Successes and Failures of Rouhanomics

rouhanomics

According to President Rouhani, the recession in Iran is definitely over: Inflation is down from 40% to 15%, economic growth rose from minus 6.8% to 4% and Iran is ready to weather the dropping oil prices instigated by “some countries” (those who supported Iraq in Iran-Iraq war according to parliament speaker Larijani) to hurt Iran.

Others look at the same economy and can only see a nightmare which is becoming more volatile daily: they see an economy crashing along with oil prices, stock market and currency rates and a budget whose goals are not focused on economic successes but political survival. Or as an article in the WSJ put it –”Rouhanomics, in other words, is less about growth than it is about regime self-preservation.”

 

Rouhani’s 2015 budget soothes hard liners and allies

LEBANON-HEZBOLLAH-PARADE-ASHURAA country’s budget is a blue-print of its political agenda: It puts numbers on ideas and shows us not only what the government “thinks” but just how serious it is about issues that made it into the budget and those that didn’t. Since a country’s budget is “the walk behind the talk”,  let’s take a look at where Rouhani’s walk is taking Iran.

Take, for instance, a 48% hike in the IRGC’s budget in 2015. For the past few weeks, Rouhani attacked the IRGC, albeit never directly, for promoting corruption and for blocking sanctions relief which would hurt IRGC businesses. Despite these attacks, he found a way to give the IRGC a raise. Similarly, the Intelligence Ministry received a whopping 40% budget increase.

Why would a moderate president allocate so much money to military might? Because his foreign policy which began as a rapprochement to the West to lift sanctions has evolved into a joint manifest destiny with his neighbors and allies, namely Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza.

  • Damascus needs Tehran to end the civil war – a defected Syrian commander put it succinctly: “Assad sold Syria to the Iranians“.
  • Baghdad needs Tehran to end ISIS’s rampage – Iraqi officials, especially Shi’ite ones, praise Tehran while 7,000 IRGC troops moved into Baghdad.
  • Beirut & Gaza, Hamas & Hezbollah all need Tehran to continue to operate politically and militarily.

And all are eyeing Iran’s roller-coaster economy with fear and trepidation knowing that the flow of Rials, oil and ammunition could end in a flash despite this year’s budget.

 

The link between oil and sanctions

oilAlthough some economists explain the crash of oil prices on increased production of shale fuel in the US, Tehran, and most of the world, believe that the blame should be aimed at Saudi Arabia and the US. Although many Westerners scoff at “oil plot“, there is probably some truth to it: The Saudis don’t trust the UN nor the West to seriously hinder Tehran’s development of a nuclear bomb and regional domination and are hitting back effectively where sanctions have failed. As oil prices crashed by about 50%, so did Tehran’s stock market and its Rial and suddenly, Tehran, on the brink of a major economic turnaround brought on by the nuclear negotiations and deals which effectively circumvented sanctions, found itself crashing back down.

Tehran’s search for partners to circumvent sanctions was placed on high priority with Russia heading the list. Moscow had extended a hand to Tehran since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations last year but as time went by, that hand was filled with Rubles. High level deals of trading oil for food went on simultaneously with deals to build new Russian nuclear reactors in Iran. Moscow had found a business partner who was willing to settle for lower prices due to sanctions and possibly a political and military partner in Moscow’s never ending cold war with Washington. And then, the oil crash hit Russia and the Ruble followed the Rial’s catastrophic drop and suddenly it looked like two shipwrecked sailors helping each other on a life raft.

Rouhani may be a moderate but he is a politician first and he understands the need for hardliners to support him at least until a nuclear deal is signed. Without them, Khamenei could pull the plug on his foreign policy, sanctions would remain and Rouhani’s promise of moderacy would be shelved as an election slogan much like George Bush’s infamous “read my lips” promise on taxes.

 

Rouhani taxes his electorate, the middle class

iran-economy-rial-2012-1-26Rouhani won the election through a middle class who had had enough of Ahmadinejad’s anti-West rants and the resulting crippling sanctions. He offered them hope to lift all sanctions and preserve national dignity. Now, over a year and a half later, he will be stabbing them in the back with a 23% increase in taxes and hefty reductions in subsidies to the poor. Word leaked out that even Khamenei’s huge financial empire might be taxed for the first time but everyone is still holding their breath for Khamenei to accept such a move.

Yes, Rouhani is also initiating a move to approve of “hundreds” of projects in the oil and gas industry, as well as railways and trade ports but all of these projects might be abandoned if the oil prices don’t rise to give Rouhani the breathing space he needs to keep these projects alive. Rouhani might be tempted to slim the infamously bloated Iranian bureaucracy which absorbs nearly 80% of fiscal expenditure in wages but instead, he decided to increase the budget for the judicial system which is repeatedly under fire for abusing human rights.

And in any case, there are serious doubts whether the relief of sanctions would benefit the Iranians since corruption is so rampant that most of the relief will benefit mullahs and IRGC officials.

 

Minister ImpeachementAny way you look at it, it seems that Rouhani’s façade as a moderate is crumbling down as fast as oil prices: Rouhani was voted in to strike a deal with the West but when that deal remained elusive, he turned to the East and to his neighbors who seemed more eager to cooperate than the demanding and unsatisfied West. And now, as the economic crunch is being felt, he is focusing inwards, to the Iranian people to help him survive. Meanwhile, the Iranians who had believed that Rouhani would save them from the economic disaster they had felt under Ahmadinejad, will have to keep on paying the bill for a regime which continues to place national pride over well-being.

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The Larijani Brothers in Lies

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The Larijani family is sometimes thought of as the Kennedy’s of Iran: There are many brothers and cousins in power, either directly or through marriages. Three are worth noting: Ali Larijani is the speaker of the Majlis (parliament), Sadeq Larijani is the chief of the Judicial and Javad Larijani is the chief of human rights.

Ali Larijani has aspirations for the presidency and has recently set up a new party which he heads. Apart from being the head of parliament, Ali has taken it upon himself to foster good ties with Iran’s neighbours while “slamming the West for ambiguous approach to terrorism” and portraying Iran as a champion against terrorism.

As to the other two brothers, their main job is to deny any problems of human rights in Iran. Javad and Sadeq continuously issue denials regarding the state of human rights in Iran.

Javad even went further by stating that the laws of Islam precede universal human rights, arguing for a more localized approach, while at the same time releasing himself and Iran from any blame. His speech at the UPR session last month is typical of his modus operandi – denials and accusations instead of accountability and solutions. So according to Iran’s chief of human rights, Iran is blameless and all the victims of human rights abuses in Iran are non-existent or liars.

According to Javad, the Iranian police has a “most immaculate record” and is “free of racial discrimination and ethnic impartiality”. Of course he said this as a politicized attack against the US as part of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

Sadeq, has also frequently denied any wrong-doings by the courts regarding human rights: he denied hanging gay people despite numerous hangings of gays in Iran. And now, he joined his brother in arguing that the whole question of human rights abuses in Iran is simply a Western slander.

In the same manner, Sadeq dismisses the need to put political opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Zahra Rahnavard on trial alhtough they have been under house arrest for over 4 years.

Of course, it is possible for these two men/brothers to share the same ideas. But it seems too convenient that the both chiefs parrot each others ideas while not addressing the real problem: The Islamic State of Iran is a serial human rights abuser and instead of denying the problem, they should be developing solutions.

 

 

Tehran Doesn’t Invade, It Infiltrates

infiltration

Supporters of Tehran like to repeat that Iran hasn’t initiated a war for hundreds of years (since 1798), idealizing Iran as a peaceful country, while pointing out the US is a country which has initiated numerous wars.

And although this makes statistical sense, it is profoundly misleading. Tehran’s modus operandi is not invasion but infiltration and subversion.

The proof lies in Iran’s military and political influence in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Yemen and to a lesser extent (for now), in Afghanistan, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Egypt etc…

 

And proud of it too

suleimaniThe Iranians are (justifiably) proud of the power they exert: Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently boasted that Iran’s influence spreads from Yemen to Lebanon adding that Iran’s “current power was unsurpassable for anyone in the world”.

Iran’s military forces outside of its borders are masterminded and managed by one Qassam Suleimani, the chief of Iran’s elite Qods, a formerly shadowy master puppeteer who has finally stepped into the spotlight for doing what he stated already back in 2007: “you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan“.

Since then, he has his own offices in Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad with key local representatives and is constantly on the move from battle to battle.

Suleimani enjoys the full support of Supreme Leader Khamenei who urged him to increase terror attacks against the West and its allies.

 

Lebanon (Hezbollah + Qods) & Gaza (Hamas)

lebanon palestineIran’s ties with Lebanon and Gaza date back from the Islamic revolution and the wish to fight a mutual enemy – Israel.

Formal ties escalated with the signing of a treaty in 2008 which guaranteed Lebanon military and financial support ($10 Billion in trade and $100-$150 Million to Hezbollah yearly). Since Hezbollah rose to power in Beirut, Iran’s political influence has increased to the point where the Lebanese government has openly requested for Iranian military aid on Lebanese soil. Tehran cordially agreed, Beirut reneged and then recapitulated under pressure from Hezbollah.

But is Iran welcome by the Lebanese people? A poll from 2012 shows that only 39% of the Lebanese view Iran favorably while 74% approved of tougher sanctions against Iran.

Likewise, Iran’s influence in Gaza dramatically increased following Hamas’s rise to power in the 2006 elections. Iran supplies Hamas with rockets/ammunition and funding  to the tune of $30-$50 Million a year. On the whole, Iran’s influence is welcomed in Gaza by all Hamas supporters but Fatah leaders are ambivalent – they fear Tehran but they understand that without Iran, their cause would fizzle out. And although Hamas suffered a fall-out with Iran by choosing the “wrong side” in the Syrian civil war, relations are warming up to normal as a Hamas delegation recently was welcomed warmly in Tehran enjoying meetings on highest levels.

So did Iran invade Lebanon and Gaza? No.

Have they turned both of these states into satellite Shi’ite entities of Iran’s influence? Definitely yes.

 

Syria & Iraq (Hezbollah + Qods)

syria iraqImmediately following the breakout of the civil war in Syria, Iran sent “humanitarian aid” and warned the West not to get involved while doing exactly that – got involved: Iran financed Assad to the tune of approximately $10 Billion and placed its Hezbollah/Qods troops at his disposal, allowing Suleimani to echo Colonel Kurtz’s from Apocalypse Now: “The Syrian army is useless! Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I would conquer the whole country“. Regardless of Suleimani’s criticism of the Syrian army, Assad owes his power to Tehran and supports Iran politically and militarily without hesitation.

Iran’s involvement in Iraq began with its support of the Shi’ite Prime Minister El-Maliki but it received a huge boost following ISIS’s rampage in Syria and Iraq. Hezbollah troops were immediately reassigned to deal with ISIS on Iraqi soil while Suleimani mobilized the Iranian army directly against ISIS on Iraqi soil.

Much like it does in all other regions with large Shi’ite populations, Tehran strengthens its high level military and political pressure with grassroots organizations and local militia.

And just as in Lebanon and Gaza, Baghdad placed formal requests to Tehran for military support offering Iran the chance to turn Iraq into a satellite state as well.

Foreign minister Zarif made Iran’s stance vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq very clear: he maintains support for both while urging the West to stay out.

So, did Iran invade Syria and Iraq? Again, no…not literally.

Has Tehran turned Syria and Iraq into satellite states? Syria, definitely yes. Iraq? On the way.

 

Yemen and the Gulf States

yemen plusUnlike Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and Iraq, Iran’s influence in some states is still in its infancy.

Two months ago, Iran backed a mini-revolution in Yemen and managed to wrestle Yemen out of the Saudi hands. This event followed half a year of tense relations between Iran and Yemen regarding a kidnapped Iranian diplomat and repeated efforts by Tehran to mobilize Shi’ite supported Hoothi troops. These efforts were finally successful.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to try to infiltrate its Gulf neighbors by operating spy rings and subversive organizations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

 

So, no, Iran doesn’t officially invade countries or initiate wars.

It’s smarter, cheaper and more effective to simply infiltrate countries through a volatile cocktail of money, military and religious support. Reminds us somewhat of the Roman peace – it also claimed that it only acted out of peaceful intentions, until they conquered most of Western hemisphere.

Iran is the SHARK within Rouhani’s WAVE

wolf

Iran host a conference against violence, extremism and terrorism” – sounds a bit like “pedophile running the PTA”, “alcoholist as designated driver” or “butchers supporting vegans”, doesn’t it?

Iran, a long-time supporter of global terrorism and subversion as well as a country led by religious extremists and a serial abuser of human rights is holding a conference against violence, extremism and terror? This should sound strange to all but what is even stranger is that some leaders actually don’t find this strange at all.

 

Iran’s Path from Terror to Peace?

Shark_2Last September, President Rouhani introduced his initiative for peace,  WAVE (World Against Violence & Extremism), at his UN General Assembly speech stating that “peace was within reach”.

Even then, it sounded a bit strange that such an initiative would come from Iran but it seemed to symbolize Rouhani’s quest for a rapprochement with the West.

Since then, Iran has constantly rebranded itself as a moral spearhead against extremism, violence and terrorism repeatedly while at the same time continuing to do the exact opposite by increasing its involvement in terrorism through its elite Qods forces and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, increasing its abuse of human rights through maiming and executions for religious crimes and increasing its efforts at subversion in any country with a large Shi’ite population (Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…).

Everyone should have shouted “the emperor has no clothes” but they didn’t. Everyone should know that within Rouhani’s WAVE remains the shark that is the regime in Tehran but they don’t.

 

The Best Defense is Offence

khamenei twitter 2.bmp
In order to strengthen its position as a peacemaker and weaken the links between Tehran and extremism/violence/terrorism, it wasn’t sufficient for Iran to rebrand itself as pro-peace and pioneer in human rights (check out human rights chief Larijani’s speech at the UPR): It was essential to rebrand the US/West as the ultimate supporters of global terrorism as well as the biggest abusers of human rights with a special focus on Fergusson in the US.

Nobody in Tehran bothered to point out the difference between legislated abuses of human rights such as jailing journalists, lawyers and dissidents, executing gays, persecuting minorities, enforcing gender segregation, empowering abusers of women etc…, as opposed to isolated outbreaks of racism that are frowned upon by Western governments and their judicial systems. And although Khamenei loves to rant about racism against abuses of African Americans in the US, it is hard to not remember that Obama is an African American himself and that Hillary Clinton is running for the next presidency – would Khamenei allow a woman, a Baha’i, a Christian or a Jew become president? No.

Nobody in Tehran took the time to point out that although the US/West is guilty of supporting terrorism in isolated cases, terrorist organizations are actively financed and supported by Iran since the Islamic revolution and they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria alone.

 

Iran’s Attempt to Divide and Conquer

dividedWhy is Iran going through all of this? What’s the point?

Quite simply, Tehran is running a campaign to create an alternative to the US/West for those countries who share Iran’s animosity to the US. Khamenei wants to lead a Global Islamic Awakening that will surpass the powers of the “arrogant imperialistic Satan” by uniting all the US’s enemies under a camp with military and economic powers supported by lofty moral rights.

Tehran is targeting 5 intertwining groups:

  • Neighbors: Countries which are in easy reach of Iran – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan etc…
  • NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) members: Mostly countries in African, South America and Asia – Iran will be chairing NAM until next year.
  • Islamic Countries: Any and all countries with strong Islamic parties (preferably Shi’ite) which might find an Islamic Revolution appealing.
  • Anti-US Superpowers: Specifically Russia and China who are not fearful of US/Western sanctions.
  • Anti-US Western Countries: Any and all countries which are waiting eagerly for sanctions against Iran to drop in order to do make money from Iran.

The participants of the WAVE conference all fit into one of more of these groups: delegates from Asian, African, South American and Middle Easter countries were “supported” by several delegates from Norway and France.

During the conference, Rouhani presented a 10 point plan to combat violence. It is worth reading his first point to understand just how cynical it really is: “Countries which have helped formation of terrorism through organizing it and providing financial aid should explicitly announce their hatred of terrorism and stop direct or indirect funding of the groups. They should also work with victim countries in fighting terrorism in terms of military, intelligence and financial help. Iraq and Syria have undergone unprecedented casualties and human loss, and countries which were behind the damages should bear responsibilities to compensate the loss.”

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The Fatal Dangers of Internet in Iran

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Since becoming president, Rouhani’s views and actions regarding social media are at odds with those of the regime in Tehran and the Iranian people.

Rouhani,  Khamenei and many other leaders in Iran all have access to the internet and to social media platforms such as Twitter and facebook but their Iranian compatriots do not for fear that these sites contain content that is not suitable for them under Islamic law.

 

Rouhani & Social Media

rouhani thanksBoth leaders are prolific tweeters and have garnered a large number of English speaking followers (Rouhani = 280K, Khamenei = 88K) through prolific tweeting (Rouhani = 3K, Khamenei = 6.5K).

These tweets are in English and meant for foreigners but these accounts are sometimes used to supposedly communicate messages to the Iranian people that will never be seen by them:

The government is currently blocking “tens of thousands” of websites including all social media platforms including facebook which is “a project of the CIA in an attempt to collect data from individuals around the world”, and its founder is “a leading Zionist”.

The regime not only believes that it has the moral right to censure websites, it is working hard to convince the Iranian people that the internet, and specially social media, is bad for them. In fact, the state TV aired a news segment in which users of social media were portrayed as addicts and social media as a vice.

 

Death Penalty to Blogger

soheilFurthermore, the cyber cops are not only filtering, they are also monitoring internet usage which allows them to pick up offenders who tried to log on to sites that are blocked. The unfortunate people who happened to be monitored, such as Sohel Arabi, are in danger of being arrested, imprisoned and even executed.

Arabi made the critical mistakes of posting four posts on facebook which were monitored and judged to be “insulting the Prophet”.

He was picked up in November 2013 and last week, he found out that he is to be executed for this crime.

To add insult to injury, Arabi’s death sentence was passed while he was in his cell and he found out about it from his wife who visited him.

Arabi’s mistake was to believe that he was free to voice his expressions when in fact there is no freedom of speech nor the freedom to criticize the regime.

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Over 750 Estimated Executions (and Counting) in 2014

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617 reported executions unntil November 7th – by the end ogf the year, the official number should reach 750 while the unnoficial toll is estimated at 1,000 – 1,200.

It’s hard to sometimes get a feel for every single person executed in Iran.

A good way to start is to go through the list provided by Iran Human Right Documentation Center. Yes, there are murderers, drug dealers and rapists which might not bother you that much but then those who were executed for the crime of Moharebeh (“waging war against God”) or “harassment” should make you uncomfortable.

soheil-arabiYou should feel uncomfortable because in Iran, writing a post against the Prophet (Mohammad) or against the Supreme Leader (Khamenei) can lead to a death sentence just as in the case Sohel Arabi  while you can write anything you want against your president.

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You should feel uncomfortable because in Iran, killing someone in self-defence can lead to a death sentence if you are an underage woman and if your husband was working for the ministry of Intelligence as was the case for Reyhaneh Jabbari while you don’t have to fear that you will be forced to marry someone you didn’t want to.

 

ayatollah-boroujerdi4You should feel uncomfortable because in Iran, if you hold beliefs that divert from the rulings of the Islamic Revolution, you will find your self on death row as in the case of Ayatollah Hossein-Kazamani Boroujerdi while you have the luxury to be able to criticize your government if you feel that it doesn’t represent you.

not_availableYou should feel uncomfortable because in Iran there is a long list of people executed for “N/A” – information “Not Available” – but most of the victims are listed as “Human rights activists” and that should make you wonder just how much youdon’t know about what goes on in Iran.

And then, there is the fact that the judicial system in Iran doesn’t help to achieve a fair trial – human rights lawyers are jailed, prisoners are tortured and are sometimes refused the rights to meet their lawyers, judges are very strict when it comes to religious offences etc…

What makes all of this frustrating is that the president of Iran, Rouhani, is accepted as a moderate president who is striving to bring Iran closer to the West and yet, the rate of exectutions in his first year as president is the highest in decades – over 250 more yearly executions than under Ahmadinejad!

 

Tehran Still Ahead on Nuclear Deal Delay

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A whole year has brought us back to square one: both sides are willing to negotiate a deal – not more, not less.

Rouhani ‘s promise for change was based on de-isolating Iran and negotiations were the first step. Interests clash. While the US led P5+1 want to reduce Iran’s nuclear program Iran wants to increase it. Were Iran selling and the P5+1 buying, this would be tantamount to the seller increasing his original price as the negotiations continue.

 

Four Reasons Why
khamene 6An article in Foreign Policy identified 4 reasons for the breakdown in talks and if they are correct, don’t expect a nuclear deal ever:

  • First of all, Khamenei calls the shots and not Rouhani & Zarif.
    The all-powerful Khamenei remains the wild card in this deal. Although Khamenei officially supports Rouhani in achieving a nuclear deal, or better worded in eroding the sanctions, his rhetoric is far from conciliatory: for him, the US remains the “Great Satan” which will never succeed to “bring Iran to its knees” due to the resilience and the military might of Iran, “irrespective” of diplomacy.
    He is wary of the West and believes in an Islamic Awakening that will bring on his longed-for “Century of Islam”.
  • Second, although sanctions are not lifted, they are weakening.
    Before Rouhani, sanctions were circumvented sporadically by hungry rogue businessmen. Since Rouhani’s efforts at de-isolation, sanctions are circumvented by governments, with Russia and China trampling US-led sanctions. Numerous deals are being brokered through numerous foreign delegations to Tehran who are wooed by the immense financial profits to be made and foolishly believing Iran’ Economic Minister Tayyebnia when he says that “Iran is among the safest countries for (foreign) investment.”
  • Third, dignity, specifically Iranian dignity, is not for bargain.
    The West views this dignity as a form of a bargaining chip while the Iranians present it as a deal-breaker on a very personal level. Khamenei himself went from idealizing “heroic flexibility” in negotiations to leading a “resistance economy” meant to reach Iran’s “long term objectives”.
    The Iranians do not understand, appreciate or accept the need of the world to control its nuclear program. The insistence of the West is tantamount to calling them liars.
  • Fourth, Iran refrains from any significant compromise and refuses to accept restrictions.
    If Iran is serious about not developing a nuclear bomb, it could rationally have accepted the nuclear deal and lifted the sanctions. But Iran doesn’t want to settle for less than it has already even though large parts of its nuclear program have exceeded IAEA and NPT limitations. It would rather keep on negotiating in the hope that the West will choose a deal over a possible war. And in the meantime, it still maintains enrichment, still runs the heavy water facility in Arak and keeps the military base in Parchin closed from inspections…all unresolved issues according to the IAEA.

 

What Next?

0kDnx9qIOne thing for sure, it’s going to get more complicated on two fronts: The internal interests of hardliners in Tehran and the external interests of the Russians.

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