Tag Archives: Iran

Democracy = Trouble?

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With Egypt’s first democratically elected President being ousted, and Iran’s new president having started his term, there is both optimism and skeptisim in the region. The media at best has done a wonderful job at feeding into our fears and doubts.   Election periods in transitional and developing countries have been everything but nonviolent. But, elections are to be the start of everything but violence according to Western pioneers of democracy. Why then do we observe this differing trend? Is it because democracy may not be the best option for these countries or because their governments are expected to uphold the Western form of liberal democracy, which they have never known?

It is a little bit of both and more. I am no expert on elections so I will draw from simple circumstances to explain a complex process. I write for common man and not for experts, but I am sure they too can benefit from what I have to say.

Situation A: An elementary school teacher knows the results of administering a surprise test to her third-grade class on a chapter they have yet to get to. The class will fail.

Analysis A: The students have not even been taught the lesson and concepts and so testing them is like expecting failure. If the class fails it reflects poorly on the teacher and if she is wise, she will not take that risk. These are a class of third graders and unlike seniors in high school they do not possess the ability to draw from their past knowledge.

A transitional country is comparable to this class of third graders, and Western powers are the teacher, although far from the type described above they fall in the category of most-hated teachers because they fail to take into consideration the comprehension level of the students. This is not rocket science, mere sanity on part of the leadership dictating the terms of democracy. A country that has never known democracy cannot miraculously become a proponent of liberal democracy. It needs full immersion training. This training should not be limited to the leadership and participants of the elections, but extended to the voters; because it is from them that the rebels emerge out of fear of being run over by the system. And if Western states can’t do that, then forget democracy, because no knowledge is a very dangerous state of being.

Situation B: Past monarchies for the most part have been the peak of prosperity for their kingdoms. And even today a few of the existing kingdoms enjoy peaceful existence, while transitional and developing democracies are blood thirsty. Let us analyze the Persian civilization, which under traditional monarchy was the landmark of all present civilizations. It held strong until Western values interfered with its magnificence and brought the country to what it has become today.

Analysis B: The West cannot blame internal actors for destabilization of the region. They have to trace their footsteps and will learn that it was them who are inherently responsible for the mess. Democracy has screwed traditional societies and this is why it will not be successful in societies with deep rooted histories in peaceful monarchy reign. For instance it was America’s backing of Shah Pahlavi that led to uproar amid his subjects which in turn led to mass scale support of a religious fanatic in Iran. And who bears the heat of this support? Not the West or Israel (even though they like to pretend they are all worked up about their own babies (Khomeini was born as a result of Western support of the shah)), but Iranians!

Situation C: Two colleagues who absolutely loathe each other will not produce productive outputs as a team. It would be useful if a person of higher authority mediates the issue. Dictating the resolve would curtail the problem but will not root it out, leaving room for eruption of future problems.

Analysis C: Why then do you expect that giving someone the right to vote will resolve deeply rooted enmity in Sudan, Burma, Afghanistan or Pakistan? Democracy is such a privileged opportunity. If it wasn’t, for instance, the people of Kashmir would have decided on the future they seek for themselves and neither the leadership of India nor Pakistan would see sense in continuing to be rivals over this issue. If democracy is to succeed there needs to be a change in attitude in the form of governance. Unless elite access is transferred to all stakeholders equally, democracy will continue to be a failure for the Kashmiris and other communities around the developing world.

It is clearly more complicated than the three scenarios I presented above, but we need to understand the basics to make sense of all the jargon. And I am aware that there are many contrary opinions and I welcome you to share your comments here. Just bear in mind that we do not live in a perfect and simple society, for if we did we would not be arguing for alternative solutions!

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Universal Right to Defense…

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I have been silent for a while; giving thought to my next project. Of course I always tend to come full circle to my favorite topic of discussion- the hypocrisy of two of my beloved targets- The US and Israel. This time around I am going “on the record” not about peace, but about the “universal” right to defend one self, something that a peace activist rarely delves into.

The US President just addressed questions from the press about amongst a host of other things, his thoughts on Israel’s potential war on Iran. I could sense his apprehension, and rightly so. Is the US really ready for another war even if it is in support of their unshakeable friendship with Israel? While most polls show that a large number of American’s believe that Iran is gearing toward obtaining nuclear weapons, does this translate to their support for a war with Iran? What does Israel want the US to believe about Iran? Does the Kenesset want the US to lead the war? What happened to old-fashioned diplomacy? So many questions with unclear answers. The public is left perplexed and dependent on unintelligent feeds from unreliable and incredible sources.

While attacking his critics President Obama said that Republicans could talk war with Iran because they have zero responsibility and while Obama thinks he may be able to prolong the possibility of war, it is only a matter of time that if the opposition takes power the war will become inevitable. Rumors and politics are not mutually exclusive. This is election year and Obama has to please if he would like to improve his odds of being re-elected. This is not a rumor; it is reality.

Everyone wants to resume talks with Iran. But how many have tried to decipher how Iranians interpret this whole drama? If there is one issue that unites the Iranian government and the Iranian people, it is their steadfast resolve that they have an absolute right to protecting themselves and obtaining nuclear power and energy. Even American enthusiasts in Iran view obtaining nuclear energy as a means of getting at par with western powers. And why shouldn’t they? India, Pakistan, Israel, the US and others have nuclear weapons. Why shouldn’t Iran join the ranks? Every country has a right of defense. And this is assuming that Iran is en route to weapons of mass destruction!

Why is it fair that Netanyahu and his folks have access to deadly weapons, while Iran just watches with folded arms? Iranians have always been proud of their country and they have been known to fight for what they believe is theirs. We saw this with the Constitutional revolution of the early 1900s, during the 1979 Islamic revolution, then during the Iran-Iraq war, and most recently in 2009. A war with Iran would not weaken the country but only strengthen it. It may very well unite the people and the government, a move that the West will not appreciate.

If nuclear weapons and weapons in general did not exist, it would be a different story, however they exist and now we cannot deny the right of countries to obtain them, especially if the populace is in support of this move. I must confess I don’t understand the technicalities of building nuclear weapons, that my expertise lies else where. But it does not take a rocket scientist to explain that India and Pakistan have not used their nuclear weapons to hurt each other. If anything they have become safer grounds because they both realize the consequences. But the existence of a nuclear Israel in the presence of an un-nuclear Iran could lead to unfavorable outcomes. If Israel and the rest of the world are troubled by the idea of a nuclear-equipped Iran, their fears could be calmed if Iran does exactly this. Perhaps there would be less speculative drama, a war would be justified, and there could be some real talk because Iran then would feel at par with its negotiators. But, hold on; would there even be a war?

The Global Stage

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There are traces of Egyptian pride in every lane

“All the world’s a stage, 
and all the men and women merely players;
 They have their exits and their entrances;
 And one man in his time plays many parts.”

Sounds familiar? What Shakespeare penned down in ‘As You Like It’ is more than mere words. The monologue captures the essence of international relations since early ages.A ruler plays both protector and destroyer based on what he or she deems appropriate for his/ her strategy to expand his/her empire.

Likewise we have witnessed empires rise, rulers claim victory and be favored amid his/her people, and civilizations flourish. But the contrary is also true, empires fall, power is seized and abused, civilizations have collapsed.

Throughout history and during different periods Persian, Greek, Roman, British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and the Ottoman empires were the power feared and respected world over. Each enjoyed a glorious victory over the preceding hegemonic power in a gory blood bath and extended their reign to lands near and far. Eventually however they succumbed to other powers adding more to history. Arguably therefore the more known history is tainted with violence.

There are of course subtle nonviolent victories like the ones in South Africa, Burma (under Aung San Suu Kyi), and India, but somehow these take the backseat when relying on precedents to resolve a conflict or protect borders. What has remained common amid the two categories of historical events is the rise and fall of power and powerhouses.

Man, thus, cannot be charged with being anarchic in nature, as many theorists have done. Should it be intended for man to heed to violence when dealing with his problems, we would not hear stories of victory achieved on mere perseverance to adhere to peaceful means. We would not have peace and nonviolence activists or NGOs working for sustainable peace. This shows that man switches in and out of roles and acts based on the personal nature of the issue at hand and how they perceive history. The sword in the past, and the gun in today’s age are therefore not mightier than education and the pen.

If a country’s people have only known history of oppression, deceit, and dictatorship, they tend to live under that reality unless, of course, someone challenges this reality. Not everyday is such a challenger born. This challenger could be hailed as the leader of the movement that is challenging the norm, or he/she could be the founder of a movement consciously or naively.

Did Mohammed Bouazizi know that his expression of rage and discontent would spark revolutions across the Arab world? We can only speculate about the answer, based on what the people of Tunisia know about their past and present i.e. the history of authoritarian rule.

Analysts and philosophers like to ponder on the ‘what if’ questions. What if Bouazizi had remained passive and just protested at the local police station verbally? What if his story would have gone unheard? After all, how often do we hear of a small town vegetable vendor who makes history?

But history is full of traces of such individuals – common man who senses injustice and decides to speak on behalf of his people. The essential piece of such opposition is that the movements have begun with local individuals in the lead. No outside force could gain control of the movements despite constant and clandestine efforts to do so. The determination of Tunisians led to the ousting of Ben Ali. Mubarak was toppled by the Egyptians themselves. The interference of NATO, an external force to Libya, and now the sanctions on Syria only cause havoc in the respective countries. The latter cases shine the light on how prying by foreign agents can lead to mayhem in a country.

Libya saw the end of Ghaddafi, a leader that challenged western hegemony. Assad is trying his utmost to hold on to power perhaps because he fears that his country too would be taken over by western powers. The consequences of foreign intervention are there for us all to see. However, it has been popularly argued that he is merely trying to retain his power presence in Syria.

Most leaders are known to have both a favorable and unfavorable side to them. This does not give western powers the right to ransack a country and dictate their mandate to citizens of that country. Yes, Ghaddafi was ruthless, but the world also knows him as an eccentric leader and someone who could not, and had not, caused that much harm to others. He intended to unite Africa toward development and replace the dollar as the global currency.

Clearly, the US would not sit still and let that happen. It took its conventional route of violence and armed local rebels without paying heed to what the consequences would be. America does not care about development in some faraway land; but it should because it, too, would not welcome outside interference in its affairs. So why is the US government the first to jump on its toes and play savior? America’s players are replaced every 4 to 8 years and yet it does not re-evaluate its policies. It doesn’t learn.

When former US agent Mubarak was being challenged by the people, the American government decided to switch gears and support the call for democracy. Little did they know that this democracy would not be similar or compatible with their definition of democracy! History repeats itself and if you do not learn from it, you are not a superpower but a naïve player.

Analysts have compared Egypt to Iran but for the wrong reasons. Egypt may never become an Islamic republic. But the US has once again shown how naïve it is. The government of Eisenhower generously supported the Shah until, of course, the Shah began the process of restoring Persia’s glory in the world and in some respects challenging the US. American support of the Shah ceased completely when the Iranian people demanded that he and his westernization policies be replaced by a charismatic cleric Khomeini.

This Khomeini was the same man who had previously harshly criticized the US for its masterminding the coup of 1953 against Iran’s democratically elected government, and its constant efforts to dictate how their country should be run. The US somehow decided to ignore the past relationship with the cleric and pledged its support for democratic change in Iran.

Its hopes were slashed when, in late 70’s and early 80’s, Khomeini exposed his plan for an Islamic Republic with him as the Supreme Leader and declared Iran as an enemy of the US. Now Iran is part of what George W. Bush termed the Axis of Evil that also includes Iraq and North Korea which have shared a similar questionable relationships with the US.

The United States is again facing a situation of a parallel nature in Egypt and other Arab countries. The democratic movement in Egypt is facing criticism from Washington because Egyptians elected the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Ikhwan Muslemeen (Muslim Brotherhood) a group deemed too radical by western powers.

Western powers fail to understand that democracy should be unhindered or else it is anything but democracy. Islam and sharia, if adopted in tolerant doses, are not toxic to global security. Many on the Egyptian streets believe that not much has changed, but they take pride in the fact that they were able to break free from the only system they had ever known. The US instead ought to congratulate them as they write their future themselves. Or, it should keep out completely.

The consequences of American and western interference at large is not a clandestine affair. The US government supported Libya while it felt Libya was in line with their plans for the region and withdrew support when their former ally challenged western intentions. By supporting the rebels last year with arms – which was beyond any doubt against the UN Security Council mandate for Libya (Resolution 1975) – they have, once again, dug themselves into a deep hole. They managed to get rid of Ghaddafi in a brutal display of victory but, like in Iraq, did not have the faintest idea about what should come after his death. Except getting access to the oil, of course.

Despite having been the wealthiest country in Africa under Ghaddafi, Libya is now in a sorry state of affairs and there seems no solution in sight. The lack of institutions and a history of dependence on their leader is a disabling factor, and Libyans have a long way to go before they can take charge of their own land. Supporters of the former regime have nowhere to go. They are constantly targeted and their human rights violated. Even criminals have rights in the United States.

Is it a crime to pledge support for a ideal and to fight for it? In the best of cases, the US can provide educational and institutional support for Libyans to heal from a brutal war. Military equipment and agents on the ground is not the type of support the majority of Libyans would like the west to provide to their country.

In all of this Washington must stay alert because it has a precedence: it’s experience with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. The arms and ammunition supplied to the Libyan rebels could very well be targeted toward the US and its allies and interests if the Libyans become discontent with the way the US continues to interfere in the Arab world. Providing arms is a risky affair and no one is immune from the damage it can potentially cause.

This vicious cycle of chameleon-like coming and going on a stage Shakespeare-style is but a part of global politics. The world is truly a stage and man is merely an actor. But even actors improvise, confront their fears about acting, and are eventually replaced by fresh talent as time goes by.

No one can monopolize the stage forever unless, of course, the drama is actually a monologue. The real world outside the theatre – sadly for the monopolizing, imperial powers, but happily for the rest – is not.

An Open Letter to Iranian President, Ahmadinejad

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Dear President,

You and I have had our differences, but I’d rather we deferred them and worked on other issues that we can collectively agree on without resorting to attacks. You cannot for instance ignore the horde of 15-29 year olds who crowd every neighborhood of our country without the means of earning a livelihood. The 2009 Green Revolution was, besides other things, an outcry of our country’s dire unemployment problem. I’d like to emphasize the urgency of this issue and offer some suggestions for efficient policies. Let me assure you that as long as the government shows that it is capable of taking care of its people, we will respect its authority. However, you can’t expect calm and compliance when our basic needs are unmet.

Chapter IV, Article 43 of our Constitution states the government is bound to ensure employment conditions and opportunities for everyone, with a view toward attaining full employment of the population. It was our government that prided itself with its natalist policy in the 1980s and now that the children of this policy have come of age they face a detrimental job market. According to figures reported by Birth Registration Organization (BRO) a total of 153 births in a day have been registered over the nine-month period in 2009, showing an increase of 4.3% compared to the same period in the last year. You reinforced this policy earlier in 2010, but offered no explanation for where the funds to pay for the new births would come from. Our economy is growing disproportionately to our population and with the bulk of our economy in your control, and majority of public sector investments earmarked for large capital and not labor-intensive heavy industries such as oil, petrochemicals, iron, steel and military hardware, you have failed to accommodate new job seekers.

In response to the economic hardships after the Revolution, Imam Khomeni introduced rationing and kept consumer prices for energy, basic foods, medicines and utilities well below market prices. Without reforms, the cost of these subsidies will only grow. In 2005, you won the presidency promising increased social services and aid to the poor. But your cash handouts only weakened the purchasing power of poor and middle class Iranians by increasing inflation. Contrary to advice by global economists, you decided to withdraw subsidies quickly instead of taking a more gradual approach to avoid a dramatic rise in inflation for families and industries. But subsidy reform while crucial is alone not sufficient to solve our chronic economic problems and unemployment.

To improve our nation’s overall health and decrease unemployment, we need to look at our peers and analyze how they were able to rise out of their economic stagnations. China is a perfect example: they have emerged as a success while maintaining a system of governance which is fairly similar to ours. After Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up policy” was the single best policy that raised the country out of its economic miseries. He encouraged expansion of private business ownership and foreign investment. We can follow suit but avoid trading with the West by shifting our focus to the East. We could have a huge market in South and South East Asia but this should be further encouraged by providing benefits to the more labor-intensive private sectors like the textile and carpet industries. The proposed construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan should be given undue precedence as a means to tap into existing offers.

Our country also has a rich cultural history and this is something we could use to our advantage by promoting tourism as an additional way to foster economic growth. I agree that tourism would open the country up to Western ideas, but which is more important: the well-being of your people, or a fake legitimacy since the people are unhappy with your policies? I would like to reiterate that young Iranians like myself are less concerned with who governs us than with the creation of a thriving environment for our basic needs to be met. You have been criticized by outsiders and your own people for being oppressive and I argue that opening up our borders to the world (particularly to our allies) is an answer to the criticism that you and your administration have been subjected to. We don’t have to have Western-style tourism; instead we have a lot to offer that the rest of the world and in particular our Western counterparts, can only learn about in books. China has realized that the international community is more important than it has acknowledged in the past.

The West has strongly criticized China’s control of the media just as it has criticized ours and having realized this they have launched a global media revolution. This is a sign that managing these international impressions is crucial for a state to emerge as a global power. Another way to open up borders is via educational exchange. We have world-class universities and can create student exchanges for the sciences. International students from our ally countries would bring in huge revenues. If there is something we can learn from the West is their international student market which has been a tremendous economic and cultural resource for them. This would boost the quality of our Iranian students as well, as they would be exposed to knowledge from other parts of the world where we have friends.

I conclude, therefore that it is in the best interest of the administration to make these economic reforms a priority because they give the young men of our country something constructive to do. Employment issues have had a devastating effect on our youth, many of whom resort to alcohol and drugs, dating, prostitution, and marriages that end in early divorce to occupy their unfulfilled time. I let you choose: open the borders for trade or face the wrath of your people.

Your Selfless Supporter