Women in Iran Strive for “Un-Stealthy” Freedom

stealthy freedom

Sunday, March 8th, marks the international women’s day, and so it is a very good time to take a look on the status of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Last month, the 7th Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an event sponsored by a coalition of 20 NGOs chose Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist as the recipient of the women’s rights award.

Ms. Alinejad received this award because of her online movement and community, called my stealthy freedom. It all really is a very simple matter to the Western onlooker – the freedom in question is for women to choose whether they want to wear the Hijab, the traditional headscarf, or not – so it gather and publishes photos of Iranian women brave enough to break the Hijab laws in Iran.

It might seem trivial to some, but it is not. In a profile made on her, Alinejad explains that “Starting from age 7, women in Iran who choose not to wear the traditional Hijab face punishment like beatings, as well as ostracization. Posting the stories of those women presenting themselves uncovered in moments of quiet independence — thus the page’s reference to “stealthy freedom” — also serves the dual purpose of striking back against the broader unevenness of the playing field for Iran’s women, of which the Hijab represents but one piece.”

 

Women, Hijabs, Song and Sex

stealhty freedom 3It depends of course on who you ask – because the Iranian regime often states that there aren’t any abuses of human rights in Iran, and since women’s rights are human rights, that answer is highly unacceptable.

It is possible to try to understand the woman experience of living in Iran. Sure, women can rise to high positions in the government, and can be found in universities and hospitals, but what about their basic freedoms?

Take for example the right to express themselves freely. If Iranian men are subject to limitations on their expression, the women have it harder – for example, they are currently in the middle of a debate between hardliners and moderates, on whether they can sing or not.

Other forms of expression include physical ones. Yes, Iran is a conservative country to say the least, but in that aspect, one that cherishes family life, for example. But a recent study done by universities in both Iran and the US, found that Iranian women cannot talk about their sexual life, even with their husbands: in fact, the study suggests – “overarching strategies women shared for managing their sex lives: complete silence, negotiation, asking for help, and sexual sacrifice”.

 

Still Not “Free At Last”

stealhty freedom 2It is believed usually, that there is a great difference between attitudes in big cities such as Tehran, and small, more traditional places. But the acid attacks against women only 4 months ago, were carried at Isfahan, Iran’s 3rd largest city. If you remember, the Iranian regime declared that those attacks had nothing to do with the stricter Hijab enforcement laws that were being voted on in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

Let’s face it, Iranian women are being suppressed and persecuted in Iran. This is not a question or an opinion – it is a fact. Legally, women are not equal to men in an Iranian court nor are they equal in the eyes of such a patriarchal society led by a regime of male clerics. Perhaps that’s why Alinejad’s fan-page is so attractive to so many Iranian women. Uploading a picture without a Hijab is a “safe” way of protesting the oppressive nature of fundamental Islam.

But Ms. Alinejad is not against Islam, nor even against the Hijab itself – far from it. “My stealthy freedom” is about expressing frustration at the lack of freedom of choice, a freedom that is so easy to uphold in the West but that is nearly non-existent in Iran. Perhaps, one day, Iranian women will be able to achieve such a freedom: not a “stealthy” one but a freedom that will allow them to proudly choose how they want to live their lives in an Islamic country.

Nukes and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary

martyrdom and nukes

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are focused on Iran’s nuclear program which makes sense up to a point: Gun possession laws are not only focused on the type of rifles and ammunition but on the people who own guns or want to own guns.  A gun in the hands of a hunter or someone who hopes to never use it is less dangerous than in the hands of someone who is itching to use it to kill someone he/she hate.

In this case, the problem with Iran is not whether it does have a nuclear bomb or even wants to build one – Iran can build a bomb if it wants to. The problem is not even whether Iran will have the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb to its target: whether it is through long range missiles, jet fighters, submarines or in a suitcase, a nuclear payload is deliverable.

The only question should be whether Tehran intends to use a bomb if it had one. Khamenei has touted his “nuclear fatwa” repeatedly as proof of not wanting the bomb but his rhetoric is far from peaceful. In order to guesstimate the answer, one has to listen to Khamenei himself.

 

Khamenei Idealizes Martyrdom

Iran KhameneiIn a key speech in 2009, Khamenei shared his views on martyrdom glowingly. Two key learning are that 1) martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and that 2) “this is what frightens the enemy“.

Most people would tend to agree with his first point during times of war but not during times of peace but this is the insight one needs to understand Khamenei: he believes that his vision of an Islamic Awakening pits Islam, with Tehran and himself at its epicenter, in a state of Jihad/war against the “arrogant”, racist”, “oppressive” and “imperialistic” powers of the West. In his mind, Tehran is at war with the West even if a shot has not yet been fired.

His second point though is unarguable: his praise of martyrdom scares the West. It is this very idealization of martyrdom that has led to the rise in global terrorism by and Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations whose modus operandi is underlined by the pursuit of martyrdom is proof to the West that Khamenei is ready to “Walk his Talk”.

Khamenei Trades (temporarily) Martyrdom for “Heroic Flexibility”

khamenei rouhani 3An article in the Guardian from September 2013 heralded hope for a nuclear deal with Iran under the headline “Iran: ‘Hello diplomacy, so long martyrdom'” based on Khamenei’s flag of “heroic flexibility” (“flexibility is necessary on certain occasions. It is very beneficial “.

And for a while, it seemed that Khamenei had accepted Rouhani’s vision of rapprochement with the West as a necessary next step forward.

But within months, he had laid down his own red lines for a nuclear deal which were far from flexible.  Furthermore, he laced his support for nuclear negotiations with the same rhetoric of war and hate deeming the US the “great Satan” and repeating that Israel was to be “annihilated”.

 

Khamenei Returns Back to Praising Martyrdom

khamenei khomeiniBut then, last week Khamenei returned to his rhetoric of martyrdom and “the culture of sacrifice…for long term goals, common people and all mankind” as opposed to “the culture of Western individualism”. Once again, out of context of war, his words may seem admirable, especially the part of the good of the “common people and all mankind”.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric of war is never far away and he continues: “Although hegemonic powers, benefiting from their massive tools, have currently found more dominance over the oppressed, the Islamic Revolution is now standing against the oppressors“.

Make no mistake, Khamenei’s version of martyrdom is not meant to benefit “all mankind” and certainly not the West – martyrdom is meant to help the Islamic Revolution to prosper at the expense of the West.

 

Mixing Martyrdom with Nukes in 10 Years

to sign or not to signIn an article in the Washington Post, headlined “The Strategic genius of Iran’s Supreme Leader“, Khamenei, who is sometimes looked down upon by Westerners as an uncivilized Mullah “is also a first-rate strategic genius who is patiently negotiating his way to a bomb”.

By biding his time and despite a hand as weak as the Iranian economy, he managed to scare the West into pursuing a nuclear agreement that would guarantee Tehran the possibility to build a bomb after the ten-year deal expires.

Khamenei may not be around but by then, another Supreme Leader will be in charge and he will have to choose between two Khamenei legacies: The legacy of his “nuclear fatwa” (which can be overturned by the next Supreme Leader) and the legacy of “martyrdom” which might convince him to dash for the bomb and the ultimate martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.

Only Khamenei Knows

to sign or not to sign

Headlines on the nuclear deal with Iran look schizophrenic: for every optimistic headline about the benefits of a nuclear deal with Iran and the progress made towards reaching it, there is an equal and opposite headline about the pitfalls of such a deal and the problems of reaching it.

As the clock ticks towards the deadline, both sides are making great shows about turning away from a deal if need be: Obama is “ready to walk away from them” and “has no inclination to extend the talks beyond the deadline” and Rouhani “will not accept imposition, humiliation and the continuation of sanctions“.

Although Kerry stated that “there is no deal yet” The general feeling is that the outlines of a nuclear deal are a fait-accompli with one single gap: Tehran wants all sanctions removed at once while Washington wants a phased removal of sanctions.

But the deal doesn’t depend on Kerry, Zarif, Obama or Rouhani: their ideas and thoughts are meaningless compared to those of one man in Tehran – Supreme Leader Khamenei. And unfortunately, Khamenei is not easy to interpret because he is playing both sides of the fence and nobody really knows how Khamenei will act when a final nuclear deal is presented to him.

 

Khamenei supports a deal

IRAN-US-IRAQ-KHAMENEIMuch is interpreted into Khamenei’s continued support for Rouhani’s efforts to sign a nuclear deal but the question remains why would Khamenei want a nuclear deal at all?

The simple answer is that a nuclear deal seems to be the will of the people: Rouhani was elected by the Iranian people on a promise for change in an effort to de-isolate Iran and lift sanctions. Rouhani has repeatedly played the “people’s will” card and recently boasted that a nuclear deal is supported by “over 80%” of the Iranians.

So, blocking a nuclear deal would put Khamenei up against the “will of the people” and although Khamenei’s authority does not emanate from the people since he was elected by a committee for life, Khamenei doesn’t want to lose the acceptance and support of his people at this stage of his life.

Khamenei is fully aware of his age and his mortality and the last thing he can want is to be an instigator for riots and a counter revolution in the winter of his life.

Bottom line, if the nuclear deal allows Khamenei to feel that his nuclear program and his pride are left unharmed he will probably support it.

 

Khamenei doesn’t support a deal

angryUnlike Iranians who want to free themselves from the yoke of sanctions, Khamenei views resistance against Western pressure not only as a necessary strategy but as a source of pride for the Iranian people.

Because for Khamenei, pride is much more important than the details of the nuclear deal. In fact, pride is a key word into Khamenei’s psyche: just as his vision of an Islamic Awakening is based on regaining pride lost to the “Imperialists/Colonialists”, his view on Iran’s nuclear program is based on the pride it offers the Iranian people internally and from their neighbors and supporters abroad.

For Khamenei, there are no “shades of grey” but only “black or white” as far as pride is concerned. Either he, and through him, the Iranian nation, is proud of Iran’s nuclear program or not. Bottom line, Iran’s nuclear program is an achievement that is not to be bargained away and any efforts to do so are seen by Khamenei as an attack against Iranian pride.

And once again, there is Khamenei’s age. Khamenei is fearful to sign a deal which might lead Iran to lose its pride in the future and taint his legacy to Iranians in the future. He does not want to be remembered as the Supreme Leader who weakened Iran in the face of the “arrogant” Westerners during his lifetime or after his death.

 

No one knows whether Khamenei will allow a deal to be signed and perhaps Khamenei himself doesn’t yet know. What is certain is that a deal which will tarnish his pride or his legacy will never be accepted.

In order for a deal to be inked, the nuclear negotiators on both sides should focus more on maintaining Khamenei’s sense of pride and less on the number of have to focus less on centrifuges.

Which makes sense for Khamenei but not for those who are worried about Tehran building a nuclear bomb.

Rezaian’s Future Looks Bleak

rezaian

WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian has been in an Iranian prison for the last seven months, isolated from his family and lawyers for a crime that is still unknown. The buzz from Tehran is that Rezaian has finally signed a “confession” to being a “spy” although the content and the veracity of this “confession” are murky and Rezaian is still not formally accused of anything.

Unfortunately for Rezaian, there is no good news: there is only bad news and worst news.

 

Bad News for Rezaian – Politics

rasaeiThe bad news is that the motives for jailing Rezaian seem to be getting clearer: Rezaian is a pawn in a political fight between hardliners and President Rouhani.

Hardliner MP Hamid Rasaei is not only accusing Rezaian of being a “spy”, he is accusing Rouhani, or someone in Rouhani’s administration, of “supporting” Rezaian in his spying activities. The details of Rezaian’s “spying” activities are undetailed but his motive for “spying”, according to Rasaei, is to “bring about more pressure on various Iranian industries“.

Rouhani or someone close to him are supposed to have helped Rezaian to get access to classified and vital information although right up to his imprisonment none of Rezaian’s articles contain any sensitive information of any kind. Most of his articles “focused on the lives of ordinary Iranians“.

It doesn’t really matter whether the spying accusations are true or false since Rasaei is a staunch opponent of Rouhani’s moderate foreign policy and is fighting hard to stop any form of nuclear deal. Following Zarif’s mid-day walk with Kerry in Geneva, Rasaei wrote in his weekly newspaper: “every one of Zarif’s steps destroyed 100 kilograms of enriched uranium.” The response from Tehran to his article was surprisingly swift: Rasaei’s weekly was banned for going “against the regime’s nuclear policy” but Rasaei’s loud objections are still to be heard in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament.

 

Worst News for Rezaian – Human Rights

SalavatiThe worst news is that the judge assigned to Rezaian’s case is also a staunch hardliner who might be sympathetic to Rasaei’s cause. Abolghassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” or “the judge of death”, has earned a reputation of favoring executions in cases concerning journalists and political activists. Salavati presided over hundreds of cases following the 2009 Green uprising, ruling in most cases against the defendants.

With Salavati as judge, if Rezaian does go to trial for spying, his chances of getting out of Iran soon (or at all) are slim. In an earlier case, he sent two doctors working on a HIV campaign to jail with no evidence except the indictment by the intelligence ministry and the doctors’ participation in a seminar by an NGO in Washington.

Salavati sentenced a Canadian-Iranian blogger to 20 years in jail based mostly on a letter of recommendation by a Columbian University faculty member which “demonstrated problematic connections with a hostile state.”

Furthermore, following some of his more dubious sentences, the EU has placed Salavati under sanctions since 2011 – he is not allowed to enter a European country – for “gross human rights violations“.

 

So, whether Rezaian did or did not spy, his cause seems helpless. Not only is he a pawn in a political game between a hardliner and Rouhani, his judge is a trigger-happy hardliner who will be only too happy to either send him to rot in jail for a long time or, more likely, to the gallows.

Iran Turns Meddling Into Method

yemen iran

Last Wednesday, the last nail in the coffin that was old Yemen got hammered in, as the US state department announced it is closing its embassy in the country, effectively forfeiting the battle on the Yemen to Iran (for now).

The establishing of a new Houthi ruling council on February 6th, was the culmination de facto of a coup d’état in Yemen. The Houthi are a group of Shiite Zaydi fighters led by Abdul Malik al-Houthi backed by Iran.

This process, of Iran getting in the back door and the US getting out of a territory in the Gulf, so close to Saudi Arabia, is a perfect example of Iran’s modus operandi of foreign affairs, or in other words – how it expands its influence beyond its borders.

 

The Saudi Situation

Iran-saudiSaudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in a decade-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines – Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.

Yemen’s fall to Iran raises the stakes for the Saudis in the event of a US-Iranian nuclear deal. It could deepen the kingdom’s current independent streak, convincing them to further flood the global oil market to undercut the Iranian economy, or to accelerate its possible nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

 

Iran’s Method

hezbollah militiaThe Islamic Republic wants to export its Islamic Revolution, a goal that Ayatollah Khomeini considered as “imperative”. To do so, it spans its influence as far as South America and Africa, and closer to home, its neighbors in the Middle East – most evidently in Syria, in Lebanon and in its close neighbor Iraq.

But Yemen, with its decade long Houthi rebellion, is a perfect example for this, because Tehran’s relentless interference has been most visible: All the way back in 2007, Yemen was pointing fingers at Iran for meddling in its affairs while in 2009, Iran was supplying the Houthi with arms and setting up a quasi-Hezbollah proxy militia. After Saudi Arabia imposed blockades on Houthi-controlled coasts, Iran sent war ships to the Gulf of Eden, allegedly to fight Somali pirates.

But only now, when Iran is the sole international supporter of the Houthi ruling council as the sovereign, all those “hints” and “allegations” were given actual proof.

 

Bottom line, Iran’s MO looks something like this:

  • Identify pro-Shiite leaders, factions and militia within targeted countries.
  • Support them “culturally” and financially while meddling in local politics.
  • Increase meddling by introducing direct and indirect military strength.
  • Establish Hezbollah-like militia with allegiance directly to Tehran.
  • Help the Shiite factions to overthrow the government and reap the political, economic and military benefits.

Mixed signals from Tehran

mixed signals2

Negotiating with Tehran is never an easy job due to the deluge of mixed signals of good will, promises, threats, evasions, insults etc… from all the leader/players (moderates and hardliners) as well as from each leader.

This is crucial and best exemplified in the person of Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – not only is he the final decision maker for life, he is also a master at sending mixed messages regarding his intentions on, well, pretty much everything.

Does Khamenei Want a Nuclear Deal?

circles

Take the most burning issue concerning Iran right now, the nuclear talks: earlier this week, Reuters published a news piece saying that “Khamenei hints he’s ready to accept fair nuclear deal”, while on the same day, the BBC ran its own interpretation to the supreme leader’s  speech, choosing to headline their article with “Ayatollah Khamenei says ‘no deal better than bad deal‘. Same speech, different meanings.

Here’s a snippet of his speech that shows just how hard it is to read Khamenei:

  • “I would go along with any agreement that could be made” – YES.
  • “Of course, I am not for a bad deal” – MAYBE.
  • “No agreement is better than an agreement which runs contrary to our nation’s interests” – MAYBE NOT.
  • “The Iranian nation will not accept any excessive demands and illogical behavior” – NO.

Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” is a great example of his communicated ambivalence: The nuclear fatwa categorally denies the development and use of a nuclear arsenal (YES) but the fatwa is not written nor is it approved by parliament (MAYBE NOT).

Khamenei promises the world that Iran is peaceful by nature (YES) while at the same time he takes care to mention in nearly every speech his hatred for Israel and his plans to destroy it (NO).

So, he supports a nuclear deal (YES) but is ready to blow up negotiations (NO). He supports Rouhani (YES) but supports hardliners (no) as well. He can be optimistic (YES) and pessimistic  (NO) in the same sentence.

 

Freestyle Interpretations of Khamenei

IRAN-US-IRAQ-KHAMENEI

Not only are the P5+1 leaders and negotiators baffled by Khamenei’s double talk: his leaders at home scramble constantly to interpret his intentions. Following his last speech on the issue of a nuclear deal, the Kayhan newspapers, which is traditionally viewed as Khamenei’s mouth piece supported by hardliners, ran an article that highlighted Khamenei’s comment regarding the wish for a “one-time comprehensive deal” while omitting his further comments regarding Iran’s current concessions following the interim deal. Khamenei did not shed any light on the newspapers’ interpretation.

The Iran newspaper, run by Rouhani’s administration ran  an article that not only focused on Khamenei’s support for a nuclear deal but also criticized the articles backed by the hardliner media stating “their economic and political interests are not [aligned] with the negotiations and an agreement” – and once again, Khamenei remains silent.

In the end of the day, despite the fact that he will retain his position for life, Khamenei is the ultimate politician who is acutely aware of his base of power. Every word is calculated so he can retain his political power with hardliners (his traditional base of power) as well as with the people of Iran by backing Rouhani’s (his ever-changing base of power) plans for change.

Who is Spreading Islamophobia?

islamophobia

Does Islamophobia exist? Definitely yes – Islamophobia exists just like any other racist prejudice. It’s a fact as long as enough people believe that Islam is a religion which can fan the flames of hatred within the hearts of its believers up to a point that they will kill in the name of Allah, the prophet or the Islamic states.

So, who is to blame for Islamophobia – those who fear Islamist extremists or the Islamist extremists themselves? Actually, both. Without the horrific acts carried out by Islamist extremists and the people inciting them to do so, Islamophobia would implode on itself and exist only within the minds of radical bigots and fanatic haters of Islam.

So who is to blame? Just ask Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.

 

Khamenei Blames the West for Islamophobia

letter

Two weeks ago, Khamenei issued a “Letter to the Youth in Europe and North America”. In it, he requested the Western youth “study and research the incentives behind this widespread tarnishing of the image of Islam” and to “try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion”. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Even a hardened Islamophobe should accept Khamenei’s request and question herself as to the legitimacy of such a fear.

Khamenei’s letter places the blame of Islamophobia squarely on the shoulders of the Western leaders and Western media who promote “hatred and illusionary fears” and portrays Islam as a “humane” and “ethical religion” of peace as well as “the greatest scientific and intellectual civilization of the world”.

Maybe…all religions, including Islam, create a bond between their believers and their deities while at the same time create barriers between “us” and “them” depending on the interpretation of the deities at the base of each religion.

As in all prejudices, most of the time, they are far from factual: most Muslims are not blood thirsty terrorists, nor do they condone terrorism. But Islam, like any other religion can be interpreted to incite violence or peace depending on the believers mind-set and too many terrorist acts are carried out by extremist Islamists who believe that their acts make them exemplary Muslims.

 

Khamenei Creates Islamophobia in the West

executions

One week after issuing his “letter”, an article was published in the daily newspaper Kayhan (a mouth piece of Khamenei) which seemed to justify all the fears of Islamophobes because it called for the “suppression” and “annihilation” of anyone who “threatens the Islamic system” without restrictions to “any time, place and border”.

The message was targeted to Iranian dissenters who “corrupt the earth” and who should be “harshly, severely and humiliatingly punished and killed…even if they have escaped the country”. Oh, and “all people should join in to arrest them”. This is an open call to kill any Iranians who oppose the regime in Tehran, regardless of the fact that they may live on Western soil. It’s an open call for global terrorism in the name of Islam.

And just in case you are not an Iranian dissident and feel safe, you might tune in to another speech of Khamenei himself from just six months ago: “Jihad is endless because evil and its front continue to exist… this battle will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it, which has expanded its claws on human mind, body and thought“. Oh yeah, that really helps soothe the phobias of Islamophobes all over the world.

 

Islamophobia exists and if Khamenei wants it to cease to exist, he had better learn to keep his own racist views to himself and stop selling a vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening“, a “battle of wills” against the “arrogant powers” which will lead to a “century of Islam”- an Islam based on “rationality”, “spirituality” and “jihad” – that is sure to feed the fearful minds of Islamophobes around the world.

So, Khamenei, if you want to get rid of Islamophobia, you might consider shutting up a little…or a lot.

 

Khamenei’s Crescent of Control

crescent dominations

Although Tehran is still isolated from the West due to sanctions over it dubious nuclear aspirations, its regional sphere of control is growing in leaps and bounds.

At its epicenter is a crescent of military and political control that ranges from Gaza to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and now Yemen.

 

Palestine-Iran

2000px-Flag_of_Palestine.svgRelations with Iran took off when the PLO supported the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran but received a boost during the second Intifada in 2000 when Arafat released Hamas and Islamic Jihadist prisoners who identified with Iran. Despite calls from PLO/Fatah leaders to Tehran to stop meddling in internal Palestinian politics,  Iran’s influence grew stronger as Hamas’s power grew within Palestinian politics and once Hamas won the elections in 2006, Tehran became Palestine’s main sponsor. That sponsorship isn’t only financial since Tehran supplies Hamas with military support and knowledge.

 

Lebanon-Iran

Flag_of_Lebanon.svgLebanon has been under Tehran’s influence since the Islamic revolution in 1979 but its control over Beirut grew in leaps in bounds with the founding of Hezbollah in 1982, during the subsequent wars between Hezbollah and Israel and finally following the signing of a military and economic agreement in Tehran by Lebanon’s president Suleiman in 2008. As outlined in a number of earlier posts, Beirut is ruled by Tehran through Hezbollah and Qods chief Qassem Suleimani himself.

 

Syria-Iran

syriaflagimage1Tehran has been Damascus’ ally since 1979 as well but the relations strengthened when Syria sided with Iran during the war with Iraq. Syria played a big role in establishing Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon as well as in Syria and once Bashar al-Assad took over in 2000, the course was set for the signing of a military cooperation in 2006. That cooperation took on a much deeper meaning with the outset of the civil war in Syria in 2011 and since then Hezbollah troops have been  supported by IRGC and Qods military power in efforts to destroy the Syrian rebels. Tehran’s military support was accompanied by financial support estimated at $10 billion which has put Damascus under the control of Tehran.

 

Iraq-Iran

iraq-flagIraq and Iran were at war for 8 bloody years between 1980 and 1988 and after that, there existed between Baghdad and Tehran a cordial peace. Relations between the two countries improved significantly in 2003 when Iran strongly opposed the US-led Gulf war against Iraq. But it was only in 2005 that Tehran began to have some form of control over Iraq through a pro-Iran and pro-Islamist president al-Jaafari and later by the like-minded Shi’ite prime minister al-Maliki (2006-2014). Trade between the two countries flourished and helped to oil diplomatic relations but Tehran’s grip on Baghdad suddenly increased with Iran’s involvement in quelling ISIS’s rampage in Iraq.

 

Yemen-Iran

yemen-flagYemen also enjoyed cordial relations with Iran since 1979 but since Yemen was heavily supported by Saudi Arabia, Tehran had no control over Sanaa. But once funds from Saudi Arabia dried up, the way was clear for Shi’ite Houthi rebels (less than 30% of the total population) to take over with the full political, financial and even some military support from Iran in late 2013. The Houthi government is fanatically pro-Iran and expects Tehran to continue its support on all levels.

 

Crescent of Control

khamene 6None of these countries were invaded by Iran and all countries “invited” Tehran’s influence in some way or another and all ties began with ties with pro-Islamic/Shi’ite leaders who envisioned some form of Islamic revolutions of their own even if it did look like Iran was simply meddling in other countries’ businesses.

But unlike other spheres of influence by countries such as the US, Russia or even the EU, the ties between these countries and Iran are not a coalition in the general sense of the word but a confederation that is ruled by one person, Supreme Leader Khamenei and his vision of a global Islamic Awakening with Tehran at its core.

Apart from these countries, Iran’s influence is on the rise in many countries such as Bahrain and the UAE who have large Shi’ite populations but Tehran’s control is still limited in these countries due to governments who are willing to maintain diplomatic friendship but are wary of Tehran’s meddling in their politics and their military.

 

Related posts:

Rouhani’s Survival Depends on Nuclear Deal

time running out for Rouhani

As we approach the end of Hassan Rouhani’s 2nd year in the office of the president of the Islamic republic of Iran, it becomes clear that his entire tenure will be perceived by the success or lack of success that he will have in the nuclear talks with the West.

The Nuclear Deal is the Key

Iran_Nuclear_enSo as the deal is stalling again for various reasons, it seems that Rouhani has pulled off his  gloves and is determined to get the job  done and actually confront his opponents.

The nuclear saga, it appears, is slowly but surely dividing Iranian  politics from within, and everybody must choose sides. Rouhani came to power on a promise of moderation, but he is learning that even within moderation, one must take a firmer stance: Iran’s economy is deteriorating once again causing Rouhani to tackle corporations of the IRGC and even Khamenei himself which have been evading paying taxes so far, demanding that they pay their dues.

But Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, both know that the cure for the situation lies within the hoped for nuclear deal.

But is it enough?

boxing-gloves-2An elected head of state trying to achieve success and progress for his country is welcome news as it should be. But, this is where things in Iran get tricky.

Rouhani knows that Iran’s problems run much deeper than the economy – they stem the core of the country’s institutional extremism in its attitude towards minorities and any person or group that doesn’t adhere to the Islamic revolution. And so, in order to bring about the necessary change he promised, he has to fight the hardliners and the religious clerics.

For this, Rouhani should be given his due credit. Whether he will succeed or not is the multi-billion dollar question.

 

What the future holds

khamene 6Iran’s president works under very tight conditions, the most important of them is the authorization of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, whose basically calling the shots, and lends Rouhani his approval. Even the tax demand from the corporations, who are held by Khamenei, is something that Rouhani could not have done with that support.

But Khamenei’s health is deteriorating, and so Rouhani knows that he must seize on these permissions, if he ever wants to achieve something before it is too late and he might have to deal with another Supreme Leader who is not favorable to a rapprochement with the West.

Without the nuclear deal, Rouhani promises will be stifled by Iran’s continued isolation. His next option is to ally Iran Eastwards with Russia and China who remain models of anti-moderation.

Rouhani on Freedom of Speech and Islamic Extremism

rouhani freedom islamAs we noted in our earlier posts, most Iranian leaders reacted to the Charlie Hebdo massacre accordingly: Yes, the massacre is reprehensible BUT the victims deserved it for having insulted Muslims.

Rouhani is different in that he not only understands the sensitivities of Muslims, he is acutely aware of the sensitivities of Westerners whom he feels he needs in order to allow Iran to develop and prosper.

 

 

Rouhani on Charlie

charlie 6Rouhani condemned the massacre accusing the terrorists of increasing Islamophobia with their deeds. His condemnation was tempered slightly by the content of Charlie: “A magazine which is used as a weapon of prejudice is always full of bullets of insult and certain people sow the seeds of hatred and others harvest vengeance under the name of religion but with the sickle of massacre.” Hatred in the name of religion is fuelled by hatred in the name of freedom of speech.

He went to great lengths to separate the sensitivities of Muslims who felt insulted by the satire of Charlie Hebdo from the sensitivities of Westerners who were horrified from the reactions of Muslim extremists to the freedom of speech.

A good way to understand Rouhani’s mindset on the sensitivities of this issue is to read and listen to his own words his reactions to similar issues in the past.

 

 

Rouhani on Rushdie

rushdieRouhani clearly understands that the sensitivities of Muslim regarding criticism of Islam is equaled to the sensitivities of Westerners regarding criticism of freedom of speech.

In order to understand his mindset on this issue, one should listen to Rouhani’s take on the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the furor it created in the West: “It’s not a matter of the civil rights of a Western citizen…it is a cultural war…according to their point of view, the problem is that a sentence has been issued for an individual who is a citizen of another country…Our response is that the fatwa is a religious decree…we as a government have not issued an order to assassinate this person, so it cannot be said that we have broken international laws, but we say this is the duty of Muslims. And this duty is determined by God.

In short, he understands why the fatwa is so abhorrent to Westerners but he also understands why the fatwa had to be issued and respected.

 

 

 

Rouhani on “Freedom”

freedom iran 2For Rouhani, freedom has to be tempered and controlled in order to not turn into anarchy: “People (in Iran) are completely free to express their thoughts. Of course, there are laws and rules in every country. There is a court, and if anyone disobeys the law, then it is the law that deals with that person…if we don’t abide by the law, it would be a shambles. We have to distinguish between freedom and shambles“.

That is why issuing a death sentence to Iranian blogger Soheil Arabi for (re)posting a criticism of the Prophet is legitimate. According to Rouhani,  Arabi transgressed the law knowingly and therefore should be held accountable as a criminal because freedom, he believes, must be limited and controlled: “Danger is when, God forbid, there is a group that considers itself equal to Islam, a group that considers itself equal to the Revolution, a group that considers itself equal to the guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult and introduces [another] group against religion, against Revolution, against the guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult. All problems originate from this point.”

Once again, Rouhani seems to understand the upside of freedom but he warns that too much freedom leads to the unraveling of the fabrics of society in general and Islamic society in particular.

 

 

Rouhani on the future of Iran

iranRouhani first and foremost has a clear understanding of the power of diplomacy: Diplomacy, is the art of understanding a region…estimating its strength and position, and finding opportunities critical to exploit.” But more importantly, Rouhani has a vision for the future of Iran: “In 20 years, our dominant discourse should be “progress and development” – if the dominant discourse is security, then the economy, and science and technology, cannot be the first priorities“.

This form of development is dependent on foreign investment which shies away from Tehran’s traditional focus on security and arrogant attitude of self-sufficiency: “Our difficulty with foreign investment is that the world sees our country as a security risk. We have paid a very high price economically.” In his mind, the future of Iran is dependent on de-isolation and foreign investment and not on self-sufficiency as Khamenei arrogantly tries to portray.

But Rouhani is also a devout Muslim who believes in Iran’s role in leading Islam: “The leader of the Islamic movement is Islamic Iran…the Imam’s (Khomeini) line, path, and thought rules over the hearts of all free Muslims and movements. The eminent leader of the Revolution, his eminence Ayatullah Khamenei…is the leader of the world of Islam today. His message, his words, his cries, his line, his path is the guiding direction for Islamic movements.” Iran’s future is not only in development but in leading Islam globally.

In a way, Rouhani symbolizes the crux of the problems that Iran is going through: his head is facing toward the West but his heart is in Islamic rule.

 

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