Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trouble in Iran

I haven't posted for a while and one of the reasons was that I was puzzled what to believe about the events in Iran. Nowadays I am inclined to believe that the official election results are somewhat fair. Fraud may have exaggerated it but Ahmadinejad would probably have won anyway. For other voices see for example here, here and here. Chatham House made an analysis of the election results. Here is a journalist who doubts. Although these fraud believers have some points (about 50% of the Iranians distrust the polls, the fast results, the violent reaction to protests), on other points I get the impression that they are manipulative (the claim that Ahmadinejad would end third in honest elections sounds hollow: this is very unusual for an incumbent who can gather large demonstrations).

It looks like Iran is the next color revolution. Peter Ackerman is involved - although he doesn't believe it is a full color revolution. He "in 2006 sponsored a workshop in the United Arab Emirates for Iranians on the strategic application of civil disobedience.". Also the US spent a lot of money on "democracy promotion" in Iran and that started two years ago. But it finds it difficult to spent the money as no Iranian opposition leader wants to get caught with US money: it would devastate his reputation. The most extensive overview I found of America's anti-Iran policy was here on Cyrano's Journal. It mentions an US office in Dubai that serves as the center of US involvement. The Iranian government is well aware of this. The regime talked a lot about the risk of a color revolution months before the elections. Ahmadinejad recently received the speaker of the Belorussian parliament. I would be astonished if they hadn't talked about the success of Belarus in stopping its color revolution.

There is also some video training and there was even some conference. And then there is the 6 months old Persian television service of the BBC and the report that "a large number of Iranians with anti-government backgrounds were traveling to Iran from England in the lead-up to the elections".

One might wonder why Mousavi - a retired politician - has become the front of this would-be revolution. One reason may be that he was prime minister at the time of the Iran-Contra affair (and closely involved with it) and may have kept neocon contacts from that period.

This makes it difficult to decide what was first: a desire from the "reformist" side to fight the election results and use them as an excuse for a color revolution or the determination of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei not to let this happen and to even prevent it with violence and (possibly) election fraud.

Reports from Ukraine often mention that the color revolution didn't bring much political improvement, but at least it brought a much more open climate for political discussion. News reports on Iran now like to take the same line. They claim that the killings will undermine the legitimacy of Iran's leaders and that the enormous protests are a signal that the population wants change. It looks to me just as in the Ukraine the West is using a fight between two local clans to achieve its own goals. However, a lost revolution may mean less freedom and more repression.

I don't give a color revolution in Iran much chance. Revolutions succeed best when the regime is weak. In 1979 for example the Shah was ill and didn't take enough time for government affairs. The present regime is vigorous and has considerable support. And given the thousands who were killed by the regime in the 1980s I don't think they will feel afraid of using violence.

An interesting option was in this article. It claims the Revolutionary Guards seem destined to gain more power. And they already control a third of the economy. It would mean that Iran will look more and more like its neighbor Pakistan.

A lot has been made of the divisions in Iran's ruling elite. But these divisions have been there for a long time. Being diverse actually adds to the regime's strength.

Ahmadinejad is a populist. Populists are usually figures of transition. There policies are usually a mix that varies from very conservative to revolutionary. I have always been hopeful that the net result would be positive. Unfortunately the present upheaval makes me pessimistic about the chance for improvement.

I can only conclude that it looks like Washington's policy of blind hate against everyone who doesn't agree with them seems bound to produce once more counter-intuitive results. Counter-intuitive for the ignorant people who invented them that is. Here is an article about the situation in Israel that unfortunately is very similar to that in the US. While Israel has elevated Iran's nuclear program to diplomatic top priority it employs hardly any analist who can understand Farsi.

Postscript 1: Here an article about how the Chinese learnt from Iran's government about "information management" - in the Chinese case on the Urumqi riots.

Postscript 2: a good source for more information on the US role in Iran is the Burbank digest. It is a regularly updated blog with links to (and copies from) many articles.

Postscript 3: The US senate has allocated 50 mln dollar for browser technology to thwart Iran's web censors.

Postscript 4: The article "Quiet American behind tulip revolution" tells about the role Mike Stone from the American NGO Freedom House played in the Kirgyzian "Tulip revolution".

Postscript 5: The article Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution points to the influence of Sharp and Ackerman in the Tunesian and Eguyptian revolutions.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Solving the Middle East

Last time there were serious negotiations about peace between Israel and the Arabs everything seemed to go well - until the issue of the return of the Palestinian refugees came up. Israel refused the return of all refugees and the negotiations were over.

So Israel is the bad guy? They cleansed some 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and now they don't want to give them their home back? Not so from the point of view of many Israeli Jews. They will point out that 40% of Israel's population are Jews who come from Arab countries. Some deliberately emigrated, but many were simply thrown out of their countries after the foundation of Israel - while all their properties were confiscated.

The number of Jews sho left the Arab countries is at least as large as that of the number of Palestinians. Yet no UN resolution has been dedicated to their right of return and their right of restitution of properties. Of course very few of those Jews want to go back: they live no in a much richer country and are no loger discriminated. But that doesn't take the responsibility of the Arab countries for what they have done away. While Israel provided a home for the Jews that they threw out they consistently refused to provide a home for the Palestinians that Israel threw out.

Yet even Israel-friendly America hasn't found the words to advocate such a point of view. But I don't think that the Israel-Arab conflict is solvable unless the Arabs take their responsibility.

All Palestinian refugee camps should be turned into towns with full rights. And Palestinians should get the right to become citizens of the Arab countries if they want. In my opinion that is the only road towards a solution.