • Sisi’s approval ratings, which according to a poll conducted in mid-December 2016 by Baseera (Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research) fell by 50% during his second year in office
  • the weak currency is helping the economy by boosting exports and luring back tourists. A 25% increase in non-petroleum exports in January (compared with the same month last year), along with new loans from the IMF and other sources, is beefing up foreign currency reserves, according to The Economist. The weaker currency is also proving to be a blessing in disguise for local manufacturers as more consumers are opting to purchase local products, which are more affordable than their imported alternatives
  • The real test will be the government’s ability to stave off unrest that could undermine the progress made so far. Nafaa said it is possible to quell the rising anger over soaring prices “through more equitable distribution of wealth, better communication of government policies, transparency and accountability.”
  • “The government must also ease the crackdown on dissent, release detainees who have not committed terror crimes and bring more youths on board,”
Ed Webb

After Soleimani | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The Trump administration assassinated Soleimani to compel change in Iran’s behavior and to throw a wrench in the gears of Iran’s expansive regional influence. Twelve months is too short a period to measure its impact in the realms of longstanding policy and force posture. Outside of some signs of disunity among some of Iraq’s Shiite militias, not much has changed. The impact of Soleimani’s death is therefore impossible to accurately gauge. What we can say is that his death unleashed an emotional and political wave that has surged from his legacy. It is driven almost entirely by his benefactors in Tehran and clients across the region and it is fueled by their desire to shape the memory of the man, myth and legend they helped create.
  • To some, his death was small justice, an emphatic ending to the life of a man who served as the backbone of Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people and facilitated the empowerment of corrupt, coercive militias in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. To others, particularly his supporters and patrons, Soleimani was a hero: a leader in the war against ISIS and a champion of the Shiite Muslim minority.
  • To appreciate the complexity threaded throughout varying perceptions of Soleimani, it’s essential to understand what he symbolizes to Iran, to his military, and to the foreign groups he worked so closely with.
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  • The 1979 revolution was fueled by both desperate frustration and an abundance of hope. Across the various ideologies and sentiments that shaped the revolutionary movement, there was a common desire to break Iran’s subservience to foreign powers. This desire is often described as anti-Americanism or even anti-imperialism, and while that accurately reflects the language used by the revolutionaries at the time, it is also a reductive view.
  • under the stewardship of Khomeini, the architect of Iran’s theocracy and first supreme leader, justice was perceived much more broadly. It was primarily about two things: establishing an Islamic system at home and overturning the U.S. dominated status quo in the region, with an emphasis on countering Israel.
  • Prior to the revolution, the Shah had situated Iran as a bulwark to the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Iran’s regional relations were driven by Cold War considerations and by the Shah’s desire to transform Iran into the predominant power in the Persian Gulf.
  • The 1953 coup d’etat was just one in a string of indignities that had been eroding the Iranian national character since the 18th century. It also marked the United States’ entrance into the Middle East, and the beginning of the love-hate relationship between Washington and Tehran.
  • When war came to Iran, IRGC units were among the first to deploy. With little training and spare resources, their response was sporadic and innovative.What they lacked in capabilities and training, they compensated with zeal and fearlessness. Eventually the IRGC began to use the tactic of “human wave” assaults that showcased those qualities on the battlefield. IRGC forces would charge en masse into Iraqi defenses, overwhelming the defenders by being able to absorb mass casualties without relenting the advance. Iraqis fired until they ran out of ammunition and then were forced to retreat. The IRGC used this tactic to impressive effect, winning battle after battle and eventually forcing a full-scale Iraqi retreat in the summer of 1982
  • Whereas much of the region and foreign powers were supporting Iraq, Iran was virtually alone in fighting the war, with only Syria providing it any meaningful political support. The war ended as a stalemate in 1988. Iran saw itself as up against the world and it could not overcome the vast amount of support buttressing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
  • as Khamenei’s main support base, the IRGC grew into a formidable political actor within Iran, and the primary strategic arm of the regime. Many of the young men who joined the IRGC during the war also rose to become commanders and officers with it. This included Soleimani, who became a rising star in the IRGC’s Quds Force division, which was responsible for all foreign activities and operations
  • the IRGC shot down a passenger jet, killing everyone on board. The narrative of the assassination was instantly overtaken by the grief and shock of the everyday Iranians who struggled to make sense of a preventable tragedy. Iran’s leaders attempted to skirt blame and cover up the IRGC’s catastrophic error. Family members who spoke out and demanded answers were cruelly silenced. Soleimani’s image was everywhere, yet justice was nowhere to be seen.
  • Iran knew that both Israel and the United States had to factor in potential attacks by Hezbollah were they ever to strike Iran, and Syria was the lynchpin for Iran’s sustained influence on the Lebanese organization. Syria was therefore key to Iran’s larger deterrence strategy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel
  • The irony of Soleimani’s successes in Syria and Iraq is that they prepared the ground for the rise of ISIS. The Islamic State’s explosion into Iraq should have been recognized as the product of Soleimani’s myopic view of Iraq and Syria as simply battlegrounds for Iran’s advancement. Yet, Soleimani and the IRGC seized the moment and self-consciously rebranded their enterprise. Iran was the first outside state to support Iraq’s war against ISIS, and Soleimani let the whole world know of his role. What appeared on social media as authentic and spontaneous pictures of Soleimani on the frontlines with Iraqi troops and commanders, was actually a deliberate effort by the IRGC to recast Soleimani’s image. He was no longer a shadow commander, but a MacArthur-esque figure almost single-handedly fighting the dark forces of ISIS. A national hero in Iran, and the savior of Iraq and Syria.
  • He was killed because he was important. He was killed because Iran was important.
  • The IRGC increased their investment in Soleimani after his death, using his persona to rebrand themselves and the regime to a new generation. Soleimani became the archetype of the Islamic Republic’s self-conception. His figure symbolizes how the regime desires to be seen by the Iranian people and by the world. Soleimani has been cast as brave, selfless and humble; a warrior, a believer and a patriot. His is a transnational community that connects Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen with Iran. He justifies Iran’s regional activities by casting them as an essential part of Iranian patriotism and national identity. To be Iranian in the narrative promoted by the regime is to be part of a larger Islamic enterprise. Not the umma or global Islamic community, but rather, the resistance: the militant groups and personalities who share the Islamic Republic’s enemies and its political aspirations.
  • mythologizing of Soleimani has not only been aspirational, it has also been driven by concerns within the IRGC that the regime is losing support and legitimacy among the Iranian people. This is particularly true for the younger generations, which know nothing of the Shah’s brutality, the sense of injustice that enveloped Iran during its war with Iraq, or the hope that accompanied President Khatami’s reformist platform in the 1990s. Instead, what they know is Iran’s 21st century experience, which has been one of near-constant antagonism and increasing privation.
  • the explosion of protests across Iran in 2018 and 2019. Iran has experienced episodic protest movements in the past, but these protests were different
  • The IRGC confronted the protests head-on and with unrelenting brutality. Using machine guns, tanks, and direct fire to murder Iranian youths in the streets and hunt them down in alleyways.
  • There was indeed something personal about Soleimani’s death. No matter what he represented, he was an Iranian. That he was singled out and murdered by a foreign power sat uncomfortably with most of his compatriots, regardless of their politics
  • It wasn’t until the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq that Iran was provided an opportunity to change its regional position. Soleimani, who had by then become the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, saw opportunity and peril in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Iran’s allies benefited from the end of the Baathist regime, but a longstanding U.S. military presence in Iraq was also a threat to Iran. Soleimani championed a policy that sought to exploit both the political landscape and the shadows of the new Iraqi frontier. He encouraged political participation of Iran’s Shiite allies while also developing an insurgent network that waged war against the U.S. and coalition forces, killing or maiming hundreds of servicemembers in the process. The effort was largely effective. When U.S. forces departed Iraq in late 2011, Soleimani’s clients were among the most powerful political actors in Iraq and Iran was the most influential outside power in the country.
  • Just as Apple carried on without Steve Jobs, the IRGC will retain the ability to manage its proxies and exert influence beyond Iran’s borders without Soleimani at the helm. The law of inertia also applies. Unless the IRGC and its proxies are challenged directly, momentum will carry them forward.
  • Both Lebanon and Iraq have been hit by intense protest movements over the last year, with much of the anger of the younger generations being aimed at the political elite and their foreign backers. Even though Iran’s influence has helped empower Shiite elites in each country, an increasing number of younger Shiites appear to have soured on Iran and blame it for their country’s morass. This is especially true in Iraq, where young Shiites make up the vast majority of the protest movement that has railed against government corruption and the political power of Iran-backed militias
  • while Soleimani helped expand Iranian influence in the region, that influence rests on shaky ground. The height of Iran’s influence — at least as presently expressed through the IRGC — has probably passed.
Ed Webb

Ex-Hezbollah leader slams Iran Supreme Leader for Iraq, Lebanon protest deaths - Middle... - 0 views

  • Former Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, a key ally of Iran, criticised Iran’s supreme leader Sunday for being behind corruption in Lebanon and Iraq, where anti-government and corruption protests are ongoing.Subhi al-Tufayli, speaking to Arab and social media, delivered remarks on recent mass protests held in Lebanon and Iraq.
  • In 1988, Al-Tufayli, one of the founding members of Hezbollah, who is a religious scholar, survived an assassination attempt, which is suspected to have been conducted by Israel and the USHezbollah and he diverged paths after the former took part in 1992 general elections of Lebanon.
  • Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since October 17 by a wave of rallies against the ruling elite that led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister on October  29.
Ed Webb

With Lebanon making fragile progress, now is the wrong time to pull US assistance - 0 views

  • The proxies of Iran and Syria in Lebanon, after years of solidarity, show tentative signs of diverging. With even Shia protesters on the street, and with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s calls to disperse unheeded, Hezbollah’s façade of invincibility is showing cracks. The Lebanese army and security forces have responded with admirable courage, restraint, and independence in defying calls by Hezbollah leaders and private pleas from the presidential palace to clear the streets. In contrast with unprecedented and overt criticism of Hezbollah, public support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is soaring.
  • rather than reinforcing them, the White House, in an astonishingly ill-timed decision, suspended $105 million in U.S. security assistance to the very institutions that have defied Hezbollah’s demands to end the protests
  • some of Syria’s traditional allies in Lebanon, including Bashar al-Assad’s childhood friend Sleiman Franjieh, have remained conspicuously silent or even sent relatives to join the demonstrations
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  • LAF pride and capabilities, both linked to years of sustained U.S. support, endanger Hezbollah’s “resistance” narrative.
  • For years, Iranian and Syrian interests and tactics in Lebanon have largely coincided: They seek to discredit and divide the so-called “March 14” movement that emerged against Damascus and Tehran in the aftermath of the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005; “resist” U.S. and French efforts to bolster’s Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence; and use Lebanon to threaten Israel.
  • Hezbollah has expanded its influence in, and in some cases control over, Lebanon’s domestic institutions via its 2006 memorandum of understanding with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party.
  • Since 2006, Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassile, have been reliable fronts for Hezbollah’s and thus Iran’s interests in Lebanon
  • gives both Damascus and Tehran the gift of a unifying message to the Lebanese about America’s unreliability as a partner.
  • The value of Hezbollah’s FPM-provided Christian veneer has declined precipitously, with Bassile now a favorite target of the protesters as a symbol of everything that ails Lebanon
  • it would not be the first time that regional actors used Lebanon as the theater for their competition
  • Two Lebanese politicians speculated about a connection to what is happening in the Alawite regions of Syria, where Bashar al-Assad may view Iranian influence and Shia proselytizing as a threat to his secular, Alawite base
  • Assad, who would have considered Hezbollah a junior partner during the pre-2005 Syrian occupation of Lebanon, may also resent the current strength and presence of Hezbollah in Syria: Who’s the junior partner now? How much control can Assad exert over Hezbollah inside Syria? Given that Assad still needs Iran’s and Hezbollah’s help in Syria, he can, according to this theory, use Lebanon to send a message.
  • The presumed candidacy of Lebanese Army Commander Joseph Aoun, with his enhanced credibility for independence, would be more aligned with the sentiments of the street. But the Lebanese president is elected by parliament, not the people. While the current Lebanese parliament reflects the very establishment that the protesters wish to topple, one hopes that the members of parliament will think about protesters’ views if they are put in a position as to whether to choose between Damascus, Tehran, or their own Lebanese constituents.
  • There’s an argument for the United States maintaining a low profile, to undercut Nasrallah’s predictable arguments about a U.S. conspiracy, and a guiding principle should always be “do no harm” when trends emerge that are clearly in U.S. interests. Instead, the White House suspension of security assistance at this of all times, gives Damascus’ and Tehran’s Lebanese allies a message around which to re-unite: that the United States is an unreliable partner and that the LAF will not get needed assistance, meaning Hezbollah’s arsenal remains essential to Lebanon’s security. American officials who are seeking to promote U.S. interests in Lebanon face a strange set of bedfellows — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and apparently the White House — and face the difficult task of pushing back against all four.
Ed Webb

Opinion | The Iran-USA World Cup match is a huge opportunity for Iran's protests - The ... - 0 views

  • The people of Iran are months into nationwide protests demanding fundamental change to the way their country is ruled. At its heart, what’s happening in Iran is an equality movement. Protesters’ goals are in line with U.S. ideals and liberal values generally, and their success would be a major blow to the worldwide authoritarian wave of recent years. This moment deserves attention, and no global stage is bigger than the World Cup. Billions will be watching. The longer Iran stays in, the more recognition its people and their movement will receive.
  • Should this movement in Iran dissipate without real alterations to the ruling system, the cost for participants will be tragic. At least 450 people, including dozens of children, have already been killed, and thousands more have been arrested and imprisoned. Some protesters have already been sentenced to death for simply exercising their universal right to peacefully assemble.
  • Those calling on social media for a boycott of Iran’s team say the players haven’t been sufficiently supportive of the protests and that they are owned and operated by the regime. But the team’s words and actions in Qatar tell a different story. The best thing Iranians — and the free world — can do is wish this team success.
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  • so much has changed in both countries and the world, but the enmity between the two governments remains frozen in time, and Americans’ understanding of Iran and its people has progressed very little.
Ed Webb

Sisi's final act: Six years on, and Egypt remains unbowed | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • For three weeks Sisi’s image has been trashed by an insider turned whistleblower whose videos from self-exile in Spain have gripped and paralysed Egypt in turn. 
  • Mohamed Ali is, by his own admission, no hero. One of only 10 contractors the army uses, he is corrupt. He also only left Egypt with his family and fortune because his bills had not been paid. Ali is no human rights campaigner. 
  • Egypt’s new folk hero likes fast cars, acting, film producing, real estate developing.
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  • when he talks he talks the language of the street and the street listens to him. That's Sisi's problem.  
  • Sisi  was a "failed man", a "disgrace", a "midget" who uses make up and hitches his trousers up too high, Ali told Egypt. Sisi was a con man who lectured you on the need to tighten your belt while building palaces for his wife Intissar.
  • Ali listed them: a luxury house in Hilmiya ($6m), a presidential residence in Alexandria ($15m), a palace in the new administrative capital, and another one in the new Alamein city west of Alexandria.
  • A report published by the World Bank in April calculated that "some 60 percent of Egypt’s population is either poor or vulnerable". 
  • Most Egyptians have seen their real incomes fall, while Egypt under its IMF-backed austerity programme is racking up huge foreign debts. It was $43bn during Morsi’s presidency. It is $106bn now. Seventy per cent of taxes now goes into paying these debts off. Internal debt is over 5 trillion Egyptian pounds ($306bn).
  • Every Egyptian remembers the lectures Sisi gave them on the need to tighten their belts. When the IMF forced the state to reduce subsidies, Sisi’s response was: "I know that the Egyptian people can endure more... We must do it. And you’ll have to pay; you’ll have to pay," Sisi said in one unscripted rant a year into his presidency.
  • "Now you say we are very poor, we must be hungry. Do you get hungry? You spend billions that are spilt on the ground. Your men squander millions. I am not telling a secret. You are a bunch of thieves."
  • Ali’s YouTube channel has done more in three weeks to destroy Sisi’s image than the Brotherhood, liberals and leftists, now all crushed as active political forces in Egypt, have done in six years of political protest. 
  • To their credit the opposition did not crumble, paying for their stand with their lives and their freedom. To their shame the Egyptian people did not listen.
  • Sisi thinks he can ride this out, as he has done challenges in the past. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested since last Friday.
  • The initial demonstration in Tahrir Square in January 2011 was smaller than the ones that broke out in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria last Friday. They called for reform, not the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Last Friday, Sisi’s portrait was torn down. “Say it, don’t be afraid, Sisi has to leave!” they shouted on day one of this fresh revolt. 
  • the "opposition" is everybody - ordinary Egyptians, disaffected junior ranks in the army, Mubarak era businessmen. This is a wide coalition of forces. Once again Egypt has been reunited by a tyrant
  • unlike 2013, Sisi’s bankers  - Saudi Arabia and the UAE - have run out of cash for Egypt. Today each has its own problems and foreign interventions which are all turning sour - Yemen and Libya.
  • The steam is running out of the counter-revolution.
  • popular protest is re-emerging as a driver for change across the region. We have seen it topple dictators in Sudan and Algeria. Both have learned the lessons of failed coups in the past and have so far managed the transition without surrendering the fruits of revolution to the army. This, too, has an effect on events in Egypt.
Ed Webb

Ten Years After the Arab Spring, Tyranny Lingers On | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The initial impulse behind the uprisings, the very impulse that led Bouazizi to self-immolation, lay in the fact that humiliated peoples, suffering from economic dislocation, political repression, and denial of basic human rights had grown impatient with their status as subjects and had risen, demanding their rights as citizens. Wealth redistribution, social justice, and good governance were as equal for those demonstrating en masse as regaining their lost karama — their dignity
  • Most of the political and intellectual debates that animated the early stages of the uprisings had their roots in the reformist movements and the intellectual ferments and the drive to modernize Arab societies that began in the first half of the 19th century
  • a stagnant economy remains the greatest threat to Tunisia’s stability and a major source of Tunisians’ discontent. Tunisia’s robust civil society made it possible, even during periods of political and security tensions, to conduct executive, legislative, and municipal elections democratically, although elected officials still display some of the discredited habits of the ancien régime. Ennahda, the main Islamist movement, proved adept at political transformation when its founder Rachid Ghannouchi declared the moderate Islamist party was abandoning political Islam. Ten years on, Tunisians are openly critical of their government’s failure to address their economic needs, forcing the youth either to immigrate to Europe or to join radical Islamists abroad. Ten years after Mohamed Bouazizi’s fiery end, disillusionment is the national mood.
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  • the repressive regimes shared one thing in common: All reacted with brute force to peaceful calls for empowerment and accountability.
  • Some of them, particularly those ruling heterogeneous states, brazenly weaponized religion, regionalism, sectarianism, and tribal and ethnic cleavages in their societies to divide and crush the uprisings
  • The Arab uprisings began as spontaneous protest movements led first by middle-class students and professionals who were then joined by workers and other social groups. The Islamists, skeptical at first, joined later. In a political landscape bereft of organized liberal and secular mass movements or political parties, with only defunct old Arab nationalists and leftists, it was a question of time before the Islamists would control the political square and hijack the uprisings.
  • The political, social, and cultural maladies afflicting Arab societies that were supposed to be swept away by the young activists have proven to be immovable
  • That does not mean that the spirit and the yearning for empowerment that animated the early phase of the uprisings have been irrevocably defeated. In recent years we have seen the populations in majority Arab states like Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon erupt in fury over their ossified, repressive, and venal regimes. In Sudan, the protests forced the military to oust Omar al-Bashir, their tormentor for 30 years. In Algeria, the mass protest forced the stagnant regime to end the 20-year reign of the ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In both countries we have seen a glimpse of the hope and enthusiasm that animated those who went to the streets in 2011. So far the positive changes in Sudan and Algeria are not fundamental, but at least the protests have shaken two stagnant and moribund regimes.
  • The protests that rocked Iraq and Lebanon in 2019 also brought to the fore a new, emergent reality. Despite or partly because of the uprisings, the Middle East is less Arab today than at any time in a century. Iran is the dominant force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Israel owns the skies over Syria, while Iran, Turkey, and Russia carve up zones of control and influence on the ground. In Iraq, Turkey has established military bases, and Iran pulls the strings of many militias. In Libya, Russia and Turkey continue to play their cynical proxy wars. In this “wounded time” many Arabs are living in the shadows of their more powerful neighbors.
  • The uprisings faced not only entrenched ruling classes but also deep-rooted patriarchy and religious and cultural traditions that are not amenable to swift and significant social and cultural change.
Ed Webb

'All of them means all of them': Who are Lebanon's political elite? | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • From Tripoli to Tyre, and Beirut to Baalbek, Lebanese have been chanting the same slogan: “All of them means all of them.” Since its independence, Lebanon has been ruled by a clique of politicians and political families who have used sectarianism, corruption and clientelism to cling to power and amass incredible wealth. Now protesters are calling for them all to be removed, from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with nervous responses from the leaders themselves. Middle East Eye takes a quick look at some of the more prominent figures and parties in the protesters’ sights.
  • The Hariri family was once the darling of Saudi Arabia, but apparently no longer
  • Aoun is one of Lebanon’s many leaders who played an active and violent part in the country’s 1975-90 civil war. As head of the army in the war’s latter years, Aoun fought bitter conflicts with the occupying Syrian military and the Lebanese Forces paramilitary headed by his rival, Samir Geagea. In 1989, Aoun found himself besieged in the presidential palace in Baabda, where he now resides as president, and fled Syrian troops to the French embassy, which granted him exile.
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  • The Amal Movement was founded in 1974 by Lebanese-Iranian cleric Musa Sadr to represent Lebanon’s Shia, who had long been marginalised as one of the country’s poorest sections of society. Though originally notable for its efforts to pull Shia Lebanese out of poverty, during the civil war it became one of the country’s most effective militias and controlled large parts of the south.
  • Amal is a close ally of fellow Shia party Hezbollah, and their politicians have run on the same list in elections. However, they occasionally diverge in opinion.
  • Birthed from the resistance movement that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has since become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. Iran-backed and Syria-allied, the movement was the only militia to keep its arms at the end of the civil war, as it waged a deadly guerilla war against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon.
  • Though Israel was forced out in 2000, Hezbollah’s military capabilities have only increased, and its war against Israel in 2006 and ongoing involvement in the Syrian conflict have divided opinion among the Lebanese. The movement and its allies did well at the ballot box in 2018 and Hezbollah now has two ministers in the cabinet.
  • Hassan Nasrallah lives in hiding due to the constant fear of Israeli assassination.
  • Known as “al-Hakim” (the doctor), Geagea is a medically trained warlord-turned-politician. During the 1975-90 civil war, Geagea was one of the most notorious militia leaders, heading the Christian Lebanese Forces. He was a close ally of Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated days before being sworn into the presidency in 1982 with Israeli support
  • he was convicted of involvement in a number of assassinations and attempted murders in widely condemned trials. Geagea was kept in a solitary windowless cell for 11 years until his pardon in 2005 following the Syrian pullout
  • The Lebanese Forces, which is an offshoot of the right-wing Kataeb party, is the second-largest Christian party after the FPM. Its three ministers resigned early in the protest movement, and the party has now attempted to join the demonstrators and help block roads, though many protesters have rejected its overtures.
  • Feudal lord and socialist, advocate of de-sectarianising Lebanese politics but also a fierce defender of his Druze sect, Jumblatt is a difficult man to pin down. Often described as Lebanon’s kingmaker, his allegiances have swung several times, a trick that may have helped keep him alive.
  • The Kataeb party has fallen a long way since its civil war heyday. Also known as the Phalangists, the party used to be the dominant Christian party, and was inspired by its founder Pierre Gemayel’s trips to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Franco’s fascist party in Spain. The Gemayel family has suffered a series of assassinations, most notably president elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982. Bashir’s brother Amin then went on to claim the presidency, and Amin’s son Sami is now heading the party. In recent years however the Kataeb party has struggled to attract votes from its offshoot the Lebanese Forces and the FPM
Ed Webb

Iraqis rise up against 16 years of 'made in the USA' corruption | openDemocracy - 1 views

  • Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi has announced he will resign, and Sweden has opened an investigation against Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari, who is a Swedish citizen, for crimes against humanity.
  • According to Al Jazeera, “protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.” Only 36% of the adult population of Iraq have jobs, and despite the gutting of the public sector under US occupation, its tattered remnants still employ more people than the private sector, which fared even worse under the violence and chaos of the US's militarized shock doctrine.
  • while Iran has gained enormous influence and is one of the targets of the protests, most of the people ruling Iraq today are still the former exiles that the US flew in with its occupation forces in 2003, “coming to Iraq with empty pockets to fill” as a taxi-driver in Baghdad told a Western reporter at the time.
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  • The corruption of both US and Iraqi officials during the US occupation is well documented. UN Security Council resolution 1483 established a $20 billion Development Fund for Iraq using previously seized Iraqi assets, money left in the UN’s “oil for food” program and new Iraqi oil revenues. An audit by KPMG and a special inspector general found that a huge proportion of that money was stolen or embezzled by US and Iraqi officials.
  • Out of 198 contracts reviewed by the inspector general, only 44 had documentation to confirm the work was done.
  • The US Congress also budgeted $18.4 billion for reconstruction in Iraq in 2003, but apart from $3.4 billion diverted to "security," less than $1 billion of it was ever disbursed. Many Americans believe US oil companies have made out like bandits in Iraq, but that’s not true either. The plans that Western oil companies drew up with Vice President Cheney in 2001 had that intent, but a law to grant Western oil companies lucrative “production sharing agreements” (PSAs) worth tens of billions per year was exposed as a smash and grab raid and the Iraqi National Assembly refused to pass it.
  • Ayad Allawi and the INA were the instrument for the CIA’s hopelessly bungled military coup in Iraq in 1996. The Iraqi government followed every detail of the plot on a closed-circuit radio handed over by one of the conspirators and arrested all the CIA’s agents inside Iraq on the eve of the coup. It executed thirty military officers and jailed a hundred more, leaving the CIA with no human intelligence from inside Iraq.
  • Allawi and the INA are still involved in the horse-trading for senior positions after every election, despite never getting more than 8% of the votes - and only 6% in 2018.
  • The cost of rebuilding Mosul, Fallujah and other cities and towns is conservatively estimated at $88 billion. But despite $80 billion per year in oil exports and a federal budget of over $100 billion, the Iraqi government has allocated no money at all for reconstruction. Foreign, mostly wealthy Arab countries, have pledged $30 billion, including just $3 billion from the US, but very little of that has been, or may ever be, delivered.
Jim Franklin

Al Jazeera English - Middle East - Football protests continue in Egypt - 0 views

  • The protest on Friday follows Cairo's decision to recall its ambassador to Algeria, accusing Algerian fans of thuggery during the match in Sudan on Wednesday - which Algeria won 1-0 to qualify for next year's World Cup.
  • The interior mnistry warned Egyptians against further protests after 11 police officers and 24 demonstrators were injured in riots near the embassy at dawn on Friday.
  • Such demonstrations are almost rare in Cairo.
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  • About 150 demonstrators gathered on Friday in the Zamalek neighbourhood, where many embassies are located.
Ed Webb

Where and why food prices lead to social upheaval - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Unlike other commodities, global food prices have followed a different trajectory. Although down from near-historic highs in 2007-2008 and 2011, they are still higher than at any point in the previous three decades.
  • The economic effects of higher food prices are clear: Since 2007, higher prices have put a brake on two decades of steady process in reducing world hunger. But the spikes in food prices over the past decade have also thrust food issues back onto the security agenda, particularly after the events of the Arab Spring. High food prices were one of the factors pushing people into the streets during the regionwide political turmoil that began in late 2010. Similar dynamics were at play in 2007-2008, when near-record prices led to food-related protests and riots in 48 countries.
  • Unlike energy and electronics, demand for basic foodstuffs is income-inelastic: Whether I have adequate income has no effect on my need for sustenance. Not surprisingly, 97 percent of the post-2007 ‘food riots’ identified by a team at the New England Complex Systems Institute occurred in Africa and Asia, which are home to more than 92 percent of the world’s poor and chronically food-insecure. Careful empirical work bears out this conventional wisdom: High global food prices are more destabilizing in low-income countries, where per capita incomes are lower.
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  • Politics might affect the relationship between food prices and protest through two channels. The first is the extent to which governments shield urban consumers from high global prices. Governments in developing countries often subsidize food purchases, especially those of urban dwellers, shifting welfare from rural producers to urban consumers. But this observation raises the second-order question of the conditions under which governments will subsidize urban consumers. We hypothesized that autocratic governments were more likely to shield urban consumers. While urban dwellers can riot in the absence of elections, rural dwellers have fewer channels through which they can voice grievances.
  • democracies and anocracies did enact more pro-rural food policy. In particular, democracies in Africa and Asia enact policies that favor urban areas less and rural areas more. These take the form of enhancing farmer incomes and raising consumer prices, which often causes protests and rioting. Lessening urban bias in food policy may be good pro-poor policy, given the continued concentration of poverty in rural areas, but it carries political risks.
  • the Arab Spring reflects some of the risks autocratic leaders face when attempting to insulate urban consumers from global market prices. Consumer subsidies have long been part of the “authoritarian bargain” between the state and citizens in the Middle East and North Africa, and attempts to withdraw them have been met with protest before: Egypt’s bread intifada, which erupted over an attempt to reform food subsidies, killed 800 in 1977. These subsidies explicitly encouraged citizens across the region to evaluate their governments’ effectiveness in terms of their ability to maintain low consumer prices — prices that, given these countries’ dependence on food imports, those governments ultimately could not control
  • Our findings point to the difficult tradeoffs facing governments in developing countries as they attempt to pursue two different definitions of food security simultaneously: food security as an element of human security, and food security as a means of ensuring government survival and quelling urban unrest. These tradeoffs appear to be particularly acute for developing democracies.
Ed Webb

Lawsuit over Washington violence looms over US-Turkey relations - 0 views

  • Yasa found himself semi-conscious in hospital along with nine other protesters after Erdogan’s bodyguards and thugs for hire set upon them. One yelled “Die Kurd” as they kicked and struck the demonstrators with discernible glee. Lucy Usoyan, a young Yazidi woman who was repeatedly hit on the head, fell unconscious, despite Yasa’s best efforts to shield her. The images captured on video and later subjected to forensic scrutiny leave no doubt as to what had transpired. “I didn’t know if I would ever see my children again,” Yasa said. “I thought I was dying.”
  • In May, Yasa and a dozen and a half fellow victims filed a civil action lawsuit in US federal court against Turkey. They are demanding at least $300 million in compensation on multiple counts ranging from bodily harm to psychological trauma — including, in at least one case, damage to conjugal relations.
  • the tort case against the Republic of Turkey rests on the Foreign Sovereignties Immunity Act, which stipulates seven violations for which foreign governments can be sued in US courts. “I’d love to see Turkey argue that under US law, ‘We are entitled to beat up people on the streets of Washington, DC,'” Perles said. “No dictator gets to come to my country and beat up citizens of my country on my watch. I’ll take that argument all the way to the Supreme Court.”
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  • Turkey has breezily denied any wrongdoing, branding the protesters as “terrorists” and the actions of its security forces as “self-defense.” Its reaction to the legal case so far has been to act as if it doesn’t exist. Turkey’s toothless media, which is almost fully controlled by Erdogan’s business cronies, has followed suit.
  • In November 2017, federal prosecutors dismissed charges against seven members of Erdogan’s security detail who had been indicted by a federal grand jury that July on a slew of charges, including aggravated assault, conspiracy and hate crimes. Although the men had already left the country, the warrants seemed to carry a powerful message that foreign agents could not act with impunity on US soil. Then in February 2018, the cases against four others were quietly dropped, leaving only four guards on the hook.
  • a strong whiff of diplomatic appeasement hung in the air. The Trump administration was trying to secure the release of North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson and to calm Turkish fury over its continued support for the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG)
  • The first hearing of what will be a bench trial could be held as early as June depending on when the US Embassy in Ankara formally relays the summons. A State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity declined to confirm whether that had happened yet, but acknowledged that US law requires it. “The US government makes no judgment on the merits of the litigation in question, or whether Turkey enjoys immunity from suit, which is a question to be decided by the courts,”
  • if the Turkish government does not acknowledge service within 60 days of the delivery of the summons by a US diplomat, “a federal judge will proceed without Turkey at that moment.”
  • Turkey has allegedly resorted to bullying relatives of the plaintiffs who are in Turkey in hopes of getting them to drop the lawsuits. Several have filed as “John Does” precisely to avoid such harassment. One of them told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that police had hauled in family members for interrogation, but declined to provide details for fear their identity may be revealed. Three other victims approached by Al-Monitor declined to speak, even off the record.
  • Clobbering dissidents in foreign countries is not a uniquely Turkish habit. In January 2018, a federal judge ruled that the Democratic Republic of Congo had to fork over more than $500,000 to three protesters who were savagely attacked by the security detail of President Joseph Kabila Kabange outside the luxury Georgetown hotel where he was staying. Much like Erdogan’s security detail, the Congolese security officers flew out of the United States within hours of the incident. One of the protesters, Jacques Miango, who was kicked in the throat, the face and the spine, shared Yasa’s disbelief that such violence could unfold in the heart of Washington. “You imagine that those kinds of things can’t happen in America,” Miango told The Washington Post. “But after it happened to me, I know nothing is impossible.”
  • In the unlikely event that Erdogan were to resume peace talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, Yasa said he would withdraw the case “without a second thought.”
  • “Peace is what we were demonstrating for in Sheridan Circle,” Yasa said. “And if peace were the outcome, our suffering will not have been in vain.”
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